Lakes summit: The economic imperative

The Windsor Star

Today, about 250 individuals from business, government and non-profit sectors will meet in our community to lay out a game plan for the future of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region. As much as it is a discussion, the summit will hopefully set the stage to ensure a climate of prosperity and health for our children and their children.

As Matthew Mendelsohn, director of the U of T’s Mowat Centre, and John Austin of Washington D.C.’s Brookings Institution wrote in the National Post last week, the enormous basin of fresh water that binds eight states and two provinces creates a foundation for the future like no other in the world.

“Is there a place on Earth more attractive to build and invest in the future than the coast of the Great Lakes, with its relatively healthy ecosystem and proximity to some of the world’s great educational institutions, financial institutions, world-leading cities, and a large, diverse and welleducated population?” wrote Mendelsohn and Austin.

“Communities across the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region share common challenges. They are also rich with the assets needed to succeed in the global economy. Overcoming these challenges and leveraging those assets won’t be easy. But those gathering in Windsor this week are united in a basic understanding -we can achieve more together than alone.”

As a whole, the Lakes region represents the fourth largest economy in the world -$4.6 trillion in economic output in 2009. More than $2 billion in good and services goes back and forth across the border every day, including $356 million through Windsor-Detroit.

That trade is also the reason the region needs a modern, publicly owned bridge built on Detroit River. And the case for a new bridge was eloquently argued by former Michigan Gov. James Blanchard and Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat and senior strategic adviser with McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP, also in the Post last week:

“But the 105 million people living in the region today need their respective governments to continue to work together on the border. To remain the world’s fourth largest economy, the region needs a second Detroit-Windsor crossing.

“The Canada-U.S. Auto Agreement set the course for the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, and subsequently NAFTA, back in 1965. Our most integrated trade industry by far, the production and assembly of automobiles is concentrated in the Great Lakes region. This ‘industry of industries’ draws in hundreds of feeder manufacturers in dozens of locations in Canada, the United States and Mexico.

“But the top priority has to be the construction of a second bridge between Windsor and Detroit. In the 7,000 trucks that daily cross the Ambassador Bridge are contained over a quarter of the goods traded between Canada and the U.S. Any interruption in traffic on this 80-year-old, privately owned bridge means layoffs: thousands in the first day and tens of thousands stretching south to the Carolinas by day two. Resiliency, national security and the national interest of both countries requires us to build a second crossing, the new International Trade Crossing.”

All that’s needed for the much-needed project to get underway is the final approval of Michigan lawmakers. We hope the new bridge -which governments on both sides of the river have been planning for years and is literally shovel ready -figures prominently in the important discussions that will take place over the next two days.