H.O.M.E.S. defines the Great Lakes region

The Great Lakes provide valuable economic and environmental resources to the region.

Can you name the five Great Lakes? How about the eight states that surround the Great Lakes? If you can’t, you are not alone. Many people in and out of the “Great Lakes” region can’t remember their names. However, the Great Lakes – Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior – play a huge role in the economy of the region and the country.

Just how great are the Great Lakes?

The Great Lakes contain 5,500 cubic miles of water covering over 94,000 square miles. It is the largest fresh water system on Earth, second only to the polar ice caps for fresh water. The Great Lakes basin contains 21 percent of the world’s fresh water and 95 percent of all the U.S. fresh water. It is called ‘the third coast” with over 9,000 miles of shoreline - more than the East coast and Gulf Coast combined. Great Lakes water stretches over 1000 miles from its western tip at Duluth, Minnesota to Watertown, New York at its easternmost point.

The Great Lakes is a multi-jurisdictional region. It includes 8 states – Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Michigan in the middle. They are overseen by two countries, nearly 40 Tribal Nations, 158 county governments, 13 major urban areas and 10 US federal agencies, including the US EPA, and Environment Canada. This region is home to 10 percent of the U. S. population (over 27 million Americans) and 31 percent of Canada’s population (nearly 9 million).

This region is also home to 3500 plant and animal species, including the gray wolf, bald eagle, Canada lynx and great blue heron. There are over 170 fish species in these waters. Native species include large and small-mouth bass, lake whitefish, walleye and yellow and white perch.

A 2011 Michigan Sea Grant report conservatively estimated that 1.5 million jobs and $62 billion in wages can be directly related to the Great Lakes. These lakes influence eight industries which translated into 15 percent of Michigan’s jobs in 2009 and an estimated 23 percent of Michigan’s payroll. Industries found in the region include manufacturing (66 percent), tourism and recreation (14 percent), shipping (8 percent), agriculture (8 percent), science and technology (2 percent) and utilities and mining (1 percent each). The Great Lakes region generated 27 percent of the U.S. Gross National Product and 24 percent of the country’s exports in 2009. 38 percent of Fortune 500 companies are found in the Great Lakes Basin.

Boating trips and equipment contribute $16 billion throughout the region and 37 million anglers, hunters and bird watchers visit this region annually. Sport fishing contributed $4 billion annually and commercial fishing catch is 65 million pounds a year adding $1 billion to the region’s economy. One-third of all registered boats in the U.S. are in the Great Lakes region. Annually 200 millions tons of cargo, including coal, iron ore and grain, pass through the Great Lakes system at a transportation savings of one-third the cost of rail and one-tenth of truck transport.

In 2011, Sleeping Bear Dunes on Lake Michigan’s northeast shore was voted the “most beautiful place in America” by Good Morning America viewers. Lake St. Clair, the lake connecting Lakes Huron and Erie was identified as the “best bass lake in the world” by Bass Master Pro Angling magazine. The premier bass tournament, Bass Pro Elite Series, is being held on Lake St. Clair this summer.

For more information about the Greak Lakes region, visit the Michigan State University Extension website under tourism or lakes, streams and watersheds, or read the full Michigan Sea Grant Great Lakes Jobs Report.

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