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Northern Michigan’s Blue Economy

Harnessing the Power of our Freshwater Assets

The Grand Traverse region is well positioned to be the global epicenter for freshwater research, industry, and innovation. The Great Lakes Water Studies Institute at Northwestern Michigan College - offering the country’s first-ever associate degree in Freshwater Studies and the first-in-Michigan community college bachelor’s degree in Marine Technology - has earned a reputation for producing highly skilled graduates and leading cutting-edge freshwater research and learning. Our region offers an unparalleled 234 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline and 10,418 acres of lakes, making the area unlike any other in the world. Our region is looking forward to a bright future amidst a surge of blue innovation and freshwater advancements by pairing our geography with our burgeoning freshwater business economy. Traverse Connect is proud to support its community partners on exciting next steps to advance the blue economy in northern Michigan and place Traverse City on the map as a destination for freshwater innovation.

Grant Opportunity: Fresh Coast Maritime Challenge

Enabling the future of boating by electrifying Northwest Michigan’s waterways

The Fresh Coast Maritime Challenge, a first-of-its-kind program in the United States puts Michigan at the forefront of future-proofing sustainable maritime transportation including recreational boating activities, marina innovation, as well as commercial activities on the Great Lakes. The Challenge establishes a dedicated grant program that offers companies the opportunity to apply for assistance that will support the decarbonization and electrification of both marinas and watercraft across the state.

Grant applications will be accepted from April 10 through May 12, 2023

Read the press release: Michigan Makes Commitment to Sustainable Maritime Mobility with Launch of First-of-Its-Kind Grant Program in United States

Local press coverage: Electrifying The Bay: Inside The State-Backed Grant Program That Will Make Northern Michigan An Electric Boating Hub ~ The Ticker, April 24, 2023

Traverse City Freshwater Research & Innovation Center

The Traverse City Fresh Water Research and Innovation Center is being developed on the existing Discovery Center & Pier property on West Grand Traverse Bay. This research center will become the hub for the commercialization of freshwater and marine technology applications, research on technologies and public policy affecting the Great Lakes, and similar freshwater systems worldwide. Unique to this vision are Blue Economy commercialization initiatives such as incubation /accelerator space and requisite lab space to support early start-up businesses. This project will drive economic growth and establish the Grand Traverse Region and Michigan as the global hub for applied freshwater innovation.

The Traverse City Freshwater Research & Innovation Center is being led by these Collaborative Regional Partners: Northwestern Michigan College, Michigan Technological University, 20Fathoms, Discovery Center & Pier, Traverse Connect

Marine Electrification & The Fresh Coast Corridor in Northern Michigan

Making Waves: The Future of Boating is Electric

Our regional lakeshore and its waterways, with a high concentration of marinas and harbors, is highly trafficked by watercraft and are primed to be an early adopter for the availability of e-boat charging locations and e-boat dealers. With Elk Rapids Marina now selling XSHORE 100% electric boats, the transition to electric boating has already begun and Traverse Connect is propelling this momentum forward.

Our vision is to be “ground zero” for this new industry by bringing the first freshwater e-boat charging “corridor” to the Midwest and the U.S., running from Frankfort northwards to Mackinac Island. This route has been dubbed “the boating capital of the Midwest,” and with a considerable concentration of wealth and accessibility to recreational boating, the market is prime for early adoption of new technologies.

Mobility & Recreation Industries A Key Focus for Michigan

Where the Mobility Industry Intersects with the Recreation Industry, there is Great Potential for New Innovation & Development.

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s (MEDC) most recent strategic plan targets automotive manufacturing, e-mobility, and electrification as strategic industries to develop. They also highlight outdoor recreation as a statewide strength, championing the business development case where e-mobility and outdoor recreation meetAs the lead organization of economic development in Region 2, Traverse Connect is working closely with the MEDC and the other economic development collaboratives to bring new enterprises to the state that are at the forefront of mobility and electrification technology – including freshwater and marine technologies, provide them with a test bed for their new technologies, facilitate key partnerships and introductions, navigate state infrastructure, and assist with site selection for company offices and headquarters.

Read more: Connecting the Dots: Michigan’s Outdoor Recreation & Mobility Industries
Read more: All Electric, All the Time: Electric Cars, Boats, and Bikes Race to Northern Michigan

Spotlight on Northwestern Michigan College

The Great Lakes Water Studies Institute Leads Cutting-Edge Freshwater Research and Learning

Companies from across the country — and around the world — are coming to Northwestern Michigan College to recruit students straight out of its Great Lakes Water Studies Institute (GLWSI) programs. With its location on the shores of Lake Michigan, access to research vessels, and collaboration with international partners, the GLWSI programs offer a unique, hands-on opportunity for learning, training, and pioneering new technology. The bachelor’s degree in Marine Technology is one of the only marine technology programs in the country and features courses not even offered at large coastal universities. Hosting such a future-focused education program benefits job growth and business attraction for northern Michigan’s economy. Not only do students come from across the country to attend the program, but industry partners from across the globe also come to Traverse City to utilize the specialized training and recruit skilled talent.

“Small, but mighty: NMC degree making international waves” ~ The Record Eagle, June 13, 2022

Watch: Closing the Skill Gap: Focus on the ‘Blue Economy’ (NMC Webinar from October 6, 2022)

The Grand Traverse Region's Freshwater & Marine Industry Cluster: Companies, Organizations & Initiatives

The Boardman River Dams Ecosystem Restoration Project will reconnect over 160 miles of free-flowing, cold-water stream and restore hundreds of acres of wetland and upland habitat. It is one of the most comprehensive dam removal and restoration projects in Michigan’s history and one of the largest such projects in the Great Lakes Basin.

The Traverse City Downtown Development Authority kicked off a civic engagement design process in 2018 to lead the Lower Boardman River Unified Plan, which provides a cohesive vision for the river corridor, as well as steps to address land use, public access, infrastructure, culture, and habitat. The scope of this plan encompasses the 1.6 miles of the Boardman/Ottaway River that meanders through Downtown – from the northern shore of Boardman Lake to Lake Michigan.

FishPass is the capstone of a ~20y restoration project on the Boardman/Ottaway River, re-connecting the river with Lake Michigan. FishPass is led by Great Lakes Fishery Commission, in partnership with the City of Traverse City, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, and many other partners. FishPass will replace the failing Union Street Dam with a new labyrinth weir and infrastructure that will allow researchers to sort and selectively pass desirable native fishes while blocking harmful invaders like sea lamprey.

Headquartered in Traverse City, Circle of Blue creates award-winning nonprofit journalism from the frontlines of water, food, and energy in the changing climate. Its visionary work across the Great Lakes, U.S., China, Australia, Mexico, India, and the Middle East earned the Rockefeller Centennial Innovation Award, one of the nation’s top honors. Circle of Blue meets the demand for information and collaboration in the challenge of the century: water.

The Conservation Resource Alliance (CRA) is part of a nationwide network of Resource Conservation and Development Councils. The organization serves northwest lower Michigan. CRA’s RiverCare Program was created to guarantee that natural resource professionals maintain a consistent and prioritized action plan for each river in CRA’s region, find and repair physical problems before they become worse, and maintain efficient, coordinated local river committees of agency, resident, and interest group representatives.

The mission of the Discovery Center & Pier is to connect people of all ages, needs, and abilities to the Great Lakes through recreation, education, science, history and stewardship.

For Love of Water (FLOW) is a nonprofit organization whose mission upholds that certain natural resources like navigable waters are preserved in perpetuity for the benefit of the public to use and enjoy. FLOW seeks to safeguard the Great Lakes, the planet’s largest freshwater lake system, by advancing public trust solutions and cutting-edge policy work. FLOW has built key partnerships with state and regional Great Lakes groups, leveraged their expertise to influence agencies and impact state and federal legislation, and grown to be a trusted source of current information on issues affecting our freshwater seas.

Great Lakes Environmental Center, Inc. (GLEC) is an established national contracting firm offering applied environmental sciences, research, and compliance assistance focused on water quality and the protection of aquatic ecosystems. GLEC has grown steadily in each year of its existence, delivering services and solutions to government and commercial clients throughout North America. The dedicated employee-owners at GLEC often set the standard in their respective fields by consistently applying our core philosophies of scientific excellence, corporate responsibility, environmental stewardship, and dedication to fulfilling client needs. Our unique experience serving both regulatory agencies and the regulated community translates into viable, insightful, and creative solutions to complex environmental challenges.

Based out of the Boardman River Nature Center, the Grand Traverse Conservation District provides gateways to the natural world, restores natural areas, trains future generations of conservation leaders, and supports sustainable, local agriculture. Their “Protecting Our Lakes & Shorelands” series is available here.

Hybrid Robotics design and manufacture marine robotic solutions for research and inspections. They have developed systems for unmanned surface vessels to complete routine, as well as high-risk, marine missions previously inaccessible due to technological and environmental limitations without the need for a boat, divers, or aerial support.

The Inland Seas Education Association provides learners of all ages with hands-on experiences aboard traditionally rigged tall ship schooners, along the shores of the Great Lakes, and in local rivers, streams, and wetlands. As a non-profit organization located in Suttons Bay, Michigan, its goal is to provide people with the information they need to become stewards of the Great Lakes.

OLA Filter is an easy-to-use, affordable water filter that uses ultrafiltration technology to remove bacterial contamination from drinking water in developing countries. The product was co-invented by Traverse-City based inventor Theresa Smith.

Quantum has taken the art and science of sailmaking to the highest level to produce the most efficient and fastest sail shapes possible. Quantum’s proprietary iQ Technology® system was created by experts with over 20 years of knowledge and expertise in both sailing and the complexities of engineered structures. Integrating state-of-the-art sail design and manufacturing methods with on-the-water-testing, Quantum® sails are perfected to offer sailors of all levels outstanding performance, consistency, and repeatability.

The Watershed Center of Grand Traverse Bay has a 20 year history of protecting and preserving Grand Traverse Bay and its 1,000-square mile watershed through on-the-ground projects and advocacy.

Some of their projects include the Boardman River Watershed Prosperity Plan – a vision and roadmap for the future management of one of Michigan’s most beautiful watersheds. It meets the community’s desire to have a management plan for the river and provides a blueprint for multi-jurisdictional cooperation to improve the environmental, economic, and social prosperity of the watershed region.

SampleServe is a user-friendly app and platform that simplifies environmental sample collection, project management, and communication between technicians, managers, and labs, and then quickly generates a wide variety of regulatorily required reports.

Solve for X, L3C / The SolvePFAS Projects: Michigan is one of the first states in the nation to design and implement a multi-pronged strategy to detect, measure, and eradicate PFAS in ground and surface water. The company has five projects in development to address PFAS:

  1. a mobile PFAS Laboratory for in situ sample diagnostics
  2. a handheld sensor for detecting PFAS, algae, e. coli and other contaminants in real-time
  3. an Environmental Impact Investment platform focused on innovative water, air, and soil stewardship
  4. a catalog of carbon-negative or -neutral products for water and soil treatment, and carbon sequestration
  5. a catalog of PFAS-free products to replace the ‘forever chemicals’ in industrial & consumer supply chains


Vector Center helps companies, institutions, and governments navigate and mitigate profound water and systemic risks. Their revolutionary Perception Reality Engine™, provides real-time, contextualized intelligence for decision-makers about water and intersecting threats around the globe at a moment when risks are becoming realities.

Vector Center’s approach combines state of the art satellite data, social sentiment analysis, and on-the-ground investigative research backed by a network of best-in-class, purpose-driven innovators at the forefront of sustainability, analytics, and global trends.