Charting New Waters: Northern Michigan’s Blue Tech Revolution
Michigan is leading the latest wave of freshwater research. With its abundance of natural resources and the brightest minds in tech, the Grand Traverse region is emerging as a leader in “blue tech” – a term encompassing a wide range of marine technology, including vessel autonomy, underwater drones, environmental sensors, and vessel electrification. With the help of its economic development organizations, educational institutes, and private sector collaborations, the region aims to be a national and international center for blue tech incubation, acceleration, and commercialization.
Recently, the Boston Consulting Group estimated the economic impact of the Blue Economy in Northern Michigan to be more than $100 billion. The potential for growth and innovation in this sector is attracting attention, making Northern Michigan a prime location for tapping into these markets.
The Northern Michigan Blue Tech Hub Consortium
Driving this initiative forward is the Northern Michigan Blue Tech Hub Consortium, a collaborative effort involving organizations such as The consortium is working together to bring Traverse City’s early momentum to the entire region.
The collaboration between Northwestern Michigan College and Michigan Technological University on Great Lakes research strengthens this position, and provides a unique business attraction opportunity. The growth of the blue economy industry cluster will drive significant job creation, business formation and commercialization, research, and policy leadership that will be recognized at the national and international levels.
The Traverse City Fresh Water Research & Innovation Center
At the heart of this blue tech revolution is the Traverse City Fresh Water Research & Innovation Center, situated on the shores of West Grand Traverse Bay. This center is set to become the epicenter for the commercialization of freshwater and marine technology applications. With approximately 85,000 square feet of collaborative space, including high-tech labs, classrooms, research offices, and startup incubation facilities, it aims to drive economic growth and establish the Grand Traverse Region and Michigan as a global hub for applied freshwater innovation.
Exciting progress is already underway, with $23 million in funding secured for construction and development. Local, federal, and state funding sources, including the Michigan FY24 Budget, are ensuring the realization of this ambitious project. The Traverse City Fresh Water Research & Innovation Center is poised to become a shining example of Michigan’s commitment to leading the way in freshwater research and technology.
The development of this research center holds immense promise for the Grand Traverse region and the entire state. By focusing on community, education, and innovation around the Great Lakes ecosystems, the center positions Michigan as a leader in freshwater research, with the potential to drive significant job creation and business growth.
Fresh Coast Maritime Challenge
In 2023, the Fresh Coast Maritime Challenge was initiated in partnership with Traverse Connect and Michigan’s Office of Future Mobility & Electrification. This first-of-its-kind grant program focused on sustainable maritime transportation, leading to $506,000 in grants awarded to six innovative projects. These projects spanned areas such as electric boat technology, marine chargers, and solar-powered watercraft, showcasing Michigan’s commitment to sustainable solutions in the blue economy.
The Challenge was designed to offer commercial enterprises of all sizes a sustainable, cost-effective and efficient means of transitioning watercraft from diesel to electric power. Its ongoing development will offer a growing network of shore-side charging facilities for clean-fueled marine vessels and electric passenger vehicles operating on the Great Lakes. Additionally, the presence of charging equipment at multiple sites will create natural testing environments for the electrification of vessels of all shapes and sizes. The initial phase of funding focused on the northwest Michigan corridor, between Frankfort and Mackinac Island, a route known as “the boating capital of the Midwest” that offers a considerable concentration of accessibility to recreational boating – making the area ideal for the early adoption of new technologies. Six companies – – received grant funding to establish what will become an evolving network of shore-side charging facilities for clean-fueled marine vessels and electric passenger vehicles operating on the Great Lakes.
The challenge generated considerable industry interest, with participation from companies across the country (and internationally), and national-level press. It resulted in several business expansion and relocation opportunities with startups, foreign firms, and established U.S. industry leaders now actively considering Michigan for their future growth plans.
Northern Michigan is charting a course towards becoming a global hub for applied freshwater innovation. The Traverse City Fresh Water Research & Innovation Center and the collaborative efforts of the Northern Michigan Blue Tech Hub Consortium are setting the stage for a future where the Great Lakes not only offer unmatched outdoor recreation and quality of life, but also drive technological advancements that benefit the entire world.