Leaders Gather to Discuss How Waterways, Ports Can Create Jobs

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DETROIT — Agricultural Leaders of Michigan hosted a day-long discussion Thursday June 28th at the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority on ways the state can better use its ports and waterways to boost the economy and create local jobs.

The event, co-hosted by Agricultural Leaders of Michigan and the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority, drew nearly 100 people. Discussion topics covered a broad range of economic, legal and logistical issues surrounding water transportation in Michigan.

“The greatest challenge facing Michigan ports is that people do not know we are here,” said Jim Byrum, president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association. “We have to do a better job marketing our ports. We also need a regular schedule of dredging to keep ports accessible and strong exports so that ships can be loaded going both ways.”

A mix of experts from agriculture, business, government and the military presented on topics including: new legislation that would boost economic development; reforms to ballast water regulations that would allow greater use of Michigan’s ports; and opportunities to increase imports and exports through Michigan’s waterways.

“Because of Michigan’s rules about the discharge of ballast water, we effectively cannot export overseas. We have more ports than any other state, but can’t connect Michigan’s businesses and farmers with overseas markets,” Steve Fisher, executive director of the American Great Lakes Ports Association.

The event included two panel discussion on issues surrounding imports and exports, and presentations from Senator Mike Kowall; John Jamian, executive director of the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority; Gordon Wenk, chief deputy director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development; Brian Brink, vice president of Brink Farms; Tim Hoeffner, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation, Office of Rail; Steve Fisher, executive director of the American Great Lakes Ports Association; Peter C. Anastor, director of policy at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation; Mollie H. Mahoney, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit district; John Nowak, assistant port director, U.S. Customs & Border; Sarah LeSage of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality; and Jim Byrum, president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association.   

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