When the global pandemic interrupted the 6th annual Great Lakes Economic Forum, the Council of the Great Lakes Region (CGLR) pivoted on the spot, and developed a virtual approach, which included bringing thought leaders from across the region and across sectors together and releasing their latest report ‘Great Lakes, Great Minds: Setting the Stage for Higher Education, Business, and Government Collaboration in the Great Lakes to Drive Talent Development, Innovation & Entrepreneurship.’
‘Future Now: Education, Innovation & Entrepreneurship in the Great Lakes’ June 18, 2020 was the first in the series of anticipated webinars and dialogues around critical socioeconomic and environmental issues facing the binational Great Lakes economic region and watershed, challenges that must be overcome collaboratively in order to build and ensure a thriving, sustainable, and welcoming region, from the boundaries of Minnesota to New York and with the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
“Today’s globalized, tech-driven, knowledge economy rewards innovation and the mobilization of highly educated talent, whether from local sources or global markets. Ultimately, the economy grows where talent lands and congregates. If the Great Lakes region is to compete and win, it is imperative that we find new ways of leveraging our world-class network of teaching and research institutions to produce the high-skilled workers, innovators, and entrepreneurs who will lead us forward in the new economy,” said Mark Fisher, CGLR CEO, framing the event.
Greg Stanford, Consul General of the U.S. Consulate General in Toronto, opened the webinar with remarks, highlighting the positive impact of cross-border workforce efforts, citing the compatible licensing which enables nurses to work across the U.S.-Canadian border, which has proved critical during the COVID-19 global pandemic, and calling for deeper collaboration between Great Lakes higher education institutions, with multiple opportunities outlined in the ‘Great Lakes, Great Minds’ report that was funded by the United States Mission in Canada.
The Hon. Ross Romano, MPP for Sault Ste Marie and Ontario’s Minister of Colleges and Universities gave the keynote address. Focusing on the potential for higher education institutions to collaborate, Minister Romano ensured the virtual crowd, “I look forward to the opportunity to work together with our friends across the Great Lakes to build upon our collective strengths in advanced education and research. You have a partner in Ontario!”
John Austin, Director of the Michigan Economic Center and Senior Non-Resident Fellow with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the Brookings Institution, co-authored the report with Fisher and joined the first of two panel discussions. Highlighting the strengths of the region’s world-class teaching and research institutions and the role they play—and can play—in making the region a center of action, innovation, and talent to serve the world, he observed, “Every time we share the facts about our strength in the Great Lakes region to solve problems today and tomorrow, people are amazed.” The report includes the recommendation to form a public-private roundtable and a fund to mobilize bi-national partnerships among higher education institutions in the region in order to position it as a place to learn, innovate, work, and compete globally.
An example of that type of collaborative effort was demonstrated by the additional comments and insights from Dr. Alex Mihailidis, Associate Vice-President of the University of Toronto and Ms. Jisu Hong, Associate Vice President of the University of Illinois, who announced a bilateral partnership between the universities as part of their joint commitment to support the development of a Great Lakes Education and Workforce Development, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship Roundtable, a key recommendation in the report.
The final panel focused on the effective application of education and skills development into the workforce and the importance of inclusive opportunities. Jake Hirsh-Allen, the Economic Graph and Higher Ed Learning Solutions Lead at LinkedIn Canada, highlighted the ways in which skills data can immediately inform smarter workforce development overall and foster collaboration between education institutions. Jimmy Greene, CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors’ (ABC) Greater Michigan Chapter, highlighted the need to also include trades in both consideration of the post-secondary education requirements not only for a strong workforce and equitable livelihoods, but also for sustainable infrastructure on which the region relies. “It’s great when communities proudly tell me they have 70% of their high school graduates with clear plans (for colleges and universities),’ said Greene, ‘But I remind them that they are responsible for 100% of their students. Trades is another avenue for post-secondary learning.” Vicki Saunders, founder of SheEO, rounded out the comments, observing, “51% of the population have access to 2.2% of the capital. It is statistically impossible for this to happen without massive systemic issues,” and outlined the opportunities to change that, including providing skills, support, and funding to female entrepreneurs.
“While we were disappointed to cancel the Great Lakes Economic Forum this year, we’re delighted that that Council can continue to provide a platform for cross-sector conversations and collaboration on a series of critical topics that will define the Great Lakes region’s long-term competitiveness and sustainability,” said Fisher. “CGLR will continue to produce virtual opportunities and looks forward to returning to in-person engagement opportunities, such as the live version of the Great Lakes Economic Forum, when the time is right.