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John C. Austin  

Directs the Great Lakes Economic Initiative, created to improve the economic vitality of the region

John Austin, president of the Michigan State Board of Education, has been named to head the new Michigan Economic Center, an independent public policy think tank that will promote solutions for the state's economic dilemmas.

Associated with and funded through the Prima Civitas Foundation, the MEC will look at issues including education, immigration, the development of water-related technologies, and ways to pay for public investment in transportation projects.

Austin has tackled these issues for years as a nonresident senior fellow of the Brookings Institution, a post he will retain. He said Wednesday that the MEC will allow him to focus more directly on Michigan-related policy questions.

"It's a way to focus on Michigan all the time and everything important we need to do for the economy," Austin told the Free Press. "It's very much an opportunity to promote an economic point of view. What matters most for Michigan's economic growth and vitality? I really believe there are some key drivers of our economic success that we need to build out. We need to figure out how we invest in the pillars of economic growth."

Steve Webster, the CEO of the Prima Civitas Foundation, said the center's initial slate of projects will include building support for more research, development and deployment of emerging sectors and technologies, such as capitalizing on Michigan's water and Great Lakes location to build a "blue economy" and helping to implement an urban innovation program.

"Austin has been a visionary architect of some of the most important moves Michigan has made to transform our economy," Webster said. "His leadership of the Michigan Economic Center will further support the Prima Civitas Foundation's mission of harnessing resources for Michigan to grow its economic base in a global economy."

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