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Keynote Conversation with Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy Director Liesl Clark

This article appeared in the May 2019 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.

Q: Congratulations on your appointment. You come from the private sector as the co-founder of 5 Lakes Energy, a policy consulting firm. How does your background in the private sector prepare you for this new role?

Clark: Coming from an entrepreneurial family — the child of a telecommunications mogul and small business owner — my success in launching and growing a business has meant a lot to me personally. Providing good jobs, health care and retirement plans for seven people was even more gratifying than I imagined. And doing all the paperwork required of a small business owner — especially with employees in four states — was a real eye opener. I come to this role with deep respect for the challenges employers face and the contributions they make to our quality of life.

Q: With Executive Order 2109-06 the governor created the new Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, which you will lead. Why were these functions combined?

Clark: From reducing waste and air emissions to conserving water and helping communities manage extreme weather events, almost everything we do at the Department has a role to play in Michigan’s response to climate change. Likewise, our identity as the Great Lakes State — and place at the heart of the Basin — is a thread that runs through all our work. So, combining those functions makes perfect sense to me, and I don’t consider it a significant departure from what the Department has been doing. Generally speaking, there are many good ways to structure or align a set of government programs. Our Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) model will bring talent and resources dedicated to common purposes together under a shared organizational umbrella. It will also facilitate a deeper integration of our programs, and more deliberately point our compass at two foundational issues: water and climate.

Q: Michigan has been leading the nation in manufacturing job growth for several years. Manufacturers have a strong interest in protecting the environment. How can we work together to both protect the environment and continue to create a vibrant growing economy in Michigan?

Clark: One enduring theme in my two decades of work at the nexus of food, water and energy has been identifying and implementing strategies to create jobs and generate wealth through enterprises deliberately designed to conserve our natural resources and safeguard public health. We can pursue both environmental protection and economic growth simultaneously. My commitment to building strong relationships and bringing all relevant perspectives to the table has driven my successes in life. Communication and collaboration will be a hallmark of the department under my leadership. That’s where we’ll find the creative solutions that will drive Michigan’s prosperity and deliver a world-class way of life for the long haul.

Q: What do you believe are the biggest challenges facing Michigan?

Clark: When I was growing up in The Thumb, Michigan was a national leader in public education, infrastructure, environmental protection and other vital areas. After decades of disinvesting in ourselves and our communities, we need to reclaim our Michigan pride and restore our high aspirations. I spent my college days playing in the Spartan Marching Band but I’ll plug my nose for a moment and borrow from the U-of-M fight song. Michigan needs to recommit itself to being the “leaders and best.” That’s my goal for our department.

This article appeared in the May 2019 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.

Q: Congratulations on your appointment. You come from the private sector as the co-founder of 5 Lakes Energy, a policy consulting firm. How does your background in the private sector prepare you for this new role?

Clark: Coming from an entrepreneurial family — the child of a telecommunications mogul and small business owner — my success in launching and growing a business has meant a lot to me personally. Providing good jobs, health care and retirement plans for seven people was even more gratifying than I imagined. And doing all the paperwork required of a small business owner — especially with employees in four states — was a real eye opener. I come to this role with deep respect for the challenges employers face and the contributions they make to our quality of life.

Q: With Executive Order 2109-06 the governor created the new Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, which you will lead. Why were these functions combined?

Clark: From reducing waste and air emissions to conserving water and helping communities manage extreme weather events, almost everything we do at the Department has a role to play in Michigan’s response to climate change. Likewise, our identity as the Great Lakes State — and place at the heart of the Basin — is a thread that runs through all our work. So, combining those functions makes perfect sense to me, and I don’t consider it a significant departure from what the Department has been doing. Generally speaking, there are many good ways to structure or align a set of government programs. Our Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) model will bring talent and resources dedicated to common purposes together under a shared organizational umbrella. It will also facilitate a deeper integration of our programs, and more deliberately point our compass at two foundational issues: water and climate.

Q: Michigan has been leading the nation in manufacturing job growth for several years. Manufacturers have a strong interest in protecting the environment. How can we work together to both protect the environment and continue to create a vibrant growing economy in Michigan?

Clark: One enduring theme in my two decades of work at the nexus of food, water and energy has been identifying and implementing strategies to create jobs and generate wealth through enterprises deliberately designed to conserve our natural resources and safeguard public health. We can pursue both environmental protection and economic growth simultaneously. My commitment to building strong relationships and bringing all relevant perspectives to the table has driven my successes in life. Communication and collaboration will be a hallmark of the department under my leadership. That’s where we’ll find the creative solutions that will drive Michigan’s prosperity and deliver a world-class way of life for the long haul.

Q: What do you believe are the biggest challenges facing Michigan?

Clark: When I was growing up in The Thumb, Michigan was a national leader in public education, infrastructure, environmental protection and other vital areas. After decades of disinvesting in ourselves and our communities, we need to reclaim our Michigan pride and restore our high aspirations. I spent my college days playing in the Spartan Marching Band but I’ll plug my nose for a moment and borrow from the U-of-M fight song. Michigan needs to recommit itself to being the “leaders and best.” That’s my goal for our department.

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