‘Fresh Coast’ could spark economic growth

The Milwaukee 7‘s Water Council, a coalition of business, academia and government dedicated to transforming the Milwaukee area into a global hub of freshwater research, commerce, jobs and education, is poised for significant progress in 2009.

The Water Council was formed in 2007 as an offshoot of the M7 (Milwaukee 7), a regional cooperation effort of the seven counties in southeastern Wisconsin.

Steps taken in 2009 could lead to significant progress in the future in the Milwaukee area, said Rich Meeusen, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Milwaukee’s Badger Meter Inc. Meeusen also is co-chair of the Water Council.

“In 1959, Disneyland opened in Anaheim, and the city said, ‘We will become a tourism Mecca,'” Meeusen said. “But for 12 years, it didn’t do anything, and Disney moved on to Orlando. It opened Disney World there in 1972, and Orlando said, ‘We will be the tourism Mecca.’ They got their act together – changed zoning, created tax incentives and worked with their universities to create hospitality education programs.

“The city attracted other destinations, and Orlando is the tourism capital today, and Anaheim is not. Milwaukee right now is Anaheim in 1959 or Orlando in 1972. We could do nothing. Or we could get our act together and coordinate our corporate, academic and government to become the freshwater capital of the U.S. and possibly the world,” Meeusen said.

The Water Council organized as a separate nonprofit entity on Jan. 1, Meeusen said, and has recruited its own board of directors. The organization also has started charging dues to its membership, which will be used to pay for its website and events.

In February, the council will begin a series of technology transfer seminars where engineers from Badger Meter, A.O. Smith Corp. and other member companies will be able to interact with each other and with engineering professors from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the Milwaukee School of Engineering and other member universities.

The idea is to help the engineers from companies and universities discuss and collaborate, Meeusen said.

“I will send my chief engineer to the meeting,” Meeusen said. “Everyone will sign a confidentiality agreement, where they agree not to steal ideas. But very few of the 120 companies (in the council) compete with each other. Up until 2008, the only conflict I thought we had was between GE (Water and Process Technologies) and Pentair. Both of them did water softening and formulation, but now they have a joint venture. I can’t think of any other conflicts.”

The Water Council also will launch its internship program this year. The council is working with UWM to determine the level of students who will be best served by water technology-related internships with member companies and which companies will take part, Meeusen said.

“Our companies are committed to the internships and have pledged about $800,000 to fund them,” Meeusen said. “These are companies like Kohler, A.O. Smith, Badger Meter and the Milwaukee Water Department. We’re trying to generate a workforce of people and reduce the brain drain.”

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is building momentum to brand the region as the “Fresh Coast” of America in an era in which fresh water could become more valuable than oil.

The Water Council will advocate this year for the creation of a proposed School of Freshwater Sciences at UWM, Meeusen said. While creation of the new school depends on Gov. Jim Doyle’s state budget, Meeusen believes it could be approved in 2009 because of Doyle’s role in the development and eventual adoption of the Great Lakes Compact.

If the School of Freshwater Sciences is created at UWM, the Water Council wants it to have its own building on the lakefront.

“It needs its own facility, and we’re fools if we don’t put it on the lake,” Meeusen said. “We want to have the Water Council (office) in the school. When I have CEOs of water technology-related companies come into town, I could give them a tour of the city, take them to dinner and show this to them. We need to be able to show this to the heads of companies – to wine and dine them and show them the school. That’s what sells a CEO on moving his business to your city.”

Richard Meeusen

President, chairman and CEO

Badger Meter Inc. – Milwaukee

Industry: Water and related flow meters

Employees: More than 500 in Milwaukee, more than 1,100 worldwide.

Web site: www.badgermeter.com

On board: The board of directors for the Milwaukee 7 Water Council includes the following members:

    – Laurent Auguste, Veolia Water North America

    – Barry Grossman, Foley & Lardner

    – Franz Hoffman, Procorp Enterprises LLC

    – Paul Jones, A.O. Smith Corp.

    – Dick Leinenkugel, Wisconsin Department of Commerce

    – Rich Meeusen, Badger Meter Inc.

    – Paul Purcell, Robert W. Baird  & Company Inc.

    – Carlos Santiago, University of  Wisconsin-Milwaukee

    – Julia Taylor, Greater Milwaukee Committee

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