UN designation is great opportunity for Milwaukee

    On April 28, 2009, Milwaukee was named a United Nations Global Compact City, one of only 14 in the world, one of two in North America. Local media provided some coverage of this honor, and the announcement event, held at Discovery World, was well attended by senior representatives from business, government, academia, and community organizations.|

    While this is a significant distinction for the region, it is not an award to be hung on the wall at City Hall. Rather, it is a commitment – a responsibility taken on by a group of people and organizations, including the scientists at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Great Lakes Water Institute, companies involved with the Milwaukee 7 Water Council, local and state government, and various community organizations such as the Spirit of Milwaukee, the Greater Milwaukee Committee and the World Trade Center Wisconsin.

    So what is the UN Global Compact and how does it relate to Milwaukee? This United Nations initiative strives to encourage businesses worldwide to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies, and to report on their implementation. The Global Compact is a framework for businesses, based on fundamental ethics and stating ten principles in the areas of human rights, labor, the environment, and anti-corruption.

    The UN Global Compact Cities Programme offers city leaders an alternative governance approach that seeks to find solutions to seemingly intractable urban issues by identifying, harnessing, focusing, and applying existing local capacity. By becoming a member of the United Nations Global Compact Cities Programme, it is the expectation of the Milwaukee region to begin to share our knowledge, expertise, and innovations related to water technology with the rest of the world. We want to help make a difference in global water quality.

    It is quite a responsibility to solve a variety of problems associated with the maintenance and improvement of water quality, covering all facets of the water cycle and related issues, such as health issues, urban environment issues, improved food production environments, and technology development, and policy formation. But it is a responsibility this region has the unique ability to address.

    Being an official member city of the United Nations Global Compact Cities Programme (UNGCCP) provides us with the global resources of the United Nations. To date we have identified 50 UN agencies and affiliated organizations around the globe that are dealing with water issues. As a member city, we will certainly be working with a number of these, linking our scientists and R&D engineers with other experts around the globe.

    So what does this mean? Yes, it is an important issue, and yes, it is nice that Milwaukee has received this designation, but what does this mean for your company?

    How many times have you been traveling overseas when someone asks where you are from and you answer, "Chicago" or "north of Chicago?" Milwaukee is more widely known than most local residents are aware, but obviously nowhere near as well known as the major metropolises of the United States. Even if people have heard of Milwaukee, they do not necessarily know where it is located geographically.

    Jeffrey Joerres, chairman and chief executive of Manpower Inc., a Fortune 200 international employment services firm headquartered in Milwaukee, considers this to be a combination of old and new. "These industry advances set Milwaukee as a contemporary city that is not locked into the traditional Midwest ideals. Although Milwaukee has the values and work ethic of traditional Midwest, these traits are not mutually exclusive. We are both firmly rooted and rapidly growing into the future," Joerres said.

    This designation, combined with the work associated with it and the Milwaukee 7 Water Council, will help to increase the brand awareness of Milwaukee as a forward-thinking city, as well as to educate the world as to our physical location, tying us in the minds of the global community to one of the largest sources of freshwater and the most advanced freshwater technology worldwide.

    One of the key benefits of working with the United Nations Global Compact Cities Programme is the exposure of our local scientists and engineers to other scientists and engineers who are currently working with additional UN offices or affiliated organizations on water related projects. The opportunity to work with the best, helping to solve one of the world’s greatest challenges and being affiliated with or able to leverage the nation’s first ever School of Freshwater Science, all while sharing results globally, presents a unique situation for researchers. This leads to a cycle of growth – where the talent goes, so do industry and money, which attract more talent, and the sequence is repeated.

    Just as important as talent attraction is talent retention. We have a solid pool of scientists and engineers working in both academia and the private sectors in Milwaukee. Efforts to keep this pool of talent here are certainly facilitated by the confluence of events, capped by the UNGCCP. Moreover, we have an unprecedented set of opportunities to present our young engineers and scientists, from internships to job opportunities in a rapidly growing field.

    Richard Meeusen, chairman/president/CEO of Badger Meter and co-chair of the Milwaukee 7 Water Council, has said, "Our vision is that, someday, when a young entrepreneur has an idea for a water technology company, all his relatives, friends and neighbors will say, ‘Go to Milwaukee.’"

    If this is where the best are, where the most opportunities are, this is where the students will stay after graduation and where they will choose to go to graduate school.

    Not only will students stay here for the educational opportunities, but the advances in freshwater technology will generate new capital and create new jobs in the Milwaukee region. Following the cycle of talent and industry, companies will invest in the research and development of new water technology, bringing cash and private equity to help the industry grow.

    The Water Council has already begun to make connections with the investment community. From angel investors to private equity, venture capital, and global exchanges, we are beginning to hit the radar screens of the investment community. Investment groups from Chicago, San Diego, New York, Zurich, and Hong Kong are just a few of the interested parties. The UNGCCP is a global megaphone announcing to the world that we here in the Milwaukee region have the resources, talent, capabilities, and expertise to help solve global water problems. Investors are always on the lookout for opportunity. We have that opportunity here. This is beginning to bring the investors. Investors in water lead to other investors, and the community grows. The money grows, which attracts the talent and entrepreneurs, and so forth. Again, the cycle repeats itself.

    New opportunities will rise as a result of this industry. The water industry is made up of many types of traditional businesses and disciplines – engineering, chemistry, physics, biology, and so on. The breakthroughs many of the technology companies will develop may have multiple applications, both in the water industry and beyond.

    Some have said that water is the next oil. It is not. It is far more valuable. We lived without oil for millennia, and should we need to, we can do it again. Water, however, is an absolute necessity for the sustainability of life. When NASA explores other planets, the first step in the search for life is determining whether water is present. Water cannot be created. Water cannot be destroyed. But it can be polluted, ruined for human consumption. There is a finite amount of water on this planet; it must be explored for, conserved and sustained. The initiatives of the Milwaukee region in the water industry are diving right in and doing just that.

    This designation as part of the United Nations Global Compact Cities Programme helps to make Milwaukee a destination. "Milwaukee now has the opportunity to be recognized on a global scale. Its image will appear in places and on lists that it never appeared before," Joerres says.

    We are the "it" spot for the moment. This is more than a project, more than an honor. "This is not just a one-time award. This is a commitment to how we conduct ourselves and living a certain way," added Joerres. This is a sign that Milwaukee is changing, growing, that we are well on our way to reaching our goal of becoming the Silicon Valley of water technology.


    Christian Bartley is the chief executive officer of the World Trade Center Wisconsin.

    Sign up for BizTimes Daily Alerts

    Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

    No posts to display