Wisconsin has approximately 800 miles of Great Lakes coastline bordering Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, and an additional 200 miles of shoreline along the Mississippi River. Additionally, the UW-Madison Water Library indicates that nearly 1 million acres of the state of Wisconsin are lakes.With that much opportunity, it should be no surprise that ongoing efforts to transform the state into a worldwide water technology hub continue to gain momentum.
The Milwaukee area alone is home to more than 150 water technology companies. The region also boasts the Great Lakes Water Institute, the largest freshwater research institute on the Great Lakes, as well as UW-Milwaukee’s School of Fresh Water Sciences, the first school of its type in the United States.
WI’s water credentials
The Great Lakes Water Institute was first established in 1978 to provide the State of Wisconsin with a focal point for research, education and outreach in the understanding of the Great Lakes. Through the UWM School of Fresh Water Science the Institute promotes broad, multidisciplinary research and also cooperation with other educational institutions. The UWM Center for Great Lakes Studies, a UWM and UW System Center for Excellence, the Aquaculture and Fisheries Research Center and the NIEHS Children’s Environmental Health Sciences Core Center are all located at the Institute. It is the largest institution of its kind in the great lakes region.
Milwaukee has been designated as a United Nations Global Compact city, in international recognition for its freshwater expertise. In addition, Marquette University in Milwaukee has created a water law program, UW-Whitewater has developed a business degree program with a water emphasis and Milwaukee Area Technical College is developing a water technician diploma.
More than 100 academic scientists and researchers focused on water solutions call the Milwaukee area home, with strong partners in the private sector. Among the driving forces in the effort to promote the state and the Milwaukee region as a global water technology hub have been Rich Meeusen, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Badger Meter Inc., a Brown Deer-based manufacturer of flow measurement products, and Paul Jones, chairman and chief executive officer of A.O. Smith Corp., a global water heater maker that has its corporate headquarters in Milwaukee.
The prominent local executives serve as co-chairmen of the board of directors of the Milwaukee Water Council, which convenes the region’s water companies, research clusters and programs to offer training aimed at building cross-sector partnerships. In addition to advancements made in water technology, research in the University of Wisconsin system has also positioned the state as a national sustainability leader for managing storm water with green infrastructure, extracting renewable energy from waste products and mitigating and adapting to climate change.
“Water now offers unparalleled opportunities for new jobs, new companies and a new image for Milwaukee – an image that is making an impression across the world,” Meeusen said. “Just like Silicon Valley coalesced its industry and academic assets to become an international powerhouse of information technology, the Water Council is leveraging its companies, water researchers and academic programs to make Milwaukee an internationally recognized center of water technology expertise.”
Other entities involved in the effort include Veolia, Grundfos, Sloan Valve Co., the Greater Milwaukee Committee and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp (WEDC).
Investing in WI’s water future
In 2012, WEDC committed to investing $750,000 over three years to underwrite start-up water technology companies’ tenancy costs in the new Water Technology Research and Business Accelerator Building, a planned seven-story building at 223 W. Pittsburgh Ave. in Milwaukee. Construction is set to begin in July 2013.
“As recognition grows of the critical role water plays as a human and economic resource, Wisconsin is fortunate to have already positioned itself as one of the few water technology leaders that world policy and business decision makers can look to for answers,” stated Gov. Scott Walker at the time of the announcement. “Support from the state of Wisconsin will help advance the impressive work already completed by the Milwaukee Water Council to new levels of global business development.”
The center will house water-related research facilities for universities and existing water-related companies, and provide accelerator space for new companies with ties to the water industry. The $21 million, 98,000-square-foot, seven-story renovated warehouse in Milwaukee will house about 200 people and include research space, a 45-person lecture hall, and high-tech core facilities that include water flow testing equipment and a shared “wet lab.”
There’s also dedicated space for startups with mentoring opportunities and exhibition space for prototypes. The space will serve as the first mentor-driven seed accelerator to focus on addressing global fresh water challenges, Meeusen said.
The WEDC expects that the investment, combined with the support of vital partners, will accelerate the development of Milwaukee and the metro region as the most advanced hub of water resource management in the world.
Altogether, Meeusen estimates that more than $80 million will be invested over the next three years in water technology-related buildings and infrastructure within a single two-mile radius in Milwaukee, cementing the state’s position as a long-term leader in water-related industry and economic growth.