Milwaukee’s Water Driven Economic Strategy

May 7, 2011 article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about water as a growing city strategy.

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Milwaukee’s water-driven economic strategy gains recognition

Grants, classes and businesses add up to a growing city specialty

By John Schmid of the Journal Sentinel

May 7, 2011 |(0) Comments

Milwaukee is sending ripples in the world of water.

Twice in less than a year, the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency came to Milwaukee to make new federal water policy announcements.

Milwaukee’s water-driven economic strategy also compelled IBM Corp. this year to select Milwaukee as one of the first recipients for one its Smarter Cities grants – one of eight in the United States and 24 worldwide.

American Micro Detection Systems Inc., a California-based sensor technology manufacturer, is locating its first expansion in Milwaukee.

“Milwaukee is definitely on the map,” said Rich Meeusen, founder of the Milwaukee Water Council trade group and chief executive of Badger Meter Inc., which manufactures water meters.

The 4-year-old Water Council started as an all-volunteer organization with almost no public funding but gained traction quickly because people easily can grasp the basic idea – drinkable water is an industry that’s green, global and growing, Meeusen said.

The ultimate success or failure of the water initiative, however, will be judged by how many new jobs it catalyzes beyond the base of existing water industries in southeastern Wisconsin. And by its own admission, the tally so far is only 100.

“It’s just a start,” Meeusen said. “That’s really nothing, not hardly enough, unless you happen to have one of those jobs.”

The Water Council insists that the jobs count is conservative and avoids the inflation in job-creation numbers common among some federal stimulus projects or regional economic development entities.

By other measures, the Water Council argues that its work has begun to change the economic image of southeastern Wisconsin:

• Council membership numbers 75 companies, universities and organizations.

• The National Science Foundation awarded a $2.75 million grant last year to launch a Collaborative Research Center with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Marquette University and six local water businesses.

• Last fall, UWM began its first classes in a graduate-level School of Freshwater Sciences; it’s also adding a water policy think tank and spending $50 million on new research facilities.

• Marquette’s law school created a “water law” curriculum.

• UW-Whitewater created a water business minor that links business, economics and marketing with water sciences.

• The Water Council was one of the first recipients of the inaugural 2011 U.S. Water Prize from the Clean Water America Alliance.

• The group was one of two finalists in the 2010 Innovation in Economic Development Awards from the U.S. Commerce Department.

• Students at four universities separately created Student Water Councils to explore water industry careers: UW-Whitewater, UW-Parkside, Marquette and the Milwaukee School of Engineering.

• The United Nations designated Milwaukee the 14th member of the U.N. Global Compact Cities Program, the only region in the U.N. program to tackle water quality issues.

• The Alliance for Water Stewardship, which is working toward global water standards, named Milwaukee as its North American headquarters.

• Alongside Paris, Milwaukee will be one of six founding cities around the world working with Veolia Water of France, the world’s biggest water technology company, to create a global initiative to develop water practices in an age of scarcity.

• In December, the state Public Service Commission approved Milwaukee’s proposal to offer low-cost water to industries that agree to create new jobs through business expansions or relocations.


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