Milwaukee Markets Water Technology - Can We Do the Same?

Milwaukee wants to be the place people turn to for solving water problems. Photo by Jeffrey Phelps.

Cities around the Great Lakes are beginning to view access to freshwater as a fuel for their economic engines and Milwaukee is at the forefront, according to a recent report on the radio show Marketplace. The advantages that Milwaukee touts should sound familiar to anyone in the Champlain Basin: proximity to a large source of freshwater combined with the juxtaposition of entrepreneurs and top-notch research institutions.

To encourage and direct Milwaukee’s water industry related growth an economic development organization has formed, The Water Council. The vision includes a cluster of businesses, both well-established companies and startups, university researchers, nonprofits and governmental agencies devoted to solving the world’s water woes. They coordinate work in a seven story converted warehouse that opened two years ago. They are building on expertise that’s been around in the city for a while, serving industries from breweries to tanneries, but redirecting the efforts to water supply, distribution, and purification.

David Garman, founding dean of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Sciences, refers to the endeavor as the Silicon Valley of Water complete with research, entrepreneurs and investment opportunities. Recent drought in California has focused attention on water supply and Milwaukee, on the shores of Lake Superior, hopes to take advantage of that.

Those promoting Milwaukee’s positioning to be a Water Quality innovation center note that Milwaukee is known for beer, and that water is the primary ingredient of beer. Perhaps the Champlain Valley of Vermont and New York -- a source of even cleaner water and even better beer -- can learn from Milwaukee’s initiative and marketing savvy.