With the two largest Great Lakes—Lake Michigan and Lake Superiori—and the Mississippi River forming three of Wisconsin's borders, plus 15,000 lakes within the state's boundaries, access to freshwater has been viewed as one of the state's greatest attributes. This abundance of freshwater has contributed to an economy driven by water-related technologies.
Wisconsin's water-related assets include higher education programs and resources, public-private partnerships and a facility that provides companies with a physical space to advance their offerings. Nearly 300 companies throughout Wisconsin are working to strengthen the state's growing water technology industry. These companies employ nearly 37,000 and account for $5.7 billion in annual sales. Thirty-eight water technology companies have headquarters in Wisconsin, and five of the 11 largest water companies in the world have operations in the state.
The Water Council
The Water Council is an industry-led nonprofit dedicated to achieving global freshwater sustainability through total water-cycle solutions. The Water Council's membership includes industry, academic, utility and private-sector leaders. The council has worked to create opportunities for Wisconsin's water industry participants by building partnerships, supporting education and facilitating access to capital investments. The Water Council's members are managing stormwater with green infrastructure, extracting renewable energy from waste products, and mitigating and adapting to climate change. Its members, including Baker Manufacturing, Xylem and Grundfos, are charged with helping solve the world's water challenges by offering solutions through water stewardship.
Global Water Center
The Water Council established the Global Water Center to further research and business development. The center houses water-related research facilities for universities and existing water-related companies and offers accelerator space for emerging companies.
In June 2014, The Global Water Center was named the North American headquarters for the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS), a global collaboration of leaders in sustainable water resource management. AWS connects companies from a variety of industries to demonstrate leadership and mitigate water risk for their businesses, communities and investors.
The Water Council is responsible for administering AWS's International Water Stewardship Standard 1.0 certification program in the U.S. and Canada. In April 2014, AWS released the standard as a global framework to promote sustainable use of freshwater resources. Through the standard, AWS plans to engage regional stakeholders in AWS governance.
The implementation of this agreement will have implications for a broad array of business, public sector and civil society interests across North America. For the first time, companies headquartered in the U.S. and Canada can become AWS members, enabling them to receive exclusive benefits and mitigate water risk. Now, in partnership with AWS, The Water Council will provide North American water users with a road map to a comprehensive approach to water stewardship and sustainability.
Extending the Reach
To support the development of new talent and innovation, The Water Council knew it needed to bring together wide-ranging, complementary skill sets within a single location to spur industry collaboration. Entrepreneurs, in particular, needed both financial and operational assistance from industry partners in order for their ideas to flourish. The Water Council, in partnership with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), established the first global freshwater seed accelerator program, known as the BREW (Business Research Entrepreneurship in Wisconsin).
Vegetal I.D., a manufacturer and designer of green roof systems in both Europe and North America, was accepted into The BREW's inaugural program in 2013. A subsidiary of French company Le Prieure, the company established a foothold in North America in 2011 with its Batavia, New York, headquarters. Vegetal I.D.'s green roof solution, Stock & Flow, helps control stormwater runoff to protect municipal water management systems.
"The exposure and networking we've experienced through The BREW are the biggest benefits we've received from the program," says Brennon Garthwait, stormwater management specialist with Vegetal I.D.
In addition to space in the Global Water Center in Milwaukee and a $50,000 grant from WEDC for startup costs, Vegetal I.D. received access to top industry and business talent. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee also is helping the company test the product's efficiency, while the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater is assisting with a cost-benefit analysis that can be used to market Stock & Flow to building owners.
"Before entering The BREW, we were not expecting to maintain a presence here long-term," Garthwait said. However, given a projected industry growth rate of 20 percent per year, Garthwait can imagine Vegetal I.D. moving its headquarters to Milwaukee.