Strong growth in Wisconsin’s water technology sector continues, with Milwaukee further cementing itself as a global water hub. The Global Water Center is set to expand, with the recent purchase of a new building, and construction work has begun on the nearby Reed Street Yards business park, which is ultimately expected to include 1 million square feet of office space for global water technology companies.
“There’s no doubt about it—Milwaukee is where water technology companies want to be,” says Dean Amhaus, president and CEO of The Water Council, which spearheads the Global Water Center. “We’re seeing that in the demand for space in the Water Technology District, as more and more companies choose to locate here.”
Of particular note was Rexnord Corp.’s recent announcement that it will relocate its Zurn Industries subsidiary to Reed Street Yards and construct a 52,000-square-foot office building there—a project expected to create 120 new jobs. Rexnord Corp. will receive up to $2 million in state tax credits for that project, contingent upon the number of actual jobs created.
More than $211 million in public and private investment has been made in the Water Technology District over the past five years, according to a recent economic investment analysis of the district by Kristian Vaughn of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Architecture and Urban Planning.
Milwaukee’s Water Technology District comprises the Walker’s Point, Fifth Ward and Harbor District neighborhoods. Vaughn’s analysis also found that economic development in the water sector has had a very positive impact on property values in the Water Technology District compared to other parts of the city.
“We don’t see any indication of this trend slowing down anytime soon,” says Amhaus. “Once companies realize all the benefits of being located nearby other water technology companies and researchers—of being able to benefit from shared lab space and bounce ideas off one another at a moment’s notice—it’s a no-brainer that they’d want to be part of this.”
When the 98,000 square feet of space in the Global Water Center filled rapidly after the center’s 2013 grand opening, The Water Council decided to move forward on purchasing a second building to allow it to provide space for more small businesses that don’t have the capacity to fill an entire building. Tenants at Global Water Center II will still have access to the auditorium, shared water flow lab and other amenities in the original Global Water Center building, which is just a few blocks away.
The new building will also make it possible for startups and foreign water technology companies to lease office space on a short-term basis to test-drive the benefits of being located in the District.
“It will be nice to have the flexibility to do that, since we’ve seen a lot of interest in short-term arrangements that we haven’t been able to accommodate,” says Amhaus.
In another recent development, Reed Street Yards was recently awarded a $1 million Idle Industrial Site Redevelopment Grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). This investment is complemented by Tax Incremental Financing resources from the City of Milwaukee, including $6.2 million in infrastructure expenditures and another $5 million to support job creation.
Once a railyard and truck terminal, Reed Street Yards will be one of Wisconsin’s first eco-industrial parks, balancing natural resources with economic development. An integrated stormwater treatment plan has been developed that will feature rain gardens, and green building guidelines have been adopted to promote sustainable development.
In all, Wisconsin is home to more than 200 water technology companies, the vast majority of which are in the Milwaukee area. These companies employ an estimated 37,000 people in Wisconsin, with an estimated $5.7 billion in annual sales.
The strength of the sector was highlighted last month with the In Wisconsin® exhibit at WEFTEC, an international water technology industry trade show attended by more than 22,000 people each year. More than three dozen Wisconsin companies exhibited at WEFTEC, and The Water Council and WEDC collaborated on a booth that celebrated the vibrancy of the water sector in Wisconsin.
Several Wisconsin projects were highlighted in official conference sessions, including the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District’s (MMSD’s) collaboration with Water Technology District companies to help the wastewater authority implement industry-leading green initiatives; a session showcasing the business concepts of startups in The Water Council’s Business. Research. Entrepreneurship. In Wisconsin. (The BREW) accelerator (and another similar session the next day); and a “smackdown” that pitted beer brewed from treated MMSD effluent against a similar product from Oregon.
The Water Council also introduced several new initiatives at WEFTEC. Its Global Water Port online tool allows for collaboration among water technology professionals around the world, and includes a powerful search engine whose results are highly customizable and organized in an intuitive visual display.
The Water Council also announced a new competition for water sector startups and held the first-ever Water Venture Investment Conference as part of WEFTEC, connecting entrepreneurs with investors and public funding sources.