A Wisconsin delegation is preparing to travel to New Orleans at the end of September for the Water Environment Federation’s Technical Exhibition and Conference. Known as WEFTEC, the trade show is North America’s premier event for education, training and making business connections in the field of water quality.

The Water Council and WEDC are partnering to exhibit on the show floor. The Wisconsin Water Innovation Pavilion, Booth #3345, will highlight Milwaukee’s status as a world water hub, as well as the ripple effects of a strong water technology sector across Wisconsin.

More than 50 Wisconsin companies will also have booths on the show floor, and the goal of the Wisconsin booth is to amplify their presence and raise awareness of Wisconsin’s thriving water technology sector, which includes more than 200 companies in all.

More than 37,000 employees are connected to the water technology sector in Wisconsin, and the sector produces $5.7 billion in annual sales.

As Dean Amhaus, president and CEO of The Water Council, told a tour group during the Water Leaders Summit held in Milwaukee in June 2018, “There really is no other place like this.”

Milwaukee continues to receive accolades as a model for effective cluster development—most recently a report from the Brookings Institution, issued in July 2018, naming Milwaukee as “a prime example” of a successful cluster hub and noting that The Water Council and partners have “established the region as a top global hub for innovation and solutions to the world’s water challenges.”

In the process, this development has transformed a neighborhood. A UW-Milwaukee economic investment analysis found that more than $211 million in public and private investment occurred from 2010 to 2015 in Milwaukee’s Water Technology District, located within the Walker’s Point neighborhood.

The Global Water Center is currently home to 45 tenants, as well as The Water Council headquarters. In addition, many more water-related companies have moved into the surrounding neighborhood to be close to the action. One of these companies is Zurn Industries, which built its 52,000-square-foot headquarters within Reed Street Yards, an eco-industrial business park located across from the Global Water Center.

The Global Water Center is also home of the BREW (Business. Entrepreneurship. Research. In Wisconsin) Accelerator program for water technology startups; companies in each round of the accelerator temporarily receive space in the building to collaborate with one another as they move their ideas toward commercialization with the help of specialized training, mentoring and a $50,000 equity investment from The Water Council.

The building also includes space for industry-university research collaborations, and even a coworking space, the Oasis, for solopreneurs and visitors. Short-term rentals are available for companies that are moving to Milwaukee from elsewhere, so they have a “soft landing” spot to conduct their work while they find a more permanent home.

As it has gained prominence as a world water hub, Wisconsin has increasingly forged international connections, such as a collaboration with Chinese partners to host a set of conferences on water issues in China. The first round of such conferences took place in November 2017, and another round is planned for April 2019.

During the Water Leaders Summit in June, Colin Flanner, intern and student chapter liaison for The Water Council for the last four years, told a tour group that the cluster development success would not have been possible without the city’s history of industries such as beer brewing, meatpacking and leather tanning.

“Milwaukee has what it has because of over 100 years of water-intensive industries,” Flanner said. “You cannot create a cluster out of thin air.”

From this rich history and a vibrant present, the sector is now looking to the future, with a focus on talent development at this year’s event.

The Water Council and WEDC are co-sponsors of a service project taking place prior to the beginning of the conference, in which volunteers will construct a bioswale and an educational infographic at a community center in a New Orleans neighborhood. One of the featured panels hosted by The Water Council during the conference will discuss The Water Council’s program to connect students from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) with internships at Wisconsin water technology companies, to encourage more young people to consider careers in water technology and enhance the sector’s diversity. In addition, key partners of The Water Council from UW-Whitewater and UW-Milwaukee will serve as judges during the WEFTEC Student Design Competition, and Wisconsin will have a presence at the career fair that takes place during the event to promote the state’s boundless opportunities in water careers and quality of life aspects.

Find more WEFTEC updates on the blog before, during and after the conference, which takes place Oct. 1-3, 2018, in New Orleans.