WisBusiness: Milwaukee leaders hear plans to highlight city’s water-technology industry

By David A. Wise


UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Carlos Santiago today told the Greater Milwaukee Committee about the school’s plans for expanding its water research facilities and opening the nation’s first graduate school of freshwater science, but he tempered his outlook with a bit of restraint.

“I do have to caution myself because sometimes my optimism goes a little further than it should,” he said.

In addition to the new graduate school, plans to support the water industry include building a new $15 million modular water research vessel, expanding the current Water Institute and marine operations facility and building a new building on the lakefront to house the administrative functions of the school’s freshwater programs and serve as a place to showcase the water industry.


Santiago’s discussion of the university’s water research plans came during GMC’s annual meeting at the University Club in Milwaukee. Santiago also touched on plans to build an academic health center and a biomedical engineering campus in addition to the freshwater initiatives.


He said the UW-System Board of Regents has approved a $240 million capital program over six years for the school, of which the university would raise $60 million, to support those efforts.


“I see a great deal of hope,” Santiago said. “Despite the economy, despite the difficult times, I’m optimistic.”


But he noted that the optimism comes with caution, as so far in the five years he’s been at UWM, the university has not yet hired appreciably more faculty for these initiatives, has built no new academic facilities, and has not purchased any additional acreage.


“In the five years that I’ve been here, we still do not have, from my perspective, a sense of imperative, a sense that this is an urgent initiative,” Santiago said.

Badger Meter CEO Rich Meeusen also discussed efforts underway to advance the water technology industry in Milwaukee, noting that the water technology sector got its start in the area in the 1800s to support water-intensive industries like brewing and tanneries.


Today, Meeusen said, the Milwaukee area is home to 120 water technology companies, including five of the 11 largest globally with major operations in the region. The sector employs 20,000 people in the area and is responsible for producing about 4 percent of the world’s water technology, he said.


Further developing the industry requires bringing together industry, investment, university, government and environmental interests to support the effort, which the Milwaukee 7 Water Council, which Meeusen co-chairs, aims to do.


“We are trying to get all of the parties together and we are doing it,” Meeusen said.


The council has a commitment for $800,000 in internships, is working on a technology transfer program with area universities and is developing a visiting executives program to promote Milwaukee’s water technology sector.


The group is also applying to the United Nations Global Cities program to become recognized as a region of excellence for water, Meeusen said.


Today’s meeting also saw Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation President Michael Grebe officially take the helm of the Greater Milwaukee Committee as its new chairman.


Former Chairman Ed Zore, president and chief executive of Northwestern Mutual, remarked at the luncheon that he was pleased with the work the GMC has accomplished under his last two years leading the group.  Zore highlighted the group’s work in the areas of public transit, public education, the Milwaukee 7 regional economic development initiative and community cultural assets.


Grebe, who Zore referred to as “Mr. Milwaukee,” shared few comments upon officially being installed, except to make a few administrative announcements and adjourn the meeting after joking that he gave “a fair amount of thought” as to what to say, but would adjourn “in an effort to get off to an upbeat and perhaps uplifting start.”