Does Lake Lanier hold an important message about the possibility for economic growth in the Milwaukee area? If so, it’s a message that business and political leaders in Wisconsin need to move with urgency, boldness, and vision if they want to make southeast Wisconsin the hub of freshwater-related business in North America.
That was a key theme of a conference Monday convened by Marquette Law School. “Milwaukee 2015: Water, Jobs, and the Way Forward” brought Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, and business and academic leaders together before an audience of several hundred at the Alumni Memorial Union.
“My dream is, by 2015, when people think water, they think Milwaukee,” said Richard A. Meeusen, president and CEO of Badger Meter and co-chair of the Milwaukee 7 Water Council, a group of civic leaders focused on building the metropolitan area as a hub for businesses related to water.
Meeusen; Barry Grossman, an attorney at Foley & Lardner; and Barrett all spoke about Lake Lanier. The lake in northern Georgia is a main source of water for the Atlanta area. In July, a federal judge ruled against continued use of the lake to meet Atlanta’s water needs. Although that is far from the final word in a dispute that has built for years, the ruling makes it significantly more likely that industries in Atlanta will be facing shortages of water within several years.
Barrett said businesses there -– or in other places around the country where water shortages will become realities -– are going to ask, “’Where can I get water?’” His response: “Here we are.” He added, “Turn about is fair play,” and there would be poetic justice if Milwaukee got some businesses to move from Atlanta, given the way the Braves baseball team moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta in 1965. Meeusen said Milwaukee leaders should be contacting Atlanta business people and running ads in newspapers there promoting the availability of water in Wisconsin.
Meussen said, “We should be, in this city, trading water for jobs.” He said M-7 leaders had been asking government regulators if it is legal to offer companies free or reduced price water if they move to the Milwaukee area, and were told recently by the state Public Service Commission that it is.
Anselmo Teixeira, senior vice president of Siemens Water Technologies, said, “We truly have a great opportunity in our hands.” He said there is no established water technology hub in North America, and Milwaukee has some substantial advantages in seeking to become such a center – if the right things are done both by government, university, and business leaders.
Grossman, a member of M-7 Water Council board of directors, said, “We need to place a large bet, we need to place it quickly, if we’re going to establish leadership.”
In prepared remarks, Doyle said, “Wisconsin is in a unique position to be a world leader in the water industry. . . . Here in Wisconsin, we have a great story to tell and it is time for the world to hear.” But in a panel discussion before Doyle arrived, Meeusen said emphatically that the state is not doing enough to put Milwaukee on track to be that water capital.
In welcoming people to the program, Law School Dean Joseph D. Kearney said the event was an example of the way the Law School can bring people together to work on major policy issues facing the Milwaukee area. Mike Gousha, Distinguished Fellow in Law and Public Policy at the Law School, moderated the morning-long session.