Liquid Assets
4:00 am
Mon September 23, 2013

Liquid Assets: Cincinnati hopes to cash in on H2O

By the year 2020 the water industry, including treatment, management and infrastructure, could be worth $1 trillion globally. Cincinnati, armed with experts, new technology, and a reputation as a worldwide water leader, is looking to cash in.

When you think about it, there's nothing more important than water and Cincinnati has plenty of it. A new report says water continues to be under appreciated and undervalued. However, some refer to it as the "oil of the future." So how much is water worth? If your water service went away, the Federal Emergency Management Agency calculated it at $93 per person per day.

Cincinnati is leveraging its expertise to become:

  •  a world leader
  • solve global problems
  • make money

Procter and Gamble scientist Scott Dyer is part of Confluence, a local water technology innovation cluster.  It's behind those efforts to become a world water leader.  He pictures what the region can become, saying, we "have a chance of creating a silicon valley of water."  

Cincinnati started thinking about this three years ago, in part, because then EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson saw what the region had to offer. Procter and Gamble put up the seed money to get the group an office and is providing international connections. For example, three P&G employees just back from a water conference in Stockholm, will share their information with Confluence. 

EPA removes regulation barriers

To speed up efforts, the EPA is making it easier for Greater Cincinnati innovators to quickly commercialize their technology by removing regulation barriers that, in the past, would have delayed projects for as much as 15 years. Melinda Kruyer, executive director of Confluence, explains,“What we’re trying to do is to really create an ecosystem of technologists, you know, a world that makes it easier for them, taking down these barriers, but making it simple to get from the lab through to commercialization.”

Kruyer acknowledges there's urgency.  The world's population has increased four-fold over the last 100 years and it still has the same amount of water. Kruyer says, beyond the greater good, there's also an economic incentive.

End-user GCWW also looks to establish global hub

In a separate effort, Cincinnati is working with utilities in Israel and Canada to establish a utility-based water technology innovation hub. Booky Oren, who used to lead Israel's National Water Company, recently made his third trip to Cincinnati since March. He says the region has a lot of offer. “All of those components are existing here in Cincinnati and create a potential for a major growth engine to solve major problems for the utilities.”

Oren and the Greater Cincinnati Water Works are putting out a request for innovation proposals to bring the utility up-to-date, according to acting director Biju George. One project will use sensors to digitally provide information about the underground pipes. George likens it to going from a musket to a drone.

Why Cincinnati for these technology hubs?

  1. The federal government has been researching water here for more than 100 years.
  2. Groundbreaking research tested at the water works, has been deployed nationally.
  3. Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky have more than 700 water technology patents. That's the highest concentration per capita in the United States.

Dayton also marketing water

Dayton is a part of Confluence. Dayton Development Coalition COO Scott Koorndyk says the city, with the Great Miami River and aquifer, is marketing water as one of its assets. “We’re targeting companies that have high water use or unique water challenges. Those are a target for us, so it’s an economic development opportunity for us.”

That effort is paying off. Abbott Laboratories announced last year it will invest $240 million and hire hundreds of people for a new nutritional drink manufacturing facility.

The  overall economic impact of water technology in the Tri-State is estimated to be as much as $2.1 billion annually with the potential to grow six to seven percent every year.