28 I t’s no small feat to kickstart a regional business and academic collaboration that fuels economic growth, attracts international attention, and at the same time conserves one of our world’s most precious natural resources. Rich Meeusen is living that experience and is a compelling example of the entrepreneurial mindset in action. Meeusen’s business is water. He is CEO of Badger Meter, a 110-year-old, Milwaukee-based company that is North America’s largest manufacturer of water meters. His curiosity and connections translate into a deep-seated interest in regional economic efforts that foster growth and job opportunities. In 2007, while reading a paper on regionalism by Michael Porter, the renowned Harvard Business School professor who writes about identifying and exploiting competitive advantages, Meeusen had a revelation that allowed his experience and connections to flow into one big idea. “Porter emphasizes that regions should focus on what strengths they have, then try to attract and grow businesses within their region around those advantages,” Meeusen says. “Recognizing the mobility of talent and the ability of certain places to attract it – such as Nashville, Hollywood, and Silicon Valley – I started to think about what Milwaukee does well. With more than 150 businesses in our region specializing in water- related products, it’s obviously a cluster of water technology expertise.” Once Meeusen began to pitch the concept of a regional hub for water research and technology to his network of business contacts, the idea gained traction. “We invited all the water companies we knew to come to a meeting – and were shocked that they all came. We presented our idea and it was a surprisingly easy sell. The result was the Water Council.” The goal of the Water Council is to address a pivotal worldwide challenge – conserving fresh water and using it more efficiently. Under Meeusen’s leadership, Milwaukee has become a global center for water technology. Its success has created an abundance of opportunities for tomorrow’s engineers. Getting regional academic institutions involved was key. “The days of the ivory tower universities are over,” Meeusen says. “I was amazed at the thirst the schools had for closer relationships with business. Today’s students want to contribute their talents to something that matters when they graduate, and the universities realize they need to work more closely with business to make sure they’re educating students to make an impact on real world needs.” The Water Council has become an internationally recognized force in the world of water. Infrastructure investments include the creation of the School for Freshwater Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a new $53 million classroom and research building near Milwaukee’s south harbor, and the transformation of a historic downtown building into the Global Water Center. This renovated structure was designed to solve complex water-related problems and facilitate collaboration between The Silicon Valley of WaterTechnology The confluence of curiosity and connections produces an international hub