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By Caroline Berg in New York (China Daily) April 25, 2013

The name “Wisconsin” literally translates from the Native American Indian tribe dialect as “river running through a red place,” and the state has become known as “the capital of water.”

With a landscape of 15,000 lakes, including Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, not to mention the Mississippi River, protecting access to fresh water has become one of the state’s key concerns. Wisconsin boasts more than 200 companies with ties to the state’s water technology industry, as well as the only school of freshwater science in the US.

“When I would come to Milwaukee’s downtown from the suburbs in the late ’60s/early ’70s, I would see dead fish floating on top of the Milwaukee River,” said Dean Amhaus, President and CEO of the Milwaukee-based Water Council. “But you never see that now.”

And now Wisconsin is looking to help China combat its pervasive water issues.

“It’s pretty well known that China has water issues,” Amhaus said. “We also know that China is starting to realize and value that [reality] from the federal government level and they want to begin to address those issues.”

Amhaus accompanied Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker on a trade mission to China last week and delivered a presentation at the China-Wisconsin Clean Water Forum in Beijing.

The forum was also co-hosted by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), the China GreenTech Initiative and the US-China Clean Tech Center.

The goal was to bring together academics, policy makers, investors and water- technology companies to discuss how China can collaborate with global partners to address its water problems.

“Not only was the goal met,” said Lora Klenke, WEDC vice-president of international business development. “Frankly, it was exceeded.”

The hosts had anticipated around 70 attendees at the forum but more than 90 showed up. They also hoped one Chinese province would show interest in establishing a special relationship with Wisconsin and were surprised to establish three partnerships with the governors of Hebei, Heilongjiang and Fujian provinces.

“Principally, [this initiative] needs to be wanted at the grass-roots level,” Amhaus said. “Having the governor of Hebei come up to me after my presentation and personally say that this is a strong interest of theirs – that is very attractive to see a person at that level cares.”

The water issues the Chinese raised most frequently were in waste-water treatment and sludge cleaning, according to Klenke.

“The largest challenge in entering the Chinese market is the immense size of the market,” Klenke said. “There is need in so many places that a single company could easily be overwhelmed.”

The WEDC is working with the Water Council to help identify specific companies in Wisconsin looking to enter the Chinese market and to connect them with local experts in China with the assistance of the extensive networks of the China GreenTech Initiative and the US-China Clean Tech Center.

“The needs of the Chinese market in terms of water usage and remediation technology are in line with the types of new and innovative technologies that are being produced in Wisconsin,” Klenke said. “This naturally presents large economic opportunities for companies from around the world, including Wisconsin.”

Operating within Wisconsin are five of the world’s 11 largest water technology companies and 38 water technology companies are headquartered in Wisconsin, including A.O. Smith, Badger Meter and Kohler.

State resources will be directed at helping Wisconsin companies enter the Chinese market, according to Klenke. Federal programs exist to help in the exporting of clean technologies, but the bulk of costs will be borne by individual companies.

Amhaus said three or four water experts will be sent to China to conduct comprehensive assessments and after a “triage” is established, they will have a better idea of how to proceed.

“We look at it from a very holistic standpoint,” Amhaus said. “It’s not just the water that needs to be addressed, but it’s also all of the contributing factors causing the water problems.”


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