The “Silicon Valley of Water?” – That’s Governor Patrick’s Vision for Mass.

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons 2012
Photo: Flickr Creative Commons 2012

When Governor Deval Patrick went to Israel for a high-profile trade mission in March 2011, he received a focused pitch from businesses operating at the cutting edge of the global water industry. Their sell? To make Massachusetts the “home away from home” for Israeli businesses doing business in the U.S. These entrepreneurs from Israel - the global leader in water startups - told Governor Patrick that they need a center for the industry – a “Silicon Valley of water.”

David Goodtree, co-organizer of the Symposium on Water in Mass., described the Governor’s favorable reaction to this pitch at a recent presentation hosted by Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2). According to Goodtree, the Governor was sold on the concept, envisioning a Mass.-based economic development engine akin to the life sciences and information technology industries.

Can it happen?

Yes, according to Goodtree, who notes that Massachusetts is positioned to succeed in this area because: 1) there is a global opportunity in water; and 2) Massachusetts has unique assets for this opportunity.

The global opportunity

The global water industry right now is worth $500 billion – and it will double in the next 10 years. Demand for water is rising (due to growing population, expanding agricultural practices, and broader manufacturing of consumer and luxury goods). On the supply side, only 3 percent of water on the planet is fresh; of that fresh-water supply, only .3 percent is available for human consumption.

The Mass. assets

Goodtree noted the deep history of innovation in Massachusetts, including academia and research institutions that engender next-generation thinking and constantly evolving technological solutions to problems. Goodtree’s search of the U.S. patent office revealed that Massachusetts is at or near the top of most categories of water innovation compared to other states in the U.S. The Boston area has received more EPA grants than any other metro area in the country. The Commonwealth’s history of innovation and entrepreneurialism includes invention of the world’s first desalination system and the sensor-activated faucet. And the state’s innovation economy persists: Goodtree counted 31 Massachusetts companies currently in the water industry.

There is still a ways to go before Mass. can boast being the epicenter of a global water industry. However, the Commonwealth certainly seems to be on the right path, and from a job creation perspective, the possibility is very appealing.

Jay Staunton is vice president, account services at Greenough.