The recent White House Water Innovation Summit and recognition for World Water Day coincided with the Mayor’s State of the City address on Tuesday, all providing an opportunity to examine an often underestimated economic engine for the greater San Antonio area – the value of water across a various fields of research and development, technology, manufacturing, and most importantly employment opportunities.
Often mired in the politics of water rights, ownership, and relative legalities and legislative battles, there is another perspective that positions San Antonio as one of the global hubs of water innovation. There are more than 344,000 Texans who are directly – and another 1 million who are indirectly – employed through water and water technology jobs, and make an average annual salary of $74,000.
Bexar County’s economic impact from water continues to grow: in 2005 there were 15,530 of our fellow citizens employed in over 30 different occupations – with an average starting salary of approximately $46,000; by 2025 over 21,000 will be employed. Our data, analysis, and market intelligence validates that water and water-related technology are among the top three drivers of economic, workforce and cluster formation for the region and state.
What makes Texas unique is its robust set of assets, geographies, geologies, and end-users of water. Texas represents what 90% of the rest of the world looks like: from the Gulf of Mexico’s seawater and West Texas’ brackish pools that date back more than 100 years, to three of the 10 largest urban cities in the U.S. to some of the least populated counties. From concentrations of global petrochemical and energy to global brands of food and beverage production, there are more than 4,600 utilities and systems running along and in between the Red River and the Rio Grande River.
Unlike other regions in the U.S. that claim to be the center of global water innovation, San Antonio is already positioned to step into the role by its own unique asset, infrastructure, and cultural base. Our historical role in the management of water during the 1700s and 1800s was the foundation for our globally-recognized icon – the River Walk. Yet the River Walk is often viewed as a tourism attraction and not a ‘classroom’ or a ‘living laboratory’ for attracting and engaging global interests in the future of water.
Our proximity to energy, ranching, farming, advanced manufacturing and other economic development activities in Central and South Texas drives the need for more water and more innovative practices and technology adoption. We need more integrated solutions for reuse, conservation, and so-called ‘smart tools’ to generate, treat and reuse this vital resource.
Combined, the San Antonio Water System, San Antonio River Authority, Edwards Aquifer Authority, Guadalupe Blanco River Authority, Lower Colorado River Authority – despite the fact that they are often at odds with each other– are significant sources of expertise, knowledge, and even experimentation for emerging and breakthrough technologies and innovative practices.
There are many common challenges – storms and flooding, leak and loss mitigation, desalination and aquifer recharge, and more than 25 other examples of technology products and services – which should and could become a dynamic partnership for innovation.
Other resources include: Texas A&M University, UTSA, Trinity University, Southwest Research Institute, Joint Base San Antonio, the Pearl, along with several active mining quarries, large residential communities with miles of sprinklers, and thousands of commercial and retail sites as platforms of demonstrating next generation reuse and conservation technologies.
Investors and procurement decision makers require real-world, large-scale sites to evaluate the capabilities and market potential for new technologies and breakthroughs. By integrating and linking these assets, locations, and resources into a collaborative partnership, we can attract the world’s best minds and capital.
There is no other location in Texas, and most likely in the U.S., that offers as many opportunities for researchers, entrepreneurs, innovators, inventors and investors, to spark solutions for a 21st century global urban water scenario than the greater San Antonio area.
We encourage the City of San Antonio, Bexar County and the South Texas region to coalesce around such a scenario that includes:
- The first-ever Urban Innovative Demonstration Program for the testing, evaluating, demonstrating and showcasing of the world’s best emerging and growth-oriented water technologies.
- A Global “Soft-Landing” Strategy that recruits, attracts, and hosts global interests in demonstrating, partnering, investing, and manufacturing a new generation of products, services, and solutions.
- Youth and Student Water Technology Innovators, Solvers and Makers to engage high school, community college, four-year and post-graduate students in solving regional, state, national and global challenges through STEM-related competitions, fast-paced learning, and application of discoveries in real-world settings. These activities lead to the creation of positive skills, talent, entrepreneurial and workforce development outcomes.
- The Water Technology Discovery Network which includes local museums, outdoor venues, River Walk sites, and the local greenway program to increase awareness and discovery of water technology from a historical, current and future perspective.
- A Water Technology Convention, Forum, and Large-Scale Exhibition Plan to identify, attract and host national and global technology gatherings and conferences.
- The Water Technology Cluster formation that leverages these proposed activities in strong competition to Milwaukee, Boston, Toronto, and Tel Aviv for the promotion of cutting edge technological products and services, sparking new employment, continued economic growth, and recruitment of companies and capital.
We believe that our region has long held abundant strengths and corresponding assets needed to expedite the marketing, branding, and positioning for the greater San Antonio area as a 21st Century Global Water Innovation Hub; we believe that we can successfully engage with our existing ‘economic and employment clusters’ – military, manufacturing, biosciences, and cyber security – as collaborative partners for a powerful value proposition around water technology.
This story was co-written by Beldon Enterprises Chairman Mike Beldon, Jim Dublin, and Bill Freed, who both serve on the executive committee for AccelerateH20.
Top Image: Fathom is a service platform that manages smart water meters, customer engagement, and all the areas of water data for public utilities. Photo courtesy of Fathom.