Photo by Tracy Certo for NEXTpittsburgh.

Southwestern Pennsylvania is moving forward in the development of a thriving water industry sector, one that not only attracts cutting-edge technologies from around the world but provides the region with thousands of jobs.

In 2012, Pittsburgh’s H2O Opportunity was released, a report that offered a snapshot of the opportunities and potential growth of water-related businesses, an industry projected to have an overall market potential of $770 billion.

That work continued last week with a Water Roundtable in Pittsburgh, hosted by the Water Economy Network (WEN) and the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance. The conference attracted global and national interests who came together to discuss emerging opportunities in the region including the creation of new technologies and business-to-business partnerships.

The conference was successful in forming relationships with global partners, like the German American Chamber of Commerce, who are interested in bringing their knowledge to the region, says Stephen McKnight with Fourth Economy Consulting, a coordinator for WEN.

“Every time we do these events, something tangible comes of it,” says McKnight. “Water is a very interesting market. It’s so vital. We need to do more of these things in Pittsburgh because they work.”

Better and more sustainable solutions exist for wetland and storm water management, he adds. The next step is to work on these new ideas through Innovate H2O, a program within Idea Foundry focused on accelerating technologies in the water space.

“The bottom line is it helped to demonstrate what we expected. There’s a lot of innovation and opportunity in this region,” says Albert Ciuksza, manager of water initiatives at Idea Foundry.

“We’ve seen a significant uptick in people who are reaching out to us through our innovation program,” he adds. “There’s interest both by both corporate players and independent innovators. This is actually a great opportunity for this region.”

The region already stands to benefit from two hydroelectric power projects. Boston-based Free Flow Power, the newest member of the WEN, is considering a cluster of hydroelectric power plants located along the region’s three rivers.

Dallas-based startup, Hydro Green Energy, has also proposed a hydroelectric power plant in Allegheny County, a 5.2-megawatt plant at the Braddock Locks and dams on the Monongahela.

“Having a robust source of hydropower to feed our grid makes a lot of sense,” says McKnight. “It helps to fulfill a lot of the clean strategies the mayor is advancing,” says McKnight.

Deb Smit

Deb is an award-winning journalist who loves ancient places and cool technologies. A former daily newspaper reporter and Time-Life Books editor, she writes mostly about Pittsburgh. Her stories have appeared...