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Minnesota: The Silicon Valley of water technology?

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The Land of 10,000 Lakes could be the next Silicon Valley of water tech.

That was the message that flowed from the Minnesota Water Technology Business Summit, held Tuesday at Ecolab's corporate campus in Eagan.

Conference officials noted that Minnesota ranks just 10th nationally among exporters of water and wastewater treatment technology, with more than $729 million in foreign sales in 2012. But the industry employs almost 15,500 Minnesotans, and there is a lot of room for growth, industry and state leaders say.

"We think we're uniquely positioned," Michael Langley, CEO of Greater MSP, a group that promotes economic development in the region, told the Pioneer Press. "We've developed, over many years, expertise in how to supply water, how to move water, how to conserve water. All of those issues are getting more important to the global economy."

Greater MSP says Minnesota has thought leaders and closely networked companies leading in areas that include hydrofracking, desalination, agriculture, water reuse, water security, filtration, conservation, and waste water treatment.

The goal now is for the Twin Cities to firmly establish itself as having a "water technology cluster" of industries, similar to medical device and agriculture clusters in the region. Among the advantages of clusters: jobs and state economic boosts.

Ecolab is already among the global leaders in water tech. Its recent acquisitions include Purate, a small Swedish antimicrobial water treatment division of the company AkzoNobel. Ecolab in December 2011 acquired Nalco, an Illinois-based water-treatment provider, for $8.3 billion.

But Ecolab is hardly the only player. Manufacturing giant 3M has dipped its toe into the industry – one 3M executive described how the Maplewood-based company’s scientists developed a lining that seals leaking pipes without the fuss of utility companies having to dig a trench, Finance & Commerce reported.

And Golden Valley-based Pentair, which provided Target Field its eco-friendly rainwater recycling system, is well-established in the industry.

The competition for water tech clusters is fierce, officials say. Milwaukee is among the cities with similar visions, a Pentair executive told Finance & Commerce.

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