Innovation in water engineering, sensors and data-gathering will be a crucial competitive advantage for manufacturing-driven economies such as metro Milwaukee, according to a new report issued Tuesday from Marquette University, A.O. Smith Corp. and the U.S. Council on Competitiveness.

The new study examines the economic nexus of water-intensive manufacturing sectors and the emerging field of water technology — both regarded as cornerstones of the Milwaukee-area economy.

Tuesday’s report, “Leverage: Water and Manufacturing,” is the latest acknowledgment that the golden age of cheap, seemingly limitless supplies of fresh water has ended. Water itself is becoming an increasingly scarce, polluted, in-demand and costly economic resource.

“When we think about some of the manufacturing that the city was known for, like the breweries and tanneries, they were very water intensive,” said Marquette President Mike Lovell, in releasing the 36-page report. “So much of the history of the region has been a marriage of water and manufacturing.”

Smart water technology will be “a tremendous catalyst to revitalize manufacturing,” said Ajita Rajendra, chief executive of Milwaukee-based A.O. Smith, which has global markets and manufacturing for its water filters and heaters.

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