What do you expect from a land of lakes?

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Elizabeth Campbell

Minnesota firms are growing in the water business, including significant water-related acquisitions by Ecolab and Pentair, as we've reported recently.

Steve Riedel, international trade representative at the Minnesota Trade Office, reports that Minnesota ranks ninth in U.S. water-technology exports at $716 million.

Exports have increased by about 150 percent over the last decade. That includes water filtering/purifying machinery, liquid solutions and assorted mechanical devices that are used in the making and transport of clean water, wastewater, recovery and recycling systems. Minnesota's top markets for water technology are China, Canada and South Korea, accounting for nearly half of Minnesota exports. China was our fastest-growing market over the past decade.

"As water treatment and health standards improve worldwide ... the demand for clean water for human use and industry use just keeps rising, as does the demand for treated wastewater," Riedel said. "On top of all this, climate change and water scarcity leads to the need for conservation technologies and services."

More anecdotal developments among Twin Cities firms: Hiawatha Rubber has spun off a water company, Mainsail Global, to make diffusion aerators from rubber. And Banner Engineering, which makes sensors for automated manufacturing, sees opportunities in water-treatment settings with sensors that manage water flows. 

The trade office will host a "water technology roundtable" at 10 a.m. on May 3 in Sartell, Minn., at the headquarters of DeZurik, a valve technology provider for water and wastewater treatment. More information at steve.riedel@state.mn.us.

WATER WORLD, WIGEN STYLE

Jeff Wigen, the boss at Wigen Water Technologies (www.wigen.com) in Chaska, is one of the skippers of Minnesota's wave of water technology companies.

There are big names, such as Pentair, GE, 3M and "a few middle-market manufacturers like us, which compete head-to-head on municipal projects throughout North America on a daily basis," Wigen wrote me recently. "In fact, I would venture to guess that one of us here in Minnesota, has been, or is currently involved in producing/treating more than half of the drinking water on the continent. And, we're now collectively on a mission to tackle the world's water problems."

Wigen, who employs nearly 50 people, is hiring. "One of the biggest hurdles those of us in this industry face, is finding qualified personnel," he said. "Water probably isn't sexy enough yet to attract many college-age kids to pursue it as a career. Given Minnesota's prominence in the water field, I hope that someday, the local higher education community will take an interest in developing curriculum related to the pursuit of treating, recycling and conserving our most precious resource."

The folks at the University of Minnesota and at Minnesota State Colleges and Universities say they're addressing that. Regardless, producing ample quantities of clean water economically, recycling and reusing it is a great challenge and opportunity for Minnesota.

WOMEN CONTROL THE STRINGS

"PurseStrings," a several-year-old, award-winning marketing-to-women radio program on WebmasterRadio.FM, airs its 200th Internet broadcast on April 24. This will be a "best-of" program, highlighting some of the notable guests featured on the show that is hosted by Maria Reitan, chair of the marketing-to-women and lifestyle practice at Carmichael Lynch Spong, the communications and ad agency.

"Women do control the purse strings," said Reitan, a former broadcast journalist. "They make more than 80 percent of all purchasing decisions in the home. The category is significant and affects every consumer-facing company out there."

Reitan will speak to the Marketing to Women Conference in Chicago on April 24-25 about the recession's impact on women.

"PurseStrings," which joined the WebmasterRadioFM programming lineup in 2007, has received several accolades, including a PR News Platinum award for Best Podcast after competing with the likes of General Motors and Yoplait Yogurt. It also has been recognized by the San Francisco Public Relations Society of America and the Minnesota PRSA. "PurseStrings" guests have included Lucy Danziger, Self magazine editor-in-chief, and Jim Lecinski, Google's vice president of U.S. sales.

RACE AND BUSINESS

Elizabeth Campbell of Ryan Companies is an honoree this week at the annual Facing Race Ambassador Awards, sponsored by the St. Paul Foundation.

Campbell, the emerging business inclusion coordinator at the developer, has succeeded in increasing the number of minority-owned subcontractors by more than 50 percent. Campbell, who holds a master's degree from Augsburg College in leadership development, joined Ryan in 2004 and has spent her career working with private, nonprofit and public employees on diversity and cultural awareness.

Cities often establish minority and female-hiring goals on public projects, such as the new Target Center roof and the Midtown Global Exchange.

"I have a mandate to increase the number of women- and minority-owned subcontractors on our private projects as well as meeting or exceeding the goals on public projects," Campbell said.

The Rev. Paul Slack, pastor of New Creation Church in Brooklyn Park, another honoree, has been a leader in Isaiah, the faith-and-social-justice organization that helped broker an agreement with the Minnesota Department of Transportation in 2010 to dedicate a percentage of its federal funding to job-training for minorities and women.

ACCOUNTABILITY DELIVERS RETURNS

Hats off to the accountants and other volunteers from AccountAbility, the nonprofit business that helps Minnesotans of modest means file their taxes and boost their incomes by taking advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit that helps so many working-poor families.

Tracy Fischman, executive director of AccountAbility Minnesota, said the tax credit, which taxpayers only get by filing returns, can boost the incomes of hard-pressed families by up to 40 percent. AccountAbility specialists also advise on prudent savings practices and budgeting to stretch the windfall.

The rap is that only 50 percent of Americans actually pay federal taxes. However, that's after the earned income tax credit is taken by millions who work and pay payroll and other taxes on family incomes of up to $40,000.

Minnesota Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans visited with staff, clients and volunteers at AccountAbility Minnesota's St. Paul headquarters this month to thank them for the free assistance to working-class taxpayers.

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