Water: The New Oil?

Water: The New Oil?

Water access is a 21st-century issue for American manufacturers.

In the Sunbelt, the weather holds true to its name, but the promise of more temperate, sunny weather that attracted U.S. manufacturing operations to the American South and Southwest comes with the inevitable curse of drought. Some industry experts predict that water prices could double or triple over the next few years. Negative impacts on business bottom lines may now result in a reverse migration based on the lack of water resources available in arid regions and all across the country.

Lack of a reliable water supply due to drought caused by changing global weather patterns and overpopulation is an emerging 21st-century crisis. Manufacturers in arid regions are coming to terms with the growing problem of water shortage and the need to find solutions to local limitations on water supply.

Severe constraints on local water supply in traditional and emerging arid regions can create increased expense for manufacturers as utility costs skyrocket to match demand, the need for major investment in process innovation for less water-intensive uses, and loss of productivity and profitability if sufficient water resources are not consistently available. Much of manufacturing worldwide relies on access to heavy water use -- most obviously food processing and beverage and pharmaceutical creation, but also product manufacturing, electronics and metals, wood and paper, and geothermal energy.

According to the U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook issued May 7 by the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center, drought will continue to plague the majority of California and Nevada, and remain a serious problem from Arizona to Texas. The fight for water in California between manufacturing, agriculture and consumer uses is expected to extend throughout the Southwest as governments clamp down on water redistribution. While conditions are improving in the Mid-Atlantic, most of Florida still struggles with drought, the continuation of an ongoing trend.

Because manufacturers can no longer count on the delivery of limitless water supply independent of location, water access must now become a key factor in site selection. That's why Ohio's Dayton Region in April launched a campaign to spread the word about our rich water resources: declaring the Dayton Region "H2Open for Business."

The Dayton Region, comprised of most of western Ohio, may not immediately come to mind in conjunction with water availability. Ironically enough, water supply from the Great Lakes appears to be expansive, but it is not potable or suitable for manufacturing or other business use. Hidden underneath the Dayton Region, a 1.5-trillion gallon aquifer system supplies a constantly refreshed clean groundwater resource that never goes dry. That's why water may be to Dayton what oil has been to Texas.

What does come to mind in most thoughts of Dayton is that it is a manufacturing powerhouse. Even without the water advantages, the Dayton Region remains based on its location one of the most business-friendly choices for access to primary North American markets. Ohio is within 600 miles of 60% of the U.S. population and 50% of the Canadian population, and Dayton is at the crossroads of Interstates 70 and 75 and within an hour's drive of three international airports. Manufacturing has never left Dayton, but some manufacturers have. Now, coping with water crises worldwide, manufacturers should consider the added benefit of Dayton's unlimited water availability and the tremendous manufacturing services industry that remains in the aftermath of the automotive downturn.

More than 6,000 rivers and streams constantly recharge the Dayton Region's 1.5 trillion gallon aquifer system. Dayton has so much water it has created a world-class water management system to prevent flooding. That same system also is capable of generating routine water yields of more than 2,000 gallons per minute. In extremely water-rich areas, water yield of more than 13,000 gallons per minute is achievable.

Furthermore, most of the Dayton Region's groundwater maintains a constant temperature of 56 degrees Fahrenheit, providing a valuable source of geothermal energy that can reduce heating and cooling costs. Dayton can lead in the development of geothermal energy solutions by becoming an international hub for this technology innovation. But any manufacturer can take advantage of this cheap energy source as an added benefit of its water supply.

It's not just about water in the Dayton Region. Unlike manufacturing expansion into underdeveloped areas of the Sunbelt, Dayton is market-ready with all of the resources necessary for manufacturing success. In addition to unbeatable market access, the Dayton Region offers a convergence of world-class logistics solutions, mature but competitive business development infrastructure, and workforce talent resources to support manufacturing investment. And the same education system that ensures availability of an educated, skilled workforce also provides research and development partnerships to support manufacturing innovation, including the legendary Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

The advantages that attracted manufacturers to the American Sunbelt -- plentiful cost-effective labor, available property for move-in or construction, and a pleasant environment for both executives and employees -- are all right here in the Dayton Region. As climate change leaves manufacturing high and dry throughout the Sunbelt, the Dayton Region is H2Open for Business. Manufacturing operations can leave behind uncertain water supply conditions and harsh climates, in exchange for Dayton's guaranteed water availability and milder year-round weather that keeps its water refreshed.

The Dayton Region is confident that with the added 21st-century benefit of water's precious resource, manufacturing not just in the Sunbelt but also among arid regions worldwide will call Dayton headquarters. And Dayton is ready.

Jim Leftwich is president and CEO of the Dayton Development Coalition, the regional economic development and advocacy organization for Ohio's Dayton Region. www.h2openforbusiness.com.

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