On January 9, a chemical leak at Freedom Industries disrupted the lives of 300,000 of our neighbors, including our 600 members, representing 40,000 employees. As we emerge from this incident, we are also presented with the opportunity to create a brighter and stronger future for our region.
In recent weeks, the Charleston Regional Chamber of Commerce has closely monitored the situation and has been engaged with work underway to prevent future incidents.
These efforts include legislative activity, including Senate Bill 373, which aims to improve regulations for prevention and earlier detection. While no one can undo what happened a month ago, we do have the power to determine which path we take forward. Water is a critical natural resource and West Virginia is blessed with abundant water supplies. However, we must ensure that those supplies remain clean and plentiful.
To that end, the Charleston Chamber, along with several regional partners, is working to create a center of innovation for water cleanliness and sustainability at the West Virginia Regional Technology Park in South Charleston.
The mission of the new “West Virginia Water Sustainability Institute” is to develop and commercialize innovative technologies to maintain, improve and protect water supplies throughout West Virginia.
Examples of the work of the institute would include:
- Commercializing technologies that reduce hazards to fresh water sources
- Commercializing technologies for rapid identification of water contamination
- Developing custom solutions to water quality and quantity issues
- Testing and evaluating technologies that maintain the integrity of the entire water distribution system
- Providing independent assessments and reviews of potential hazards, technologies, contingency plans, and related water quality issues
While certainly timely, the seeds of this project were planted three years ago with the launch of Vision 2030, a 20-year economic development plan spearheaded by our affiliate, the Charleston Area Alliance.
Developed with the input of more than 400 business and community leaders, and engaged citizens, Vision 2030 is a roadmap to an empowered future for the Kanawha Valley. It identifies seven key “drivers” that will provide the foundation for a tomorrow that honors the triple bottom line and brings opportunity and prosperity for all.
The work on Vision 2030 was prophetic. Toffler and Associates, a world-class futurist consultancy, provided input and guidance on the plan and focused us on the mega-trend that is clean water.
Abundant, clean water will present one of the biggest challenges to not only our region, but the entire planet. In fact, by 2025 it is expected that two-thirds of the world’s population will live in water suppressed areas.
In response, Vision 2030 includes a number of water-related strategic goals, including harnessing our research assets, such as MATRIC, to develop solutions that will make our community cleaner, help industry innovate and create the technologies that support high-value jobs and capital investments right here at home.
We’ve come a long way but have far to go to transform Vision 2030 into a reality. We must all come together to fix any gaps that created the current situation but not miss a step in our advance towards a future that brings promise and prosperity.
Over the course of the coming months, the Charleston Area Alliance, the Charleston Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Chemical Alliance Zone, the West Virginia Regional Technology Park, West Virginia State University, Marshall University, Marshall University Research Corporation, the Mid-Atlantic Technology, Research & Innovation Center (MATRIC) and others will be working with government leaders, private supporters and the business community to make this “vision” a reality.
The West Virginia Water Sustainability Institute will develop and commercialize technologies that can be deployed around the world, creating Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) jobs in the Kanawha Valley.
Protecting our own citizens is paramount — creating a better regional economy while accomplishing that goal is smart.