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Water sector here growing talent and seeding innovation

Update by body overseeing sector shows its growing contribution to jobs created and to GDP

[SINGAPORE] Singapore is aiming to maintain its position as a global hydrohub leader by encouraging innovative industrial water solutions and building up talent in the sector.

In the area of building up the talent pool, for example, the target of doubling the number of jobs in the water sector here to 11,000 by 2015 has already been surpassed.

The Environment and Water Industry Programme Office (EWI) has, in its eight-year history, put more than S$300 million into funding over 100 water-sector projects from research to generation; some of these projects have yielded commercial activities and been spun off into companies.

The EWI is on track to also shoot past the water sector's value-added projection of S$1.7 billion, or 0.6 per cent of the country's total Gross Domestic Product by 2015, said Mr Chew Men Leong, EWI's executive director.

These updates came in a briefing that the EWI held for the media on Thursday. The EWI, whose task is to spearhead the development of the environment and water industry, is an inter-agency body led by national water agency PUB, the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB), IE Singapore and SPRING Singapore.

Since 2006, when it was established, Singapore's water industry has undergone significant growth: the number of R&D centres has gone up almost nine-fold from three to 26, and the number of Singapore-based companies in the water sector has tripled to 150.

Companies in the industry have expanded to other parts of the value chain - to areas such as operations and maintenance and technology supply; even companies not traditionally in the water sector, such as green technology company Utraco, became involved in water projects.

Investments secured in the water sector in 2013 alone will create an incremental value-add of S$150 million and 500 additional jobs when fully realised in three to five years, based on EWI's data.

Going forward, EWI wants to focus on strategic growth areas.

Data provided by Global Water Intelligence, which monitors major water projects and predicts trends in the industry, indicates that the industrial water-solutions segment is now valued at US$52.8 billion, and is one of the fastest-growing segments in the global water industry. (In Singapore, the industrial sector accounts for 55 per cent of Singapore's demand for water, and this is expected to rise, said Mr Chew.)

Riding on global demand for industrial water solutions, local startup Medad Technologies has secured a commercial deal to build an absorption desalination plant for Al Safwa Cement Company's cement plant in Saudi Arabia.

Medad is now working with EWI to refine its business strategy to expand into other markets, such as the Americas.

In the area of talent development, EWI, in its quest to make Singapore the best place in which to develop talent for the water industry, has created Aqua Conversations, a half-day programme that attracted 23 chief executive officers of water companies to discuss topics such as geopolitical and infrastructure trends in Asia.

Another initiative is the Aquarius global leadership programme, launched in 2013 and which has since been attended by 45 executive management professionals to understand the dynamics of the water industry, particularly in Asia.

EWI has also awarded PhD scholarships to 47 candidates to build a wide spectrum of talent for the water industry.

Since 2006, the National Research Foundation (NRF) has committed a total of S$470 million in cumulative research funding through EWI to drive research in the public and private water sector.

Mr Chew said this funding will last until March 2016.