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Hire shows Mass. is committed to water tech sector

Michael Murphy, business development manager for water innovation at Mass. Clean Energy.

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

Michael Murphy, business development manager for water innovation at Mass. Clean Energy.

Plunging into the chilling waters of Lake Austin on sweltering Texas summer days. Water skiing with his father. Watching lake levels rise and fall near his family’s vacation home.

These are memories that bubble up when Michael Murphy explains how he ended up at the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center as the new business development manager for water innovation. Murphy, on the job since April, is charged with helping to build the state’s nascent water technology cluster into what many hope will soon be a world-leading industry.

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“I never had aspirations to be a ‘water dude,’ ” said Murphy, 39, but “I grew up on lakes and springs and rivers [and] early on you realize that these things should be managed and protected.”

Murphy’s hiring is another indication of the state’s increasing efforts to develop a new innovation sector to complement its renowned biotechnology, high tech, and alternative energy industries. As the global population grows, demanding more food and energy, water is projected to become an increasingly precious resource — and commodity.

The global water market is estimated to generate between $360 billion and $600 billion in annual revenues, and is only expected to grow. Water technologies are used to monitor, treat, and transport different types of water — purifying it for consumption, for instance, or making waste water clean enough to use safely in industrial applications. As the demand for water grows, so too will demand for these types of products.

Murphy’s resume includes four years on the water supply and sanitation team at the World Bank and a stint in the Peace Corps building wells for a community in the Bolivian Amazon. These experiences helped him rise above the two dozen other applicants for the job, said Alicia Barton, chief executive of the Clean Energy Center, an agency created by state legislation in order to build Massachusetts’ clean technology industry.

“Michael’s background in water policy, in addition to the infrastructure and water policy work that he had done at the World Bank,” Barton said, “was well-suited to what we were looking for.”

Murphy’s main job, at least for now, is to network and act as a liaison between the state and research institutions, and the local water technology sector, which currently generates about $4 billion in revenue. Companies include Desalitech, a water treatment company that recently moved its headquarters to Newton; and CDM Smith, a global consulting, engineering, and construction firm based in Cambridge.

In many ways, Murphy will be a matchmaker, introducing firms to one another in the hopes that they’ll form lasting partnerships. The goal: to transform what has been a disjointed cluster of businesses in one industry into a world-class innovation sector.

Already, Murphy keeps a list of potential pairings on a white board in the office. He says his initial challenge — developing connections to the community — will be similar to when he arrived in Urubicha, Bolivia, ready to build wells as part of his Peace Corps service.

But it wasn’t water that brought Murphy from California to Massachusetts, it was his wife, Susan Inonog, who was matched to a Cambridge hospital for her residency after studying medicine at the University of California at San Francisco.

“I guess it was a little serendipitous,” Murphy said.

Murphy said he decided to leave the World Bank for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, after realizing he wanted to address water issues from a more domestic standpoint. His hiring, industry officials said, show the state is serious about growing the sector.

Erin Ailworth can be reached at eailworth@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ailworth.
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