By Kevin Strange
Maine voters will go to the polls June 13 to vote on a $50 million bond referendum to support job growth in Maine. I urge you to support Maine Question 1, which will help create the 21st-century jobs that are critical to retaining the state’s college graduates and to modernizing Maine’s economy.
Question 1 calls for the approval of $45 million in funds for investment in research, development and commercialization to be used for “infrastructure, equipment and technology upgrades that enable organizations to gain and hold market share, to increase revenues and to expand employment or preserve jobs for Maine people.”
The referendum also calls for $5 million to create jobs and economic growth by lending to or investing in “small businesses with the potential for significant growth and strong job creation.”
Approving this bond is critical to transitioning Maine to a modern economy based on information and knowledge. By almost any economic indicator – attractiveness to business, gross domestic product, household income, job growth – Maine ranks behind most other states, if not at the bottom of the list.
In a recent ranking of venture capital investment by state, Maine’s position was so low it wasn’t even included. The bleak employment outlook is forcing talented young people to leave the state to find high-wage, high quality jobs, including many of the more than 2,100 Maine students that we have provided biomedical training for since 2001.
These funds will be competitively awarded to Maine-based public and private entities. As president of the MDI Biological Laboratory, I can tell you firsthand how vital this type of funding is to expanding Maine’s life science sector.
From 2001 to 2007, the MDI Biological Laboratory received $5.7 million from the Maine Biomedical Research Fund for 25,000 square feet of state-of-the-art laboratory space. Over the last decade, this investment has allowed us to quadruple our number of full-time employees, leverage over $100 million in federal grants and increase our operating budget 10-fold, yielding a 19-1 return on the state’s investment.
In 2014, Maine voters approved a $3 million bond for the construction of our new Maine Center for Biomedical Innovation. This 6,560-square-foot center is promoting a thriving science and technology sector through innovation- and entrepreneurial-based training and by incubating emerging life science companies. The state’s investment is expected to have a similar impact to the funding that led to our earlier surge in growth.
These modest investments have clearly paid off, but it will take a concerted push for Maine to build a thriving biomedical sector.
The key elements already are in place: we have outstanding academic and research institutions that are generating potentially valuable R&D, a well-trained STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) workforce and a strong talent base. With our new Maine Center for Biomedical Innovation, we also have the physical resources and expertise to commercialize innovative therapies and services.
But it takes more than individual components to create a thriving biomedical sector.
Maine’s economy is at a critical juncture. If it is not to be left behind, it needs to transition to a modern, post-industrial economy. To achieve long-term prosperity and growth, we need to combine these components with significant and sustained commitment, leadership and outside investment.
Voting “yes” on Maine Question 1 on June 13 will help make that happen.
Dr. Kevin Strange is the president of the MDI Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor.