Nearly every day there is a news story about the challenges Maine’s economy is facing, or will be facing in the future. From infrastructure to job training, an aging workforce to the brain drain, we are well aware of the problems, but seem to come up short on solutions.

There is not, of course, any one strategy that will position Maine’s economy to grow and compete in the information age, but many people are already trying to do something about it. STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) programs are growing in our schools and colleges; focus groups of community leaders are studying and identifying potential areas of growth; and civic leaders are trying to support the kinds of communities that will attract and retain workers — and the businesses that will employ them.

The exponential growth of knowledge and technology is hard to keep up with. To be competitive in the rapidly evolving marketplace of ideas requires ongoing commitment and investment, especially in areas of research and development that fuel innovation. From the small business entrepreneur with a new invention ready for commercialization, to the established company with a revolutionary new product or design, the hardest step is the up-front investment that allows for experimentation and discovery.

Maine has seen increased interest and some investment in the infrastructure needed to support these endeavors because entrepreneurs — from Maine and elsewhere — want to live in Maine for the quality of life it offers.

State government has been an important part of that investment, with grants offered to companies in order to support their capital needs — from labs to scientific equipment to boats. Wherever there is potential for development, Mainers have been supportive of bonds issued to fund these projects, and Question 1 on the ballot this June is another opportunity to invest in the jobs of Maine’s future.

Past bonds have fueled the growth of Maine’s biotech sector, including labs on the University of New England’s Biddeford and Portland campuses that have attracted top-level researchers in pharmacy and pharmacology. These have, in turn, brought in tens of millions of dollars in outside funding from federal and private sources, resulting in good jobs and many partnerships with local companies to help them develop their products for market. And at UNE, opportunities for research in aquaculture and fisheries are about as close to tapping into the potential for Maine’s marine economy as can be envisioned.

Maine is now at a unique point when the investments to date need only a modest degree of ongoing commitment from the state to continue spinning the flywheel of innovation.

On Tuesday, June 13, Maine voters will have a chance to vote on a $50 million bond that includes $45 million in funds for investments in research and development that are shown to expand employment or preserve jobs for Maine people. The funds will be awarded in a competitive manner and will be matched, dollar for dollar, by the awardees.

I encourage everyone to consider voting on the bond question June 13. With such investments, the economy across Maine can grow into a bright future.

Dora Anne Mills is vice president for research and clinical affairs at the University of New England in Portland.

Dora Anne Mills


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