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Maine Colleges and Universities Play Key Role in State’s Growth

Maine’s colleges and universities assist in the state’s economic development through a steady transfer of knowledge, talent and culture.

By Teree Caruthers on December 10, 2014

Maine’s public and private colleges and universities play a pivotal role in the state’s economic success – not only in the support of entrepreneurs and the steady supply of talent that attracts new business, but also in the enhancement of the quality of life enjoyed by residents.

The University of Maine has a proven track record in fostering innovation among students. The university operates the Foster Center for Student Innovation, which supports student businesses, such as Engineers Without Borders, Strong Mind-Strong Body Inc., and Through Thick and Thin Designs, and provides training to help companies take strategic approaches to innovation.

The university’s Target Technology Incubator, which received the Maine State Merit Award from the New England Board of Higher Education, helps entrepreneurs bring their ideas to market by offering startup companies office space, mentoring, networking opportunities and assistance with business planning.

“We help students create success stories,” says Renee Kelly, director of economic development initiatives for UMaine and co-director of the Foster Center. “UMaine’s size is particularly suited to providing these experiences to students because it is large enough to have a breadth of strong research centers, programs and facilities, while still being small enough to give students at all levels opportunities to engage in research and service.”

A Healthy Approach to Economic Development

Health care is one of the nation’s fastest-growing industries, and the University of New England (UNE) is responding to the growing need for health-care professionals by expanding curriculum and adding new programs, such as the College of Dental Medicine and the College of Pharmacy. The university increased enrollment in the College of Osteopathic Medicine by 40 percent in 2013.

UNE students and faculty actively engage in research and development of new drugs and medical procedures. The university’s Center for Excellence in the Neurosciences and the Center of Biomedical Research Excellence for the Study of Pain and Sensory Function, for example, study the causes of and treatments for chronic pain and other neurological disorders. Researchers at the university’s Genomics, Analytics and Proteomics Core work to develop methodologies to improve research in the fields of biotechnology and life sciences.

“UNE works with many companies in Maine, providing experts, equipment and resources – whether it is assisting in the discovery of early-stage technology, advancing projects through various stages of development, or providing critical feedback on new opportunities or challenges,” says Ed Bilsky, vice president of research and scholarship and director of the Center for Excellence in the Neurosciences. “We also train our students in various aspects of entrepreneurship, ranging from drug discovery and development to business plans and marketing.”

The ROI of QOL

Studies show site selectors and relocation professionals rank a region’s quality of life among the top factors impacting relocation and expansion decisions.

Maine’s private colleges, including Bates College in Lewiston, Bowdoin College in Brunswick and Colby College in Waterville, not only offer a steady supply of talent in the region’s knowledge pipeline, but they also provide amenities that elevate the livability of their respective communities. Bates, Bowdoin and Colby each ranked in the top 25 on U.S. News’ Best Liberal Arts Colleges list in 2013.

Stephen Collins, Colby College spokesman, says the college supports the community by offering a host of lectures, seminars, theater, music and dance performances as well as athletic events – all free and open to the public. He says the college offers several cultural opportunities for Maine residents and visitors, such as the Colby Museum of Art, the Atlantic Music Festival held each summer, and the Maine International Film Festival.

Collins says the state’s quality of life – particularly access to recreational opportunities – has not only become a draw for college applicants, but has also influenced graduates’ decisions to remain in Maine to live and work.

“The sense of place in Maine is unique, outstanding and hugely attractive to people who enjoy the quality of life that comes from having an abundance of natural resources,” Collins says. “We’re within an hour from the Maine coast, within an hour from world-class skiing in the mountains, and we’re close to the Appalachian Trail and a host of state parks, lakes, and rivers. Maine is a place to which people feel very attached, and our students are no exception.”

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