Maine's Colleges and Universities Supply Companies With Top Talent and Innovation
Learn how Maine's higher education institutions offer the state a competitive advantage for attracting relocating and expanding businesses.
Education as a tool of economic development has long proven effective in Maine. The state's more than two dozen colleges and universities not only maintain a pipeline of top talent to the state's high-growth industries, but also contribute to the economy through the transfer of technologies, research and product development. Knowledge Transfer The University of Maine, for example, collaborates with companies on some 400 research projects each year. UMaine's faculty and students are finding innovative ways to improve processes in many of the state's top industries, such as health care, forestry, agriculture, biotech and IT – and transferring that knowledge to partner companies. Most recently, researchers received a USDA grant to develop food processing technologies, and UMaine's Process Development Center is working to find commercial uses for nano-cellulose – an ultra-strong, lightweight material generated from wood pulp. “I think one of our unique offerings is the large participation of undergraduate students in our research programs,” says Jake Ward, UMaine's vice president of innovation and economic development. “Students interacting in that space have a chance to participate in the commercialization of technology – either working for companies that are innovating and growing new companies, or in some cases, even starting their own company.” Learning to Lead Innovation and entrepreneurship are common themes among Maine's colleges and universities. The College of the Atlantic issues academic credits to students who start their own businesses, and many businesses in Bar Harbor, where the college is located, were started by COA students. “We have students exploring entrepreneurship in every field – from biofuels, agriculture and engineering to community arts and affordable housing,” says Jay Friedlander, Sharpe-McNally Chair of Green and Socially Responsible Business at the College of the Atlantic. Atlantic College students also serve as consultants to businesses, advising them on everything from strategy to operations. "The students we are putting out there in the world are both capable of seeing what's going on as well as looking toward the future and creating new opportunities," Friedlander says. "Our graduates are involved in everything from government and policy to entrepreneurship and the arts – and they're helping build a richer, more robust economy in the state.” Developing New Ideas Research at the state's universities has led to industry-wide changes as well. At the University of New England (UNE), students in the school's new health informatics program are working directly with area hospitals and insurance companies to find ways to effectively use data to make decisions about the best care for patients. The program is the latest in a string of UNE developments in the health-care arena. “UNE has a wealth of expertise in biomedical research and is involved in several focused areas of high medical and social need,” says Crystal Canney, UNE communications and marketing director. “UNE’s Center for Excellence in the Neurosciences is one example where teams of researchers tackle complex neurological issues such as chronic pain, addiction, brain development in early life and in aging. UNE also works with a host of companies in Maine and beyond to help them in their drug development efforts.” Profitable Partnerships Companies relocating to and expanding in Maine also recognize the ability of the state's community college system to supply a wide array of skilled workers, such as precision machinists, electrical line-workers, and medical technologists. When St. Croix Tissue announced plans to expand its Baileyville operation, Washington County Community College and Kennebec Valley Community College provided customized training, including courses in pulp and paper making, communications, chemistry and safety, to prospective mill workers. Students also get industry experience in Southern Maine Community College's state-of-the-art composite science and manufacturing facility. “The mission of the colleges is vital to the Maine economy and the state’s future,” says Helen Pelletier, director of public affairs for the Maine Community College System. “In addition to the services offered to businesses, community colleges – by providing individuals with training to enter the workforce quickly, reach for an additional degree, or upgrade their current skills – are helping hardworking people open the door to a more prosperous future.”