Academy forges Maine-China connection

Posted Sept. 07, 2009, at 9:19 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:13 p.m.

LEE, Maine — Since he began his well-publicized campaign to establish Lee Academy campuses in China and elsewhere in the Far East three years ago, Bruce Lindberg has cultivated contacts with key government and industry leaders in 16 major Chinese cities.

And, like the 700 international students attending Maine’s private secondary schools, almost all of the 65 students from China, Vietnam, South Korea and Hong Kong who attend the academy are the scions of some of Asia’s most wealthy and influential entrepreneurs, the school’s headmaster said.

“We have students here whose families are large in the pharmaceutical industries, the paper industries, even the glass factories of China,” Lindberg said late last week. “One family has within it the head of the small-business association of Korea.”

So why is it, then, Lindberg wonders, that his telephone isn’t ringing?

Why are Maine’s industry leaders, business association executive directors, state government and education officials and business owners not working through him, and other headmasters at the seven other Maine private schools with China contacts, to grow their businesses?

Lindberg is mystified.

“Business leaders should be getting involved with us to see maybe whether they can be linked to the international community,” Lindberg said. “Lee Academy would be willing to help sponsor business trips to the Far East where we would introduce [Mainers] to our business contacts in Asia.

“It’s limitless,” Lindberg said of the commerce such interactions could help create, “whether it would be in the export or import businesses.”

Lee Academy has received some recognition for its Asian expansion efforts. The Lincoln Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce named the academy the region’s 2009 Business of the Year in May.

Maine Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner John Richardson toured the campus once within the last year.

The Maine International Trade Center has expressed interest in collaborating with the school. Lindberg has been the keynote speaker at two large business events and has e-mailed Gov. John Baldacci’s office about working with the academy, he said.

But nothing else has happened.

“It’s a tree that’s gone untapped,” Lindberg said. “I’m not sure that people understand the significance of this venture. Nobody here has expressed the interest.”

“I am very surprised that the Department of Education hasn’t contacted us,” said Bob Potts, the school’s director of advancement. “I think they’re still on their RSU kick.”

The governor is very interested in improving Maine’s international standing, Baldacci’s spokesman, David Farmer, said last week, and has worked hard at doing so, particularly with alternative energy projects.

Baldacci has traveled on business junkets and trade missions to Europe, Asia, Canada, South Korea, Cuba and Japan, relentlessly promoting Maine’s businesses during his tenure, Farmer said. Baldacci also has hosted several international trade events in the state.

But Baldacci probably hasn’t had a chance to respond to any communication from Lindberg, Farmer said.

Among the things Lee Academy could help businesses with, Lindberg said, are:

• Business trips to China and other Asian countries and meetings with Chinese business and government officials.

• Forming a business committee that could explore how best to establish more or better China-Maine relations.

• Sponsoring symposiums or conferences at Lee Academy where Maine businesspeople could meet Asian leaders.

• Working through the families of Lee Academy students to facilitate relationships.

Lee Academy probably could have done more to create synergy between Maine business and its Asian counterparts, too, Lindberg said. The school is certainly willing to do more now.

“Have we opened the door for people? No,” he said. “But we certainly have cracked the door.”

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