Higher-education institutions can play key role in economic growth

By Michael W. Aube, Special to the BDN
Posted June 02, 2011, at 7:21 p.m.

Addressing an enthusiastic crowd at the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce, Carbonite CEO David Friend announced that the company is investing in the Lewiston-Auburn area with an immediate objective of hiring up to 50 people by summer’s end.

The company plans to add an additional 250 “help desk” positions by 2012.

Carbonite is a relatively new company providing online secure data backup for small businesses, institutions and individuals and was named one of Inc. Magazine’s fastest-growing companies. Friend’s announcement delivered a powerful message that’s a welcome sign to Maine’s changing economic future.

These jobs, which are new for Lewiston-Auburn, will replace Carbonite’s back-office operation in India. According to Carbonite officials, the average pay for the full-time jobs would be $35,000 annually, including benefits, with a range of $45,000 to $50,000 for managers.  While encouraged and excited by these new opportunities, from an economic development perspective one must ask, “Why Lewiston-Auburn?”

During a radio interview on WVOM-FM’s “George Hale-Ric Tyler Show,” Matt Jacobson, president of Maine & Co., which helped advance the Carbonite investment in Maine, indicated several factors that helped consummate the arrangement. Critical factors of the decision included quality, available fiber; accessibility to Boston; and the number of higher-education institutions in the Lewiston-Auburn area.

As an economic development professional for more than 35 years, it is clear to me that the Lewiston-Auburn area did an outstanding job positioning its assets and branding its region. It’s also clear that the future of Maine and its diverse regions depends on building a knowledge-based economy that provides exploration, innovation, entrepreneurship and technical skills.

In Maine we are fortunate to have economic regions that are home to higher-educational institutions. Our colleges and universities reflect the area’s heritage and advance local strengths and assets. Eastern Maine, which includes Greater Bangor, is rich with these institutions. That corridor alone offers several outstanding colleges, all of which provide quality faculty, programs and motivated students (the region’s future workers) for our emerging economic development sectors.

Eastern Maine Community College provides technical, career and transfer programs for more than 2,200 students. College of the Atlantic is a small liberal arts college focusing on the relationships between humans and the environment.  Maine Maritime Academy specializes in engineering, management, science and transportation programs that provide a 21st century application to marine opportunities. Husson University engages its students in  “experiential learning that leads to real-world success” in business, health care, education, pharmacy and humanities. The New England School of Communications delivers degrees in communications technology and media studies, offering creative yet employable skills in audio-video production, Web and social media.

The University of Maine, the state’s premier postgraduate and research institution, is embarking on development by using Maine’s traditional sectors of forestry, farming and fishing to advance energy, composites and aquaculture.

These six institutions form a meaningful educational asset for eastern Maine. Individually, each provides quality educational opportunities. Collectively, these institutions provide rich soil to grow and attract Maine’s new businesses and employment opportunities that will become the basis for strategic vision.

A number of years ago I had the opportunity to research the growth of the biotech industry in the Worcester, Mass., area. The proximity to Boston-Route 128 allowed for the overflow of research, development and investment.

However, the pace of investment increased because the institutions of higher education in the Worcester area formed a partnership. Each college advanced its individual degree programs in a way that provided a multidiscipline strategy for the advancement of biotechnology in the Worcester region. In addition, the K-12 system joined with the network to introduce not just the concept of biotechnology but also that careers in biotechnology were available in the region.

The eastern Maine region could benefit from the recent success of Lewiston-Auburn and the Worcester, Mass., model. It’s time for a network of the region’s educational institutions to lead growth and opportunity through a collaborative framework.

Michael W. Aube is president of Eastern Maine Development Corp. in Bangor. He is a past commissioner of Maine’s Department of Economic and Community Development and former state director of Maine USDA Rural Development.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/06/02/business/higher-education-institutions-can-play-key-role-in-economic-growth/ printed on July 23, 2014