A little more than two years ago, a group of business, nonprofit and economic development leaders came together to find ways to improve and advance the economic opportunities in the Bangor region. This network of organizations, known as Mobilize Eastern Maine, or MEM, created a vision, developed goals and established a strategy that would result in the Bangor region beginning to grow and prosper. Working collaboratively, the group concentrated on building on the area’s existing assets — the things already here that hold the keys for transforming the economic future of the Bangor region.
And there are positive results already.
An early goal was to have a new regionally based convention, business conference and entertainment center in Bangor. Just a few weeks ago, a topping-off ceremony was held at the new arena as a ceremonial piece of structural steel was welded into place. The project is weeks ahead of schedule and is beginning to reshape the Bangor region’s economy along with its skyline.
Another key MEM goal is to expand the area’s economy by building on the region’s educational institutions, focusing on research and development, entrepreneurship and advancing the use of technology. On Wednesday, the University of Maine and Maine-based Great Works Internet announced their plan to build an ultra-high-speed communications system as part of the Gigabit Main Street Internet Network. Gigabit Main Street will drive innovation and create economic opportunity. The completed network will provide communities, businesses and institutions a network that is as fast as “any in the world and [will] be one of the fastest business-residential networks in the United States.”
According to University of Maine President Paul Ferguson, as this project moves forward the University of Maine will be “a catalyst for technological, economic and job development in the state of Maine.”
GWI is no stranger to Maine’s effort to advance data transmission and access to the global communications highway. The company previously partnered with the University of Maine to bring the Three Ring Binder network to Maine, which extends from Kittery to Fort Kent and is owned and operated by Maine Fiber Co. Their commitment to improving our economic future is evident as GWI CEO Fletcher Kittredge expressed his pleasure at being able to bring “The first Gigabit Main Street network available to both business and residential customers in the state of Maine.”
According to Blair Levin, executive director of the national Gig.U initiative, the University of Maine, which is represented on the Mobilize Eastern Maine Leadership Team, was one of the first institutions to sign up to participate and is now one of the first to move forward to make the idea of Gig.U a reality in Old Town and Orono.
“This GWI Gigabit Main Street deployment will not just benefit the University of Maine community; it will provide Orono, Old Town, and the state of Maine with the strategic bandwidth advantage necessary to lead in the next generation of broadband innovation,” Levin said.
According to a press release, Gigabit Main Street will be built in two initial phases based on customer demand and network use. The coveted feature is that the Gigabit Main Street network will provide download speeds 125 times faster and upload speeds 1000 times faster than current offerings. The network will be built on an open-access model, meaning that GWI will install fiber optics to the business and home and make that network infrastructure available to any service provider that wants to offer service to customers within the network. The network also will be mixed-use, meaning it will serve business and residential customers.
This announcement is big news. The Gig.U system will build upon the region’s assets and provide a new foundation for businesses and entrepreneurial growth.
In a January 2012 OpEd in the New York Times, noted author Thomas Friedman opined that “the critical questions for America today have to be how we deploy more ultra-high-speed networks and applications in university towns to invent more high-value-added services and manufactured goods, and how we educate more workers to do these jobs — the only way we can maintain a middle class.”
The Bangor region has developed a real strategy for economic change. It is a partnership of many institutions, business leaders and community leaders. Results matter and the hard work of building on our regional assets is taking hold.
I remember in the early 1990s when the University of Maine was often ranked 49 or 50 among states in funding for research and development. I remember attending events in an aging Bangor Auditorium with rain leaks and inadequate business meeting facilities. Today, the UMaine campus is a national asset leader for the 21stt century, and a new state-of-the-art facility to showcase the region is nearing reality. This is a real competitive advantage. It’s coming together in the Bangor region.
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.