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Bangor is poised for great things

Posted May 06, 2012, at 11:46 a.m.

There’s been a lot of attention paid during the course of the recent economic downturn to what is wrong with our state and region and precious little said about what we have going for us.

But since coming to Bangor nearly three years ago to lead the region’s largest business advocacy organization, I’ve been a relentless optimist. I’ve told anyone who would listen about how Bangor is poised for great things.

The message is starting to stick, and on Wednesday, the region was given one more big reason to look to the future with confidence.

We already are on our way to becoming a thriving destination for visitors, and the new arena and conference center now under construction in Bangor will mean more growth for us as an entertainment, shopping and business conferencing hub.

Meanwhile, our airport, rail and interstate connections position us to take advantage of the shifting patterns in global shipping to be at the crossroads of global commerce.

And, as the region with the greatest research and development capacity in Maine, we are uniquely prepared to seize 21st century opportunities. That’s where Gig. U comes in.

The announcement on the University of Maine campus of a public-private partnership to provide super-high-speed Internet service to the university and the communities nearby has huge potential for our area.

GWI Inc. is working with UMaine and the Aspen Institute’s Gig. U. The goal is to enable access to the Internet at speeds many, many times faster than home broadband service.

This kind of speed — 125 times faster for downloads and uploads that are 1,000 times faster — allows for simultaneous streaming of high-definition video and the sharing of vast amounts of data in an instant. This service will mean that the university and its environs will offer the fastest Internet connections on the planet.

Fletcher Kitteredge, CEO of Biddeford-based GWI, said he hopes to have this superfast service available to 1,000 students by this fall. Overall, the plan is to offer the service at prices comparable to standard broadband, and it will be rolled out in two phases at the University and in the towns of Orono and Old Town.

It’s impossible to predict just how this technology will be used. Real-time, high-definition conferencing is certainly going to be helpful to both researchers and businesses in our area. But these kinds of speeds also will enable researchers to share and acquire data in real time for complex tasks such as genetic sequencing.

Another possibility is that this connectivity will attract businesses that manage and store data. One big expense associated with data centers is keeping all those computers cool. It may just be that Maine has an advantage in that regard over warmer places.

Of course, ultra-high-speed Internet is not a matter of “build it and they will come.” We need to nurture our budding research hub with resources to support both researchers and entrepreneurs. That means, for instance, investing in R&D through a state bond, as is now being contemplated in the Legislature. It also means establishing programs like “Top Gun” that train would-be entrepreneurs. And at the Chamber, we continue to work with our partners on issues such as access to capital and mentoring.

But the initiative put forth by GWI, the university and Gig. U is an important piece in a plan to build a 21st century economy in the Bangor region. And we can all feel better about our future as a result.

John Porter is the president and CEO of the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce.

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