In May 2012, Gov. Paul LePage squandered a chance to show Maine is committed to investments in research and development that offer researchers and entrepreneurs the tools needed to hone ideas and develop them into marketable products.
That’s when he vetoed a bond that would have provided $20 million to the Maine Technology Institute to award competitively to private businesses, university researchers and research labs with project proposals that met strict criteria.
Maine was already behind most states at that point in terms of R&D investments. Maine ranked 45th nationally for per-capita, research and development spending in 2010, according to the Maine Development Foundation.
This spring, the Legislature’s budget writers are expected to assemble a borrowing package to send to voters for approval in the fall. It’s past time that a state borrowing package include a significant R&D investment.
One of the options before lawmakers as they put together a bond package is a $15 million investment in Maine’s marine economy. The $15 million pool would be awarded on a competitive basis to fund projects that emphasize the development of products that expand the reach, grow the value and improve management of Maine’s fisheries.
One of the reasons LePage cited for his veto of the research and development bond two years ago was a tendency for project awards to flow to nonprofit institutions and universities rather than to private-sector businesses.
The marine economy bond proposal before lawmakers would establish award criteria that emphasize partnerships among researchers, often based at a university, commercial fishing interests and coastal organizations interested in growing its local economies.
The projects selected would have to emphasize seafood processing that adds value to Maine’s overall seafood catch, the development of markets for Maine-caught and Maine-processed seafood products and sustainable fisheries management.
The state departments of Marine Resources and Economic and Community Development would jointly administer the grant competition.
Marine-related activities are already responsible for a half billion dollars in economic activity in Maine, according to industry groups. That amounts to 36,000 jobs. With 3,000 miles of coastline, fishing and aquaculture are, naturally, a major player in the state’s economy.
But Maine could realize more value from it by investing in research and development that can keep more pieces of the seafood chain within the state. Maine has entities that are willing to take the chance on developments that could spawn the next sought-after seafood product that originates in Maine waters, is processed within Maine state lines, is marketed from Maine and is sold widely.
All that’s waiting is a significant investment to show Maine is serious about growing its coastal economy.