PORTLAND, Maine — A new group of Maine business and political leaders wants sales outside the state to support about 10,000 more jobs here.

The new effort unveiled Tuesday, called FocusMaine, has raised about $700,000 in grants and contributions from at least 20 Maine companies and nonprofits to develop a 10-year plan to add jobs by focusing on three industries: agriculture, aquaculture and biopharmaceuticals.

Members of the group, led by some of Maine’s most prominent businesspeople, said Tuesday that the effort is different from past studies and economic development plans because it’s driven by data, seeking to match the areas of global demand and Maine’s expertise.

“We thought, ‘If we’re going to do this, let’s let the data drive the process and be the decision maker,’” said Mike Dubyak, chairman of the board of directors for WEX and its former president and CEO.

The three sectors were chosen for the potential of Maine’s natural resources at a time that locally produced food and food traceable to its source are finding favor with customers and for the expected demand that Boston biopharmaceutical companies will have for manufacturing space that’s more affordable than the Boston area.

That method was enough to pull in Bill Caron, CEO of the health care network MaineHealth, who said he’s been involved in plenty of economic development efforts in the past.

“The hook … was how do we identify those natural resources in the state of Maine that match up with global trends that lead us to job production or economic growth?” Caron said.

The group focused on high potential industries in which it projects Maine could create about 10,000 direct “traded jobs,” or jobs producing Maine goods or services primarily sold to consumers outside Maine, according to the group’s preliminary research.

Those types of jobs bring money into the state from elsewhere, the group said, and stand to improve Maine’s economy at a time when such jobs in manufacturing, selling to other states, have dwindled.

The group projects job growth in those industries indirectly would create another 30,000 jobs, providing services or supplies to support the new direct employment in agriculture, aquaculture and biopharmaceuticals.

For its 10-year plan, the group said it will focus on boosting traceable, high-quality seafood and other agricultural products and tap into the strength of the biopharmaceutical industry in the Boston area in helping companies developing and manufacturing medicines such as vaccines, made from biological sources.

The members of the group have been leaders of some of the state’s biggest companies or held national business development posts, including Idexx founder David Shaw, WEX President and CEO Melissa Smith, Dead River Co. CEO Robert Moore, former TD Bank CEO William Ryan Sr. and former U.S. Small Business Administration leader Karen Mills.

It also has branches focused on political, academic and research aspects of developing the 10-year plan. Its government advisory group includes former Democratic Gov. John Baldacci and former Republican Gov. John McKernan.

For now, FocusMaine hasn’t made any decisions about exactly what it will pursue — whether lobbying in Augusta or helping farmers finance land purchases — as part of trying to accelerate the growth of its selected industries.

“We have to develop the high priority strategies and which of those would require or benefit from government support,” said Andrea Cianchette-Maker, co-chairwoman of the FocusMaine leadership team with Dubyak.

Its business associations group includes Northern Maine Development Commission Executive Director Robert Clark, Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Chris Hall and Peter DelGreco, head of the nonprofit site selection consultancy Maine and Co.

While the group hasn’t developed a specific plan, it intends to tackle aquaculture first, funded in part through a $100,000 Maine Technology Institute grant that it will share with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland, where it announced the public launch of FocusMaine on Tuesday.

The money will support the group’s planning phase, which it expects to take about six months.

“The implementation phase, which will necessarily be reviewed and adapted as the years progress, is intentionally set to allow for a stable, sustained effort over a 10-year period that will produce the desired results,” the group said in a document outlining its plan.

The partnership for the planning grant with GMRI is one example of how the group said it plans to operate. It has collected contributions through a fiscal sponsorship from the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and partnered with other organizations on grant applications.

The group said it plans to help those target industries by encouraging and creating related workforce development initiatives, providing professional consulting help to address needs for each business sector, guiding private and public officials who support the plan and seeking out other regional groups that are trying to achieve similar goals.

While the group hasn’t defined exactly how it will help those specific industries grow in Maine, they did have some examples of how they envisioned helping out.

Caron said there are many small aquaculture operations in the state, some who don’t want to get any bigger. But finding those who want to grow and connecting them with business advice or potential investors could help that industry along.

Caron said the group hasn’t yet defined a conflicts of interest policy to deal with cases where members of the group have backed or have an interest in companies that stand to be impacted by FocusMaine’s efforts, but that’s in the works for the next phase of the group’s work.

The group also launched a website Tuesday, focusmaine.org, where it has listed the membership of its teams focused on specific industry sectors and subject areas.


Darren Fishell

Darren is a Portland-based reporter for the Bangor Daily News writing about the Maine economy and business. He's interested in putting economic data in context and finding the stories behind the numbers.