PORTLAND, Maine — A new graduate school and research center in Portland could help relieve the critical workforce shortage and help businesses retain talent, officials said Monday.
The Roux Institute, named after donors David and Barbara Roux, could attract up to 4,000 graduate students focused on digital engineering, artificial intelligence and the life sciences studies, including genomics. The Roux family is investing $100 million in the institute, which will be a branch campus of Boston-based Northeastern University.
“These represent the most important growth engines in the economy,” David Roux, who built a fortune as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor, told a packed news conference at the Ocean Gateway Pier in Portland. “The goal is to train a next generation of talent with the skills to participate fully in innovation economy and to grow dynamic, innovative companies in the state.”
Roux was joined in Monday’s announcement by Gov. Janet Mills, Portland Mayor Kate Snyder, Northeastern President Joseph Aoun and almost a dozen Maine business executives who are participating in the broad-reaching project.
The announcement of the institute, which has been in planning for the past eight months, comes a little more than a month after Mills announced a 10-year economic plan for the state that included growing the workforce by 75,000 people.
While Maine’s economy is doing well now, she said, sectors such as construction and auto sales are cyclical and can change, which is why such an institute is important.
“This is a shot in the arm to stabilize our economy long term,” Mills said. “The institute will bridge the workforce gap.”
The institute also has 10 founding partners that will help design the curriculum and use it as a place where their employees can get a higher education rather than leave the state.
“Often we have to look outside Maine for employees and educational opportunities for employees to transition to a new job,” said Josh Broder, CEO of Portland technology company Tilson.
“We had an excellent employee in our data and GIS section, but he left last year and went to get a top-shelf engineering degree. He moved to Maryland,” Broder said. “Now we’ll be able to provide that opportunity in Portland.”
“For us it’s more about recruiting employees,” said Melissa Smith, CEO of financial technology company WEX of Portland. The institute will provide an ongoing education for them.
The 10 founding companies are WEX, Tilson, Bangor Savings Bank, IDEXX, L.L. Bean, PTC, Thornton Tomasetti, Unum, MaineHealth and The Jackson Laboratory.
Northeastern’s Aoun said the university already has branch campuses in technology-heavy areas, including Silicon Valley, Toronto and London, but it chose Portland because of its potential.
“We did the easy thing when considering the other locations that are in places that already had ecosystems for technology,” he said. “Portland is a place poised for future growth.”
Roux said he evaluated a dozen potential university partners but liked the experiential nature of Northeastern’s technology training.
The new institute, which still is working on getting state and regional accreditation, is scheduled to open in May with up to 100 executive education students, according to its provost, James Bean. The first full class will be in September.
Bean said he expects up to 4,000 students in eight years and to employ about 300 people within five years.
He said the institute is evaluating locations for its temporary campus in Portland. It plans to build a new campus in Portland in three years.
Bean will remain at Northeastern in Boston, but said two people are being moved to Maine to run the institute. He declined to name them as they still are in the process of finalizing employment conditions.
He expects to attract faculty from inside and outside the state, and focus on postdoctoral students who have experience with artificial intelligence and other cutting-edge technology disciplines.