Gov. LePage’s Research and Development bond Veto says,”High tech industries keep out.”

An architects view of Bigelow laboratory in the future

An architects view of Bigelow laboratory in the future

July 8th, 2012 · From my History in Politics series:

In vetoing the $20 million bond issue for funds to carry on and attract high tech industries in Maine, Governor Le Page has said, in effect, that Maine should only look to the past, not to the future. It was no surprise the Republican-dominated Legislature upheld his veto. The sign at Kittery welcoming folks to Maine can now be changed to: “This is Maine. High tech industries keep out.”

This would be okay if the Governor had to beat back the hordes of job-providing businesses that he promised the voters in 2010. Maybe a trickle has come in but hardly enough to raise Maine out of the bottom of the national statistics on job growth. Maine is among the five States that have the worst records on job creation.

Furthermore, the Governor proudly announced he will hold back $40 million in bonds that the Legislature and people of Maine had already approved. This one step, alone, it is estimated, will throw 1,400 Mainers out of work. Writ of Mandamus, anyone, in which the law requires a public official to do his or her duty?

Now, for the history part. To an extent, it is a personal history, but it also portrays the amazing growth of a high tech industry in Maine, due in part to an infusion of State funds from a prior Research and Development bond issue. It is a cautionary tale of what we will miss here because of the Governor’s stubborn desire not to lift a finger to help high tech industries or convince them to locate in Maine.

I’m speaking of the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay. After I left the Legislature in 1990, I was elected to their Board and eventually served several terms as Chairman, but have stayed on the Board for what is now more than 20 years. The Lab was started by a small group of marine scientists from Woods Hole, looking for a home, and they were welcomed with open arms by Governor Ken Curtis who assisted them in every way he could. Through the years, it has grown from a small enterprise to a world class institution. A whole brand new three building complex of state of the art laboratory space is nearing final completion. The impetus for our undertaking this massive project was an initial grant from the Maine Technology Asset fund -$4.5 million – out of money raised by the State in a previous Research and Development bond issue. This money then attracted over $14 million in Federal funds, which added to by private donations and a loan from a Maine bank, allowed us to proceed. Hundreds of construction jobs were created in Maine at a time when construction work was desperately needed.

Our current chairman of the Board has told us that the complex we almost have finished “will be the most modern ocean laboratory in the world.”

What then you may ask does this have to do with the Maine economy?

Recently, the Governor’s Economic Commissioner wrote an op-ed piece in the Portland newspaper, trying to put a good face on his boss’s veto of the Research and Development bond issue. His argument was that too much of the money was going to non-profit operations and not enough to private commercial entities.

Somehow in the Le Page administration, there is obviously the feeling that jobs in the research area and, for that matter, education, are not real jobs.

Yet even before its present spurt of growth, Bigelow had its eyes on commercialization of its work. A company now doing $3 million per year in Maine was established out of an invention – the flow cam – that derived from our pioneering use of a medical device, applying it to first in oceanographic studies and now finding a wide application in other fields, as well.

To build on this start, an expert in creating industries from research has been added to our staff. Our director of Corporate Alliances and Technology Transfers has been hard at work, contacting businesses all over the country and already we have joint private-public collaborations to explore commercialization possibilities. There are also “subscription” agreements with several companies. The latter is a trend where private companies, not wanting to set up research facilities of their own, outsource their work to research entities like ours.

We are also a business, ourselves, in which we sell a product all over the world that we essentially manufacture in East Boothbay. This is phytoplankton, the tiny, tiny, invisible to the eye organisms that are at the bottom of the food chain in the ocean. We have perfected the art of producing them in large quantities and our sales have expanded greatly as companies seek to explore new products from the sea, including the possibility of supplying oil from plankton. Our collection of phytoplankton incidentally is the largest in the world.

All told, Bigelow also provides good, well-paying jobs, approximately 200 of them. That would be the equivalent of a good-sized factory in Maine. There are other examples of how research grants aid the Maine economy. The Jackson Lab in Bar Harbor for one employs 1,000 people.

In recognition of Bigelow’s contribution to the local economy, we recently were awarded the 2012 Improvement Award of the Boothbay Chamber of Commerce.

In addition, the money that Bigelow expends in Maine also includes, above and beyond the $18 million in construction payrolls, the funds received from the Federal government to carry out research grants, a figure that amounts to several millions of dollars a year.

And talking about the Governor’s decision not to help scientific research in our State, it should be noted that at the recent Biotech Convention in Boston, which drew 40,000 persons, the government of the State of Maine had no representation at all. Bigelow was there with a booth and so were a number of Maine cities. There were opportunities galore for Bigelow to make contact with important business people.

To write off an entire sector of Maine’s economy because it is non-profit is the dumbest thing a Governor could do. When Governor Le Page was elected, many people worried about what harm he could do in four years. Here, in his not so subliminal message to non-profit organizations to stay out of Maine, he has done irreparable damage to Maine’s economy and image. The Maine economy will be feeling its grievous effects for years to come.

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