January 16, 2017

Report: Maine has more sci-tech companies and workers, but lags in other areas

There's good and bad news in the growth of Maine's knowledge economy over the past 20 years, with the number of science and technology companies and jobs rising at the same time investment in innovation by both companies and universities has remained low, a new report finds.

"I was encouraged by the number of companies and employees going up," Catherine Renault, principal and owner of Brunswick-based consultancy Innovation Policyworks LLC, told Mainebiz. "I'm also happy with the increase in the percentage of the workforce with BAs and STEM degrees."

She authored the new report, "Maine's Knowledge Economy: a Snapshot," released Jan. 16. Renault is also the former director of innovation for the state of Maine.

Targeted investment needed

She added that while Maine has sought to invest in the knowledge economy through R&D at universities, nonprofit research institutions and companies, the report shows progress in some areas, but not in others.

More consistent, coordinated and targeted investment needs to be made so Maine isn't left behind, she added. The $50 million bond vote coming this June is only for capital investments, she said.

Among other things, the report shows that from 2003 to 2012, employment in the science, technology and engineering sectors as defined by the National Science Foundation has risen to top 12% of total state employment in 2012.

Startups contributed to the growth of companies in those sectors, with almost 20% of companies in the state's information and professional, technical and scientific sectors being less than three years old.

One black eye has been an elusive 3% state goal of Gross State Product to be spent on R&D. That figure remains at 1%, Renault said, because of the consistently low level of R&D performed by Maine businesses, colleges and universities.

Another issue is that many of the patents awarded to Maine-based inventors are assigned to people who live in the state but work for companies based in Massachusetts, New Hampshire or elsewhere in the country.

Keeping up with the neighbors

She added that Rhode Island and Connecticut have done a good job of ramping up investment. Connecticut, for example, enacted a law that would give competitive grant funding to create innovation districts that would link universities, hospitals and entrepreneurs to promote new businesses and job growth.

There are some bright spots in Maine as well such as the Cloudport coworking space in Portland, she says. It also holds events like the House of Genius.

"It's been open a short time and it's already the center of the world [in Maine]," Renault said.


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