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January 13, 2020

Central Maine Growth Council picked for nationwide innovation initiative

Courtesy / Central Maine Growth Council A Central Maine Tech Night presentation on Opportunity Zones organized by CMGC and hosted at Bricks Coworking & Innovation Space. Waterville's OZ and coworking space were critical factors in CMGC's successful application to the Rural Innovation Initiative. At left, Garvan D. Donegan, CMGC director of planning and economic development.
What was it about the Central Maine Growth Council that stood out among 110 applicants for the 2020 Rural Innovation Initiative?
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The Central Maine Growth Council is one of just 10 organizations in the U.S. picked to join the 2020 Rural Innovation Initiative, which helps rural communities create digital economy jobs with an innovation hub strategy.

The Waterville-based public-private economic development organization also serves Winslow, Oakland and Fairfield. It was chosen through a competitive process to participate in the program, which is run by Vermont-based Rural Innovation Strategies Inc. in partnership with the U.S. Department of Economic Development.

More than 110 communities from 37 states and Puerto Rico submitted requests to participate in the technical assistance program this year, according to a news release from RISI. Other organizations chosen are in Colorado, Kentucky, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. 

The goal is to execute an "innovation hub strategy" — an economic development model that works to educate and train local residents in digital skills, employ them in new economy jobs and empower them to launch startups that will drive their digital economies, the release said. Rural Innovation Initiative participants will get a range of support, from on-site and video conference time with staff to opportunities for collaboration with other communities, as well as help them find funding opportunities.

“Central Maine Growth Council is doing an impressive job of cultivating the conditions for downtown and mid-Maine vibrancy,” said Matt Dunne, executive director of Rural Innovation Strategies and founder of the Center on Rural Innovation. “We’re excited to partner with CMGC as they continue to harness regional assets to grow a knowledge, technology and innovation economy with opportunities for talented workers and entrepreneurs in mid-Maine.”

$5.3 million in new investment in 2019

The Rural Innovation Initiative launched in 2019 with nine participant communities. In its first year, the initiative catalyzed $5.3 million in new investment in rural innovation hubs, according to the release. 

The program's model "strongly aligns with the current and planned investments for the downtown, Waterville, and mid-Maine region,” Garvan D. Donegan, director of planning and economic development for Central Maine Growth Council, said in the release.

“Entrepreneurs and large technology firms alike have found mid-Maine’s blend of pre-K through graduate degree/program education, outdoor recreation, and thriving arts culture, and culinary scenes to offer a powerful foundation for business growth, and we look forward to strengthening and compounding our assets through the Rural Innovation Initiative.”

Colby College will partner with CMGC in the initiative, said Brian Clark, vice president of planning at Colby, part of the ongoing partnership the college has had as it invests in Waterville. “Participation in the Rural Innovation Initiative is another sign that this partnership model is having a significant impact, and can serve as a blueprint for other communities to follow," Clark said. "We’re eager to continue partnering with the Growth Council and others to advance strategies that further the region’s innovation economy and drives job creation."

Dunne, of Rural Innovation Strategies, said, “Momentum is building in small towns across the country for new strategies that leverage local assets and support sustainable economic success.

"These communities are taking forward looking approaches that foster entrepreneurship, catalyze startups and support strong local digital economy ecosystems," he said. "We are excited to work in conjunction with EDA and these communities to change the narrative about what’s possible in rural America.”

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