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The University of Maine System is on track to receive $116 million in one-time federal funding to advance workforce development and innovation projects across the state.
The money was included last week in draft Senate and House appropriations bills for the 2023 fiscal year, and the legislation was approved last week by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The FY23 federal budget next goes to the full Congress and then President Biden for consideration.
Leaders across the system credited the Maine congressional delegation for including the investments in the bills.
The funding would support a variety of projects including:
The UMS proposals were backed by strong support letters from relevant industry, nonprofit and municipal partners that noted the high-impact community benefit of the project, according to a news release.
Many of the projects would have a statewide impact and would support research and innovation to solve growing global problems such as managing the threat of disease from pests like ticks and climate change adaptation for natural resource industries, including Maine’s wild blueberries.
Some of the money would modernize the University of Maine's Blueberry Hill Farm in Jonesboro and is expected to bring it to the next level as a hub of innovation and problem-solving that will help Maine's wild blueberry farms and businesses diversify into value-added production, explore efficiencies in harvesting and processing, and increase resilience to climate change threats like drought.
“It is strategic investments like these that will grow this industry's impact on Maine's economy beyond the current estimate of $250 million per year, and that will sustain and grow Maine's iconic wild blueberry industry and the thousands of jobs that it supports well into the future,” Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine Executive Director Eric Venturini said in the release.
The farm is the only dedicated wild blueberry research facility in the country. The facility and the university's team of wild blueberry research and extension faculty and staff have helped the industry grow from producing 20 million pounds of fruit per year, to today, when crops frequently exceed 100 million pounds.
Other federally funded projects would serve regional needs, but could likely not be supported within the system’s existing resources. For example, the FY23 appropriations bills include $4 million to improve Fox Auditorium on the campus of the University of Maine at Fort Kent. The renovations to Fox Auditorium, built in 1969, are badly needed, said UMFK President Deb Heeden.
Uses of the auditorium range from hosting town meetings to high school drama productions. It’s considered a cornerstone of the general community.
Another $750,000 would allow the University of Maine at Augusta to expand its growing dental workforce degree programs, currently offered in Bangor and Lewiston, to the University of Maine at Presque Isle, preparing more in-demand dental assistants and expanded functions dental assistants for the underserved rural area.
“Aroostook County leads Maine in the percentage of its older residents who have lost all of their permanent teeth to dental diseases,” said UMPI President Ray Rice and UMA President Joe Szakas.
In addition to academic program start-up costs, the money would allow the Presque Isle campus to launch a new dental lab for hands-on student training providing free and reduced community dental services.
Other projects include:
Amount requested: $8 million
Purpose: For construction of the digital research Factory of the Future at the University of Maine to advance large-scale, bio-based additive manufacturing using advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, high-performance computing, and collaborative arrays of large 3D printers and subtractive systems. Funding leverages past federal funds secured by the congressional delegation, as well as funding from the Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan, and will also support a second manufacturing bay and immersive workforce training facilities.
• Composites Materials for Transportation Infrastructure and Resilience, Orono
Amount requested: $1.975 million
Purpose: To support University of Maine research to develop composite materials that reduce the cost and improve resilience of vital transportation assets including bridges and coastal structures.
• PFAS Research Center at the University of Maine, Orono
Amount requested: $5 million
Purpose: To purchase the equipment needed to set up a PFAS analytical laboratory at the University of Maine, which would serve the monitoring needs of the entire State.
• University of Maine PFAS Research Center: Informing Farm Management Decisions, Orono
Amount requested: $3 million
Purpose: To fund research to help inform short-term management decisions for farms experiencing PFAS contamination.
• Tick-Borne Disease Prevention in Northern New England, Orono
Amount requested: $2.5 million
Purpose: To support the University of Maine Tick Lab's establishment of a coordinated system of tick and tick-borne pathogen surveillance and risk communication in northern New England to address the growth of the tick population in the region.
• Tick-Borne Disease Management Strategies, Orono
Amount requested: $2.021 million
Purpose: For the University of Maine to identify alternatives to conventional pesticides designed to kill ticks and examine the intersection between climate and alternative tick management interventions.
• Tick-Borne Disease Rural Public Health Outreach, Orono
Amount: $1.653 million
Purpose: To support targeted public health outreach and education to rural communities led by the University of Maine in order to prevent tick-borne diseases.
• Workforce/Business Development Industry 4.0 Readiness System, Orono, Brunswick and South Portland
Amount: $7 million
Purpose: To support establishment of Manufacturing Training Innovation Centers that will coordinate efforts and leverage existing University of Maine Advanced Manufacturing Center and Southern Maine Community College resources to serve industry, including Maine-based defense industry prime suppliers.
• University of Maine System Nursing Education Simulation, Augusta
Amount: $4.5 million
Purpose: To support facility expansion and simulation equipment to increase nursing enrollment and program quality at nursing schools throughout the University of Maine System.
• University of Maine Sawing Operations Training Facility, Old Town
Purpose: To support construction of a sawing operations training facility at the University of Maine for that would support hands-on training of a minimum of 200 students and forest professionals annually with programming spanning across log grading and scaling training and value-added conversion of merchantable timber, creating additional value in Maine’s forest economy.
• Dental Workforce Training and Care Expansion to Northern Maine, Presque Isle
Purpose: To support the facility construction and equipment needs of a new dental lab at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, with the goal of training an additional 20 dental assistants annually through a partnership with the University of Maine at Augusta.
• University of Maine at Augusta Cybersecurity Professional Training
Purpose: To support a cybersecurity training certification program offered by the University of Maine at Augusta for Maine municipalities and other public organizations that uses adjustable simulation models.
• University of Maine at Augusta Aviation Maintenance Technician School, Brunswick
Purpose: To launch a higher education degree program at Brunswick Landing in aviation maintenance where University of Maine at Augusta students will learn how to repair and maintain certified aircraft, expanding the pipeline of aviation professionals to fill in-demand jobs.
• Maine Entrepreneurship Fellowship and Incubator, Orono
Purpose: To fund a University of Maine small business education fellowship program that will provide incubator support, technical assistance, and training to accelerate startup businesses and create jobs in Maine.
• Maine Law School Legal Aid Clinic, Portland
Purpose: To expand Maine Law's public service legal aid clinic to prepare students for professional practice, including by acquiring essential technology items for the clinic.
• Seawater Supply Lines for UMaine's Coldwater Aquaculture Center, Franklin
Amount: $3.5 million
Purpose: Improvements to operations and security at USDA National Cold Water Marine Aquaculture Center and University of Maine Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research.
• Advancing Small Business Development, Washington County
Amount: $2.997 million
Purpose: To provide training and technical assistance to small wild blueberry growers and to support research and new technologies for sustainability and efficiency at the University of Maine’s Blueberry Hill Farm in Jonesboro.
• University of Maine Food Innovation Center
Recipient: University of Maine System
Amount requested: $2.5 million
Purpose: To grow Maine's land- and water-based food economy by providing workforce development and services for small agriculture and aquaculture producers, including through food processing services, production scale-up, food safety consulting and testing at the University of Maine. Leverages funding from the Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan.
• Maine Agriculture Industry Innovation and Growth, Orono
Amount requested: $1 million
Purpose: To develop a strategic plan led by the University of Maine to support Maine's small-scale agricultural workforce and business growth.
• Downeast Institute Marine Research, Beals
Amount requested: $670,000
Purpose: To support shellfish research and hatchery activities at the facility that
serves as the marine research campus for the University of Maine at Machias.
• University of Maine Cohen Institute Public Service Education Partnership, Orono
Purpose: To support a partnership between the University of Maine Cohen Institute and Maine high schools to train the next generation of public service-minded leaders. Participating students will earn college credits while still in high school, engage in a residential leadership program on the UMaine campus, and receive active mentoring and support in post-graduation career placement.
• University of Maine at Fort Kent Facility Renovation
Amount requested: $4 million
Purpose: To renovate an antiquated campus facility that is widely utilized by both the university and broader local community for essential education and cultural and community programming.
• Advanced Manufacturing - Bio-Based Composites
Amount: $20 million
Purpose: To support development of additive manufacturing involving nano-cellulose feedstock materials made from forest products. This is an ongoing partnership between UMaine and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
• Additive Manufacturing of Unmanned Maritime Systems
Amount: $10 million
Purpose: To support continued work using UMaine’s large 3D printer to prototype unmanned surface vehicles.
• Advanced Textiles and Shelters
Amount: $6 million
Purpose: To support UMaine’s continued partnership with Army Natick on developing rapidly deployable shelters.
• Structural Thermoplastics for Army Ground Vehicle System
Amount: $6 million
Purpose: To support composites research partnership with U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Ground Vehicle Systems Center to develop, build, test and evaluate structural thermoplastic components for vehicles.
• Polar Proving Ground
Amount: $2 million
Purpose: To support UMaine’s partnership in Alaska to provide a Polar proving site for academic research.
• Secure Composite Shipping Container Research
Amount: $2 million
Purpose: To support UMaine’s continued partnership with the Department of Homeland Security to develop secure shipping containers using thermoplastic composites and help scale up the production methods of these containers.