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October 7, 2020

Details emerge on use of $500M in grants from Harold Alfond Foundation

COurtesy / UMaine The University of Maine's athletic facilities in Orono have already benefited from Harold Alfond Foundation funding. Now they're getting a $90 million boost as part of the $500 million awarded to eight Maine schools, research institutes and other organizations.

The University of Maine System said Wednesday it will receive nearly half of the $500 million recently pledged in charitable grants to Maine schools and organizations by the Harold Alfond Foundation, making the UMS gift one of the largest ever to a U.S. public college or university.

Maine’s six-university system will receive $240 million from the foundation over 12 years, and plans to use the money to fund a new engineering college, a graduate facility, scholarships, athletics and more, according to a news release.

The grant is the largest ever to a public institute of higher education in New England and the eighth-largest to a U.S. public institute.

On Tuesday, the Harold Alfond Foundation announced grants to eight Maine schools, research institutes and organizations. In addition to the UMaine System, they include the Portland-based Roux Institute at Northeastern University, the University of New England, Thomas College, FocusMaine, Colby College, Waterville Creates! and the Jackson Laboratory.

Ranging from $5.18 million for FocusMaine to the UMaine System gift, the grants in total are believed to be one of largest philanthropic gifts in Maine history. They also represent the largest commitment made by the Harold Alfond Foundation since its founding in 1950 as Maine’s first private foundation.

The foundation is the largest in Maine, with assets of $818.4 million, according to the Mainebiz Giving Guide.

Foundation Chairman Greg Powell said in a news release, “Our state faces unprecedented challenges. In the face of these challenges, we still see a bright, prosperous future for the people of Maine. [These] grants are to vital, high-performing Maine institutions who will help build that future.”

Courtesy / Harold Alfond Foundation
Greg Powell, chairman of the Harold Alfond Foundation

The funding is intended to support the goals of Maine’s 10-year Economic Development Strategy by enhancing workforce skills, promoting innovation and strengthening the state’s infrastructure, according to the foundation.

Gov. Janet Mills said in the release, “I am grateful to the Harold Alfond Foundation for their partnership in making our long-term goal of welcoming all innovators home to Maine a reality.

"By bringing together higher education institutions, research institutions, community  organizations and business leaders, this initiative will fuel new opportunities for Maine people and diversify and expand our economy at a critical moment in our state’s history.”

Specific uses for the foundation grants are expected to be announced in coming days, and on Wednesday two recipients detailed their plans. 

UMaine System plans

In its news release, UMS said it plans to divvy up its foundation grant among the following allocations:

  • $55 million for the Maine Graduate and Professional Center — supporting scholarships and program development across business, law, public policy and graduate engineering; and a state-of-the-art building on the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus to house the Maine Center programs and Maine Law;
  • $75 million for a multi-university Maine College of Engineering, Computing and Information Science to be cooperatively led by the University of Maine — providing additional undergraduate engineering programs at the University of Southern Maine, UMaine graduate engineering programs in Portland, and other expanded offerings;
  • $20 million for student success and retention — funding for three programs to be piloted at UMaine and expanded across the University of Maine System that include research learning opportunities for first- and second-year undergraduate students and a pathways-to-careers program; and
  • $90 million for athletic facilities at the University of Maine — providing support to maintain excellence in the state’s only Division I athletics program, to advance gender equity, and to provide a preferred destination for high school sports championships, large academic fairs and competitions, and community events.

The UMaine System will also leverage the foundation’s gift to secure an additional $170 million in matching funds over the next 10 years from private, state and federal sources, resulting in $410 million of new funding.

“Maine is receiving a transformative, unprecedented investment in its people and its future,” said UMS Chancellor Dannel Malloy.

“We are extremely grateful for the Harold Alfond Foundation’s commitment to Maine’s public universities. We’re ready to use these generous investments and the matching dollars they leverage to transform our academic collaborations and facilities, provide resources to faculty for development and innovation, support student success and provide scholarships, and work with state and global partners to accelerate workforce and economic opportunities for Maine.”

Funding focus for FocusMaine

A separate announcement Wednesday morning detailed plans for the $5.18 million awarded to FocusMaine, a business-led initiative to create jobs in high-growth fields across the state.

The funding, to be allocated over three years, will support the organization's work to spur employment in  life sciences, agriculture and aquaculture.

“This generous grant reaffirms FocusMaine’s innovative and strategic approach to growing and sustaining good jobs,” said FocusMaine President Kimberly Hamilton. “This grant will help us strengthen Maine’s competitiveness, support Maine employers and build the skills and talent needed to sustain economic and job growth.

"We deeply appreciate the Harold Alfond Foundation’s support and continued confidence in FocusMaine’s ability to achieve tangible results.”

This is the second major grant the Harold Alfond Foundation has awarded to FocusMaine. In 2016, it received a $4.9 million matching grant to help the organization transition from its research and planning phases into implementation of a 10-year plan.

Among its services, FocusMaine provides mentoring and business support tools to help entrepreneurs, works to expand markets for Maine products, and attempts to strengthen connections to Maine between employers and interns. The group’s partners include the Bioscience Association of Maine, Coastal Enterprises Inc., Educate Maine, Gulf of Maine Research Institute, Live and Work in Maine, Maine & Co., Maine Aquaculture Association and the Maine Center for Entrepreneurs. 

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