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January 27, 2020

Launch of $100M Portland institute may transform region into tech 'innovation hub'

Photo / Renee Cordes Lewiston native and tech entrepreneur David Roux discusses plans for the new research institute with media attending the announcement Monday morning.

Boston's Northeastern University on Monday unveiled plans to launch a professional graduate school and research institute in Portland, and said the school will help create a new "innovation hub" focused on technology and life sciences.

The venture is the brainchild of tech entrepreneur and Lewiston native David Roux and his wife, Barbara, who contributed a donation of $100 million from the Roux Family Foundation.

"We need to create an opportunity engine to help Maine become an innovation hub," David Roux told hundreds gathered at Portland's Ocean Gateway Monday morning for the announcement.

He added: "We have this natural opportunity to become part of this incredible tech corridor that today stretches from Washington, D.C., to Boston. There's no reason why we shouldn't be to Boston what San Jose is to San Francisco."

The Roux Institute at Northeastern University, which will be focused on the digital and life sciences sectors, is scheduled to open this spring in Portland. It will initially be housed at a temporary site, which will be announced at a later date, and then move to a permanent campus in about three years.

Founding corporate partners include WEX Inc., Tilson, IDEXX Laboratories, L.L. Bean Inc., Bangor Savings Bank and five others.

Courtesy / Matthew Modoono, Northeastern University
Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern, left, joins David and Barbara Roux in Portland to make the Monday morning announcement of the research institute.

"Our plan is to focus exclusively on the practical application of artificial intelligence and machine learning, on digital engineering and life sciences," Roux said in his opening remarks. "It's a narrow but incredibly powerful target that we're aiming at, which happens to represent the most important growth engine in the economy."

The mission, he added, "is to train a next generation of talent with the skills necessary to participate fully in the innovation economy, and to attract and help grow a group of companies here in the state, who will come here, who will grow here, who will stay here."

He said they will be looking to enroll the first students in the new program starting this summer, and that the institute is committed to building a distinctive urban campus in Portland at a location still to be determined.

Lengthy preparation, quick reactions

Plans for the institute were two years in the making, Roux said, and noted that he had considered a total of 12 possible academic partners but liked Northeastern the best. "I like to think of them as an elite institution that's not elitist. They're so easy to work with, and so engaged, that it gives me a huge amount of confidence to be working with them."

Noting that Maine is "more than lobsters and lighthouses," Portland Mayor Kate Snyder called the Roux Institute a "game changer" for the city, state and region. 

"Portland, Portland, Portland," Gov. Janet Mills said with a laugh. "It's not all about Portland, it's good for the state of Maine, and the region as a whole. This will be an anchor and attraction from far and wide, and we welcome that."

She added that "this is a shot in the arm that will help us stabilize the economy over the long term."

The institute's graduate degree and certificate programs will focus on the practical application of artificial intelligence and life sciences to prepare people for high-demand jobs and drive research that meets industry needs.

Praising what he called a "transformational investment in the future of Maine," Northeastern President Joseph A. Auon predicted that the institute will have an impact that will "reverberate across the region for generations to come. It will serve as a national model for expanding growth and innovation, and reducing inequality."

U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, chimed in via a video message, saying, "This is a big deal."

Hundreds of people representing Maine employers and academic institutions attended the announcement.

Dana Connors, Maine State Chamber of Commerce President, told Mainebiz ahead of the press conference, "This completes the whole picture for Maine, Maine's people and Maine companies. It's pretty special news."

Steve Smith, president of L.L. Bean, told Mainebiz, "This is very exciting," noting that the outdoor clothing and gear retailer employs a lot of data and IT specialists.

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January 27, 2020

As a former staff member at Northeastern University and as a member of the Portland and Maine business community of some 35 years, I was delighted to learn of this most generous and focused grant.
In the latter part of the 1980's, working with with some of city's most dynamic and visonary leaders at the time such as Bob Masterton, Scott Hutchinson, Perry Hudson, Ernie D'Escoubet and Keith Pond, the University was able to bring the first Engineering courses to the University of Southern Maine. As both Bob Masterton and Scott Hutchinson were Northeastern graduates, I am delighted to view this new alliance.
Northeastern University with its cooperative education model is known for not only the knowledge of its graduates, but their abilities to hit the ground running in a corporate environment. This is truly a win win situation. Their graduate programs likewise are built around a desire to serve people already in their fields. .

January 27, 2020

Why does the Lewiston native ignore his home town? If USM/LAC intends to move downtown, there would be a ready made campus for a tech institute with less expensive housing in the LA metro area.

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