For Maine businesses to thrive, they must innovate. And for the University of Maine System to produce the workers those businesses need, the system must innovate as well.
That was the message Tuesday from a daylong summit aimed at fostering ideas to match Maine’s university programs with the state’s economic needs.
“The only strategy is innovation,” said Doug Hall, chief executive officer of Eureka! Ranch, a Cincinnati-based think tank that focuses on business innovation. “Innovation means greater survival.”
The event, held at the University of Maine in Orono, featured more than 200 university professors, officials and representatives from business, health care, government and nonprofits. It was broadcast to UMS campuses and also streamed online.
Called “Advancing Maine,” the summit is part of a restructuring initiative that university trustees approved last November. It calls on Maine’s university campuses to develop ways to match university policy with Maine’s economic needs.
Hall — a Maine native, UMaine graduate and a part-time instructor at the university’s Foster Center for Student Innovation — said academic departments must learn to complement one another better.
“I understand that university campuses are one of the world’s most effective system of silos ever invented,” Hall said. “But we’ve got to get over it. The relay race among departments isn’t going to do it.”
Maine’s economy has transformed into one dominated by small businesses, said John Dorrer, director of the Center for Workforce Research and Information at the state Department of Labor.
“Highly specialized jobs … are no longer the norm,” he said. “We are increasingly a state with small firms. You need lots and lots of folks who are nimble and adaptable.”
That means universities need to graduate students with a variety of skills needed to run a business, Dorrer said.
Maine’s universities have begun tailoring academic programs to economic needs, said Laurie Lachance, president of the Maine Development Foundation.
The University of Maine at Presque Isle, for example, has developed training programs for renewable energy industries. The University of Southern Maine is graduating industrial technology students prepared for jobs at Pratt & Whitney. And the University of Maine at Augusta is creating programs for adults deciding to pursue college degrees later in life.
“There’s so much going on. There’s so much to be happy about,” Lachance said. “We need to keep our eyes on the ball.”