PORTLAND – Research and development investment strategies and education reform took center stage as the five gubernatorial candidates on the Nov. 2 ballot addressed Maine’s biotech industry Friday.

The forum, held on the University of New England’s Portland campus, was sponsored by the Bioscience Association of Maine and moderated by Alan Hinsey of Mainebiz Sunday.

All five candidates said the state should make an effort to invest in the growing biotechnology sector of its economy.

“One of the things state government needs to do is identify potential growth businesses or markets and make sure they have the infrastructure they need to grow when they get ready to,” said Shawn Moody, an independent candidate.

Kevin Scott, another independent candidate, said Maine must look beyond its borders for inspiration on successful industry development models.

Waterville Mayor Paul LePage, the Republican gubernatorial nominee, said that before investments can be made in the field, Maine must get its fiscal house in order.

“We need to get our regulatory system under control,” he said. “It’s all about being fiscally honest with the people of Maine, keeping your fiscal house in order, spending what we can afford to spend and allow the private sector to thrive.”

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Libby Mitchell, Maine’s Senate president, emphasized the importance of providing strong educational opportunities tailored to the industry as a means of growth, as did independent candidate Eliot Cutler.

“We have a disorganized public higher education system in the state of Maine; we’re organized to fail and not to succeed,” he said. “We’ve been under-investing in public higher education in Maine now for 30 or more years.”

Cutler said Maine should merge the Community College and University of Maine systems to more efficiently provide education opportunities for Mainers.

“We’re a state of 1.3 million people that has seven community college campuses and seven university campuses, each of them reporting to a separate CEO, each of them reporting to a separate board of trustees and each of them reporting directly to the governor and not anyone else in the state government. We are organized to fail,” he said.

LePage said the state must toughen its educational standards.

“We want to give our students an option — four years, you get a diploma or you can earn your associate’s degree with collaboration between the Community College System and the University of Maine System,” he said.

“It’s going to be tough, the kids are going to have to work harder.”

Mitchell said Maine schools need to emphasize the science curriculum more.

“(We) need to make sure they get it and know that there’s a future for them,” she said.

“Maine has a school of math and science, which has been very successful, but all of our curriculum need to focus on that.”

Maine must do a better job of matching up education and skill preparation with the available job markets, Moody said.

“(We need to communicate) what are the actual needs of the business industries are with how we are educating our young adults so that they actually have jobs when they graduate,” he said. “It seems to me there’s a little bit of a disconnect.”

Scott said he would seek to start pilot programs with individual school districts to focus on certain industries.

 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at: rmetzler@centralmaine.com