BRUNSWICK — Lawmakers, businesspeople and educators praised a new economic development program called Blackstone Accelerates Growth during an event Friday at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station.
“This is a watershed moment in the economic development history of (Maine),” said U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who spoke at the event. “(This initiative) can spark the creativity and entrepreneurship that are so essential to our state.”
“One challenge is growing startup (companies) into larger engines of job creation and economic growth,” said U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. “This initiative will help plant the seeds.”
The event, attended by 200 businesspeople, marked the launch of the initiative, which was created by the New York-based Blackstone Charitable Foundation, a nonprofit affiliate of the Blackstone financial services firm.
Blackstone Accelerates Growth will provide $3 million in grants to help expand programs in Maine that support entrepreneurship and business innovations.
The programs include the University of Maine’s Innovation Engineering Jump Start and the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development’s five-month Top Gun program.
The foundation said the grants will help bring those programs to five to seven regions of Maine. It estimates the initiative could create as many as 10,000 jobs in the next 10 years.
The foundation has launched programs like Blackstone Accelerates Growth in only two other states: North Carolina and Michigan.
Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of Blackstone, said the foundation chose to launch a program in Maine because the state’s population is dispersed over a wide area, meaning support programs are not available to all entrepreneurs.
“This economy (has) creative challenges we don’t have everywhere,” said Schwarzman, who came to Maine for Friday’s event. “The fact that things are spread out makes it hard to do things easily. Technology takes that disadvantage away.”
Other speakers at the event were Democratic U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud; Karen Mills, head of the U.S. Small Business Administration; and Peter Vigue, president and CEO of The Cianbro Cos.
Vigue called Maine a state with a rich entrepreneurial history, noting that industry-leading firms like International Paper, Milton Bradley and L.L. Bean were started by Mainers.
And he said Maine entrepreneurs invented some of the world’s most common devices, like the automotive turn signal and the microwave oven.
But Vigue said Maine is “going through a major economic transformation” as major industries “have shrunk, disappeared or relocated.”
He said renewed innovation and entrepreneurship, supported by programs like Blackstone Accelerates Growth, are key to Maine’s economic future.
“I believe, in time, this organization will leave an indelible mark on the state,” he said.
The Blackstone Charitable Foundation was formed in 2007 when Blackstone became a publicly traded company. The foundation began to focus exclusively on job creation after the start of the recent recession.
Staff Writer Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be reached at 791-6316 or at: