A group composed of more than 50 heavy hitters from Maine’s business community has begun to execute its 10-year master plan to bring more jobs to the state.

Formally launched in January 2016, the economic development group FocusMaine recently completed its research and planning phases and has moved on to the implementation stage. Its goal is to boost Maine’s agriculture, aquaculture and biopharmaceutical industries while increasing the state’s pool of highly skilled workers.

FocusMaine is taking a relatively novel approach by bringing together disparate economic development efforts in the state and getting them to work together, said the group’s co-founders, Andrea Cianchette Maker, a partner at the Portland law firm Pierce Atwood and one of the state’s top lobbyists, and Michael Dubyak, former president and CEO of the corporate payment technology firm Wex Inc. in South Portland. Maker and Dubyak also co-chair the organization.

“FocusMaine isn’t the doer – it’s the convener,” Maker said.

Rather than trying to prop up all industries in the state, FocusMaine’s leaders have said they believe the group can be more effective by homing in on three industries determined to have the greatest potential for significant growth: agriculture, aquaculture and biopharmaceuticals. The group launched a study in 2015 that recommended those industries.

A $4.9 million grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation was instrumental in allowing the group to advance from planning to implementation, Maker said. So far, FocusMaine has raised about $6 million of privately sourced funding, including the grant, which has enabled the group to hire its first full-time executive, incoming FocusMaine President Kimberly Hamilton.

Hamilton is chief impact officer at Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization. Previously, she served in a variety of senior roles at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other policy and research organizations. She will start at FocusMaine later this month.

“Entering this implementation phase is the transition from research and planning into action, which is the critical step to achieving our long-term mission,” Maker said. “We greatly appreciate the Harold Alfond Foundation’s generous support and their confidence in our ability to execute our research-supported plans to create sustainable, quality jobs and secure workers needed for Maine’s economy.”

In addition to Maker and Dubyak, FocusMaine’s leadership team includes former U.S. Small Business Administration Administrator Karen Mills; Idexx Laboratories Inc. founder and former CEO David Shaw; Eleanor Baker, co-founder of the accounting firm Baker Newman Noyes; former Maine Community College System President John Fitzsimmons; MaineHealth President William Caron Jr.; Robert Moore, president and CEO of Dead River Co.; and William Ryan, former chairman and CEO of TD Banknorth.

FocusMaine is organized into four advisory teams and four implementation teams. The advisory teams are focused on research, business associations, academics and government, while the implementation teams are focused on agriculture, aquaculture, biopharmaceuticals and knowledge workers.

The group’s implementation plan is multifaceted and complex. It aims to accomplish several objectives, such as boosting private investment in the targeted industries, improving Maine’s supply chain, helping existing businesses develop strategies for expansion, and marketing and promoting Maine products outside the state.

Two of the focus industries, agriculture and aquaculture, are connected under the umbrella of Maine’s food industry. Maker said FocusMaine’s goal is to see that Maine receives the maximum economic benefit from its highly regarded food products, from the moment they are planted, caught or raised until the products are branded, marketed and shipped.

“Our intention is to help Maine become renowned for being a supplier of traceable, high-quality food throughout the Northeast, and to be able to charge a high premium for that food,” she said.

FocusMaine also has big plans for the biopharmaceutical sector, Dubyak said. There has been an explosion of pharmaceutical companies developing new drugs in the Boston area, he said, but those companies will not mass-produce their drugs in Boston because it is too expensive.

FocusMaine believes Maine could be the ideal location for such companies to do their manufacturing, he said. The group intends to help market the state as a lower-cost alternative that is close enough to the Boston area to make an efficient manufacturing hub for drugmakers.

“New England states could be vying for these facilities,” Dubyak said. “So why not Maine?

FocusMaine already has one solid accomplishment under its belt. It launched a pilot program this summer to help major employers in Maine formalize or improve the quality of their internship programs.

The pilot program involved more than 260 interns enrolled in programs that follow a set of quality internship guidelines developed by FocusMaine, which include paying interns at least the minimum wage and providing them with challenging, project-based work assignments. Participating companies touted the pilot program as a success and said it led to many interns receiving permanent jobs.

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

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