Wednesday, December 4, 2013
By Mayor Michael Brennan
In a July 18 column ("It's time to change more than just presidents at USM"), Greg Kesich noted my proposal for "a local research triangle." He also suggested that "USM has a chance to be right in the middle of such an effort."
Now it's September, the beginning of a new school year, and an excellent time to report on this proposal.
We know that Portland and the region is an attractive place to live. Almost every month, our city tops some list extolling our quality of life. Businesses looking to offer more to their employees, and families seeking a safe and thriving community, appreciate Portland's appeal -- it has become a major reason to come here and to stay here.
But we also know that thriving cities and regions require more than a dynamic culture. They also depend on vibrant business and educational environments. That's why the time has come to make Portland similarly respected for our entrepreneurial spirit, our business acumen and the collaborative relationships among our local innovators.
To do that, we need to strengthen linkages among the three legs of our "research triangle": our business community, our education system and our research and development institutions. Building upon the goals laid out in the city's Economic Development Vision and Plan, we can foster partnerships among these three sectors, partnerships that that will grow Portland for generations.
Therefore, in concert with the Portland Regional Chamber and other key stakeholders, the city of Portland will be initiating a joint project, Growing Portland: The Education, Research and Business Collaborative. This collaborative is designed to promote sustainable businesses/jobs, increase work force capacity and strengthen our entrepreneurial environment. As a 2010 Massachusetts Institute of Technology study noted, Portland has significant assets, including "strong educational capacity and partnerships" and a "network of niche research institutions," but lacks a mechanism for "collaboration and coordination."
By better connecting our research facilities and colleges and universities with local businesses, Growing Portland can expand the educational opportunities needed to develop a highly skilled work force. Through the collaborative, these three sectors will expand our research and development infrastructure to create the jobs of the future.
The ultimate goal is critical mass. We need more entrepreneurs and companies locating here, more students deciding to stay here, more research being commercialized here. To achieve critical mass we need to coordinate and maximize the strengths we already have, not try to be something, or someplace, we are not.
Those strengths include educational institutions such as University of Southern Maine, University of New England, Maine College of Art and and Southern Maine Community College; research centers such as Maine Medical Center, the Foundation for Blood Research, and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute; businesses such as CashStar, Idexx, Kepware, Sappi, Via and Wright Express.
The issue of developing our work force is not just a theoretical one for me. Every week, I meet someone who needs help finding a job because he or she wants to live and raise a family in Portland. With almost the same frequency, I speak to local business and R&D leaders who want to expand their operations in Portland -- but express frustration at not being able to find the local partnerships, or the skilled workers, they require.
The components, the legs of the triangle, are already here. Helping them to collaborate more fruitfully means that Portland will become known not only for its culture, waterfront and neighborhoods. We will also become known for innovation and enterprise.
Earlier this year, I unveiled a number of initiatives to advance this vision. They include working collaboratively with the entire region to recruit out-of-state businesses to locate here; meeting with local business leaders to hear directly what they need to remain and grow in Portland; and lending programs to support business expansion and job creation. The Growing Portland collaborative will complement these initiatives and the city's economic development plan.
As mayor, my hope is that we can foster an environment that encourages the creation of new, sometimes untested opportunities. This environment, and the economic prosperity it creates, can be a beacon, attracting families who want to raise their children in a safe, welcoming community; young people who want to work at creative, high-paying jobs; and businesses that set the standard worldwide.
That will be a Portland we can all be part of.
Michael Brennan is mayor of the city of Portland.