While Maine is nationally known for its prestigious research and development foundations like Jackson Labs and the Foundation for Blood Research, it still lags far behind in investing for innovation in private industry and at the university level. And that is keeping the state poor.

That’s the working premise behind the newly formed special legislative Committee on Research, Economic Development and the Innovation Economy that started meeting last week and will recommend an action plan to the next Legislature.

“Our ultimate goal is to raise the per capita income in Maine,” said Sen. Lynn Bromley, D-Cumberland, co-chairman of the committee. Maine currently ranks 34th in income nationally, according to 2005 Census data.

To do that, she said, “you must embrace innovation” and that takes research and development dollars. The numbers show there’s a lot of work ahead.

Maine moved from 49th nationally in 1993 to 38th a decade later in terms of the amount invested in research and development from all sources, public and private, but that has largely been on the backs of its nonprofit foundations like Jackson Laboratories, Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratories, the Foundation for Blood Research in Scarborough and Bigelow Laboratories for Ocean Science in West Boothbay Harbor.

Maine ranks third in the nation in terms of the research and development money invested in its nonprofit institutions from all sources – including money from the federal government, foundation grants and the state. The ranking is based on the amount of money invested as a percentage of the gross state product or GSP, defined as the value of all goods and service produced in the state.

By comparison, the state ranked 40th in terms of research and development monies spent by industry and 49th in academic institutions, based on the latest data available.

Slicing the numbers a different way, the state set up a goal in 1998 called the “30 and 1,000 plan” designed to get Maine to the national average in research and development investment. The formula then called for 30 percent of Maine adults to have a four-year degree and an investment of 2.5 percent of Maine’s gross state product, or about $1,000 per worker, in research and development.

Today, 24.4 percent of the state’s adults have a bachelor’s degree or better, and investment is more than $600 per worker or 1.1 percent of gross state product. But the goal has changed to $1,765 per worker or 3 percent of the gross state product to meet the national average now, according to Peggy Schaffer of the Department of Economic and Community Development.

“We are making progress. We have gained momentum,” Schaffer said. “To maintain that momentum, we have to pick up speed.”

Bromley said she wants the state to increase its bond packages for research and development and better support the state’s Office of Innovation and efforts to market Maine to investors.

“People who haven’t been to Maine think Maine is Siberia,” she said, and that makes it tough to attract venture capital.

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