AUGUSTA — Maine is open for business, and the LePage administration is committed to keeping it that way. However, the presumptuous and negative tone used in the June 20 editorial (Our View, “Resignation of Maine top tech official raises doubts”) left little room for acceptance of the facts surrounding the administration’s support for research and development.

A change in leadership at the Maine Technology Institute in no way indicates unwillingness by the LePage administration to promote innovation in Maine businesses.  

Every year, millions of taxpayer dollars are spent on research and development projects. However, research and development must set the stage for commercialization. We must dedicate our precious state resources toward a goal of commercialization, generating new revenue and new jobs for Maine people. 

Research alone will not provide the revenue streams for business that are critical for Maine companies to be profitable, and it’s profitability that enables Maine’s economy to grow. The private sector must drive this process, and yes, we believe Maine’s research institutions certainly play a critical role. 

The Maine Technology Institute’s core mission has gained emphasis on commercialization over the past year, and this emphasis will be underscored with new leadership. When funds for research and development are identified, the institute stands ready to administer a program that complements its core mission, and our promise to the taxpayer is to invest your funds wisely and make Maine a national leader bringing prosperity home.

Research and development with a focus on commercialization is a key component of Maine’s overall strategy for future economic development. Investing money in critical early stage development helps significantly in driving new products and services to market. This investment also gives businesses the opportunity to expand, leading to new jobs and increased economic prosperity for all of Maine.

On May 31, the Maine Legislature rightfully sustained the governor’s veto of L.D. 225, “An Act to Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue in the amount of $20 million to Fund Research and Development.” 

There will be a way – other than taking on debt – to increase Maine’s capacity for research and development. Since 2007, 289 jobs have been created with the $26.8 million of bond funds administered as the Maine Technology Asset Fund. Maine taxpayers paid more than $92,000 per job.

According to the 2011 Maine Comprehensive Research and Development Evaluation, industry and business development R&D programs received approximately 22 percent of funding, while university, nonprofit and research-based programs received 78 percent of the R&D funds.

In Maine, investment has been heavily weighted toward research, especially to universities, with less support for business development and growth. I will repeat here that we believe Maine’s research institutions certainly play a critical role in the process, and further, collaboration with the private sector will result in effectively and efficiently getting products to market, which is a positive force on Maine’s economy.

Although we have made progress on developing an infrastructure that allows for increased capacity for research, let’s be sure that our decisions harness this capacity in a way that leads to jobs, revenue and profits. Maine taxpayers should expect this.

The LePage administration operates in the best interest of Maine taxpayers. Right now there are more than 46,000 small businesses in Maine, and they are the backbone of our economy. If our state is to remain Open for Business, we need to make sure our private sector gets access to the capital it needs at the most critical time.

We also have to be constantly mindful of our responsible use of taxpayer dollars. Yes, R&D is a part of Maine’s economic future. Yes, innovation is a key for Maine businesses to thrive and expand, and yes, Maine’s taxpayers should expect that we remain focused on a return on investment by crafting a research and development strategy that includes a focus on commercialization when state funds are in play. This administration’s commitment is to always act in the best interest of taxpayers.

George Gervais is commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.

— Special to The Press Herald

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