Imagine you’re the owner of a small Maine company that has just discovered a big demand for the product you make in a North Atlantic country.

That’s no easy feat, but now comes the part that inventors and entrepreneurs dread: How do you navigate the ocean of regulations that apply when you try to export a product made here in the Pine Tree State to a foreign country? Hundreds of rules, laws and fees can apply, depending on the product and the place you want to sell it, from customs requirements on both sides of the border to health and safety laws.

The University of Southern Maine is creating a new center to help companies overcome the regulatory burdens of bringing goods to foreign markets and train the next generation of compliance officers to work in the growing number of Maine companies that are exporting their forestry products, fish or farm goods to overseas consumers, especially in the North Atlantic. Attendees at workshops held by the university this week to coincide with the international Arctic Council meeting got a glimpse of the new center’s offerings.

“You can have this great idea, this great product, and find someone who wants to buy your product, but if you can’t get it into that consumer’s hands then what’s the point?” asked Ross Hickey, the director of the Maine Regulatory Training and Ethics Center. “A lot of businesses feel helpless when confronting that rainforest of rules and regulations, but it doesn’t have to be insurmountable.”

USM developed the concept of the center a year ago. Over the last year, the center has worked with Maine International Trade Center, which helps companies identify markets for their products, to conduct seminars for would-be Maine exporters, trying to pin down the most common regulatory hurdles. More than 50 companies came to the last MITC training session, which took place over the summer.

Now Hickey and Eric James, the center’s lead investigator, are developing curriculum for the certification programs that USM will soon offer to undergrads, graduate students and professional students who want to work in the center and use the certificate and experiences solving real-world business problems to land a job.


The first undergraduate course in regulatory compliance is planned for next spring, and the certificate programs will be available for enrollment in two years.

James will lead a pilot program to work with members of the New England Ocean Cluster, a marine-focused business incubator. James plans to have his office in the cluster’s permanent waterfront house, once it is selected, to be available to help members export their developing products, which could range from a fish paste used for art restoration to lobster shell-infused children’s bandages.

The center is also working with key players in the export market, like Maine Port Authority and Eimskip, the Icelandic shipping line that offers the first direct connection to North Atlantic countries, including Greenland, Iceland, Sweden, Finland and Norway, to help ease the regulatory burdens for exporters whenever possible, said Hickey.

For example, most countries have agreed to adopt new shipping standards to prevent human trafficking.

The standards will require all containers being shipped abroad to have their official weight noted on the outside of the container, so that operators along the supply chain can tell if extra weight has been added – an indication that people are being smuggled inside the containers and are in physical danger, Hickey said.

That additional step in the shipping process could add extra time, or money, to the process, and for a startup business, every day and every dime matters, Hickey said.


MERTEC is working with Maine Port Authority to get the U.S. Customs Service to certify the calibration of the large crane in operation at the International Marine Terminal, which already weighs everything it lifts, to have the crane weight double as the official container weight.

“That’s just a little thing, but regulations are all about the little things,” James said.

The center is funded by grants, but James will also charge a fee for service to underwrite center operations. Fees will vary, depending on circumstances.

James is in Iceland now, working with Icelandic regulatory agencies to become familiar with their requirements, and developing contacts with the Icelandic companies that want to buy Maine goods or sell their own here.

He is also working with Icelandic universities to develop a similar program there, in hopes that Maine students in the MERTEC program can study there and Icelandic students can study here.

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