On Tuesday, voters across the state will decide whether to approve a $50 million bond issue. But where will that money go?

The lengthy wording of the question explains that the money will be used for “research, development and commercialization in the State to be used for infrastructure, equipment and technology upgrades.”

Voters seeing that question for the first time at the polls would be forgiven for not understanding exactly how the $50 million would be put to use.

Essentially, the $50 million will be divided into two parts, with $45 million to be given to the Maine Technology Institute’s Maine Technology Asset Fund and $5 million to be given to the Small Enterprise Growth Fund.

“MTAF is a state-approved bond fund to build research and development infrastructure and capability in Maine,” explains MTI President Brian Whitney. “The intent of MTAF is to support the development of high technology, good paying jobs in Maine, and to build Maine’s R&D capacity for long-term growth.”

From there, the Maine Technology Institute will issue requests for proposals, distributing the funds to a number of public and private entities in a competitive process. In the 2015 RFP process, said Whitney, MTI received requests for funding totaling four times the amount that was in the MTAF.

After MTAF was created by voters in 2007 with $50 million, the state has opted to put money into it several times. Whitney said that most of that funding was distributed by 2010. Tuesday’s bond issue, if approved, would replenish the fund to 2007 levels.

“The Maine Technology Institute and the Maine Technology Asset Fund have a really unique role in driving the innovation in the economy,” said Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, an advocate for the bond issue. 

Berry, who serves as the vice president of Kennebec River Biosciences in Richmond, offered an example of how MTAF helped his company.

“One great example of that is the Bigelow Labs for Ocean Sciences,” said Berry. “They received a Maine Technology Asset Fund grant in a previous round and that helped them to move forward their research. It also had some collateral benefits for us. We were able to share in the use of some of the equipment and it helped us to commercialize some products as well at our laboratory in Richmond. The long term synergy, the partnership that grants like that can create are really tremendous”

“Another local business that has been the recipient of a Maine Technology Asset Fund grant in previous rounds was a business I represent called FHC in the town of Bowdoin. FHC has been a global leader in producing equipment for brain research — micro conductive brain research equipment,” added Berry.

“They are the largest employer in my legislative district — over 100 employees — with great paying jobs,” said Berry. “They contribute to not just to the local economy, but also the local community by providing onsite child care, a gym that anyone can have a membership to just through a donation to the local United Way. So it’s those kinds of ripple effects that well-structured support for innovation can help to provide.”

“It’s hard to find a truly successful business in Maine that has not benefited in some way from state programs, and MTI is one of the most common of those programs,” he added.

The other program being funded by this bond is the Maine Venture Fund, which is administered by the Finance Authority of Maine.

“That’s an evergreen equity fund which invests in Maine businesses as an equity owner in the business,” explained Berry. “It’s evergreen because they can actually buy and sell, but through their early investing in promising Maine businesses, they help to provide support at a very critical time in these small, ambitious entrepreneurs’ growth trajectory,” 

“I can’t say enough about the Maine Venture Fund,” he added. “That’s another piece of the puzzle of how we help promising, driven, innovative entrepreneurs in Maine to go from one or two employees to having 100 or 200.”

According to Maine Economic Growth Council’s 2017 Measures of Growth report, research and development expenditures account for approximately 1 percent of Maine’s GDP. Compare that to about 3 percent for the nation as a whole, and nearly 5 percent for New England.

“Maine has historically underinvested in research and development, in other words, in innovation that drives new opportunities for job creation in our state,” said Berry.

The bond issue is the only statewide question before Maine voters on Tuesday. 

According to the Office of the Treasurer, interest on the bonds will cost an estimated additional $13,750,000, making the total long-term cost of the bond issue $63,750,000.

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