A graduate school and research center in Portland established with a $100 million gift from a Maine investor and philanthropist aims to put the state at the forefront of the advanced technology economy.

Plans to create the Roux Institute at Northeastern University in Maine was announced Monday at an event on the city’s waterfront.

David Roux, a Lewiston native and wealthy technology entrepreneur, wants the center to help grow Maine’s existing tech businesses and attract new ones. He and his wife, Barbara Roux, made the grant from their family foundation.

The center, which will enroll its first class this fall, will be narrowly focused on artificial intelligence, including machine learning, for life sciences and digital industries, acting as a feeder of skilled professionals to tech businesses in the state.

Maine Gov. Janet Mills hugs Tilson CEO Josh Broder after he spoke about Northeastern University’s future technology education center in Portland, during a news conference at Ocean Gateway on Monday. Tech entrepreneur David Roux of Lewiston, who is funding the project, is at right. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Maine missed earlier technology booms because it did not have the right workforce and resources, Roux said to a packed room at Ocean Gateway.

Fast-growing tech companies contribute a disproportionate number of jobs in the U.S. but are located in just a handful of cities. The institute will be a catalyst to bring some of that prosperity and high-wage professions to the state, Roux said.

“The real problem is that we are underperforming against our potential,” Roux said. He called the institution an “opportunity machine” to give Maine employers and people the resources to compete in a rapidly evolving global technology market.

“We live in an innovation economy, but we are not participating fully,” Roux said.

The center will produce “the next generation of talent to participate in the innovation economy and attract and grow dynamic companies in the state,” he said.

Roux worked for two years to find the right academic partner for the institute. Of 12 choices, he selected Northeastern because of its track record for entrepreneurship, collaboration with private industry and experience creating satellite campuses.

The school has its main campus in Boston and has other locations in Charlotte, North Carolina; the San Francisco Bay area; Vancouver, Seattle and Toronto. Its undergraduate enrollment was 20,287 and graduate enrollment was 16,631 in the 2017-2018 academic year.

Roux made his fortune founding and investing in technology companies. A Harvard Business School graduate, he co-founded Datex, a commercial CD-ROM business that he sold to Lotus, then joined the company as an executive before moving on to a top position at Oracle.

As an investor, he was a co-founder of Silver Lake Partners, a private equity firm that specialized in technology investments. He is now chairman of BayPine, a Boston investment firm. He is chairman of the board of trustees at The Jackson Laboratory and serves on the boards of the National Audubon Society and Bowdoin College.

Ten fast-growing Maine companies have signed on as corporate partners to the institute: Idexx, Bangor Savings Bank, Wex, The Jackson Laboratory, L.L. Bean, MaineHealth, Unum, Tilson Technology, PTC and Thornton Tomasetti.

Those partners are expected to enroll students at the school and help pay tuition, but also collaborate on research and professional training and co-op student employment, said Northeastern President Joseph Aoun.

The school will grant post-secondary degrees, from professional certificates to master’s and doctorates, he said. Courses include computer and data science, data visualization biotechnology, bioinformatics, health data analytics, precision medicine and genomics.

Portland Mayor Kate Snyder speaks about Northeastern University’s future technology education center in Portland, during a news conference at Portland Ocean Gateway on Monday. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Curriculum will be developed in concert with corporate partners to meet their workforce needs, and research will reinforce private industries, Auon added.

“The campus from day one will focus on applied research that will help the economy,” he said.

Northeastern has not found a location for a permanent campus but intends to enroll its first class of to 65 students this fall in temporary space.

Within five years it expects to be fully built-out with a student body of 1,000. Up to 2,600 students are projected to be enrolled within 10 years. The university did not respond when asked how large a campus it intends to create.

Collaboration with Maine’s university system and private institutions, such as the University of New England, is critical to initiative’s success, Aoun said.

He envisions sharing resources, faculty and courses with other schools and has already applied jointly with partners for research grants.

“No university is self-sufficient, no university can do it all,” Aoun said.

State business and political leaders greeted the new initiative with praise and gratitude.

The Portland institute will be an anchor for the state’s economy by bridging the state’s workforce gap and bring in private investment, said Gov. Janet Mills at the Monday event.

It could also help meet goals to attract 75,000 people to Maine’s talent pool and grow productivity and wages as outlined in the state’s 10-year economic plan.

“It is not all about Portland, it is good for the entire state of Maine,” she said.

First District U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree pointed out that Maine is known for its food, art and natural resources, but not as a center for technological innovation.

“The Roux Institute will put Maine on the map by educating the future top minds in science and technology, which will both attract businesses and grow the workforce of our state,” Pingree said.

Academic institutions also welcomed the announcement. The University of New England in Biddeford focuses on medicine and science, “obvious synergies” for the new institute, said President James Herbert in an interview.

“Seventy percent of our undergrads come from away and we have intentions to keep them here,” he said.

“What we plan to do is to work with them to develop accelerated pathway programs so that undergrads could go into graduate study right away,” Herbert added. “We think there will already be lots of students with a clear pathway.”

Southern Maine has a growing bioscience and digital technology business cluster, with headquarters of global companies such as veterinary and water quality giant Idexx in Westbrook and Wex, a payment processing firm in Portland that plans a $50 million corporate campus in Scarborough.

A challenge for those firms has been developing and attracting the skilled workforce they need to grow. An acute labor shortage is the number one issue for nearly every industry in the state.

A top-end research institution connected to a recognized university has been a missing piece to accelerating industry’s growth in the state, said Jeff Thomas, chief technology officer at Idexx, in an interview.

The company recently added artificial intelligence to some of its diagnostic products, but needs talented professionals to fill positions, Thomas said. There are 10 jobs in the artificial intelligence field for every worker available to fill them and tech jobs are congregated in only a few U.S. metro hubs, such as the San Francisco Bay Area, Boston and Austin.

“This allows us to recruit here, where we do the job,” he said.

It may also provide a pathway for Maine students who want jobs in the bioscience and digital economies, but feel there are no opportunities in the state.

Lewiston Public Schools is creating a computer science curriculum that introduces programming and engineering to students from kindergarten to grade 12, but students aren’t sure they can apply those skills in Maine, said computer science coordinator Alicia Biggs.

“They know the jobs are there, but it seems so unattainable,” she said. “Having a graduate program like this means they don’t have to go to New York City or Boston to pursue them.”

The permanent location for the new institute is still uncertain. It needs teaching and laboratory space and plans to have room to incubate new companies.

There are very few open spaces available on the Portland peninsula where a campus like that could be built, said City Manager Jon Jennings. The city has discussed plans with Roux, and with a precursor nonprofit to the Northeastern project called the Institute for Digital Engineering and Life Sciences, for about two years, but has not made any financial or real estate commitments, Jennings added.

Locating an appropriate space “has been one of the challenges,” he said. “Ultimately, it is not the city’s job to pick the campus location.”

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