How do you transform an economy? Little by little, then all at once.

Gov. Janet Mills hugs Tilson CEO Josh Broder after he spoke about Northeastern University’s planned technology education center in Portland on Monday. David Roux of Lewiston, the Lewiston native who is funding the project, is at right. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Maine has been living through the little-by-little part for decades, as traditional industries like commercial fishing and paper-making have declined.

Promising shoots of new industries, like biotechnology and alternative energy, have shown promise, but they still seem far away from taking the place of steady job producers that supported communities in every corner of the state.

On Monday, Maine got a glimpse of what a sudden leap into the future could look like, with the announcement of the Roux Institute, a professional graduate school and research center in Portland, which will grant degrees up to the doctoral level in artificial intelligence and machine learning with a focus on life sciences.

The institute will be a branch of Northeastern University and was created with a $100 million gift from David Roux, a Lewiston native who founded a tech-oriented private equity firm, Silver Lake Partners, two decades ago. The new venture has partnerships with 10 of the state’s largest employers in its fastest-growing industries. These companies will sponsor employees to attend the institute to expand their skills and qualifications, increasing the labor pool for high skill jobs that have been hard to fill in Maine.

The first students will begin taking classes this summer in temporary space. In three years, a permanent facility will be built for 2,000 students, along with faculty and support staff.

Roux’s goal is not just to build a successful academic institution, but also to build a community of tech companies that benefit from each other’s presence, allowing established companies to expand and new ones to get a foothold. That would create economic dynamism that would bring more people into the workforce and generate economic opportunity across the state.

That’s the plan, anyway, and we hope that it comes to fruition.

We also hope, as they build this new tech economy, that Northeastern and its partners will work with the city and state to do more than just create jobs.

Despite all of its charms, Portland is a city with high housing costs, limited transportation options and a growing gap between rich and poor. Despite all of its recent real estate development, Portland is struggling to support its public schools and house its homeless. A new economic engine that aggravates the problems that already exist is not in anyone’s interest.

It will take a thoughtful approach by all the nonprofit, for-profit and government players to make sure this wave of growth does not erase the qualities that made Roux pick Portland and Maine to locate his namesake institution in the first place.

Portland can be a national model for how to expand the innovation economy and spread its financial benefits more widely. We are excited to see what comes next.


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