Maine’s most prominent philanthropic organization has pledged a massive $500 million investment in the state’s economy.

Expanding and strengthening science and technology education and workforce skills in the Portland area is a focus of grants pledged Tuesday by the Portland-based Harold Alfond Foundation to eight Maine colleges, universities and organizations.

The grants are the largest set of commitments the foundation has made in its 70-year history, board Chairman Greg Powell said in an interview.

“We are doubling down at this time because of our belief that Maine has a great future,” Powell said. “We are going to come out of this pandemic bigger, better, stronger and more prosperous than ever, especially if we upgrade the skills of our workforce to meet the needs of our modern economy.”

Grants of between $5 million and $240 million will be provided to the University of Maine System, The Roux Institute at Northeastern University, the University of New England, Thomas College, FocusMaine, Colby College, Waterville Creates! and The Jackson Laboratory.

Details of the grant amounts and precise programs funded by the donations were not released Tuesday. Individual grant recipients are expected to make announcements with more information about their awards from the foundation over the next week.

The grant awards will be paid out over time as recipients meet certain benchmarks, Powell said. Last year, the foundation paid out grants worth more than $47 million to 55 organizations. Foundation assets exceeded $900 million at the end of the calendar year, but declined to $860 million in response to the pandemic, it said in an Aug. 31 grant report.

While a focus of the commitments is in Portland, the intent is to boost the skilled workforce, economic development and health care statewide, Powell said.

“We wanted to send the message that we have great confidence in the state, great hope, and we feel Maine people should share those beliefs and feelings,” he said.

Some of the funding will be directed to increase education and professional training in Portland. The UMaine System will create the College of Engineering, Computing and Information Science and strengthen its engineering and computer science programs as well as the Maine Graduate and Professional Center in the city.

Money also will be provided to the Roux Institute at Northeastern University in Portland, a new graduate school launched this year. The Roux Institute is meant to provide technology and science education and research for the state’s growing cluster of high-tech firms.

A grant to the University of New England will support the relocation of its College of Osteopathic Medicine from its Biddeford campus to Portland.

Gov. Janet Mills, in a statement, thanked the foundation for helping to make the state’s long-term goal of welcoming all innovators a reality.

“By bringing together higher education institutions, research institutions, community organizations and business leaders, this initiative will fuel new opportunities for Maine people to diversify and expand our economy at a critical moment in our state’s history,” Mills said.

Focusing some of the investment in Portland makes sense because of the disproportionate share of the state’s population in southern Maine and the growth of a high-tech corridor stretching from the Boston area, UMaine System Chancellor Dannel P. Malloy said.

“The Alfond board understands the economy needs to be invested in, the economy runs on human capital, a highly educated workforce; they are committing money in areas that are likely to produce employment and investment for Maine,” Malloy said.

The foundation clearly believed that now is the right time to make such a major investment in Maine’s future, despite the recent economic downturn triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, he said.

“Our recovery should be aided by this kind of investment,” Malloy said, “and we need to take a long-term view of the world and understand human capital is what drives the economy.”

An Alfond Foundation grant also will be provided to FocusMaine, a nonprofit organization funded by industry aimed at increasing the workforce in three globally competitive economic sectors: life sciences, agriculture and aquaculture.

Maine has benefited from a growing pharmaceutical corridor originating in the Boston area, but it needs an educated workforce to capitalize on it, said Andrea Cianchette Maker, co-chair of the FocusMaine board.

“We all know that Maine is the oldest state in the nation – another aspect that is really exciting about the grants by the Alfond Foundation is an investment in attracting professionals to Maine for their education,” Cianchette Maker said. “It becomes important for us to have jobs to retain them.”

Some of the foundation grants will focus on Waterville, where it made its first major gift to Colby College in 1955 to build an ice arena on its campus.

Colby has invested significantly in revitalizing downtown Waterville in recent years, including a new student residence, offices, a hotel and a proposed arts center. A foundation grant to Colby will support a coordinated redevelopment of Main Street buildings and a new athletic and recreation center.

A grant to Waterville Creates! will support the group’s partnership with Colby and construction of a new downtown arts center. Funding to Thomas College will help launch new academic programs, and student retention, affordability and academic and community partnerships.

The Jackson Laboratory, in Bar Harbor, will receive grant funding to increase patient access to genomic therapies and clinical trials and other digital tools.

The foundation was established by Maine businessman and Dexter Shoe Co. founder Harold Alfond in 1950 and is one of the state’s most prominent philanthropic organizations. It has made major commitments to state student loan repayment, the Alfond Youth and Community Center in Waterville, the Maine Community College System and MaineGeneral Health.

Since the pandemic, the foundation has boosted its giving to the Good Shepherd Food Bank and Full Plates, Full Potential and modified existing grant agreements such as Jobs for Maine Graduates and the Youth and Community Center to deal with pandemic-related stress, it said in a statement.

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