In 1913, George B. Morrill moved his family’s food canning business from a cramped building on Portland’s Franklin Street to a state-of-the-art modern manufacturing facility on the mouth of Back Cove.

This conceptual rendering of the planned Roux Institute campus on the B&M Beans site in Portland shows the B&M building in foreground with the Roux Institute facility behind it. Rendering courtesy of Tsoi Kobus Design and Stimson Landscape Architects

The Burnham & Morrill Co. plant had rail and ship access, which brought raw materials in and took finished products to market. The nearby city provided generations of workers, who mastered the art of cooking in massive brick ovens, making B&M the nation’s favorite provider of baked beans and brown bread.

The plant became cornerstone of local industry, and along with the sweet smell of molasses, views of the plant from Interstate 295 sent a message about how a small Maine business can grow into a national brand.

More than a century later, the plant is changing hands. But the site will continue to make a statement about the role Maine can play in the national economy.

The principal new tenant will be the Roux Institute of Northeastern University, a graduate school and research center endowed by philanthropists David and Barbara Roux with support from the Harold Alfond Foundation.

The institute focuses on machine learning and artificial intelligence in digital and life sciences.


The plan is to build a landmark facility on the Portland waterfront, establishing the city as a technology and innovation hub that will develop new businesses for the next century, using local talent and infrastructure to compete in national and global markets.

The Roux Institute promises to make that happen by interacting with students in multiple ways. In addition to degree students, the university also delivers training that helps employees of local businesses qualify for higher-paid data management work that in the past would go to out-of-state applicants or firms.

And the institution has a fellowship program in which aspiring entrepreneurs turn ideas into businesses with guidance from faculty mentors.

It should be exciting for Mainers to see that the plan that was rolled out Monday anticipates preserving and renovating the 1913 B&M factory to serve as a new business incubator, developing companies that will someday move out around the state, creating jobs the way B&M did in 1913.

An institution that focuses education, research and entrepreneurship in one place could transform the state’s future, said Roux’s Margaret Angell. “We have a 100-year vision for building an engine of opportunity,” she said.

The B&M building tells a story about 20th-century technology and innovation. As the building becomes part of the Roux Institute, it will tell another story about what’s possible in the 21st century and beyond.

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