Although traditionally linked to tourism and outdoor recreation, Maine is now on the verge of also defining itself as a state where the life sciences thrive. Today, more than 400 life sciences companies are currently making their home in Maine, creating job opportunities and opening the doors to new career paths for both current and future residents.

Now competing for a $100 million federal grant, BioConnects New England “will elevate research, create new facilities and capacities in Maine, form a multistate network of support and develop career pathways that tap the curiosity of Maine kids,” Aileen Huang-Saad and Kimberly A. Hamilton write. luchschenF/

We should not be surprised. The Maine Economic Development Strategy 2020-2029: A Focus on Talent and Innovation, for example, names The Jackson Laboratory, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, MDI Biological Laboratory and other companies focused on biomedical work as existing statewide assets that can power “growth through innovation.” Similarly, the Bioscience Association of Maine 2019 Industry Report paints a picture of a supercharged engine significantly outpacing the job growth of all other sectors in Maine and exceeding nationwide job growth in the sector.

Yet a broadly shared understanding of the power of life sciences and a multistakeholder strategy have remained elusive. Until now. As one of the silver linings of COVID-19, the American Rescue Plan Act invested roughly $4.6 billion to support recovery from the pandemic, improve the lives and livelihoods of residents and make investments in industries that will strengthen the state’s economic and occupational status. The bioscience industry in Maine has benefited from these new resources and has, in turn, contributed research and solutions to fight the pandemic.

In this process, we learned that shorter supply chains and regional solutions are critical to protect Americans and power the economy. We also learned that Maine has essential assets and ingenuity that are making a difference.

In that spirit, we recently joined forces with a new regional initiative, BioConnects New England, to catalyze growth for the state. BioConnects New England draws on the dynamism of the past two years and has the potential to further solidify Maine’s role in the regional biomanufacturing economy. The initiative – now competing for a $100 million grant from the Economic Development Administration at the federal Department of Commerce – will elevate research, create new facilities and capacities in Maine, form a multistate network of support and develop career pathways that tap the curiosity of Maine kids.

By partnering closely with aligned organizations across Massachusetts and Rhode Island, BioConnects New England will strengthen regional cooperation, deepen expertise, extend commercial and professional networks and share best practices. Importantly, BioConnects New England will help engage and train a new generation of talented workers and innovators and connect them to one of the economic strengths of New England. New funding will introduce middle school students to advances in the life sciences and provide a better understanding of biomanufacturing. The program will also provide opportunities for adults looking to change careers or early-stage professionals looking to advance within this sector.

Led regionally by Northeastern University, BioConnects New England includes many Maine organizations as well as a number of partners and other supporting organizations. If Maine is to reap the full benefits, however, we need more people at this table. We welcome other organizations and individuals who want to engage with us and join this initiative.

The three of us – including Jeremy Qualls, Ph.D., dean of the College of Science, Technology, and Health at the University of Southern Maine – believe it is an exciting time for Maine. Opportunities are boundless as we seek to build an intentional life sciences network, both here in Maine and throughout New England. These partnerships, under the umbrella of BioConnects New England, will continue to fuel Maine’s bioscience sector transformation from its latent potential to an undeniable force for innovation and economic growth.

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