More than 2½ years ago the Roux Family Foundation, working with Northeastern University, committed $100 million to finance a high-tech research institute in Portland. Ten leading Maine corporations indicated they would welcome and support the institute. Soon after, the Alfond Foundation matched the Roux family’s commitment, raising the total financial commitment to the institute to $200 million.

A conceptual rendering for the Roux Institute at Northeastern University, planned for the former B&M Baked Beans factory site in Portland. The actual design has yet to be finalized; the developers have reduced their planned footprint for the project by more than 25 percent in response to neighborhood concerns. Courtesy of the Institute for Digital Engineering and Life Sciences

Northeastern University’s Roux Institute personnel began work almost immediately. A two-pronged course of conduct was unfolded. The first prong involved acquisition of a site (the old Burnham and Morrill plant at the mouth of Portland Harbor). They then developed initial building and campus designs (featuring an abundance of public open space along the foreshore). After that, Planning Board and city approval processes (including public and neighborhood outreach) commenced. These steps, refined over time, are ongoing; they are essential precursors to actual construction of the institute’s permanent Portland home.

Unwilling to wait two, three, four years for more permanent institute buildings to be constructed, the second prong of Northeastern’s commitment to Portland began in June 2020. It involved the leasing of 44,000 square feet of available Wex Inc. office space in the heart of the city (100 Fore St.). This allowed the Roux Institute’s substantive work to begin immediately: teaching and research in today’s high-tech fields in collaboration with private-sector firms in Maine working in these fields.

This startup of Northeastern’s long-term commitment to Portland has produced results that are little short of amazing. For example, in barely two years the number of Maine partners working with the Roux Institute has grown from 10 to more than 100. Four hundred graduate students are taking courses; that number will jump with the start of fall classes. Eight hundred employees of partnering Maine corporations have taken an ever-widening array of short courses broadening their skills.

The Roux Institute now has about 110 full-time employees, 25 percent of whom have permanently relocated to Maine from other states; more than 20 new startup companies are working in residence at the institute, creating additional jobs, and five new high-tech research programs have been established at the institute led by globally recognized leaders in their respective fields.

These indicia of success are a harbinger of bigger things to come. Though the Roux Institute’s activities are groundbreaking in Maine, the model is not new to Northeastern University. Over the years, Northeastern has grown to include 13 such campuses – three in Massachusetts, three in California and others scattered around the U.S. and beyond (including Charlotte, North Carolina, Seattle, Vancouver and London). All have been assimilated into their respective communities. All are operating successfully.


Those engaged in the first prong of Northeastern’s Roux Institute, i.e., local and neighborhood interest groups, the Roux design team, Portland’s Planning Board and City Council should, in a timely manner, come to grips with and solve seemingly solvable differences and problems with respect to access, parking, building heights, the mix of public and private uses and environmental issues. Where necessary, compromises can and must be fashioned.

The extraordinary Roux and Alfond $200 million financial commitment, combined with Northeastern’s immediate second-prong response, a successful demonstration of what the Roux Institute is all about – collaborative public-private partnership, teaching and research – justify the permits needed to build the Roux Institute’s campus in Portland.

When it is fully up and running, the tangible benefits to Portland and to the people of Maine will be far greater than those outlined above, and they will extend far into the future. In short, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is within our grasp: the permanent siting in Portland of Northeastern University’s Roux Institute.

Portland’s leaders need to find a way to say yes.

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