The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Maine

This past Tuesday, I had the pleasure of attending two noteworthy events in Ellsworth – – a ribbon cutting at the new Union River Center for Innovation and the ground breaking of the Jackson Laboratory’s new $75 million state-of-the-art vivarium.

Both of these projects benefited from investments from the Maine Technology Institute and both will have valuable and even remarkable impacts on the economy of Downeast Maine and, indeed, the entire State of Maine.

So, what’s a vivarium and why would someone pay $75M to build one in Maine?  Well, a vivarium is essentially a mouse-production facility.  From a biological perspective, mice are very similar to humans. Amazingly, we share 95% of the same genes, have compatible immune systems, and suffer many of the same diseases.  As a result, mice are routinely used to study and research human diseases and potential cures.  Jackson Labs, in addition to conducting its own groundbreaking disease research, breeds nearly 9,000 different strains of mice and provides them to more than 23,000 research labs in 52 countries.  The new vivarium in Ellsworth will position Jackson Labs as the global leader in research mouse production.

The Union River Center for Innovation is a business incubator supporting bioscience and information technology entrepreneurs.  It provides collaborative space for entrepreneurs and start-up ventures to help grow their businesses.  It offers affordable space and access to mentors and other support services that are critical to the success of a fledgling business.

John Steinbeck once stated that he was, “impelled not to squeak like a grateful and apologetic mouse, but to roar like a lion out of pride for (his) profession.”  Aside from the fact that I had to incorporate a mouse quote somewhere in the blog, the sentiment is quite fitting – – for both me and officials involved with these projects.

For me, as a technology-based economic development official, these two initiatives represent extraordinary economic promise and impact.  The Jackson Lab project alone is expected to create 365 new high paying jobs in the state’s biotech sector.  Additionally, the project will support and create up to 339 direct construction-related jobs, up to 327 indirect construction-related jobs, and over 150 indirect supply chain and other jobs associated with the increased JAX operational activity.  The project will also add more than $71M in additional tax and fee revenue for Maine state and local governments.  So, to sum up, that’s nearly 1,200 jobs and more than $71 million in new tax and fee revenue.  Truly amazing.

The Union River Center for Innovation also symbolizes tremendous promise in the greater Ellsworth region by providing a place for new start-up enterprises to grow into significant Maine employers and by helping to provide boundless opportunities for entrepreneurs to thrive.

So, we all ought to join Steinbeck in roaring with immense pride for the two auspicious developments that were announced this week.



Brian Whitney