Maine Lawmakers Place Big Bets on Innovation. And, Sadly, Maine Loses an Icon

July 29, 2021 | President’s blog

Brian Whitney MTI President

In this month’s blog, there is exciting news to announce about action the Governor and Legislature took recently to promote innovation, as well as some heart-rending news to report about the loss of a great son of Maine, Thaxter Trafton.

On July 19th, the Maine Legislature enacted the Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan, Governor Mills’ proposal for allocating the more than $1 billion in federal discretionary funding associated with the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.  The plan makes substantial investments in economic development, worker attraction and training, affordable housing, health and human services, and higher education, to name just a few.  The new law takes effect on October 18th and the funds will be deployed shortly thereafter.

I am thrilled to report that the package included meaningful allocations to support innovation.  While the final product was less than the $75 million for innovation funding that had been initially proposed, it still included consequential investments that will help address revenue losses in Maine small businesses and high growth enterprises and will position those entities to retain and create jobs, grow revenues, and gain market share.  Specifically, the Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan includes the following funding related to innovation:

  • MTI will receive $20 million ($10M in each of the next two years) for “one-time grants funding for economic recovery and development opportunities in the forest products industry to address reduced demand from economic disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic and other industry effects.” We will work collaboratively with the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to develop programming that will help achieve the objectives of the legislation.
  • MTI will receive $39.6M ($25M in year one, and $14.6M in year two) for “one-time funding to support and leverage private investments in research, development, and innovation in the state’s technology sectors.  These funds, which must be matched by the recipient, will be awarded to Maine organizations through a competitive process to help them increase revenue, create and preserve jobs, and grow market share.”  We are in the midst of program design work for this funding that will likely include multiple competitive funding rounds focused on specific sectors/business types and public/private partnerships supporting industries or regions of the state with the goal of mitigating the economic impact of the pandemic. We also plan to conduct a “Listening Tour” to ensure widespread input and buy-in from businesses and our ecosystem partners.
  • The Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan also provides $2.5 million in “one-time funding to establish the clean energy innovation program of the clean energy partnership to fund programs that advance innovation in the clean energy sector, including but not limited to providing grants in coordination with the Maine Technology Institute.”

The MTI team is looking forward to designing programs and deploying these funds to help mitigate some of the harmful economic impacts associated with the global pandemic and to sustain and grow innovative enterprises in the state of Maine.  Stay tuned for further updates on these programs in the coming weeks and months.

And, finally, on a somber note, I was deeply saddened to learn that my former neighbor and dear friend, Thaxter Trafton, lost a battle of declining health this past week.  Thaxter, as many of you probably know, served as Director of Business Development, Deputy Commissioner, and Commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic & Community Development during the Baldacci Administration.  By any account, he led an extraordinary life.  An accomplished athlete and coach, his competitiveness and drive propelled him to an impressive career in leadership that reached amazing professional heights, including a stint as President of the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team and President & Commissioner of the International Basketball League.

He made friends easily and often noted to me that he had never met a person he didn’t like.  He and his wife, Linda, forged meaningful bonds with people throughout Maine and the nation.  My wife and I were privileged to be among those fortunate enough to get to know him well and share many great times and experiences.  As a coach and leader, he was always one to impart his wisdom to those he mentored.  One of the lessons he shared regularly was that “attitude is everything.”   A good, positive attitude with a resolute focus and goal can help achieve just about anything.  That’s a great lesson for any dreamer, doer, entrepreneur, or inventor.  It thrust Thaxter from the tiny Washington County town of Danforth, Maine, to the world stage as an executive of a professional sports franchise.  It will benefit you too. Attitude is everything!  Don’t let anyone limit your aspirations.  Get after it!  Stick to it.  Make it happen.

Rest in peace, Thaxter.