Yes, MTI’s MTAF Program was Worth the Investment!

Brian Whitney MTI President

The Portland Press Herald ran a couple of stories this month focused on a $45 million voter-approved research and development infrastructure bond approved by voters in 2017 and questioned whether the economic impacts associated with it were worth the investment. The funds, deployed through an MTI vehicle referred to as the Maine Technology Asset Fund 2.0 (MTAF2.0), enabled dozens of consequential awards that generated quality jobs and economic impact throughout Maine. So, while I am obviously biased, I submit that, yes, the funding was well worth the investment, and the economic and societal benefits that resulted from the projects will continue to provide benefits for years to come.

When the Maine Technology Institute (MTI) announced the funding competition for the $45 million in MTAF funding in the fall of 2017, the response was enormous. We received nearly $400 million in requests. MTI conducted extensive due diligence and made 18 awards in 2018. One of those awards was intended to help secure a long-coveted cross laminated timber (CLT) manufacturer to the State of Maine. Regrettably, that firm was not able to execute on its plans – – and no money was provided to the company. The award was repurposed and the funds were made available for a second competition that we called MTAF2.5. MTI received $25 million in requests and made 10 additional awards.

All told, 27 awards were executed utilizing the $45 million in available funding. Of course, about a year into most of these projects, we experienced an unprecedented global pandemic that adversely impacted each of us.

Even with COVID affecting our lives and the larger economy, MTAF projects created 1,770 jobs, based on just the direct jobs created at the companies post award. That total eclipsed the three-year projection of 1,545. That also does not reference all the indirect and induced jobs generated in the larger economy. In addition to the significant job creation, these projects generated noteworthy private sector matching funding (more than $224 million), resulting in materials and services sourced from Maine vendors, additional corporate tax revenue, wage and benefit increases, joint R&D efforts, and additional capital raised by the companies.

The jobs data, which equates to approximately $25,000 in MTAF funding for each job created, is arguably a very reasonable return on the public’s investment. Of course, in addition to the jobs, I also know what I can see: dozens of impactful projects that moved the needle in our economy.

Pleasant River Lumber took a vacant site in Enfield and built Maine’s first greenfield sawmill since 2014.  By the end of the year, its state-of-the-art facility will be the biggest production sawmill in the state.

In Ellsworth, there’s a sprawling mouse vivarium in what used to be a vacant box store. Due in part to MTAF investments at the Jackson Laboratory, the lab not only created hundreds of jobs, but it made significant contributions to the national effort against COVID-19. The mouse models it developed were rapidly made available to scientists worldwide for drug and vaccine development.

When visiting Portland, there’s a brand-new modern office building and lab facility where Covetrus has developed a state-of-the art specialty pharmacy alongside a world-class science, technology, engineering and math center. They’ve also formed a strategic collaboration with the University of New England College of Pharmacy for training and development programs.

In Saco, Ready Seafood’s full utilization lobster campus is maximizing the value of Maine’s lobster resource by collaborating with Maine’s top lobster scientists. The campus includes an innovative lobster holding mechanism, a new lobster processing plant, a research lab, a lobster shell dehydration plant, and a logistics hub.

In Lisbon, Springwork’s Farms’ unique aquaponic greenhouses grow organically certified lettuce, fish, and fertilizer cost-effectively, while producing twenty times more greens per acre and using less than a tenth of the water compared to conventional agriculture.

When in Waldoboro, I see a 27,000-square-foot building that houses Maine’s first land-based eel aquaculture facility. For years, local fishermen caught valuable elvers in Maine then sold them to China where they grew to full size eels and were then sold back to the US sushi market. American Unagi is moving the whole supply chain to Maine as the first North American entity to grow those elvers to full size.

In Jay, I see a critical regional employer persevering through tragedy. While the explosion in 2020 was devastating to Pixelle, it did not end up shuttering the plant. MTI’s award helped play a meaningful role in its survival.

Other successful MTAF projects include C&L Aerospace in Bangor, Arcast in Oxford, Good To-Go in Kittery, Hussey Seating in North Berwick, Deepwater Buoyancy in Biddeford, ON Semi in South Portland, Tilson in Portland, STARC Systems and SaviLinx in Brunswick, Nyle Systems in Brewer, North Spore in Westbrook, Twin Rivers in Madawaska, and Lyman Morse in Thomaston to name just a few.

Investments in research and development infrastructure are critical to advancing Maine’s economy and providing the types of quality job opportunities that will propel Maine forward. I am proud of the projects the MTAF program funded and look forward to continuing to extoll their many benefits.