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  • $44 Million in USDA grants available to help agricultural producers increase the value of their products-apply!

     

            

    By Ramona du Houx

    Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on May 11, 2016 that USDA is making up to $44 million available to farmers, ranchers and businesses to develop new bio-based products and expand markets through the Value-Added Producer Grant program. 

    “I strongly encourage rural Maine agricultural producers to apply for this useful program, which can help provide an advantage in marketing or producing a value-added agricultural product. This type of rural Maine innovation leads to job creation and supports the local economy,” said USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel. 


    Aroostock Hops, LLC, (photos) recieved a Value-Added Producer Grant for $24,413. The grant paid for labor costs and to purchase consumable supplies to produce pelletized hops from fresh hops and to package the pellets in nitrogen-flushed, vacuum-sealed, labeled Mylar bags as well as for marketing and promotional expenses.

    "Our natural curiosity about improving hop yield, quality, and best practices in growing hops organically, coupled with both our backgrounds in science, has led us to investigate some of our hop growing questions using an experimental approach.  We figured there must be lots of other hops farmers, especially in the Northeast, who were asking the same questions as us and would like to know about some of the things we were investigating.

    "Over the years, we have been fortunate to work with a USDA program called Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), which provides grants and education to advance innovations in sustainable agriculture," states Aroostock Hops on their website.

    The USDA grant helped Aroostock Hops partner with the University of Maine, and receive a Maine Technology (MTI) Seed Grant to fabricate a prototype hop harvester. 

    The extra cash needed to turn a creative idea into a marketable product is where a lot of USDA grants have come into play in Maine.

    Agriculture is one of the identified areas FocusMaine— a group of over 50 Maine stakeholders who are dedicated to help grow jobs and the state’s economy.

    "Agriculture, aquaculture and biopharmaceuticals were chosen because Maine's inherent strengths in these sectors allow to us to compete nationally and even internationally in those growing markets,” wrote ,” wrote Karen G. Mills is a senior advisor at the Harvard Business School, former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration and part of the leadership team of FocusMaine in an Op-ed in MaineBiz.

    Secretary Vilsack describes the cultivation of local and regional food systems as one of the four pillars of rural economic development that impacts farm family income and strengthens local economies. 

    “America’s farmers, ranchers and rural business owners are innovative entrepreneurs and this program helps them grow economic opportunities for their families and communities by increasing the value of the items they produce,” said  Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “The Value-Added Producer Grant program has a great track record of helping producers increase the value of products and expand their markets and customer base, strengthening rural America in the process.”

    Another example of a Maine Value-Added Producer Grant Program award in Cara Sammons, Flying Goat Farm in Acton (photo right). Their grant of $125,000 were be used to pay for packaging materials, labor costs and marketing expenses associated with increasing production as well as hiring personnel to do routine tasks such as cheese room cleaning, packaging, making deliveries to established retail outlets and restaurants, selling cheese at farmers markets, and bookkeeping.

    Value-Added Producer Grants may be used to develop new products and create additional uses for existing ones. Priority for these grants is given to veterans, members of socially disadvantaged groups, beginning farmers and ranchers, and operators of small- and medium-sized family farms and ranches. Additional priority is given to applicants who seek funding for projects that will create or increase marketing opportunities for these types of operators.

    • More information on how to apply is on page 20607 of the April 8th Federal Register.
    • The deadline to submit paper applications is July 1, 2016.
    • Electronic applications submitted through grants.gov are due June 24, 2016. 

    For questions or more information on how to apply, please contact Rural Development Business Programs Specialist Brian Wilson at 990-9168 or brian.wilson@me.usda.gov.

    Value Added cheese produced by Flying Goat Farm

    Value-Added Producer Grants are a key element of USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, which coordinates the Department’s work to develop local and regional food systems.

    Under Secretary Vilsack, USDA has supported providing consumers a stronger connection to their food with more than $1 billion in investments to over 40,000 local and regional food businesses and infrastructure projects since between 2009.

    Industry data estimates that U.S. local food sales totaled at least $12 billion in 2014, up from $5 billion in 2008. 

    Congress increased funding for the Value-Added program in the 2014 Farm Bill, with the help of Congresswoman Chillie Pingree. That law builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past six years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers.  

    Since 2009, USDA Rural Development has invested $11 billion to start or expand 103,000 rural businesses; helped 1.1 million rural residents buy homes; funded nearly 7,000 community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care facilities; financed 180,000 miles of electric transmission and distribution lines; and helped bring high-speed Internet access to nearly 6 million rural residents and businesses.

     USDA Rural Development has Area Offices located in Presque Isle, Bangor, Lewiston, and Scarborough, as well as a State Office, located in Bangor. 

  • FocusMaine—aims to grow jobs and the economy using Maine’s identified strengths

    By Ramona du Houx

    More than 50 leading figures in Maine’s business, academic and political circles have become committed to ending the state’s economic stagnation. Their group, FocusMaine, aims to work with three promising industries in a concerted effort to grow 20,000 to 30,000 jobs over the next 10 years across the state.

    After FocusMaine concluded it’s first project, a $100,000 survey of Maine’s economic landscape by global research firm McKinsey & Co., the consortium announced the group’s objectives to the press.

    “We thought, ‘If we’re going to do this, let’s let the data drive the process and be the decision maker,’” said Mike Dubyak, chairman of the board of directors for WEX and its former president and CEO.

    “FocusMaine made it a core principle to identify three industries that offer the greatest potential to grow traded jobs in the state,” wrote Karen G. Mills is a senior advisor at the Harvard Business School, former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration and part of the leadership team of FocusMaine in an Op-ed in MaineBiz with Dubyak.

    The survey identified three key sectors where jobs would grow exponentially, raising incomes and the quality of life for all of Maine.

    Salmon in a DownEast hatchery. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    “Agriculture, aquaculture and biopharmaceuticals were chosen because Maine's inherent strengths in these sectors allow to us to compete nationally and even internationally in those growing markets,” wrote Mills in the MaineBiz Op-ed with Dubyak. 

    In aquaculture U.S. fish consumption has risen by 23 percent since 1990, and we import almost 90 percent of select fish products, most of which are farm raised. Maine has many small aquaculture operations; some who don’t want to get any bigger, while others do but they’ll need to build connections with businesses, gain advice and even get to know potential investors. FocusMaine could become the bridge that would connect Maine’s entrepreneurs with the expertise and people they need to know.

    The same could be said for the agriculture sector that has had an influx of young organic famers, but lack connections that could help their operations flourish. The number of farmers aged 34 and younger grew by nearly 40 percent from 2007 to 2012, during the same time there was an increase in 1,326 agricultural jobs—during the recession, while other jobs declined.

    There has been 10 percent annual growth in pharmaceutical contract research and manufacturing from 2005 to 2011 in Maine. As a strong biopharmaceutical cluster in Massachusetts continues to expand and their Boston based will need more affordable locations for manufacturing, and Maine fits the bill.

    Dubyak has been avidly working with Pierce Atwood partner Andrea Cianchette-Maker, co-chairwoman of the FocusMaine leadership team with Dubyak to develop Focus Maine, which has dozens of banks, policy-people, business and education leaders on board with the objective to grow Maine’s economy. FocusMaine’s mission is to be a catalyst to accelerate growth, helping insure that companies large and small in these three industries have the resources to grow, compete and create jobs.

    “We have to develop the high priority strategies and which of those would require or benefit from government support,” said Cianchette-Maker.

    Hence there are teams focused on political, academic and research aspects of developing the 10-year plan. Its government advisory group includes former Gov. John Baldacci and former Gov. John McKernan.

    “I'm very proud to be part of this first class team of job creators. The focus isn't trying to be everything to everybody. We’ll take a few key sectors and become the world's best in those fields — agriculture, aquaculture and the life sciences manufacturing. I believe with more jobs in these sectors it will create a picture that ties all Maine together,” said Former Governor John E. Baldacci.

    The principle leaders of FocusMaine have built smaller organizations into larger ones. Hence they are turning their skills to smaller businesses with the potential to expand. The list of over 50 leading Maine figures on FocuMaine’s website speaks volumes about the seriousness of the group.

    “What it will take is a sustained, collaborative effort, which we know is possible. It will require business leaders, government, educators, labor, foundations, entrepreneurs and many others in our community to all come to the table and work together. The result will be more good-paying jobs and greater opportunities for people all across our state,” wrote Mills in the MaineBiz Op-ed with Dubyak. 

    Before Mills worked for the Obama administration she was put in charge of Baldacci’s efforts to boost Maine’s economy by working with lawmakers, stakeholders and researchers focusing on growing cluster areas identified as having potential. She successful helped kick start the Maine Technology Institute (MTI) grant program—Cluster Initiative Program (CIP) for collaborative projects that boost Maine’s high-potential technology-intensive clusters. FocusME received a CIP grant with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.

    FocusMaine intends to concentrate on aquaculture first, funded in part through that $100,000 MTI grant. FocusMaine, has already raised about $700,000 in grants and contributions from at least 20 Maine companies and nonprofits.

    There are key reasons why FocusMaine has trade sector jobs in their sights—

    Traded sector jobs on average pay an average $50,400 annually, nearly double the average job in the state. In the trade sector, employees tend to stay longer in the company, then workers in lower paying jobs do. Good paying jobs will help keep young educated Maine workers in the state, too often they leave because of lack of employment opportunities.

    The ripple effect from a worker who spends his earnings in his community helps to support 1.6 additional local jobs. 

    “We believe that with a focused effort in these three sectors, over the next 10 years we can create an additional 8,000 to 10,000 traded jobs across the state, along with an additional 12,000 to 20,000 local jobs. That's a total of 20,000 to 30,000 jobs,” wrote Mills in the MaineBiz Op-ed with Dubyak. 

    In 1980, traded sector jobs in Maine represented 40 percent of the state's total jobs. Today, traded sector jobs account for only 27 percent of Maine's total workforce, a decline that has bought the state well below the national average of 32 percent.

    “This loss of traded sector jobs has had the duel effects of out-migration of young people seeking better jobs and declining overall income as we become more and more dependent on lower-paying local jobs. Had Maine maintained a traded sector workforce equal to the national average of 32 percent, we would have 35,000 more traded sector jobs and, because of the multiplier effects, 55,000 additional local jobs,” MaineBiz Op-ed with Dubyak.  

    Some major well known FocusMaine leaders:

    • Michael Dubyak, former WEX Inc. president and CEO (co-chair)
    • Andrea Cianchette Maker, partner at Pierce Atwood (co-chair)
    • Eleanor Baker, Baker Newman Noyes co-founder and principal
    • William Caron Jr., president of MaineHealth
    • John Fitzsimmons, former Maine Community College System president
    • Karen Mills, former U.S. Small Business Administration administrator
    • Robert Moore, president and CEO of Dead River Co.
    • William Ryan, former chairman and CEO of TD Banknorth
    • David Shaw, founder and former CEO of Idexx Laboratories Inc.

     

  • Making the case for jobs in ‘traded’ sectors with FocusMaine

    Maine needs more good jobs. That is why the recently formed nonprofit, nonpartisan FocusMaine aims to work with two or three promising industries in a concerted effort to grow 20,000 to 30,000 jobs over the next 10 years. FocusMaine's independently researched effort identified agriculture, aquaculture and biopharmaceuticals as the three sectors with the best prospects for delivering these jobs for Maine.

    All three of these industries are in "traded" sectors — industries where companies ring up sales for their products and services primarily outside the state and bring those dollars back into Maine. Some key examples of traded sector companies in Maine that we can already point to are IDEXX, L.L.Bean, Sappi, Unum and WEX.

    Why focus on traded sector jobs?

    Traded sector jobs on average pay an average $50,400 annually, nearly 50 percent higher than jobs serving a primarily local market. Traded sector companies have a higher percentage of full-time employees than non-traded sector companies.

    Each traded sector job on average supports 1.6 additional local jobs. These jobs are found both in local suppliers serving traded sector companies and in local companies providing consumer goods and services purchased by traded sector employees in their communities. These multiplier effects flowing from the money brought into Maine by the traded sector businesses constitute the ultimate engine for overall growth of the Maine economy.

    Reversing the decline of traded sector jobs

    In 1980, traded sector jobs in Maine represented 40 percent of the state's total jobs, essentially mirroring the national average. Today, traded sector jobs account for only 27 percent of Maine's total workforce, a decline that has bought us well below the national average of 32 percent. This loss of traded sector jobs has had the duel effects of out-migration of young people seeking better jobs and declining overall income as we become more and more dependent on lower-paying local jobs.

    Had Maine maintained a traded sector workforce equal to the national average of 32 percent, we would have 35,000 more traded sector jobs and, because of the multiplier effects, 55,000 additional local jobs.

    Had we somehow avoided the loss of traded jobs, would we be the oldest state in the nation? Would so many of our best and brightest have left the state? Would our social services and schools be better funded?

    Those of us involved in FocusMaine certainly think these jobs would make a difference in our state's economy and the wellbeing of the Maine people.

    Driving growth in traded jobs

    FocusMaine made it a core principle to identify two or three industries that offer the greatest potential to grow traded jobs in the state. Agriculture, aquaculture and biopharmaceuticals were chosen because Maine's inherent strengths in these sectors allow to us to compete nationally and even internationally in those growing markets.

    The FocusMaine mission is to be a catalyst to accelerate growth, helping insure that companies large and small in these three industries have the resources to grow, compete and create jobs. We are now building a 10-year implementation plan, engaging key stakeholders and partners — educators, innovators, business leaders and others.

    We believe that with a focused effort in these three sectors, over the next 10 years we can create an additional 8,000 to 10,000 traded jobs across the state, along with an additional 12,000 to 20,000 local jobs. That's a total of 20,000 to 30,000 jobs.

    Ambitious? Yes. Achievable? Absolutely. What it will take is a sustained, collaborative effort, which we know is possible. It will require business leaders, government, educators, labor, foundations, entrepreneurs and many others in our community to all come to the table and work together. The result will be more good-paying jobs and greater opportunities for people all across our state.

    Karen G. Mills is a senior advisor at the Harvard Business School, former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration and part of the leadership team of FocusMaine.

    Michael E. Dubyak is chairman and former CEO of WEX Inc., a leading provider of corporate payment solutions, and co-chair of FocusMaine.