Investing in tomorrow’s future today

Targeted bonds — could produce 4,500 jobs over three years

By Ramona du Houx

April 7th, 2009 

Maine’s Gov. John Baldacci’s proposed $306 million bond package would make investments in energy independence, highways and bridges, passenger and freight rail, higher education, innovation, and the environment.

Gov. Baldacci introduces his investment proposal for ME
Gov. Baldacci introduces his investment proposal for ME

The initial steps have been taken that prove continued investments in these areas will lead to economic growth. President Obama recognizes this on a national level and within the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) there are funds directed at these types of projects.

“Two weeks ago, President Obama signed the most significant economic recovery law in modern history,” said Baldacci. “But we all know that the recovery package can’t address all of Maine’s needs. We must do our part to create jobs and strengthen our economy. The investments I’m proposing will complement the Recovery Act, putting Mainers back to work.”

ENERGY PROJECTS — $15.5 million for energy conservation and the development of offshore wind power

ARRA has targeted some funds in weatherization and advancing energy efficient technologies so that America can become energy independent. Gov. Baldacci shares this vision and has been working towards this goal for Maine, as well as making the state an energy exporter.

Part of the bond package funds would establish a technology proving center for offshore and near-shore wind power through UMaine’s AWEC composite center.

Dr. Habib Dagher director of AWEC said, “The state of Maine has the equilivant of 40 nuclear power plants off the coast of Maine in wind energy potential. With investment for an offshore research and development facility, Maine could be building windmills and the platforms, with technologies developed at UMaine that would be erected in the Gulf of Maine. If it happens in Maine first, then the economic development impact could be great. Countries from around the world will come to Maine — the future resource triangle of offshore wind.”

Wind power
Wind power
Dagher has testified before Congress on the viability of Maine’s offshore wind. AWEC has expanded product lines in composite technologies for 43 companies, improved products for 30 companies. Because of AWEC expertise, 12 spin-off companies have been created.

“Up to 86 percent of our energy is imported. We’re just beginning to shift and diversify with our wood-to-energy initiatives and wind developments, along with our tidal and offshore research,” said the governor. “The price of gas goes up by telegraph and down by pony express. We’ve been down this road too many times, and it’s bankrupted us, and the country. Now we have to make the changes we need with investments for an independent energy future. With them, Maine can become the renewable-resource engine for New England.”

TRANSPORTATION PROJECTS — $127.8 million, including roads, bridges, rail, ferries, and aviation

ARRA has stimulated Maine’s transportation projects from bridge building, highway refurbishing, to expanding rail. This bond package continues the work the Baldacci administration has been doing alongside of ARRA’s investment, so that goods can get to markets easier, and people can use railroads as a less stressful, energy efficient alternative to cars. The state’s infrastructure can be a determining factor for companies that want to start businesses here, and if people want to visit the state.

More cargo trains are needed in Maine
More cargo trains are needed in Maine
“Transportation and energy costs are always the two biggest economic drivers for businesses in Maine. This is an opportunity for us to have a state rail policy to make sure we have more passenger and freight access throughout the state, which will make us more energy efficient and economical. This is long overdue,” said the governor.

RESERARCH AND DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS — $67.5 million for competitive research and development grants, economic development and the redevelopment of Brunswick Naval Air Station.

President Obama and Gov. Baldacci recognize that the jobs of tomorrow depend on innovation being developed today. Continued funding for research and development facilities that lead to breakthroughs is imperative for Maine and the nation, to compete in the global economy.

While jobs continue to be lost in traditional manufacturing in the state, high-tech jobs have increased because of investments with bonds.

“This package continues the recent technology bonds, which we call the Maine Technology Asset Fund, which were approved by voters in 2007. This would be replenishing that fund. This is very timely. It means that researchers and organizations will be able to continue to grow the technology infrastructure that’s being built, bringing high wage jobs to the state,” said Betsy Biemann, the director of the Maine Technology Institute. For every $1 of MTI funding, more than $14 are leveraged in additional private and public financing for Maine.

The proposal includes funding for collaboration between Southern Maine Community College and the University of Maine to be developed at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station, which will close completely as a military base in 2011. SMCC would offer associate degrees at the former BNAS campus, and UMaine would offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering programs — so students could move seamlessly up in the education ladder.

BIA could train engineers at the former Navy base in Brunswick
BIA could train engineers at the former Navy base in Brunswick
UMaine President Robert A. Kennedy said his institution has an important role to play, “Sixty percent of Maine’s engineers are within 60 miles of BNAS; an awful lot of them need graduate education. This will be a pipeline program from a two-year program to a bachelor’s degree on up to graduate degree. Bath Iron Works is just down the road and is the largest employer of engineers in the state; we’d like to have the chance to educate the engineers of the future at BNAS.”

An aeronautics school has already become a tenant at BNAS. With SMCC and UMaine on the base, an education hub that has been missing from mid-coast Maine will be established.

“Students will be able to design programs catered to their needs as they develop,” said Janet Sutor of SMCC. “The collaboration will allow them the opportunity to see that there are many different paths they could take. They could start thinking they would like a two-year degree and end up in grad. school.”

The goal of the campus will be to serve as a higher education magnet to attract and support businesses and industries.

“The availability of space at BNAS will give companies that want to take advantage of the research and development that the education collaborative provides, an opportunity to have cutting-edge businesses there,” said Dana Humphrey, UMaine dean of engineering.

Some envisage building windmill blades and components at BNAS and shipping them all over the world via the BNAS airport and expanded rail.

EDUCATION PROJECT —

$52 million for energy efficiency upgrades and building improvements at higher education facilities and state buildings

Since the governor transitioned the technical colleges to community colleges in 2003, there has been a 63 percent increase in enrollment. For classes starting this spring, nearly 600 more individuals have applied than did last year. Applications for classes this spring are up an average of 20 percent across the state’s community college system. At Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield, applications have increased by a whopping 38 percent.

“People want to advance their skills. It’s our responsibility to make sure we have the education institutions with classroom laboratories in place, so that they can get the training and education they need in this 21st-century economy,” said the governor.

Glen Cummings, dean of Institutional Advancement at SMCC said, “Retooling our Community College System will ensure we train students today for the economy of tomorrow. The bonds are investments in Maine’s future workforce.”

Maine’s universities and community colleges will also have the opportunity to become green when they are upgraded.

Transferring to natural gas to heat the state’s East Campus, which uses 400,000 gallons of oil per year, will make the state more energy efficient and could bring in a natural gas line for the residents and businesses of Augusta. “If we can be an anchor customer, local residents and taxpayers would benefit,” said Chip Gavin of the Bureau of Financial services. The new system would save more than $500,000 in energy costs over the first ten years.

QUALITY OF LIFE — $43.4 million for the Land for Maine’s Future, working waterfronts, clean water, and environmental protection.

Working waterfronts need investments
Working waterfronts need investments
Over the past two years LMF assisted in the conservation of more than 54,000 acres. The fund needs replenishing to ensure Maine’s quality of life for future generations.

The $19 million for water projects will be matched with $47 million in federal funding and, according to the Department of Conservation, are essential.

“The governor has taken an aggressive stance on climate change and the environment; these are needed investments in Maine,” said Commissioner Litrell of the DEP. “If we don’t do this, it will become increasingly unaffordable to live in Maine. The governor outlined how Maine can become a clean-energy-rich state that could attract business.”

Land for Maines Future needs investment to protect these lands
Land for Maines Future needs investment to protect these lands

THE OVERALL VIEW

These targeted investments will strengthen Maine’s economy, creating 4,500 jobs over three years.

According to Ryan Low, commissioner of DFAS, Maine pays its bonds back in ten years and can afford this investment. “This stays within the debt ratios. We wanted to layer upon the stimulus package with bond investments from ’09 to ’011, so you don’t end up with a huge investment that dies out,” said Low. “With interest rates at historic lows, it’s a good time for bond investments.”

President of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce Danna Conners said, “This is, Maine’s own recovery package. The initial investment of $306 will generate more than twice that in matching federal funds for transportation, energy, and economic needs. It’s a bold package targeted at creating jobs now and for the future. Challenging times take bold action like this.”

Legislators have filed their own bond proposals, and the governor said that he would work with them to develop an overarching investment package.

If passed by the Legislature, voters would have to approve the package with two votes: one vote would approve $265.8 million this November; another would approve $40.4 million in June 2010.

“The ARRA was a needed boost. Economic recovery requires a sustained investment strategy. I’m excited about making these investments in people and their future,” said the governor. “This is a measured path for economic growth.”

The proposed bond package:

* $127.8 million for transportation projects, including roads, bridges, rail, ferries, and aviation;
* $52 million for energy efficacy upgrades and building improvements at the State’s higher education institutions;
* $15.5 million for energy conservation and the development of offshore wind power;
* $67.5 million for competitive research and development grants, economic development and the redevelopment of Brunswick Naval Air Station;
* $43.4 million for the Land for Maine’s Future, working waterfronts, clean water, and environmental protection.