Community colleges are vital for the continued growth of the Maine’s creative economy


With students the governor shared experiences that he has had with his family’s restaurant business – Baldacci’s in Bangor – at the kickoff celebration lunch for York County’s community college incubator kitchen. Photo by Ramona du Houx

June/July 2006

By Ramona du Houx

One of the major reasons why companies in America are leaving to set up in countries abroad is that many states do not have an educated workforce that can compete in a worldwide economy.

As Maine embraces a knowledge-based economy, while improving and continuing to support traditional industries, efforts to improve the educational system at all levels make the state more competitive in the global economy.

As the state becomes more competitive, more businesses are being attracted to Maine. “Our planning confirms that Maine’s economic and cultural future depends on an educated workforce,” stated the governor.

With the creation of the community college system, more workers have been retrained, more people wanting to start over with a fresh start have done so — by learning a new profession — and more creative young people have found that a community college degree yields a higher income.

For students undecided about college, but who have the potential to succeed through further academic studies, Early College for ME affords them the opportunity of taking community college courses while still in high school.

Many community colleges offer specialized courses.

In York Community College (YCC) a new kitchen incubator is training students with hands-on learning on how to run their own restaurant business. Renting kitchens has been cost prohibitive for many start-up businesses in the area. The YCC program will be offering the community the opportunity to rent state certified kitchens to cook their products from.

“The meal was delicious. The incubator program is wonderful because it gives students real hands-on experience in the restaurant business,” said Baldacci. “Believe me, I know the challenges of a restaurant.”

Business incubation is critical to the success of new companies. To help nurture young, entrepreneurial companies in Maine, seven Technology Centers around the state provide business incubation. Each center provides its students with business support tailored to companies in their region.

• Eighty-seven percent of all businesses that graduate from incubators remain in business.

• According to the National Business Incubation Association, for every 50 jobs created by incubated businesses, 25 more jobs are generated in the community.

The Kitchen Incubator at YCC encourages entrepreneurs who wish to become involved in the restaurant business but need experiential learning in the business — taking students through all the practical aspects of running a restaurant.

“I love it said,” Ms. Taylor, a student in the incubator program who is also a single mom with a twelve-year-old. “It’s giving me the practical experience that I need.”

Taylor’s parents own a restaurant, and she always dreamed of carrying on the family tradition. Even though she grew up in a restaurant environment, she never had the opportunity to learn business accountancy. Working out how much needs to be purchased, how long goods stay fresh, health codes, and estimating how many customers will show were all unknowns to Taylor. “The incubator teaches you about projections and gives you valuable information. You get a more realistic sense of what to expect. It takes the edge off the unknown. I feel more confident now that I’ve been through the course.”

She’s looking forward to opening an ethnic restaurant on the coast.

“What I’ve learned here is all about my future and my daughter’s. Chef Norm is a great inspiration,” said Taylor. “This community college program is giving me a chance to achieve my dream.”

Chef Jonathan Norm, who owns his own restaurant, is the head instructor for the program. “This program is great because it gives students hands-on experience in the restaurant business,” said Chef Norm. “It’s as close as it gets to the real thing. The wonderful aspect about teaching here is that everyone in the class is here because they want to be. This is their choice for their future. It’s their way to discover if they want to be involved in the restaurant business or not.”

Community Colleges around the state are offering more hands-on experiential learning techniques.

At Southern Maine Community College (SMCC) another unique incubator has been up and running for the past two years — a business incubator. “Entrepreneurship II is the course here, where students start their business plan in operation,” said Rep. Glen Cummings, who is SMCC’s director of partnerships and coordinator of the Entrepreneurial Center, which he created for the incubator. “Working alongside other students builds their confidence. They become energized by each other’s entrepreneurial energy. They learn from each other, and it all makes the transition into owning a real business easier.”

The Entrepreneurial Center gives students advice from professors and local businesses professionals. The local community has also stepped up with financial support. Business faculty offices are housed at the center, and conference facilities are rented out to the community.

“An incubator makes a huge difference to whether a business is successful or not. Part of what we do here is testing the business ideas to see if they are faulty or not. Some students have had ‘great ideas’ but after doing market research and finding out, as in one case, that China can manufacture the product for a lot less, they have had to change those ideas,” said Cummings.

“Students here don’t have extra money to play with; they find out that they will need to get it right from the start. In the incubator students make mistakes start up businesses often make — but they make them here,” said Cummings. “We’re encouraging economic growth with good old fashioned Maine bread and butter industries. Most importantly, we are a place that shapes and realizes dreams.”

Godfrey Lake enthusiastically declares that because of SMCC’s incubator he is living his “Jamaican Dream and loving it in America.” At the age of twelve, Lake moved from his island home to Florida. Eventually, after having a variety of professions, including being a taxi driver, he settled in Maine with his four daughters who “are my inspiration,” said Lake.

Lake always wanted to be the “boss” of his own business. He has a passion to solve problems and found the entrepreneurial course helped him solve what he needed to learn about running a small business. Lake graduated from the entrepreneurial course at SMCC two years ago and set up his business as an electrician specializing in residential remodeling.

“My dreams have come true in Maine. It’s a great place to start over,” said Lake.

“For a good, honest day’s work you can make real money,” said Lake. Last year he made $43,000 and this year he is projecting to earn twice as much. “I didn’t think I could do that before I took the entrepreneurial course. Back then I was bringing home $250 a week.”

He currently employs one worker and will provide more jobs if work continues to increase. He has a compelling go-getting spirit that he projects, giving his clients the confidence that he will do a good job. “A lot of my jobs are referrals,” said Lake. “I believe the customer always comes first. With every job you have to go above and beyond.”

Lake said he’s grateful for SMCC’s entrepreneurial center and loves what he is doing. “Running a small business is a lot of responsibility but it’s worth it. I’m able to be my own man. I can choose when I get up in the morning and when it’s quitting time,” said Lake. “I like being in charge of my own destiny.”

Since the governor created the Community College System, enrollment has increased by over 42 percent.

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Greenspan stated that, “in order to compete in the knowledge-based economy, community colleges need to be established.”

“We can’t expect companies to come to Maine and educate our workers. We have to provide that opportunity here,” said Cummings of SMCC. “We’ve made great progress with the community colleges to close that gap.”

Southern Maine Community College is the fastest growing community college in the entire country.

The Maine Community College System (MCCS) is Maine’s public comprehensive two-year college system, comprised of seven colleges and eight off-campus centers. MCCS serves more than 11,000 credit students and 10,000 students in noncredit courses and contact training each year.

With the governor’s AdvantageU program Maine streamlined the admissions and transfer process for community college students to the institutions of the University of Maine System (UMS). With AdvantageU, community college students with GPAs of at least 2.5 are guaranteed admission to any of Maine’s public universities, entering as juniors. Their fees are waived and credits transferred.

Melissa Kozak transferred to the University of Southern Maine and hasn’t looked back. “I’m studying translation, and it’s great. I know when I graduate I’ll be able to find a good high-paying job,” said Kozak.

According to MCCS officials, the number of students transferring to four-year programs continues to increase. System-wide 95 percent of MCCS graduates are placed in jobs or continue their education.

Recent trends indicate that most MCCS students will be employed in their fields of study within six months of earning their diplomas. Many programs have 100 percent placement rates.

“Every year, welding students from both the one-year and two-year programs get jobs before they’re out the door,” said Candace Ward, associate dean of students at Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor.

Most importantly, we are a place that shapes and realizes dreams,” said Majority Leader in the House Rep. Glen Cummings about the Entrepreneurial Center he started at SCC.

Graduates from Northern Maine Community College in Presque Isle, who majored in programs such as precision metal manufacturing, nursing, and emergency medical services, had close to a 100 percent job placement rates.

At Washington County Community College (WCCC) in Calais, graduates of the mechanical and construction technology and medical assisting programs continue to be in great demand.

The need for students in health care and the trade programs is steady statewide.

The future of WCCC’s Eastport Boat School was in question for months, as the community wondered if the Legislature would allocate funds for the school to continue. With specialized skills in boat building and composites on the increase, but few trained personnel to fill these skilled positions, Baldacci immediately knew that keeping the school was a must. When the Legislature failed to provide funds, Baldacci stepped in and provided $210,000 for the Eastport Boat School from his contingency fund.

“This is a big step, as Governor Baldacci has allowed a world-class program, with many accomplished graduates, to stay at a world-class waterfront facility,” said faculty member Dean Pike.

The recent supplemental budget did increase funds for the Community College System by $1.6 million and the university system by $4.2 million.

“Education funding is fundamental to the growth of our economy,” said Baldacci.

Community colleges have helped grow Maine’s creative economy.

“This year there are more employment opportunities in education, social work, in the medical field, law enforcement, recreation, accounting and insurance,” said Barbara DeVaney, director of career services at the University of Maine, Presque Isle. “We’re starting to see the effect of baby boomers retiring and employers are more confident in the economy.”

MCCS graduates can expect to earn salaries that range from $26,000 to $48,000 statewide.