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Governor Baldacci spoke at a Pine Tree Zone ceremony certifying Hodgdon Yachts in East Boothbay. Hodgdon uses composite technologies in their yacht designs, which has put them and other Maine boat builders on the cutting edge of the industry and helped secure the grant for the state.

Hodgdon is using PTZ benefits to add up to 25 new jobs as part of its long-term growth strategy, which includes a contract with the U.S. Navy to design and build a composite high-speed prototype vessel.

Article and photos by Ramona du Houx

The craftsmanship of Maine built boats is known around the world as being top quality and incorporating the latest technologies into their traditional and modern designs. Some of these technologies are being developed here at the University of Maine, and industries are using them to enhance their products to compete in the global marketplace. Until recently these players had never been brought together to seek funding and work together.

“It was a stroke of genius for the state to bring all the players together to work on the grant,” said Stephen Von Vogt, who works for Hodgdon Yachts and runs Maine Marine Manufacturing, a company which specializes in high-tech composites.

“The grant is a significant boost to the composite industry, which will enable us to compete better with the rest of the world from Maine.” “Industry has been very supportive of the efforts,” said Lance Boucher who heads up the Governor’s Office of Redevelopment & Reemployment. “They’ve said they have had a difficult time working through state government before, but it’s great to see that this governor stepped forward to really partner with industry, giving them a seat at the table, and moving Maine’s economy in the region forward.”

In an unprecedented collaborative effort, Governor Baldacci’s administration and members of Maine’s North Star Alliance produced a grant proposal that could propel Maine’s boatbuilding and composite industries into the future. With tireless dedication, team members like Boucher, state commissioners, Dr. Robert Lindyberg of UMaine R&D composites lab, and key industry leaders worked over the holidays.

“Governor Baldacci has always been one to bring all parities to the table to best tackle a problem and solve it collaboratively,” said Boucher. “Working with everyone involved in this issue led to a great outcome.”

Maine was one of only 13 national regions in 12 states to take part in the $195 million WIRED initiative, which is awarded by the U.S. Department of Labor. Twelve out of 109 applicants were chosen.

The grant will be spent developing new boatbuilding techniques and composite materials that can make boats lighter, stronger, and faster, marketing Maine built boats to a wider audience, training future boat builders through Maine’s educational institutions, and providing capital for new or expanding boat or composite businesses.

“It’s important to remember how comprehensive it is. Not only with the 11 counties it covers — from Eastport, Jonesborough in Jonesport, all the way down to Bath and Kittery, to the entire coast and inland through Brunswick and the mid-coast region. But it also connects with the work being done at the University of Maine’s research and development (R&D) center, and the composite industry. It really puts all of the resources together in a way that it plays off our strength,” said Governor Baldacci.

“Boatbuilding has been a part of Maine’s heritage before we were a state. This is something that Maine has continually had as part of its history. Something we’ve been very successful at. Now with R&D and new composites, there is a need to bring on more workers and create an apprenticeship-journeyman type of a career ladder.”

7f789d792731ee5d-mainefirst2Photo: Commissioner Jack Cashman of the Department of Economic and Community Development talks to Habib Dagher director of University of Maine’s AEWC Center that develops technologies for particle applications. Composite research has made breakthroughs at AEWC.

Funding educational and training programs is one of the top priorities of the grant.

“Maine is strengthening its natural shipbuilding resource, becoming more competitive in the global economy,” concluded the governor. “We’re going to see future opportunities here.”

When the news hit in early February that Maine not only won the WIRED grant, but was the top of the list, members of the Alliance were ecstatic. “The grant couldn’t have come at a better time; it’s exciting and will help us with marketing,” said Paul Riche, president of Maine Built Boats (MBB), a member of the Alliance. “We are a group of small businesses that have come together because the state saw the potential of our industry working together. By working together on our common goals MBB makes us a strong marketing force. The grant will also help train needed skilled workers in the technologies we use in boatbuilding, like composites.”

“We just hired three new employees this morning,” said J. B. Turner of Lyman-Morse. “The industry is in great need of skilled workers.”

When the federal government decided to close Brunswick Naval Air Station (BNAS) the governor created the Office of Redevelopment & Reemployment. One of their main tasks is to find and implement solutions that would enhance the area’s economy for a sustainable future. The recent job losses at Bath Iron works, Maine’s largest employer and shipbuilder, were also high on the list of the governor’s concerns. Recognizing the regional economy of the Brunswick-Bath coastal region would need a boost, the strengths and weaknesses of the area’s demography in labor, education, and business were assessed. Then the North Star Alliance was formed.

This collaboration between state agencies, the boatbuilding and composites industries, and the University of Maine is unique. It’s the only alliance of its kind in America.

“The North Star Alliance was named after the state’s emblem where the North Star is shown as the directional beacon. This collaborative effort is showing us the way for future projects,” said Commissioner of the Department of Labor Laura Fortman. “When BNAS was not taken off the Department of Defense list of base closures, we looked at the best way to help the community. We looked at the skill sets in the region of those who were going to be dislocated. The diversity of skills was great, but we saw the need for more educational programs.”

“It’s a very exciting time because it is the first time state government has brought together members of so many diverse groups to work together,” said Fortman. “The WIRED grant will provide numerous opportunities to Maine residents through job creation and economic growth.”

“We had the best proposal and it was recognized. We’re projecting that the grant will mean at least an additional 2,000 jobs,” said Thaxter Trafton of DECD.

“It was a very competitive national grant process, and I’m proud that partners in Maine pooled their resources so well and came out with a winning proposal. I’d also like to extend my congratulations to the governor’s team for a job well done,” said Congressman Mike Michaud.

“This regional economic development initiative will be a good opportunity to diversify our economy and create jobs. I’m especially glad that this project will benefit a majority of our counties and, most importantly, will provide our state with a unique opportunity to expand high-tech jobs.”

Tim Hodgdon of Hodgdon’s Yachts and a member of MBB summed up what he felt Governor Baldacci has achieved: “The governor has established a vision for economic growth, and we’re proud to be part of it.”