$1.8 Million Grant Funds Initiative to Help Struggling Businesses

Contacts: George Criner, (207) 581- 3151; Hugh Stevens, (207) 581-3111

ORONO — The University of Maine is receiving more than $1.8 million for a new initiative to help Maine employers respond to 2008 natural disasters and economic distress.

A $1.82 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) enables a unique and innovative new initiative being called the “Knowledge Transfer Alliance” to create a statewide network among researchers, faculty and students at UMaine and at other University of Maine System campuses, plus private, public and semi-public enterprises to work with stressed businesses.

The effort organizes a broad coalition of experts with a wide range of business, manufacturing and innovation skills to coordinate efforts to assist struggling businesses, specifically those that have suffered in the last year from natural disasters ranging from flooding to fire, and compounded by the economic impact of being temporarily out of business. The UMaine project team leaders are Hugh Stevens, director of School of Economics Office of Special Projects, George Criner, director of the School of Economics and John Mahon, dean of the College of Business, Public Policy and Health.

Key areas to benefit from the collaborative will be Eastern, Western and Northern Maine, areas particularly stressed by events beyond their control in the last year.

In addition to the School of Economics and College of Business, Public Policy and Health, other principal units participating at UMaine include the College of Engineering and Cooperative Extension, which are pledging expertise to help businesses. Assistance will be offered in an array of formats, including programs at economic and business-development conferences and workshops, online programming and on-site firm visits.  The UMaine team is beginning a phase to network with existing development groups and efforts to maximize coordination and combined impact, Stevens and Criner say.

Maine’s U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, whose home town of Millinocket generated the idea for the program by approaching the School of Economics through Michaud’s office, says the innovative and collaborative approach “will strengthen employers throughout the region and help retain and create jobs.”

“The recession and recent natural disasters have caused tremendous economic hardship for families and businesses in our state,” Michaud says in a prepared statement. “Federal disaster assistance is a critical tool that helps our communities rebuild. But many of the existing programs lack the technical assistance that is really what many of these communities and businesses need. The Knowledge Transfer Alliance will help Maine businesses respond when disasters strike and help build a system of support during economic downturns.”

Maine’s U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins add in a joint statement that businesses selected to participate in the alliance “will benefit significantly from this EDA funding as they work to improve their business models, helping to improve the overall economy.”

Stevens notes that stressed businesses often do not have the time or resources to step back and view the bigger picture and plan strategically because they may be operating at or near crises stage. Criner says bringing university and affiliated expertise to Maine businesses and manufacturers makes sense.

Team leaders also like the “give back” feature of the program, in which participating businesses will be given the opportunity to assist other businesses at some point in the future, Criner says.

“We hope to build a cohort of program graduates so we can all work together to help turn Maine’s economy around,” he says.