Expert testimony in Augusta, June 17

Testimony in Support of LD 111, An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue for Research and Development and Commercialization, and LD 1836, An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue for Infrastructure, Economic Development, Workforce Development and Energy and Environment Investment

Dr. Joan Ferrini-Mundy, President, University of Maine

June 17, 2019

Good afternoon Senator Breen, Representative Gattine and distinguished members of the Joint Standing Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs. My name is Joan Ferrini-Mundy. As president of the state’s only public research university — the University of Maine — and its regional campus, the University of Maine at Machias, I am here today to speak in strong support of the investments in research, development and commercialization proposed in LD 111 and LD 1836.

We all should take pride that many of UMaine’s research labs are nationally and internationally recognized. These include the Climate Change Institute, whose director, Dr. Paul Mayewski, has just returned from leading a historic expedition to install weather-sensing instruments on Mt. Everest in pursuit of deeper understanding of climate. We also are home to the Advanced Structures and Composites Center, led by Dr. Habib Dagher, which, in addition to doing groundbreaking work in floating offshore wind technologies, hosts a center that will help extend the life of our publicly funded roads and bridges. Meanwhile, in the lab of UMaine neurobiologist Dr. Kristy Townsend, teams pursue the mystery of how the brain works — research that is critical to understanding obesity, diabetes, aging, and neurodegenerative diseases faced by so many families in our oldest-in-the-nation state. In these cases and, indeed, across all of our real-world research, hundreds of our students are at the bench and in the field, creating opportunities for themselves and our state.

We are grateful for your support of the public investment in university-led research, development, and commercialization; it has made a difference in the three examples I mentioned. For the past 20 years, the Maine Economic Improvement Fund (MEIF) has been an incredible resource and has had an impressive 3:1 leverage factor. Nonetheless, Maine currently ranks 45th among states for total R&D expenditures across sectors, and 50th among states for higher education-specific R&D expenditures. These lagging investments are a lid on growth and opportunity for individual Maine people, companies, and our state’s overall success. R&D expenditures are directly tied to leading indicators of a state’s economic health — employment, wages, prices, and productivity. To advance workforce readiness and economic development, it is imperative to increase research and development expenditure in Maine.

The targeted investments in LD 111 and 1836 are designed to do just that. They will build and sustain the necessary infrastructure to increase R&D impact across sectors and across the state. As importantly, these proposals come at a time when our state is positioned perhaps better than ever before to direct bond and other R&D funding to where it can most meaningfully and measurably accelerate innovation and economic growth, including in our marine and agriculture sectors.

Under my leadership, the University of Maine System has just completed a five-year plan to strengthen research and economic development efforts to support Maine industries, and to foster business formation and expansion. This plan proposes three major goals for our state — goals that align completely with the focus of these bonds and of much of your work here at the Legislature, making Maine the best state to live, work, and learn; growing our 21st century Maine economy, including heritage industries like forestry, fishing, and farming; and preparing our knowledge and innovation workforce.

At the same time, a long-overdue strategic statewide economic plan is being developed under the leadership of FAME CEO Bruce Wagner and DECD Commissioner Heather Johnson. The increasingly coordinated statewide efforts will help ensure any investment, including from voter-approved bonds for R&D and other initiatives, will be deployed strategically for maximum results.

I applaud Governor Mills, Representative Hubbell and the co-sponsoring legislative leaders for prioritizing research, development, and commercialization that will have a direct impact in improving the quality of life and economic success of the state of Maine, especially in our rural communities so dependent on farming and fishing. As these investments and others move forward, please know Maine’s public universities, and its research university in particular, stand as ready partners with a track record of collaboration and results.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today, and I am happy to answer any questions.