Maine tech businesses back $20M bond for Brunswick-based institute

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BRUNSWICK — A bill that would provide an additional $20 million to the technology business development program of the Brunswick-based Maine Technology Institute got a boost on May 16, when state lawmakers approved the measure for inclusion on a November ballot.

“It’s better than a good idea. It’s absolutely critical to the future of Maine,” said Chris Sauer, owner of Ocean Renewable Power Co. in Portland.

The Maine Technology Asset Fund was created in 2007, with an initial bond amount of $50 million. In 2010, voters approved an additional $3 million. The program has nearly $53 million invested in 35 research and development projects across the state.

Over the past five years, MTAF has won many fans among the state’s business leaders. Sauer said that ORPC owes its existence to the MTI program.

“They are part of the reason I relocated from Florida to Maine in 2008. There were times in the past that we would not have survived if it had not been for MTI,” he said.

Today, the company employs 28 people at above-average wages, and is making headlines. It recently installed a tidal turbine in Eastport, and announced in April that it has been approved by Maine’s Public Utilities Commission to sell about four megawatts of power to the grid.

Contracts for 20 years with Maine’s electricity providers are pending, which will make ORPC the first tidal power company in the country to enter into such an agreement.

Sauer said ORPC has hired suppliers in 13 of Maine’s 16 counties, and pumped $15 million into the Maine economy. A total of $3 million in funding from MTI has been matched with $42 million from other sources.

“Talk about leverage,” he said.

Brunswick benefits

Brunswick specifically stands to benefit in a big way if the measure becomes a reality.

Brian Dancause, a business support specialist for the town, said the presence of MTI at Brunswick Landing helps to attract and maintain technology firms to the area.

“It’s an asset or amenity that, even though it’s a statewide resource, it makes Brunswick, and Brunswick Landing in particular, attractive to a technology company,” he said.

Dancause said that the more support MTI receives, the more likely it will be to benefit the local economy.

“Technology businesses that are based in Brunswick have a track record of being awarded MTI funds,” he said.

Many of the companies that have benefited from MTI awards are in the Mid-Coast region.

Brunswick is home to Chimani, a company that develops computer apps to help people explore national parks, and Harbor Technologies, which recently made headlines by developing the world’s largest vehicular composite bridge beam. The 105-foot beam was used in a DOT project in Missouri.

Harbor Technologies owner Martin Grimnes said the program deserves more support. He and Sauer agree that MTI has become an economic development model that is being emulated around the country.

“My opinion is that MTI is the best thing that we have done in terms of stimulating technology, growth, employment and the economy in Maine,” Grimnes said. “If you look at other states, MTI has been touted as a real winner.”

Sauer said that other organizations don’t compare.

“We deal with other organizations like MTI around the country,” he said. “MTI is, by a huge margin, the most professionally run organization like this in the country.”

Elsewhere in the region, Yarmouth is home to Fluid Imaging Technologies, which has recently developed a particle imaging technology that allows for analysis of fluid samples for various types of impurities, among other things.

According to CEO Kent Peterson, 66 percent of the company’s business comes from outside the U.S., and 95 percent comes from outside of Maine.

And Portland is home to four companies that have been given a boost by MTAF: ORPC, Kepware Technologies, CashStar (another app company), and Immucell, which has designed a product to prevent diseases in newborn calves.

Grimnes said that MTI’s successes make it likely that more companies will seek Maine as a place to do business when they are in their nascent stages.

“It would be hard to find any more attractive growth funding for the time period when you’re developing a new product,” he said.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Chris Rector, R-Thomaston.

According to the bill’s fiscal impact statement, the current bond under consideration will cost a total of $25.5 million over a 10-year period, if approved.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or matthh@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @hh_matt.

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