Maine is falling behind on research and development funding

Public investment in research and development has produced some of the greatest, life-changing inventions of the modern era. 

Vincent Cerf and Robert Kahn were working on a Pentagon-funded project when they developed TCP/IP — the communications protocols that became the foundation of the modern internet. The MRI machine was developed because of research conducted by public institutions in the United States and the United Kingdom. 

The list of everyday products originally developed by NASA to aid space exploration includes artificial limbs, baby formula, home insulation, memory foam, insulin pumps, the computer mouse and many, many other common household items. 

There are countless other examples of public investment in research and development that have resulted in life-changing innovations. 

But even when public investments in research and development don’t produce groundbreaking, life-changing inventions, they can still have a significant impact. Failure can be as important as success, because when we learn what doesn’t work, we get closer to what does.

These investments keep us competitive in a constantly changing economy. They help us develop the products of the future, and they help new businesses gain a foothold in the market. They also help grow jobs, often in areas where they are most needed. 

States that make smart, sustained investments in research and development can use those investments to attract private investment and grow their economy, creating good-paying jobs for their residents.

Unfortunately, Maine trails neighboring states when it comes to research and development funding. The level of funding is often measured as a portion of our overall Gross Domestic Product. In 2017, Maine invested about 0.8 percent of our GDP in research and development.

Meanwhile, other New England states invested an average of 4.4 percent of their GDP in research and development: New Hampshire invests about 3 percent, while Massachusetts invests almost 6 percent. If we continue to fall behind these states, we will lose our competitive advantage in the region.

That’s why I introduced a bond for $50 million in research and development funding last week. If this bond passes, it would allow the Maine Technology Institute to distribute the funds as grants to different businesses and organizations, using a competitive process. 

The grants will be aimed at the state’s seven targeted technology sectors: Biotechnology; composites and advanced materials; environmental technologies; forest products and agriculture; information technology; marine technology and aquaculture; and precision manufacturing.

In 2017, voters passed a similar bond, and the economic impact was huge. That $45 million bond supported 5,300 jobs across the state and resulted in $1.4 billion in economic activity in Maine.

Bonding can help Maine catch up on research and development funding. In addition, I’m hopeful that we can find ways to provide more consistent, ongoing funding. 

Maintaining strong levels of public investment is good for our economy in the short run, and can yield life-changing results in the long run.

If you have any questions, comments or concerns, I want to hear from you. You can reach me by email at James.Dill@legislature.maine.gov or by phone at 207-287-1515. I work for you, and you have a right to hold me accountable.

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