Today’s fast-changing global economy presents a great challenge to our state. Meeting this challenge tests our will and our creativity. It calls upon our determination and commitment. It requires a strong partnership with the federal government.
|Senator Susan Collins represents the State of Maine in the U.S. Senate.|
Too often, this partnership seems one-sided - the focus is on what Washington does for Maine. Equally important is what Maine does for our nation. The Washington connection works both ways, and our great state has proven again and again that federal investments in Maine are repaid many times over, with interest.
Whenever I advocate for federal funding in Maine, I do so fully confident that Maine will deliver. That is why I support proposals for reforming earmarked funds to make sure that the sponsor is identified and the purpose made public. I am proud to stand up for the Maine projects and communities for which I have sought funding.
There is no better example than my support for the University of Maine, our premier center for research and development. When I was first elected to the U.S. Senate more than ten years ago, I set as a priority increasing federal funds for the University. My first official visit as a Senator was to the University’s small wood composites lab, which has since grown into the Advanced Engineered Wood Composites Center.
From defense and homeland security to agriculture and fisheries research, from wood composites to global climate change, University of Maine researchers produce first-rate work at the cutting edge in the development of a 21st Century economy.
A little over a month ago, I attended a briefing in Orono that demonstrates what UMaine brings to the table. Working with the U.S. Army on a $6.2-million research project, the Wood Composites Center has developed ballistic panels to better protect our troops in the field. After the demonstration, the first up-armored tent using this new technology was shipped to the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan, a legendary outfit that includes soldiers from Maine.
Working with another legendary outfit - Hodgdon Yachts of East Boothbay - the Center also is developing a new high-speed boat for our Special Operations forces, especially the Navy SEALS. This research, which received $9 million in funding, has the potential to become a $200-million procurement. I am proud to have secured the initial federal funding that launched this important project.
Such projects not only produce much-needed breakthroughs, but also have the potential to create new industries and the jobs of the future, right here in Maine. Federal funding provides the seed money.
Maine’s economy has always depended on a healthy environment. The Maine Agriculture Center at Orono is a leader in developing sustainable forestry and farming methods, and in combating plant and animal disease. In 2006, I helped secure nearly $3 million for this work. Federal funding also helps support university research on wild blueberries in Jonesboro and cold-water marine aquaculture in Franklin. But they’re not just growing berries and fish in Downeast Maine - they’re growing cancer-fighting antioxidants and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
When we think of health research, two words immediately come to mind: Jackson Lab. This institution received nearly $7 million in federal grants last year to help research life-saving and life-improving advancements in cancer, diabetes, arthritis, kidney disease, and much more. What an incredible return on investment.
At more than $1.5 billion last year, Department of Defense spending clearly is a major component in Maine’s economy. Of course, we immediately think of Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, with its $319-million civilian payroll, and Bath Iron Works and its 5,700 jobs. I have fought hard for our shipyards because I believe that those who defend us deserve the best.
Many other businesses throughout our state make great contributions to our national defense. As a member of the Armed Services Committee, I have worked to secure a wide range of projects for Maine businesses, including Saco Defense, Telford Aviation in Bangor, and Vicus Technologies in Kennebunk. Our Pratt & Whitney workers in North Berwick and General Electric employees in Bangor are manufacturing engine parts to build the aircraft of the future.
Smaller businesses are delivering real value as well. In fact, the Defense Logistics Agency estimates that contract awards to these businesses created or sustained more than 2,800 Maine jobs last year.
Maine is also helping to secure our homeland. As a leader of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, one of my great concerns has been protecting our nation’s seaports, and the SAFE Port Act I co-authored was signed into law last year. Those who safeguard our ports need the tools to do the job.
Again, the UMaine Advanced Engineered Wood Composites Center is leading the way with a new, high-strength Secure Composite Cargo Container, which just passed a series of rigorous tests with flying colors. The $2 million in funding for this vital project was jeopardized last fall, but I fought hard to ensure its continuance.
Detecting the presence of chemical, biological, or radiological agents in the 11 million cargo containers that reach our shores each year is a top priority. I am proud of leadership role Maine has taken in sensor research and development, and have worked to secure more than $7 million for this R&D in Maine. Such companies as Orono Spectral Solutions, Sensor Research Development Corporation, and BiODE are turning these investments into advancements - and into jobs.
Meeting the economic challenges of the 21st Century requires a workforce trained for the future. A wonderful example of how Maine makes wise use of federal investments in job training is the Radiologic Technology program at Kennebec Valley Community College. I worked to secure $546,000 in federal funds, which was used to leverage $1.3 million in employer cash and in-kind donations to address the shortage of workers in this high-skill field. This federal investment is producing good jobs for Maine people and is addressing a critical health-care need.
The hard-working, dedicated, and energetic people of Maine consistently prove that, when provided the tools, they build great things. Maine’s Washington connection is strong. Working together across al levels of government, with our research institutions, and our business community, we can make it even stronger.