Despite Pandemic, Key Maine Industries Poised for Continued Growth, Job Creation

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FocusMaine releases new report, “Stronger Together, Resilient as Ever, FocusMaine 2020 Highlights and Impact Review” illustrating positive trends, celebrating success across Maine’s key economic sectors

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“More than anything else, 2020 has taught us that we are stronger together. Families and communities are still hurting. We need to pull together, and we believe our sectors can be a part of Maine’s recovery.” Dr. Kimberly Hamilton, President of FocusMaine

Three key sectors of Maine’s economy, agriculture and food production, aquaculture and biopharmaceuticals, are poised for growth and are well-positioned to tap global trends and transform the state’s many assets into quality jobs leading our state out of a downturn caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic. A new report, released today by FocusMaine, looks back on three years of efforts to grow these specific industries and finds hope for continued growth and job creation even in the midst of the immense challenges posed by the pandemic.

“As I reflect on this year, I’m guided by the old adage, ‘A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor,’” said Dr. Kimberly Hamilton, President of FocusMaine. “A very stormy 2020 has, in fact, tested the strength of our strategy. More than anything else, 2020 has taught us that we are stronger together. Families and communities are still hurting. We need to pull together, and we believe our sectors can be a part of Maine’s recovery.”(Video message from Kimberly Hamilton)

Hamilton noted that Maine’s food, beverage and aquaculture businesses, both large and small, have demonstrated their resilience and creativity, developing innovative products, and opening new sales channels, with some even finding ways to grow despite extreme challenges. (See Pemberton Story below) Likewise, the state’s life sciences community has risen to meet the nation’s needs by solving pressing research and supply chain problems and helping to speed along virus detection and vaccine development putting Maine on the national map.

Andrea Cianchette Maker, Partner at Pierce Atwood LLP and Co-Chair of FocusMaine, said, “At this time, when Maine needs multiple pandemic recovery efforts, FocusMaine remains committed to our mission to accelerate job growth in fast-growing markets where Maine has competitive advantages and to retain and attract a workforce for the future. In this way, we are building a more resilient economy and bringing hope to Maine families at a critical time."

Michael Dubyak, Former President, Chairman and CEO of WEX: “To retain talent in the state, education must connect to promising career and job opportunities. This is the core reason we created FocusMaine and is at the heart of our partnerships with educational institutions and other committed organizations. By investing together in sectors where Maine is uniquely positioned, globally competitive, and poised for job growth, we are ensuring that today’s job seekers can build a bright future right here in the state.”

Please see the full report here: Stronger Together, Resilient as Ever, FocusMaine 2020 Highlights and Impact Review

KEY FINDINGS IN REPORT:

Agriculture and Food Production
FocusMaine supports partners and programs that help food and beverage businesses grow. The programs launched under the FocusMaine umbrella meet a range of business needs from early-stage start-ups seeking mentorship to start their businesses to established companies looking to scale their business strategy, processes, and capacity. Mature companies can access expert guidance for strategic, data-driven market expansion.

Pemberton Gourmet Foods is one of the many businesses that has shown resilience and nimbleness in a year that has been devastating for too many in the food and beverage sector.

For the past 20 years, Pemberton’s Gourmet Foods has played a critical role in the growth of specialty food companies that aspire to scale up to get products to larger markets. The business, based in Gray, offers private label products, custom processing, small batch food packing and a suite of associated product development services for food entrepreneurs.

Pemberton’s Gourmet Foods enrolled in the FocusMaine-supported Cultivator program managed by the Maine Center for Entrepreneurs (MCE) in January 2020. At the end of the program Chef Sam Mangino said, “MCE helped us make the correct choices during COVID-19 and that has kept all of our employees working full-time.”

“The program’s mentors assessed our company, set goals for our team and helped us hold ourselves accountable to reach peak performance and double-digit sales growth. We now have work booked into the first quarter of 2021 and beyond,” Magino added.

“FocusMaine’s work in the food industry is really important. The support is invaluable, especially to keep Maine-owned companies hiring Mainers. It means a lot to us and our business.”

FocusMaine’s three-year results in Agriculture and Food Production:

  • Launched four new food and beverage programs to help early-stage, established and more mature food businesses: Top Gun food-themed programs, Tastemakers, Cultivator, and MarketShare.
  • Served 80 companies throughout the state.
  • Invested over $2 million in business support services and program partners to strengthen the food economy.
  • Built a network of more than 50 food and beverage industry experts.
  • Introduced more than 60 investors to food and beverage entrepreneurs.
  • Provided customized consumer and market data to more than 20 companies to sell more products outside the state.
  • Commissioned three studies that illustrate the opportunity for growth for value-added production in the Maine food economy.
  • Catalyzed more than 190 jobs in Maine’s food and beverage sector, and helped propel sector growth.

Aquaculture
FocusMaine seeks to clear a pathway for sustainable growth of Maine’s unique aquaculture industry. Their partners provide resources related to production planning, risk management, workforce development, business resource access and community engagement. In this way, they are helping Maine’s sea farmers and innovators all along the coast responsibly meet a growing global need by building on the Maine brand for high quality, sustainably raised, delicious Maine food.

FocusMaine’s three-year results in Aquaculture include:

  • Provided 16 start-up aquaculture companies with mentoring and business training through a collaboratively developed, aquaculture-specific business accelerator program.
  • Created the first comprehensive aquaculture workforce development strategy to develop training solutions for existing career opportunities and anticipate future needs as the sector responds to global trends.
  • Launched MaineAquaculturist.org, a one-stop resource hub for growing aquaculture businesses.
  • Developed seven industry-informed, expert-verified financial modeling tools to guide shellfish and kelp growers to a path to profitability. In the last three months of 2020 alone, 17 companies benefited from these tools following rollout.
  • Lowered the risk of starting, growing and investing in aquaculture businesses by expanding crop insurance options, educating growers about risk management, and addressing critical needs in the financing community for benchmarking data.
  • Built a pipeline of more than 80 international companies interested in exploring opportunities to expand in Maine.
  • Created 70 jobs in the sector and laid the groundwork for longer-term sector growth.

Biopharma
FocusMaine works with partners to attract more companies that believe Maine has what they need to succeed. Guided by a powerful advisory team, the organization focuses its efforts on workforce needs, incentives, and marketing to help businesses find a new home and expand the availability of good jobs in Maine.

FocusMaine’s three-year results in life sciences/biopharma include:

  • Grew the roster of companies interested in exploring relocation to Maine, including more than 40 companies in active exploration.
  • Launched Why Maine, a campaign to strengthen messaging around the robust bioscience industry in Maine and the many reasons why Maine is the right choice for businesses considering expansion or relocation into the state.
  • Informed FocusMaine’s approach with a comprehensive 10-year feasibility study for building the life sciences sector in Maine.
  • Created a 12-person expert advisory group drawn from the biosciences industry, research, and education fields to help FocusMaine match Maine’s advantages with evolving national sector needs.
  • Joined forces with like-minded organizations that are working to grow Maine’s bioscience workforce and industry, such as the Biosciences Industry of Maine, Northeastern’s Roux Institute, and an EDA-funded Maine Bioscience Cluster project led by MCE.

Skills and Talent
Underlying FocusMaine’s work in signature industries is an effort to attract, foster and grow Maine’s future workforce. Central to their approach is a partnership with employers across Maine and with many of Maine’s colleges and universities on the frontlines of career development and workforce training.

Since 2017, the FocusMaine Intern Experience has engaged more than 1,600 future job seekers and 80 employers in an internship program designed to strengthen the connection with Maine employers and with the state of Maine.

Based on results of pre- and post-internship surveys of 2020 FocusMaine Intern Experience participants, 80% of participants stated that their summer intern experience significantly improved their “impression of Maine as a vibrant place to live and work.”

In 2020 there was an 11% increase in the belief that “there are viable career opportunities for students like me in Maine” following program engagement.

Other highlights of FocusMaine’s three-year results in Skills and Talent include:

  • Expanded the program to reach businesses in Augusta, Bangor, and communities along the Midcoast.
  • Piloted a micro credential program during the pandemic that awarded 89 digital badges.
  • Designed an Inclusion and Diversity training to introduce interns to the fundamentals of cultural consciousness, ally skills, and global fluency.
  • Piloted an attraction strategy through LinkedIn to introduce people with a connection to Maine to opportunities in the state.
  • Strengthened a recruitment platform that highlighted opportunities in FocusMaine’s signature sectors.

About FocusMaine:
FocusMaine is a private sector-led initiative to accelerate the creation of quality jobs in Maine by investing in three of Maine’s globally competitive and high-growth fields--agriculture, aquaculture, and biopharmaceuticals—and by strengthening Maine’s workforce capacity. FocusMaine partners with a number of Maine organizations to spur business growth within those sectors. Together with its partners, FocusMaine catalyzes sustainable growth and business confidence that energizes Maine’s economy. For more information, visit http://www.focusmaine.org.

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Angie Helton
@CaptainNema
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