The legislative committee that oversees economic development last week voted against a portion of Gov. Paul LePage’s biennial budget that would zero out funding for the state’s three business incubators.
The governor’s proposed cuts, first reported by Maine Startups Insider back in January, would eliminate an annual appropriation of $178,838 to what’s known as the Applied Technology Development Center system, which traditionally splits the money three ways between Maine’s three business incubators: the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development, the Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center, and the Target Technology Center in Orono.
For MCED, the proposed cut would eliminate 12 percent of the organization’s annual budget and throw into question incoming federal funding, as the state dollars were to serve as a match required to draw down Economic Development Administration grant funding secured to help it expand its Top Gun training program, according to Tom Rainey, its executive director. MCED has received $394,202 from the ATDC over the past six years, he said.
But Rainey may not have to scramble to fill his budget hole. Last week a majority of the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development voted against recommending the governor’s proposed elimination of ATDC funding. The vote was on party lines, 7-6, with Democrats voting to retain the funding and Republicans voting in support of the governor’s proposal.
“These three centers have proven their worth—supporting the successful startup and growth of dozens of successful businesses across our state. These companies are creating good jobs for Maine graduates and displaced workers now and will create even more jobs in the future if our state continues to support their growth and development,” the committee reported out in a memo. “The majority on the LCRED Committee believe that these programs are a proven, cost effective way to spur economic development and start up business growth, and we strongly recommend restoration of this funding to the budget.”
Sen. Amy Volk, a Republican from Scarborough and co-chair of the LCRED committee, voted in favor of the governor’s recommended proposal to eliminate the ATDC funding. In a statement sent to Maine Startups Insider, Volk expressed her support for supporting Maine’s small businesses, but said she wants to simplify Maine’s grant funding programs.
“Small businesses are the backbone of Maine’s economy, and for that reason Republicans in the Maine Legislature have consistently supported initiatives that allow them to grow and thrive, and will continue to support those efforts. At the same time, I believe that we should take steps to streamline our grant funding programs,” Volk said. “Those who apply for funding through the Applied Technology Development Center system are also able to seek funding through the Maine Technology Institute.”
Volk’s thought that the incubators can seek funding from MTI echoes the response I received from the governor’s office back in January when I first reported on the proposed cuts. However, at the time, Brian Whitney, MTI’s president, was not aware of a plan to take over funding for the incubators.
Volk said that if voters want to continue to help fund the incubators, they should vote yes on a June ballot question that will provide an additional $45 million in funds for MTI.
The LCRED committee also voted 7-6 against recommending the governor’s proposed cut of $100,000 to the Maine Co-Working Development Fund, which the Legislature created in 2015 to provide $100,000 a year to help develop co-working spaces around the state.
However, committee members were unanimous in their support of the governor’s proposal to provide $500,000 a year to the Maine Venture Fund, a quasi-state entity that operates like a professional venture capital firm. The annual appropriation would be noteworthy as it would be the fund’s first recurring annual appropriation from the state in it nearly 20 years of existence.
The committee’s recommendations now go to the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs.