Plugging R&D into Maine's Economic
If Maine's economy was a single
company, Jake Ward would be its chief of research and development. He
would be identifying industrial research needs, seeking investment in
new product ideas and promoting the development of business
In his real-life role as director of The University of Maine Department
of Industrial Cooperation (DIC), Ward performs many of these duties for
UMaine and the University of Maine System. He is a chief liaison between
higher education and the state's business community.
"How The University of Maine interacts with business and industry is
critical to Maine's current and future economy," he says. "We have the
intellectual and laboratory resources at UMaine to solve problems and
evaluate ideas. We work hand in glove with the private sector to apply
the knowledge that faculty have gained through their research.
"Ultimately, we want to help existing companies grow and new companies
become competitive," Ward says. "The bottom line is a strong economy
with jobs for the graduates of our technical colleges and universities."
Ward meets frequently with Maine private business owners, public and
non-profit agency officials, and investors. He stays tuned to what
companies need and envisions what entrepreneurs require to develop
tomorrow's products and services.
Among the recent collaborations in Maine, the University has worked with
Kenway Corp., Augusta; Applied Thermal Sciences, Sanford; and Houlton
Last year, DIC administered about 150 UMaine projects with $1.8 million
in contracts in areas ranging from pulp and paper manufacturing and
damage detection in the composite hull of a NASA spacecraft to
evaluation of voice-activated software benefitting the wood products
Through these and other efforts, DIC helps to solve the day-to-day
problems of the companies that drive the state's economy. Companies
contract with DIC, which then hires the faculty and students, and leases
the facility to do the project.
To avoid competing with businesses, Ward makes sure a company's needs
cannot be met in the private sector. If they can, he seeks to apply
University resources to fill any gaps. In all cases, businesses pay for
While Ward focuses on serving today's businesses, he also is laying the
foundations for new enterprises that may help to guarantee Maine's
economic future. He is quick to point out that the path from the
laboratory to the marketplace is long and uncertain, but it is a road
that the state must travel if it is to remain competitive in the global
There are plenty of potential potholes. Financial commitments are
required. Collaboration must be arranged between scientists and
businesses. Patents must be secured, and innovative ideas must be
developed for economic success. Technical skill on the one hand must be
matched by entrepreneurial commitment on the other.
Maine's R&D strategy focuses on so-called incubators, facilities that
bring businesses and scientists together under one roof. Ward has been
instrumental in marshaling support for two new incubators — the Center
for Cooperative Aquaculture Research in Franklin and the Target
Development Center in Orono. In addition, he has supported other
incubators for composite materials, biotechnology and environmental
"These facilities bring researchers together with business people to
refine technology and the business practices that are necessary to
translate that technology into a commercially viable product. The goal
is for the enterprise to outgrow the incubator and move into the
commercial sector on its own," Ward says.
by Nick Houtman
for more stories from this issue of UMaine Today Magazine.