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Alfond Foundation Announces $500 Million In New Grants

An aerial view of the University of Maine in Orono. The University of Maine System is among the recipients of $500 million in new grant funding from the Harold Alfond Foundation announced Tuesday.

The Harold Alfond Foundation today announced that it was investing half a billion dollars in new grants to aid organizations around the state, with a particular focus on higher education.

The foundation says the groups will receive millions to create new programs, scholarships and buildings that it says will help boost the state’s workforce and economy going forward.

Greg Powell, chairman of Harold Alfond Foundation, spoke with All Things Considered host Nora Flaherty about where the $500 million is going and what it will mean for our state.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Powell: In the aggregate, the grants we’re making to some eight really, hugely helpful, important institutions in Maine, are designed to send a message that Maine is going to be more prosperous and a better place in the future. And so, taken together, along with grants that we have in progress right now with many other institutions who we also think very highly of, we’re hoping to set the foundation for a more prosperous Maine.

In that regard, I think it’s widely known and understood that our workforce needs to be expanded and the skill set of our workforce needs to be brought along so that it can more effectively and efficiently and profitably serve our economy. And so these grants also focus on health care and on engineering, artificial intelligence, computer science, areas where the United States has a special advantage in the world, to make our economy prosperous and better.

Flaherty: Given the numerous organizations in need of funding right now, why did you choose to invest in these particular institutions?

Well, all of these institutions had come to us with ideas, plans, initiatives that they wanted to undertake that required funding. All of them adjusted their plans in view of the pandemic. And all of them seem to fit this concern we have over enhancing the workforce of the state of Maine, helping to build out its infrastructure and doing so in an innovative, entrepreneurial way. So all of them have that quality about them. And so we felt really very good about giving them the fuel in the tank they needed to move forward with their initiatives.

We’re obviously in the middle of a pandemic right now. And we’re seeing the effects ravage businesses and also local and state government revenues. What role will this new funding play in helping the state come out of the pandemic? Or will it just wind up making up for lost revenue?

Well, I think the pandemic and the virus are going to be with us for a while. And the point of these grants is to recognize that yes, we will be living with the pandemic, and we will, at some point, surmount it and we will conquer it. And we want to invest in a future for the state that it had before COVID-19 and it still has. And some of our grants are more targeted at problems arising from the pandemic than others. Our health care grants, especially to the University of New England, are appropriate right now, given the need to strengthen our health care workforce.

Regardless of COVID-19, Maine does still face some pretty dire projections. The state’s facing a labor shortage and many jobs still don’t pay enough. What will be needed for things to change in the state and how much of a dent can this investment making those big structural kinds of issues?

With the COVID-19 environment, the attraction and the need to live in big cities, and the cities in particular, is no longer what it was. And the ability, secondly, to work remotely has provided an opportunity for Maine to be a place where highly skilled workers in these fields, which hold great promise for the American economy, where we could thrive. So we have an opportunity right now to invest in Maine’s future, and in building skills in our population in these areas where there’s greater promise of prosperity.

Nora is originally from the Boston area but has lived in Chicago, Michigan, New York City and at the northern tip of New York state. Nora began working in public radio at Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor and has been an on-air host, a reporter, a digital editor, a producer, and, when they let her, played records.