Who says that there’s no good news anymore?
On Wednesday, the Alfond Foundation, one of Maine’s leading philanthropic organizations, announced a massive series of grants totaling $500 million, targeted to build our economic future.
The foundation will distribute funds to eight Maine colleges, universities and organizations that will support science and technology education, which will put students in a position to fill some of the best-paid and most in-demand jobs in the regional economy. A shortage of skilled workers is one of the biggest impediments to economic development in the state.
These gifts won’t be a benefit for the institutions and the students who build their skills. It’s a bet on Maine’s future at a time when powerful economic forces have taken a toll on our traditional industries.
“We are doubling down at this time because of our belief that Maine has a great future,” said Greg Powell, Alfond’s board chairman. “We are going to come out of this pandemic bigger, better, stronger and more prosperous than ever, especially if we upgrade the skills of our workforce to meet the needs of our modern economy.”
A whopping $240 million grant will go to the University of Maine System. It ranks among the largest donations ever given to a public institution of higher education.
Much of that will be dedicated to the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus, creating more opportunity for graduate-level studies in the state’s population and commercial center and giving the state’s economy the opportunity to grow. USM has been in a years-long process of building a graduate center that would combine law and business school programs, as well as a multi-university engineering and computer science program.
The Alfond Foundation was created by Harold Alfond, the founder of Dexter Shoe, who died in 2007. He was born in Swampscott, Massachusetts, and moved to Maine to make shoes when he graduated from high school. By the time he was 22, he was general manager of the plant, and when he was 25, he bought an abandoned shoe factory in Norridgewock.
Alfond started Dexter Shoe in 1956, and sold the company for Berkshire Hathaway stock in 1993. He shared his success with his adopted home state, generously giving to colleges and universities even though he had never had the opportunity to continue his own education past high school.
The Alfond name is on many buildings in Maine, such as the sports complex at the University of Maine and a community center in Waterville that houses a YMCA, a Boys & Girls Club and a municipal pool..
His lasting legacy will now also include the engineers and entrepreneurs who will be building Maine’s economy for another generation. During a period when all the news seems bad, it’s nice to have a reason to hope.