Maine’s emerging technology economy took another kick in the teeth Monday, when Betsy Biemann unceremoniously vanished from her post as president of the Maine Technology Institute.

Biemann officially resigned and was unavailable for comment. Commissioner George Gervais of the Department of Economic and Community Development said the resignation was Biemann’s “personal decision.”

When a seven-year leader of an important state agency resigns effective immediately, however, and vacates her office before word hits the streets, it’s easy to deduce that this was at least a case of a lack of confidence from her superiors, if not an outright firing.

Either way, it reinforces the message that Maine is not interested in promoting innovation in business, which is the wrong message to be sending.

This is the latest slap at MTI, following the governor’s decision last month to veto a $20 million research and development bond. Biemann had been a leading advocate of R&D as an engine of economic development.

Gov. Paul LePage is on record showing his hostility to the R&D program, which borrowed money to offer competitive grants to businesses and sometimes public-sector partners to fund projects with the ultimate goal of bringing good-paying jobs to Maine.

This is a relatively modest program. Maine ranks last in New England and well below the national average when it comes to R&D spending as a percentage of gross domestic product.

The additional funds to award grants, which would be at least matched with other sources of investment, would have funded projects in communications and information technologies, as well as new ways to make the best use of Maine’s natural resources and modernizing traditional Maine industries.

Gervais said there was no connection between Biemann’s departure and the veto, but he does acknowledge that the administration would like to see a higher priority placed on commercialization of new products than was called for in the R&D bond language.

LePage will now get to appoint a new MTI president and put his stamp on this important economic development arena.Is Maine really “open for business?” Maybe, but we’ll have to wait awhile to see how open it really is.


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