WATERVILLE — Hours after the Harold Alfond Foundation announced the start of a $5.5 million student debt relief program for Maine workers, the technology company CGI Group Inc. celebrated its own future job creation in the area.

Speakers at Tuesday evening’s event at the Hathaway Creative Center on Water Street spoke of the importance of the company’s commitment to bring 200 jobs to the region, after a ribbon cutting ceremony was held in advance of the company’s upcoming move to the Hains building at 173 Main St. The Hains building is the same location where the Harold Alfond Foundation earlier in the day announced it would contribute $5.5 million to a student debt relief program that’s eligible for those living and working in Maine. The program, called “Alfond Leaders,” would pay up to 50 percent of college loan debt for qualifying students in the field of science, technology, engineering and mathematics and who commit to working in Maine for five years.

Kimberly Lindlof, president and CEO of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, thanked CGI for the company’s belief in Waterville following the ceremony Tuesday at the Hathaway center.

“There’s a whole new level of excitement in the region,” she said.

Those sentiments where echoed by Garvan Donegan, economic development specialist for the Central Maine Growth Council, who said Tuesday turned out to be “a really exciting day in Waterville” and said the Alfond announcement couldn’t be more critical for workforce development, as it will help recruit talent to Maine by underwriting student debt. As for CGI, Donegan said in conjunction with the downtown revitalization effort from Colby College, it would be the “most important economic event” not just for Waterville, but for the region, in decades.

“There could not be a more important event,” Donegan said after he addressed the crowd.

Donegan said the biggest challenge facing Maine is its labor economy. An aging and declining population in the state has led to a reduction in the working-age population, and Donegan said job-creating mechanisms such as the one in the Alfond announcement and CGI’s plan were extremely important.

“It’s striking right at the heart of the workforce challenge,” he said.

The CGI Group is a nationwide information technology company, and Donegan praised the company as being an “onshore” delivery center, meaning the jobs are in the United States. According to Ned Hammond, senior vice president of U.S. infrastructure services and onshore delivery, the company has 11,000 employees across its six locations.

Last fall, the CGI Group purchased Collaborative Consulting, a Massachusetts-based technology business that had opened earlier. It had been Collaborative Consulting’s plan to bring 200 jobs to the area, and Hammond said when CGI bought the company — and temporarily moved into the Hathaway Creative Center — it remained committed to that goal.

Andrew Thompson, the director of both the Waterville and the Wausau, Wisconsin, onshore delivery centers, said CGI is “everything you need” for information technology for businesses. He said the company was looking forward to helping businesses and to training the workforce.

CGI is now on the second floor of the multi-use Hathaway Creative Center. It plans to move to the Hains building this summer, and the 200 jobs would be created over the next few years.

Hammond said there are about 35 employees at the Waterville location. The ribbon cutting ceremony was part of a series called Tech Night, which is a monthly meeting of regional technology experts.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis

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