The University of Southern Maine plans to create a hub to house and enhance the diverse partnerships between Maine’s academic institutions and counterparts in Iceland and Norway. Through the Maine North Atlantic Institute, USM plans to strengthen economic, educational and cultural ties between Maine and Scandinavia, university President Glenn Cummings said Thursday at an event on the Portland waterfront.

Maine needs to prepare to become a U.S. gateway for expanded trade through the Arctic and northern Atlantic oceans, the consequence of unsettling melting of the polar ice cap, Cummings said.

“You have to be looking around the corner, you have to be looking ahead,” Cummings said. “That is what this institute is – we want to be ready.”

In the past three years, USM has approved partnerships with Reykjavik University and the University of Akureyri in Iceland and the University of Tromsø, in northern Norway. Through the institute, USM wants to grow existing collaborations, such as teacher and student exchanges and partnerships.

The goal is economic, Cummings said. Areas of focus will include sustainable tourism, aquaculture, waterfront development, innovation and entrepreneurship, and coastal law and regulations.

Private industry and the state’s higher education community, including the University of Maine and University of New England, will be included in the institute, Cummings said. The New England Ocean Cluster House, a planned business and innovation incubator in Portland, and Whole Oceans, a company planning an indoor salmon farm in Bucksport, have already partnered in the endeavor.

A complete institute plan and program is still under development, but the intention is to open it within six months, said Terry Shehata, senior policy associate for research and economic development at USM’s Cutler Institute. The institute will have an office and staff at USM and will be funded with grants and the university’s funding through the Maine Economic Improvement Fund.

“It is going to create the opportunity pathways that will help Maine take advantage of the economic, cultural and educational opportunities in the North Atlantic,” Shehata said. “It is not about making those partnerships, but making those partnerships to develop solutions in Maine.”

Since Icelandic shipping company Eimskip made Portland its U.S. headquarters five years ago, Maine government and business have made serious efforts to collaborate with counterparts in that country and make personal and professional cross-Atlantic connections. That has included a visit from Iceland’s president to Maine, Icelandic music festivals in Portland and a Maine beer festival in Reykjavik, and the state’s membership in the Arctic Council.

“This is the beginning of a major shift, in my mind, of how Maine becomes a major player in the future of our country,” Cummings said.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire

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