Date of Award

12-2014

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Interdisciplinary Program

Advisor

Caroline Noblet

Second Committee Member

Linda Silka

Third Committee Member

Carol N. Toner

Abstract

The importance of innovation to economic growth is well known, and innovation requires strong social networks both to identify and generate new opportunities as well as accumulate the resources needed to implement them (Stuart & Sorensen, 2005). Trust and proximity have been shown to be key factors in the operation of social networks, and therefore rural places like Maine, where there are great distances between people and companies, face a structural barrier to developing strong social networks.

Despite this barrier, Maine has demonstrated success in the past. This thesis examines Maine’s history of innovation to provide observations that could inform future opportunities and suggestions for growth. Using patents as a proxy for innovation, this research explores the relationship of Maine’s innovation to its geographic and social character in the 1800s. Maine experienced tremendous growth during the mid nineteenth century, fueled by the development of industries that leveraged the state’s natural resources. However, consolidation of industries and industrialization corresponded with a plateau, and then a decline in patent activity.

This historical context provides a foundation for examination of Maine’s more recent history of innovation. The State of Maine began making significant investments in research and development in the late 1990s, aligning those investments with industry sectors that drew upon the state’s traditional strengths as well as on emerging industries such as biotechnology. This strategy was largely built upon the cluster theory of economic development, which can be challenging to implement in rural areas, in part because of their less dense social networks. This paper suggests that developing more efficient social networks will build stronger clusters and make rural areas more successful in innovation, and presents the Blackstone Accelerates Growth initiative as an emerging model for innovation in Maine that could have broad applicability for rural regions.

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