Maine’s Growing Role in the Arctic
The timing was perfect. As MITC President Wade Merritt prepared to talk about Maine’s growing presence at the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik, Iceland each October, an Eimskip vessel loaded with colorful containers moved past his office window on the Portland waterfront. Those containers are headed to Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Northern Europe, United Kingdom, Scandinavia, Baltics, and the Mediterranean.
Eimskip’s arrival in 2013 became the catalyst for a new relationship for Maine with the North Atlantic. The state launched a new initiative, the Maine North Atlantic Development Office (MENADO), which operates within Maine International Trade Center. The role of MENADO is to increase trade, investment, and collaborative activity between Maine and markets of the North Atlantic and to develop Maine’s engagement in Arctic affairs.
“We saw the potential to have connections that would build upon Eimskip’s presence here,” said Merritt. “With the transportation linkage, what else could happen as a result of these markets paying attention to Maine, and our companies being able to easily access those markets?”
Dana Eidsness was tapped to be the first Director of MENADO and has been in that position since 2014, the same year former Iceland President Ólafur Grimsson started the Arctic Circle Assembly.
Every October, more than 2,000 people from 60 countries across the globe gather in Reykjavik for the largest annual international gathering on the Arctic. The first year, 14 people from Maine participated. In 2019, the Maine delegation was over 60 people. While COVID-19 forced cancellation of the event last year, as of this writing – even with pandemic challenges of international travel – more than 50 Mainers plan to attend this year’s event on October 14 – 17.
“I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Maine has one of the largest, if not the largest, organized delegations at the Arctic Circle Assembly every year,” noted Eidsness.
“One of the things that was surprising from the first group that went over was realizing that Maine has so much to offer in this region. We have so much in common with these coastal communities throughout the North Atlantic and High North that it just made sense to collaborate on issues like climate change and sea level rise and understanding changes to ocean temperatures and how that impacts fisheries. We are all dealing with these same issues.”
Dana Eidsness, Director, Maine North Atlantic Development Office (MENADO), Maine International Trade Center
Speaking Before the Arctic Circle Assembly in 2019, Maine Governor Janet Mills Pledged to Work with Arctic Nations to Combat Climate Change
“Today I proudly lead the largest delegation ever from the State of Maine to this esteemed Assembly — business leaders, college presidents, researchers, policy makers, arts and cultural leaders — They come here because they understand that Maine is part of the Arctic Circle, that what happens in the Arctic Circle affects our state, and the actions the State of Maine takes affect the Arctic Circle.”
“Whether built by sailors navigating shared seas or students, industry or ideas, music or manufacturing, Maine is committed to strengthening the bond between our nations and regions as a true partner in the Arctic Circle Assembly. Maine is small, but Maine is fiercely determined. We know, as they say here in Iceland, there are no problems, only solutions.”
The Maine delegation at the Arctic Circle Assembly has always been a mix of academic institutions, businesses, arts organizations, and political leaders. Mainers will often present at the conference on topics that range from maritime law to digital health in rural areas to the blue economy.
According to Eidsness, “The very best part of the Arctic Circle Assembly is, after you’ve attended one of those sessions, you step out in the hall and meet the people who attended with you and have conversations. Those relationships made in the hallways of the Harpa Convention Center in Reykjavik have grown over time and will continue throughout people’s careers.”
Those conversations have led to academic partnerships between the University of New England, the University of Southern Maine, and the University of Maine Law School with colleges and universities in Iceland, Greenland, Norway, and Sweden.
Another outcome from Maine’s strong presence at the event is a growing relationship with Tromsø, Norway. Sometimes called the “Paris of the North”, this small town is a leader in the blue economy.
“As these innovative companies in Tromsø grow and need to establish a footprint in North America, they’re going to look to Maine first because we have that relationship,” explained Eidsness. “We’re a first stop in the pipeline for understanding where they can be a good fit in North America.”
There’s an estimated one trillion dollars of infrastructure development planned in the Arctic – everything from new port facilities to renewable energy plants. Eidsness believes the time investment Maine has already made into the region will lead to business opportunities for Maine companies. For example, Hancock Lumber has traveled to Greenland to talk about shipping building materials to that country.
“Right now, we’re getting our foot in the door for some larger infrastructure projects where we can really participate in a meaningful way,” said Eidsness