Puritan Medical Products, and the whole life sciences sector, is a poster child for Maine's economic recovery.
Credit: George Danby / BDN

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Bob Shultz serves as president and chief financial officer of Puritan Medical Products, headquartered in Guilford.

COVID-19 remains a concern, but the height of the pandemic is in the rearview, and Maine’s economy has recovered from the dark days of recent years. One industry in particular is powering Maine’s growth into the future: life sciences.

According to a recent report published by the Bioscience Association of Maine, the state’s life sciences sector — which includes Guilford-based Puritan Medical Products and a wide range of biotech companies — is growing faster than any other industry in the state. Over the last five years, life sciences has grown by more than 40 percent, outpacing the rest of New England, including Massachusetts, the world’s biotech hub. Today, there are nearly 500 companies within Maine’s life sciences sector, employing just under 10,000 Mainers. And many of them are good-paying jobs, supporting employees and their families with incomes exceeding the state average.

The pandemic brought a vast array of bad news over the years, so it’s important for Mainers to keep perspective and celebrate feel-good economic stories. These stories speak to the resilience of Mainers in overcoming a pandemic and nearing a return to — or even exceeding what was once — “normal,” as defined by pre-pandemic days. The economic success of industries like life sciences, which contribute more than $2 billion annually to the state’s economy, is a testament to the “can-do” spirit of Maine workers. I’ve lived and worked elsewhere, and the work ethic here in Maine is indeed unique and a marvel to behold.

There’s so much more to Maine than lobster season and outdoor recreation. Ours is a state where innovation is alive and well. I see it firsthand as the president and CFO of Puritan, which emerged as North America’s largest manufacturer of COVID-19 and seasonal testing swabs during the pandemic. When public demand for swabs was at its highest, our team found a way to design, build and operationalize new technology that churns out more than 100 million swabs per month, saving lives and serving customers around the world.

In truth, Puritan’s story doesn’t just have to do with COVID-19. After opening our doors as the Minto Toothpick and Specialty Co. in Michigan, we moved to Guilford in the 1920s due to the abundant supply of white birch. A century later, we were enlisted by the federal government — on very short notice — to meet the unprecedented demand for COVID-19 swabs. Today, we continue to grow and expand all our product lines, including the solutions that formed the study pre-COVID foundation of Puritan, from medical and diagnostics to forensics and genetics.

And it all started with toothpicks! I share Puritan’s story only as further testament to the hard-working people who can be found here. Of course, employers like Puritan need to find even more talent in the months ahead, dealing with the unique demographic challenges that Maine presents. Hiring and retention are top priorities for a life sciences industry reliant on human capital and innovation, and we are no exception. Across Maine, businesses large and small are working around the clock to hire and retain the workers needed to survive and thrive in a post-pandemic global economy.

Tourists often focus on Portland’s food scene and the rest of Cumberland County, but the entire state has become a place to live and work, whether you’re in a city or not. Our pro-business environment is healthy and strong, and that — in addition to quality of life — matters to the people and businesses moving here. I am a living testament, and I consider it important that we celebrate the entrepreneurship, ingenuity and innovation on display in a “rural” state, even and especially in counties like Piscataquis and Somerset.

As we look ahead, I urge Mainers to remain optimistic. It is similarly important for Maine policymakers and ordinary residents to remain pro-business, supporting large employers and mom-and-pop shops alike. We have come a long way in a relatively short period of time. Gone are the days of the Maine brain drain. Maine-based companies are desired employers and we must ensure that success continues. They will empower Maine to build on its momentum, within and beyond life sciences, while unleashing new economic prosperity in the years to come.

It may have become a cliche during the pandemic, but we are truly in this together. In unison, businesses large and small are powering Maine to a brighter future and better days ahead. I am excited and proud to be leading a company, Puritan Medical Products, that is helping take Maine to greater heights.