Cultural shifts and progressions make Maine stronger

by Ramona du Houx

BY RAMONA DU HOUX

October 15th, 2012 

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Maine boat builders formed a consortium to work together to market their businesses and share technological expertise, marking a cultural shift in how they have conducted business- for hundreds of years. photo by Ramona du Houx

Last summer, Vietnam Veterans were officially welcomed home with a ceremony in Waterville, Maine, historically marking a change in how some people have viewed them.

In September, Maine’s Common Ground Fair bustled with people of every age. There were business people, hipsters, yuppies, organic gardeners, and families looking for healthy alternatives to enhance their lifestyles. The event is the largest in New England and is now respected for its outreach educational programs and quality organic products. This year, 59,000 people attended the event, and it netted $300,000, which pays for training programs, workshops, and operating expenses.

“A fair that celebrates organic food and the harvest has turned into a cultural tradition, said Russell Libby of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, organizers of the event.

Some suppliers for fair vendors, like the Belfast Co-op, have been promoting healthy lifestyles with organic, sustainable products for decades. This co-op business grew during the recession, marking a cultural shift in perceptions as healthy organic food has now become the norm in supermarkets across America.

Maine’s economy used to be industry based; hard workers only needed high school diplomas to find a job in a mill or factory. But as the global economy opened doors of opportunity for trade, it closed the doors of some factories that couldn’t compete with countries that subsidize businesses and allow primitive working conditions for their labor. In order to survive, many businesses changed by diversifying. They propelled their businesses forward with technological breakthroughs and innovative, collaborative ways of doing business.

Many of Maine’s paper mills started producing energy from their waste, and as more businesses demanded sustainable forest paper products, they were ready to answer the call. Many mills had already shifted to only using sustainable wood stocks, encouraged by the Baldacci administration.

Maine’s boat builders are another great example of embracing new technologies to diversify. After being brought together by the Baldacci officials, they began to work together to market their businesses in a consortium called Maine Built Boats. Their effort was so successful the federal government gave Maine a $10 million WIRED grant to continue the program, which had been previously funded, in part, through a Maine Technology Asset fund grant.

Maine's biomass potential is extremely

Many of the technologies paper mills and boat builders used were developed by researches at the University of Maine’s composite laboratories, funded in part by bond issues.

Mills had to change their way of doing business to survive, boat builders needed to band together in a global economy to develop a competitive edge. They are leaders in a cultural business shift that is sweeping across Maine, where business innovators are searching for sustainable solutions.

Community awareness with more available information has brought people together over nutrition and healthy lifestyles; making locally grown food is now very much desired.

Sustainable strategies enlightened paper companies to use sustainable trees and recycled wood to produce paper. Many boat builders never would have imagined working hand in hand with companies they thought were their rivals ten years ago. But once they got to know each other, they realized the diversity of their industry was a great strength when they work together.

Sustainable strategies of working with others to achieve shared goals grows economies as well as communities.

In the Vietnam era, a battle was waged on the home front for a woman’s right to choose. Roe v. Wade determined that a woman has the right to choose what she does with her body. It was a cultural shift that didn’t sit well with some people and is now under attack across the nation. President Obama stands firmly on the side of a woman’s right to choose, and has declared gays and lesbians should be able to marry one another, as equality is for all Americans.

In the 1990s a wise president made a not-so-wise decision, creating the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law. President Barack Obama abolished the policy that President Bill Clinton thought would help ease the cultural situation for gays and lesbians in military service. Clinton now supports civil unions between gays and lesbians.

When Governor John Baldacci signed the first law in the nation, in 2009, allowing gays and lesbians the civil right to marry, it wasn’t an easy decision for him. He was brought up as Roman Catholic; he did some soul searching and decided the right thing to do was to treat all people with equality under the law. After all, why should people who contribute to society be discriminated against?

People naturally adapt with awareness and understanding over time and necessity. Lasting cultural shifts happen when people analyze the facts they are given and decide in their soul what is the right thing to do.

All these cultural shifts, in business, in lifestyles, help build community and remind us that anything is possible if people work together.

After all, a couple of centuries ago Americans decided to work together to free themselves from tyranny, creating a democracy where the idea of equality for all caught fire and swept around the world.

Anything’s possible when you vote.