Maine's Future in the Global Economy—On the Cusp of Great Change
by Ramona du Houx
Maine is at the cusp of great change. People outside looking in see it — more than 10 international papers and magazines have written about it — but it’s hard for the people of Maine to grasp. Why? We hold on to security. Dreaming for the end of the rainbow ends up usually being just a dream. We work hard and expect to be treated fairly for our efforts. We generally don’t have the time to analyze or look into depth at what our state has been doing. We read headlines that often over-sensationalize bad news when it comes to town and don’t offer hope. Most of us don’t know that dramatic changes are happening within Maine, as Gov. Baldacci has been implementing his vision — transitioning Maine into a knowledge-based, global economy. It’s impossible to point to just one issue the governor has tackled, for there are so many, all working in conjunction with each other. He understands how each issue is interrelated, which has been the key to success. And it has been a success story. People needed to be invested in. Maine’s natural resources needed to be invested in. That’s what Baldacci has done. He started with creating a statewide community college network and a health-care program that will eventually ensure all Mainers are covered. At the same time he had critical assessments done on our natural resources, stopped clear-cutting, green certified 7.25 million acres, and preserved 750,000 acres for future generations. Tax incentives that his Pine Tree Zones provide have helped create 3,200 jobs in areas in need. Over the last three and a half years, 28,600 jobs in residential employment have been created — many of those workers use the Internet — where Baldacci’s efforts have given companies incentives with his ConnectME program. Another proportion of those jobs are people involved in the creative economy — which Baldacci is a strong supporter of, providing resources and incentives for business start-ups. From day one he worked to save jobs at mills and other businesses, and did so. More than 7,000 jobs have been saved because of this governor’s intervention. No other governor in living memory has worked so hard to make sure the people of this state have good jobs. He worked day in and day out to save the shipyard in Portsmouth and the facility in Limestone from closing. His efforts paid off — beating the odds. Only 11 percent ever stop the closures. But it’s not enough to save jobs; those jobs have to be sustainable. Baldacci knows this and in the process of saving jobs he has helped companies transition into the 21st century economy. Mills are now high-tech and specialize in their products, not wasting any portion of the tree. His biofuels and solar-power tax incentives are making Maine more independent from using foreign fuels. His fiscal responsibility has given the state a $149 million Rainy Day Fund, which is a needed security net, in case the federal budget cuts back programs Maine needs. This forward thinker has positioned Maine for real, sustained growth. Companies are responding. In Madison we have a new high-tech greenhouse facility that’s more than four football fields long. It can grow vegetables year round and could revolutionize agriculture in Maine. In Richmond we have a new company that’s adding value to Maine lobsters by using a new technology that makes it easy to shuck a lobster raw. In Old Town a former mill is being transformed into a biofuel producer — where new technologies coming out of the research and development facility at the University of Maine in Orono are being used. It will also be a business park. The governor invested in R&D from day one, and the results are exciting for Maine business. The boatbuilding industry now has a consortium, because the governor brought them together. Their sales are up, and they are using the new composite technologies developed at the University of Maine. Trade has doubled within the last year. More than $20 million in sales, from cows to maple syrup and wood products, were sold to Cuba last year. The governor stated on election night that his first order of business will be to freeze homeowners’ property values for year-round Maine residents with a constitutional amendment. Following on from LD 1, which increased the circuit-breaker property tax refund, while increasing state funding for education, the governor wants to pass a law that would require communities to use 90 percent of any future increase in state school aid to lower property taxes directly. He also wants to increase state funding for incentives that encourage local consolidation. The governor’s health-care Blue Ribbon Commission will unveil its recommendations for Dirigo Health in December. The governor would like the state to go with a self-insured system. Eliminating the middleman will save thousands of dollars, lower costs, and open the door for more Mainers to obtain affordable health insurance. Nationally, 82 percent of firms with 5,000 or more workers have plans that were partially or fully self-insured. In an interview with the governor, he talks candidly about the future and proposes the next step in transforming Maine’s educational system, to continue to move the state forward in the global economy. The majority of this piece first appeared in The Bangor Daily News, October 11, 2006.