Some speak about the merits of running government more like a business. And in some respects I don’t disagree—government could benefit from taking a cue or two from the efficiencies and strategies employed by many Maine businesses. But one thing is critical to any successful business. You have to market your goods, services, character and reputation.
Just think of LL Bean, one of the nation’s most successful companies, founded and based right here in Maine. A hallmark of their success rests with the confidence shoppers have when buying their products. As any big business or local market will tell you, reputations are not built overnight. But in nearly a wink of an eye, or a slip of the tongue, a hard-earned reputation can quickly erode.
If Maine is looking to move forward—aiming to grow jobs and build our workforce, attract businesses and entrepreneurs, encourage people to move here, or raise a family here—then we need to market our state. We have much to be proud of. Maine is a great place to live, work, invest, and play.
Two years ago, Governor LePage told us that this was important to him. Yet, he is not acting like it is. While he has put Maine back in the headlines, he has fallen gravely short in telling the world the good that’s going on right here in our communities. Instead, he has insulted the people who live here, work here, and go to school here.
Maine has its challenges, and we should not ignore the things deserving improvement. However, it is one thing to acknowledge that we can do better, and that excellence is a moving target—it is another thing entirely to defame Maine and its people. Time and again, Maine scores high as “one of the best”. We have a first-rate workforce—renowned for our hard work ethic and Yankee ingenuity. Our main streets are being revitalized—our farmer’s markets are growing and our natural environment is among the most beautiful in the world. We have top notch higher education institutions. And above and beyond, we have _great_ people. Mainers are known for our good character, our friendliness, integrity, and pragmatic down-to-earth nature.
Yet too often, the governor’s statements and accusations insult and denigrate the very people who live in this state, work in this state and choose to call Maine “home”. He should not forget that the workers, educators, and most recently, students he has insulted, are also the very people he’s been hired by to serve—as chief marketer, as governor. Ask yourself, what would have become of the “Apple-brand” if the late Steve Jobs said that his employees are lazy, and his products are sub-par and overpriced? But Mr. Jobs didn’t—because it is not okay for a CEO to market their business that way, and it is not acceptable for our CEO, our Governor, to speak this way about our state. Worse, much of what LePage has said is simply not true.
Last week, LePage said that Maine people are looked down upon by the rest of the nation. He added that Maine students are unprepared and have a bad reputation with out of state colleges. Untrue. He has called Maine state employees “mostly corrupt”. Untrue. And last year when Maine received a poor rating from Forbes magazine as a place to do business, the governor said it was because we had too many people on welfare. Untrue. The editor at Forbes said LePage made it up.
Moving forward, we must frame our problems accurately without abusive mis-characterizations, and lead our people in working on them together. And we should market what is best about Maine—our stunning unspoiled natural environment, our caring communities, less complicated lifestyles, and friendly down-to-earth people.
Maine is a great place to work, live, invest, and play. I look forward to a marketer in chief—a governor—a leader who encourages people to give Maine a look, visit here, invest here, go to college here, stay here, and retire here. It’s a positive message—and better yet, it’s the truth. Like it or not, words matter. People listen. And we need leadership that models and reflects the integrity of Maine people—that presents the best of Maine and what we have to offer, not just to the nation but to the world.