Bangor, Maine’s downtown has seen a revitalization from its creative economy. Just ten years ago shops were empty as the mall stole customers away from the historic downtown. That is turning around with historic tax credits. Photo by Ramona du Houx.

Summer 2008

Article by Ramona du Houx

“People who are innovative tend to cluster in centers,” said Professor Richard Florida on a CNN broadcast last spring. “We look for areas where we are allowed to be ourselves and are encouraged to flourish. Money is not an overriding factor; the quality of place and the community in which we live are.”

Florida defined the creative economy in The Rise of the Creative Class which has changed how some economists view growth factors. Now he is working on the Prosperity Project at the University of Toronto and has completed a new study.

“Our studies found that the place where we live is the biggest stress reliever we have,” said Florida. “We may love our jobs and our families, but they also have stress attached to them. Quality of Place was found to be the most important factor that determines where innovative people migrate to and, as a result, where economies grow. It’s like a good marriage or not.”

According to Florida there are five factors important to people in choosing the community they will live in: the crime rate/good schools, being able to believe in local government, economic opportunity, how diverse the community is, and its quality of place. Areas that lack economic opportunities, especially for college graduates, and places that don’t treat low-income populations fairly are locations creative people avoid.

“Quality of place is number one. Good parks, outdoor recreation facilities, places that have entertainment/museums, and historic architecture are major to people choosing where to live,” said Florida. Because of the Internet, innovative people can work anywhere they choose to live. With Maine’s broadband facilities improving, more people are relocating to the state.

Maine’s quality of place is a major reason the state continues to experience the fourth largest state in-migration in America, and this asset is a primary factor that will help grow the state’s economy.

According to the Brookings Report entitled Charting Maine’s Future, “accessible wild places and tranquil county farms, human-scaled main streets and working waterfronts: these are what differentiate Maine from other places and in many respects drive its economy … Maine should protect these assets and invest in them as sources of economic advantage.”

Last year the Governor’s Council on Maine’s Quality of Place issued a report outlining ways forward for the state to enhance and preserve this resource.

In November of 2007 the voters passed major bond issues that invest in the creative economy and the state’s quality of place with research and development bonds, preserving land in Maine, and education infrastructure.

Last December the governor’s quality of place council put forward recommendations to foster, enhance and protect this resource for generations to come. The Legislature took action and implemented some of those recommendations with two new laws.

With the amendment of the credit for rehabilitation of historic properties, more developers will be looking to redevelop historic buildings, as it will be more cost effective than demolishing them to build new structures.

811493e36ae5acde-qualityofplace2Portland’s City Hall. Maine’s historic downtowns, and their creative economic stores enhance the state’s quality of place. Photo by Ramona du Houx

Maine’s historic downtowns, like Portland’s, enhance the state’s quality of place. The historic tax credit will insure more buildings are renovated helping to revitalize the economy and quality of place throughout the state.

“The new law, LD 262, has revised a tax credit that was successful in Maine decades ago but became inactive. We rebuilt the loan program last year and it passed unanimously. People can see the economic value the stimulus is going to provide. Maine is rich in its inventory of older buildings that are not being used as well as they could be; too many are vacant — we have perhaps ten million square feet from our old mill days. Many of these places are going to provide wonderful spaces for creative professionals, spaces for artists, and housing for people of all income brackets,” said Rep. Ted Koffman who sponsored the historic tax credit bill. “I’m excited about what it will do for our downtowns in Maine, our quality of life, sense of place, and respect for history. We can now make our cities more livable, as attractive places to be, and provide more housing for young professional people. In time, as more people look to our revitalized cities as quality places to live, we will have less sprawl going out into the landscape, which will be good for our environment.”

For the first time in the state’s history LD 2257, establishes a uniform building and energy code which will help the state’s quality of place by requiring builders to keep to energy efficient standards.

“A statewide energy efficiency code for new homes has been a long time in coming,” said Dylan Voorhees of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “LD 2257 will save Maine families several million dollars per year in energy costs and does so with options that won’t burden local governments.”

The new law replaces the myriad patchwork of town building and energy codes and establishes a statewide model building and energy efficiency code for new home construction, remodeling and substantial renovation that cities and towns with more than 2,000 people will be required to enforce.

Initial research being conducted at the State Planning Office on conservation best practices, funding and alignment of land use laws, was recommended by the council and has also taken place.

The next steps forward to grow Maine’s economy while enhancing the state’s quality of place

Exciting steps forward are underway with the Interstate Trail network put forward by the Governor’s Council on Maine’s Quality of Place.

The Interstate Trail, represents a large-scale coalition working together to connect trails that are already there. Marketing the state as a place a trail enthusiast can bike/hike — literally everywhere — should be a huge draw for tourists and residents. Spin-off businesses along the trail sites will grow, and additional vacation ideas will be fostered, as more people discover Maine’s attributes along the trail. The measure will boost economic development.

“This summer, working with the Maine Department of Transportation, the State Planning Office will begin planning for a statewide walking, biking, and hiking trail network, with a particular focus on linking rural trails with urban downtowns and community centers. We’ll be evaluating three pilot urban trail areas (using the model provided by the Portland Trails Network). We’ll identify opportunities for links by inventorying and GIS mapping public lands, public trails, easements, rail trails, etc.,” said Martha Freeman, director of the State Planning Office. “The goal is to develop a plan to link up existing trails into a network by applying tools that will make it easy for Maine people and visitors to know about and use the network. We’d love to see some action steps on the plan by next summer. I don’t anticipate any major funding needed.”

The latest and final report released in May from the governor’s quality of place council highlights the need to enhance Maine’s attributes that make the state attractive as a place to live, work, vacation, or retire. These unique qualities need more investment, and the implementation of strategies outlined in the report, so that Maine’s quality of place can become a vibrant economic engine.

The governor’s Quality of Place Council’s work has already provided the research-based case that proves this resource is a huge economic asset.

“Our quality of place is our principle economic advantage today in global competition,” said Governor Baldacci, receiving the council’s second and final report. “Every community in Maine has its own uniqueness and diversity … People are coming to Maine from all over the world because of what we have here. People love it here, and every day more people are discovering Maine.”

The governor pointed to Smithsonian Magazine’s May edition, whose cover story is about the “magic of Maine.”

The council’s asset-based development strategy continues to build upon the quality of place, a strength Maine already has in each county, and looks at how the state can work with community organizations to enhance projects.

“Quality of place is Maine’s calling card to the world,” said Baldacci. “It’s the ingenuity of our people, our quality of life, the natural beauty of our wilderness, and the distinctive downtowns that mark our state from one end to the other. Our economic future is closely tied with our success in preserving and expanding this competitive, economic advantage.”

Barringer said, “Maine’s best hope for the future is this very special place we live in. Too often the state’s special qualities are taken for granted. As the rest of the country becomes more crowded, homogenous, and polluted, what makes Maine distinctive becomes an ever more important economic asset.”

The council’s report focuses on an investment strategy that will propel Maine’s efforts to protect and grow the state’s cultural amenities, historic downtowns, natural landscapes, and recreational assets.

The report outlined ten ways to enhance Maine’s distinctive qualities that will promote job growth.

Some recommendations:

The Quality of Place Investment Strategy:

Sustainable prosperity for Maine requires an investment strategy to protect, strengthen, and build economic opportunity based upon Maine’s special places, both natural and built. The council’s Quality of Place Investment Strategy builds upon local and regional natural and built strengths to create high-value jobs, products, and services. This investment strategy will be carried out through regional quality of place councils to identify regions’ special assets and a state quality of place council to:

• help align State department missions with a quality of place investment strategy

• help reconfigure state and federal funding resources to support the investment strategy, and

• award grants to Regional Council of Governments/Economic Development Districts to implement regional quality of place councils’ economic development plans.

Workforce development:

The Council calls for expanded training capacity in the University of Maine System and Maine Community College System in community planning, architectural design, historic and neighborhood preservation, high-quality building techniques, and traditional and contemporary craft arts, as well as hospitality and leisure. In these areas Maine can grow high-quality jobs related to marketing the special qualities of our state.

“The ideas laid out in this document will enable us to put into motion initiatives to make economic development more effective and efficient, preserve the quality of life in Maine, and present opportunity to the people of Maine,” said Baldacci.

The governor will to develop legislation for the next legislative session based on the report’s recommendations.