Maine Governor John Baldacci talks about his job summit in an Exclusive Interview. Here he is in the Cabinet room at the State Capitol. Photo by Ramona du Houx
Interview by Ramona du Houx
March 21, 2010
“I really felt after talking with the businesses that we need to do everything we can do to support them. I was very pleased at the quality of the businesses represented. There are a lot of multinational, multi-jurisdictional companies that are using Maine as a home base. They were very constructive and spoke freely. They said what worked and what didn’t work.”
Awareness grew at the summit of how business in Maine has changed. With Maine competing internationally, a well-trained workforce with the skills needed in the global economy was an issue.
“I felt the chemistry of those businesses interacting with other businesses was very good. Some were surprised by the magnitude of businesses represented. We have wonderful mom-and-pop stores, and we also have multinational, multi-jurisdictional companies. Maine is not how we envisioned ourselves in the good old days. More companies are looking for a trained, educated workforce, so they can grow their jobs in Maine and do work from Maine around the country.
“One of our initiatives would be to do everything we can do to support them with our educational programs, community colleges, and universities. We have to ensure the state has a well-educated, trained workforce for these high-paying jobs. At the same time, we need to make sure we are supplying support for the small, independent mom-and-pop businesses.”
Businesses were worried that sales taxes and other fees or mandates could be increased because of budgetary concerns.
“Right now we can’t put any more burdens on them. They are trying to compete in the global economy, and we don’t want to put any added weight on their costs. They are trying to grow; we don’t want anything that would hinder their business development.”
At the summit, participants broke into sessions to discuss strategies that help businesses grow, how companies use state programs, and how existing state investments and initiatives can be changed to better meet the needs of Maine businesses. Some businesses found the paperwork from regulations was too time consuming and confusing.
“They are concerned about the clarity of regulations. They are looking to us to streamline them. They understand their value, to protect Maine’s environment for future generations. It’s where they work and live as well. Commissioner of Maine’s Department of Energy, David Littell, does a great job permitting in a reasonable amount of time, but it’s a complex system. People need someone to help them, navigate through the maze with them.
“We will have someone in economic development that will help businesses navigate the regulations when a business puts in an application to expand. We intend to streamline the regulation process, so it’s a one-stop shopping process, will have a point person, and clearer regulations.
“Businesses simply don’t have the time to spend on the phone navigating state, county or local government. They need help. We need them to be successful, because they are putting people to work.
“By having someone in economic development birddog the regulation process, they will be there every step of the way for support. Businesses can call them directly. That person can also open businesses up to a variety of resources available that the business may not be aware of. We’re developing that point person.”
The governor has proposed consolidating the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD). The restructuring should lead to more of a local and regional approach to economic development, making the state’s efforts less centralized in Augusta. The focus of regionalization of economic development started with an initiative last year called Mobilize Maine. The governor explained how many of the concerns brought up by businesses at the summit could be addressed with restructuring and Mobilize Maine.
“In Maine, economic development starts from the ground up. State government should be there to step in to help, if need be. Economic development starts in communities across the state that know what they need locally. We’re helping that process by having local economic development agencies reach out more, on a regional basis. With the Quality of Place Initiative, they are identifying the regions’ assets. Working together in Mobilize Maine, instead of local economic development agencies competing to get the same businesses, they share resources and help direct businesses to the best locations in their region.
“When I visited Franklin County’s economic development agency, I saw how everybody was pulling together to grow opportunities. Businesses rolled out the red carpet with community members, to make sure they gave a warm welcome to new, prospective businesses to the area. The direct support and nurturing at the local level was impressive. They are a part of the community they want to see grow. The DECD is more technically trained, making sure your paperwork is done.
“When you restructure DECD to be more local and regional, with less state involvement, you actually help businesses in a more direct way by covering areas that they are located in. With the Mobilize Maine and the Quality of Place Initiatives we are encouraging, supporting, and assisting grass-roots economic development more directly. It doesn’t happen from the top down. This is also where we could provide businesses with a point person to help them.”
Many participants praised the state’s Pine Tree Zone program. Pine Tree Zones, started by the Baldacci administration, give companies tax breaks for ten years.
“The state has certified 200 companies as Pine Tree Zones, expanding in Maine or locating here. That represents over 3,000 jobs and $2 million in payroll. It’s been a successful program, but more needs to be done.”
The governor said he would continue to work with the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and businesses to develop public policy and focus scarce public resources where they do the most good.
“The insights gained from the summit will help us move forward to help businesses and communities succeed all across Maine, in the global economy.”
Along with businesses, State lawmakers, members of the U.S. Small Business
Administration, the Finance Authority, Maine Technology Institute, the USDA’s Rural Development program, and administration officials participated in the summit.