Former Speaker of the Maine House, John Richardson is appointed the Commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development. Photo by Ramona du Houx

February/March 2007

By Ramona du Houx

John Richardson walked out one door and into another with ease. The new commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, soon to be the Department of Commerce, didn’t need long introductions at his new post. Most personnel already knew him as the House speaker or about him from his Small Business Initiative (SBI).

“I’m a big believer that if we can improve the economy, improve the earning capacity and the per-capita income of the people of Maine, many more people will prosper; people’s children will have the opportunity to stay and work here if they so choose, and Maine will continue to move in the right direction — that we set in motion during the last four years. I’m excited about taking on this new role, one that I think is a logical extension of what I’ve been doing for some time,” said Richardson.

Richardson’s SBI initiative was the first time the Legislature addressed the needs and concerns of Maine’s business community by holding listening tours around the state and then creating legislation to address the issues discussed. In the SBI, Democratic and Republican legislators submitted bills to help small businesses. One of Richardson’s bills created a small business court that deals solely with small business litigation. Before the new law was passed, small businesses were sandwiched between traffic volitions and divorces. As a result, cases were often delayed or took such a long time to go through the system, businesses lost money.

During his time as speaker of the House, Richardson really became a leader for small business in the state of Maine. Repealing the business tax on new equipment (BETR) could have proven to be an insurmountable task without the tenacity and focus of Richardson. At the time, the House only had a one-Democratic-vote majority. Richardson understood that in order to attract more businesses to Maine, or for business to expand in the state, the tax had to go; it was a ball and chain holding back growth. In the end, he secured enough votes for the BETR repeal measure to pass in the House of Representatives.

Richardson, also worked on the committee of economic development and naturally sees Maine’s growth interlinked to the growth of its small businesses. Businesses with fewer that 100 employees comprise 97 percent of Maine’s employers and provide jobs for more than six out of ten workers.

“Small business is the backbone of our economy. I’d love to see a Microsoft moving to Maine, but in the meantime it’s about growing from within; it’s about looking at what we have — highlighting our natural advantages in our economy. We are poised here in Maine to offer goods and services to the nation and the world. With increased economic development efforts, with Maine Institute of Technology grants, tourism, and doing more in technical assistance, we will have more potential. Three areas that I think have great opportunities for the growth and prosperity of Maine are: the creative economy, the GrowSmart initiative, and the governor’s Council on Jobs, Innovation and the Economy.”

During 2006 he continued to hold business economic forums all across the state because he felt the Legislature needed to communicate more directly with the people of Maine. One of the owners of the Lincoln Mill said, “John invited me to his forum. I told him that he may not like what I have to say, because there are practices in the state that make it hard for companies like ours, but he insisted that I attend. One thing I know is, he listens.”

Listening to concerns and taking the right action in response has been key to Richardson’s success. He’ll take the bull by the horns to ensure that the best possible solution to help the people of Maine takes place.

On the last days of the Legislature, representatives greeted him with praise, shaking his hand firmly and wishing him well. They weren’t just Democrats; the Republican caucus was there. Richardson works well with everyone. This talent will be invaluable in his role as commissioner.

“I’m intending to work closely with the Legislature to inform them of what the proposed new Department of Commerce would manage. The merger signifies that the state has made economic development a high priority. Over the next few months, I will assess the will of the Legislature to work with recommendations from the Brookings report that the governor has embraced,” said the new commissioner. “I look at this appointment as a unique opportunity. I’m honored and I’m humbled. I see becoming commissioner as a way to put my experiences to good use for the people of the state of Maine. After traveling around this great state and meeting with so many hardworking people, I believe there is nothing we can’t do if we work together. I’m looking forward to implementing a vision for Maine’s future growth and prosperity.”