September 8, 2013
By Rep. Seth Berry
Maine must seize every opportunity to invest in our prosperity. At this time, we’re far behind in the vital area of research and development, which we need to grow innovative businesses that create the jobs of tomorrow.Democratic and Republican lawmakers need to come together for the long-term health of our economy. And we need Governor Paul LePage to join the effort.
Maine is 45th in the nation in research and development investment. We put only about 1 percent of our gross domestic product into R&D, rather than the 3 percent recommended by the Maine Economic Growth Council.We’re way behind other parts of the country. We invest at only half the level of the nation as a whole and not even at one-quarter of New England’s rate.
Yet we know that every dollar of state R&D investment returns $12 in economic benefits to Maine.
R&D is good for business, but so far the governor has rejected it. Last year, he vetoed an R&D bond passed by a Republican Legislature. This year, he prevented a similar bond from being included on this November’s ballot.
With choices like these, is it hard to understand why our governor recently ranked third-worst in the nation for jobs created?
Fortunately, the governor has recently softened his stance and has said he may support an R&D bond in 2014.
And last week, Democrats and Republicans showed we can find common ground by approving a bipartisan jobs and infrastructure bond package. In November, Maine voters will be asked to approve these bonds at the polls and help our economic recovery.
These five bond questions would make targeted investments in transportation, higher education and our National Guard armories.
The largest portion, $100 million, will improve Maine’s roads and bridges, working waterfronts and ports – and for good reason. By improving our roads, we could save the average motorist an extra $245 every year in extra car repair and operating costs.
Three higher education bond questions would dedicate $35.5 million to Maine’s public higher education institutions, renovating science labs and computer centers and increasing capacity to train future workers and leaders for high-demand, high-wage jobs.
A fifth and final bond question would make much-needed improvements to the armories of Maine’s Army National Guard. The poor condition of many of these armories is now costing us more every day. More importantly, it undervalues the heroic men and women of our National Guard. This $14 million bond will leverage generous federal matches so important repairs and energy efficiency measures can take place.
These five bonds are all smart investments, but we must take the longer view as well.
The Joint Select Committee on Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future, which I co-chair, traveled around the state this winter and spring to hear from business and community leaders.
We heard over and over about the need for investment in research and economic development.
For example, our state has a great resource in the Maine Technology Institute. We need to keep funding this industry-led non-profit, which provides early-stage capitalization and technical assistance so businesses can push forward.
Maine can’t afford to wait any longer. We now have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with extremely low interest rates and low debt per capita for investment in research and economic development.
Our innovation economy is vital to the prosperity of our state. Nobel-Prize winning economist Robert Solow determined that 80 percent of a nation’s economic growth stems from innovation. We should heed his words.
Last week’s bipartisan vote positioned Maine to recover. By acting on a robust research and economic development bond in January, we can also position Maine to lead.