We must grow Maine’s economy on industries that will provide quality jobs for decades to come.
Chances are you believe as I do that we need not only a strong vision for Maine as I’ve tried to communicate through this web site, but also sound plans for achieving that vision. So it might surprise you to know that the State of Maine doesn’t have an economic plan. During my work on the Government Oversight Committee (GOC) I was questioning the Department of Economic and Community Development last winter about how they assess the effectiveness of their economic development program use of taxpayer dollars. It became apparent that there is no economic plan to benchmark whether those programs were moving Maine in the right direction or not. That is not acceptable. As a result the GOC is now working on proposed updates to legislation for the expectations of an economic plan and the staffing and funding necessary to produce every few years a trustworthy and useful economic plan for Maine.
Over the last 50 years Maine’s fishing industry has downsized and we have lost most of the paper mills, furniture factories, shoe companies, seafood canneries, and other industries once a vital part of the state’s identity and economy. How do we replace them and the jobs they provided? With new industries suited to Maine’s character, resources, and values. Fishing and agriculture will always have a future in Maine and deserve our support. But we also need more jobs than those industries can provide, and we have to attract young workers to put down roots here in Maine. Also see Workforce Challenges.
New Quality Jobs – We must seize the potential of the 21st century. This age of rapid innovation and global competition offers unprecedented opportunity. Many of the jobs of the next decade have not been invented yet. Things that did not exist when I went to high school are now an everyday part of our lives. My daughters Amanda and Danielle cannot remember a time before personal computers, CDs, and the Internet. My grandson Calum, was born exactly 110 years after my grandfather Everett, who started his car with a crank and navigated with a sextant. Calum will not remember a world before alternative energy, hybrid cars, smart-phones, Facebook and Hulu. We pass to our children and grandchildren a rapidly changing world, part of the reality of modern times. I want to ensure that Maine can seize new opportunities to grow its economy and improve our quality of life in ways consistent with Maine values.
A New Energy Industry – Just as information technology has become an important sector of the economy today, businesses based on clean renewable energy and energy conservation are an important growth area in our economy. Energy is essential to our way of life and to industry, so building an energy economy in Maine will bring economic growth, and help maintain quality of life. By two votes Maine failed to override a veto of updated solar power policies in 2016 that could have brought 800 jobs and increased how much of our energy dollars go into Maine’s economy instead of other states or countries. But our future must include far more renewable energy and far less fossil fuel consumption. The only question is how long Maine’s energy policy will continue to be held back while the rest of New England moves ahead.
Innovative Industries – I will also work to attract and create innovative businesses and industries in Maine that provide value on the local, national and international level; businesses and industries that create new jobs and new opportunities that embrace Maine’s unique character, our natural resources, our strong work ethic, and the lifestyles that are so important to all of us. The advanced composites industry, new forest resource based products including cellulosic nanofiber based materials, and businesses which reinvent themselves to keep up with the times such as The Jackson Laboratory and Hodgdon Yachts are examples of new and innovative industries in Maine. This Senate district is blessed with several research facilities from the University of Maine’s Darling Center to the world class Bigelow Labs. When we fund research and development to build expertise within our university system and industry, it leads to growing businesses built on globally competitive expertise right here in Maine. It is a disgrace that Maine invests only 1% of GDP in R&D while for the rest of New England it is 4%.
Building on Maine’s Strengths and Character – Maine has a great deal to offer in its quality of place, natural beauty and friendly people that make it attractive as a vacation and retirement destination, and a great place to raise a family. We place great value in preserving this character. We embrace our growing local agriculture sector, and compare favorably to other states in the number of organic farms. We have an abundance of artistic talent in this district and cottage studios abound. Our seafood is famous – a brand known internationally and an industry that also deserve our protection. Maine should recognize the importance of all its strengths and market them to those who would respect and contribute to Maine.
Local Foods – The New England Food Vision study makes clear that New England could produce more than half of the food we consume instead of approximately 10% currently. Maine’s potential in that is huge. We have by far the most good farming soil and largest water supply. On top of that, our acres in farming has been increasing and the average age of farmers decreasing. But it is still very difficult to make a living farming, and we need to do something about it. That means helping farmers expand their acres in production and investing in local foods infrastructure such as food hubs, commercial kitchens, cold storage, malting and meat processing – all things that can add value, help farmers earn more for their labors, and help get great quality Maine food onto tables in Maine and New England.
Capable Workforce and Modernizing Infrastructure – At a 2010 lecture at UNE, economist Richard Sims stated that when companies decide to relocate, 77% of them decide where to move based on whether the area can provide the capable workforce and infrastructure on which to build and grow a successful business. Only 4% of them decide where to move based on tax rates. The message is clear – if we are to improve our economy, we need to invest in modernizing our infrastructure and we need to provide a high quality education for all our citizens. Workers in Maine have a strong work ethic. But our aging roads, bridges, and rail systems, our woefully inadequate broadband infrastructure, and the out of date priorities set for our educational system are making it difficult for Maine to compete.