Maine has a lot to be proud of. National study after study tout our clean air, clean water, great small towns, good schools and strong families.
CNBC places Maine fourth from the top on its list of America’s Best States to Live in 2012.
Ernst & Young rated Maine as having some of the best tax rates for business investment in the country.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently rated Maine as the best place in the country for business infrastructure because of investments to expand access to the Internet in rural areas.
Parenting Magazine slots Portland at No. 3 in the nation for families and education.
And that is just a partial list. We have a great state and we should be doing everything we can to turn that into economic gold by playing up the state's positives worldwide, including our work ethic, loyalty, natural resources and quality of place.
In addition to these positives, there are a number of things to improve. Maine is one of only a handful of states where the economy slid backward last year. While most states around the country are emerging from the recession, Maine is still lagging behind. There are 50,000 people still looking for jobs, and there are high energy and health care costs.
So, I was pleased to attend a workshop on job creation at the University of Maine in Farmington with the governor and his staff recently to discuss how we could boost the economy and better market our state.
When I got to the break-out group on marketing the state, facilitated by the governor and his senior economic adviser, John Butera, I was hoping we could talk about how to better promote Maine. While the governor and I don’t always see eye to eye on the issues, I was pleased to see him taking time to hear from some of the leading businesses in Western Maine.
The governor spent much of the group’s time talking about deficits and what is not working. I suggested that we also look at where we were doing well. We have a lot to learn from our successes. Success can be contagious when we pay attention.
For instance, IDEXX Laboratories in Westbrook expanded this year, investing $35 million in facilities and equipment during the construction of a new facility, adding 400 jobs to Maine’s economy. The number of IDEXX employees in Maine has more than doubled over the past eight years, despite a down economy.
Other Maine companies such as Wright Express, Bancroft Contracting Corp., Cianbro Corp. and Lamey Wellehan have also remained strong in the downturn.
One start-up company grabbing headlines recently is a new lobster processor, Sea Hag Seafood. According to media reports, the young Maine entrepreneur who is launching the company benefited from state policies that helped lower energy costs through Efficiency Maine and received a tax credit through the state’s Seed Capital Tax Credit program.
The company should employ 100 workers. That’s a 100 new jobs.
Or how about Maine Northern Railway? The railway, which was resurrected from the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, is now thriving after a public-private partnership saved an estimated 1,700 jobs in Aroostook County. The partnership was made possible by a bond package that was passed in 2010 by Democrats and handful of Republicans. Two years later, new jobs are being created, rail traffic is up, and the jobs that were once at risk are now more secure.
While the media focuses a lot of attention on the conflicts between Democrats and Republicans, the two parties share the same goal of wanting to get the state's economy back on track. If the rhetoric is left at the door, we can actually accomplish a great deal. In fact, we’ve started to do so with bipartisan regulatory reform legislation.
I invite the governor to the table to look at some of the positive things that are happening in our state. The Maine Development Foundation provides many examples of Maine businesses that are growing and prospering. Let’s focus our attention on what is working in Maine.
We can simultaneously celebrate our successes and address our challenges. More emphasis on our successes will make investment in Maine more attractive. We have what we need to improve our economy. It is time we use all of our tools to move Maine forward.
Rep. Terry Hayes, D-Buckfield, is assistant Democratic Leader in the Maine House of Representatives.