"Making Maine Work: Critical Investments for the Maine Economy," a 2010 report issued jointly by the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and Maine Development Foundation, recognizes the importance of renewing the state's economic heritage.
Its opening page states: "Now, Maine must build a new future. We need the intelligence to analyze our position; the insight to create a focused strategy; and the courage to make the tough decisions and carry it out. We must create the cost incentives and infrastructure to support a new wave of private sector investment."
Now is an opportune time to support just such a new wave — one that turns to an industry that has been part of this state's heritage since the 1800s and is positioned to consider significant investments in the near future. That industry is mining.
Through the years, Maine quarries have supplied granite, cement, sand and gravel to build structures all over the country and around the world. Maine clay has been made into bricks, slate has been used for roofing and switchboards and limestone has been an integral part of farming and papermaking.
Legislation recently sponsored by State Rep. John Martin will help revitalize the mining industry in Maine. The bill calls for stringent oversight of the mining industry by a single agency, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
At the same time, the bill eases the excessive, oftentimes redundant, regulations that have suppressed the industry for more than 20 years. Current regulations are so restrictive that no new mines have been constructed since the laws were changed in 1991. That is a true illustration of zero growth.
As advocates for growing the state's economy, this number is disconcerting to the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and its 5,000 members. That is why we support Martin's efforts to reform the mining laws.
Revising rules and regulations may expand the mining industry and, in turn, strengthen Maine's economic outlook.
We are well aware that a prosperous Maine requires investment in job creation and a commitment to protecting the environment. In compiling "Making Maine Work," we surveyed businesses across the state and were told over and over again, "Maine’s two greatest economic development assets are its quality of life and its loyal, hardworking work force."
As Mainers, we value and respect that work force. We also understand that to keep talented, skilled workers in our state, we need to create and retain quality jobs — the type the mining industry would bring to Maine.
Jobs in the mining industry pay well. In fact, wages often exceed the private sector average. An economic analysis of mining indicates that a single mine in Aroostook County could potentially create up to 700 direct and indirect jobs.
The quality of life is measured in large part by the state's natural resources and its physical beauty. Maintaining the pristine nature of the surroundings is vitally important to continuing to attract more businesses. It is critical that any legislation that advances mining requires strict protections for the environment.
Maine has a proud history of creating and revolutionizing industries. From forest management to farming and from paper manufacturing to shipbuilding, Mainers are viewed as leaders because they adapt to innovations and technologies.
The Maine Legislature is being presented with a unique opportunity ... one that continues that tradition of leadership, renews the state's economic heritage, and supports the development of a new wave of investment.
The Maine State Chamber of Commerce encourages members of the Legislature to seize this opportunity and support changes to the mining laws.
Dana Connors is the president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce.