Local enterprise holds the key to Maine prosperity, speaker says

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LEWISTON – An emphasis on local business is the course most likely to assure prosperity for Maine, according to an award-winning journalist who spoke Thursday night at Bates College.

Colin Woodard told a large audience that he believes state government needs to help entrepreneurs and the self-employed.

“That’s the angle to start at because most of the money stays in the community,” he said. “That’s the path where you get the most return on your money.”

Woodard delivered an entertaining and colorful talk on Maine history that ranged from the ice age to what he called “150 years of depression” that has undergone somewhat of a reversal since the early 1980s.

“If you grew up in Maine, it was very hard to enter any professional ladder because the bottom rungs tend not to be there,” Woodard said.

“Maine still has a sense of place,” he told the audience of mostly Bates students. Woodard said it’s not just landscape, but it’s “the actual cultural fabric of the coast.”

“Maine still has a lot that’s been lost in the rest of the country,” he said.

In a talk filled with fascinating details of Maine’s early history, Woodard explained how the state evolved from two competing concepts of colonialization. He said Sir Fernando Gorges had a dream of recreating a feudal system of land grants in the wilderness that became Maine. At the other extreme was the Puritan ethic of the Plymouth Harbor settlers and, later, the governmental powers centered at Boston.

With many details about European pressures, and the reality of early coastal economics, Woodard said, “It was inevitable that Massachusetts would absorb Maine.”

He said vestiges of the resentment early Maine settlers felt seems to reappear even today.

“When a car with a Massachusetts license plate cuts a Mainer off, you’ll hear the kind of cursing that seems to come from that old resentment,” he said.

Woodard said Maine became “something unusual in American history – a colony of a colony.” He suggested that a lot of Maine’s slide to economic difficulties relates to the Indian wars. He said Maine lost 100 years of development because the state “was a killing field” as settlement after settlement was wiped out.

Finally, Maine took its place as an economic success when sailing ships took granite and ice to other ports.

However, the invention of concrete and artificial refrigeration ended the boom. Railroads were expanding commerce from east to west, but railroads were slow to come to Maine.

“Maine wasn’t on the way to anywhere,” Woodard said.

A Maine native and a Portland resident, Woodard has reported from more than 40 foreign countries and six continents, and lived for more than four years in Eastern Europe. He is the author of the New England best-seller “The Lobster Coast: Rebels, Rusticators, and the Struggle for a Forgotten Frontier” (Viking Press, 2004).

He is a journalist for The Christian Science Monitor and The Chronicle for Higher Education.

Woodard also wrote “Ocean’s End: Travels Through Endangered Seas” (Basic Books, 2000), a narrative nonfiction account of the deterioration of the world’s oceans.

He has covered a wide range of issues, from ethnic conflict in the Balkans and peacekeeping in Guatemala to the destruction of coral reefs and the effects of global warming.

Woodard is a graduate of Tufts University and the University of Chicago, where he received the 1997 Morton Kaplan Prize for his thesis on the causes of ethnic conflict in the Balkans.

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