Maine has opportunities amid economic downturn

Posted March 08, 2009, at 5:43 p.m.

Occasionally, folks get a chance to make history. Consider the Chinese — as far back as Napoleon, people called China a sleeping giant. The leader who awakened China, Deng Xiaoping, did so with a simple declaration: “It doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white as long as it catches mice.” This was the signal that China’s Communist Party was abandoning ideological purity for a pragmatic approach to modernizing the country.

To be able to make that simple statement required a profound transformation in the man. To make the leap from that statement to the Chinese Olympics required the transformation of the whole country.

Maine is a small, rural, lagging state with great scenery and colorful survivors making due with one of the lowest per capita incomes in the country. When I first moved here 20 years ago, I noticed that the phone system was two generations behind the one I had in southern Connecticut. That yelled opportunity to me.

The chance to skip a generation of technology and go straight to state-of-the-art doesn’t come around often. It came for Germany and Japan after World War II. With their industry destroyed, they could rebuild it state-of-the-art thanks to the Marshall Plan. That leg-up transformed them into industrial powerhouses.

We have a new opportunity and it is perhaps the biggest thing since Mainers invented paper. America has to switch to alternative energy. Understand that we have no choice. We will do this. We cannot afford the cost of burning oil and burning coal will heat up the planet enough to cause an environmental meltdown.

The opportunity is right off our coast. The Gulf of Maine is being called the Saudi Arabia of wind. That’s because the wind energy there is equivalent to more than 50 times the amount of electrical energy we use each year in the state. There is enough green energy in the gulf to power most of the Northeast. All we have to do is harvest it and sell it.

It will take a gazillion dollars to build the infrastructure to capture that power. Yes, a gazillion, that’s a lot; more than Maine has made since we invented bottled water. A gazillion dollars pays for the thousands of jobs necessary to build that infrastructure. Once built, that infrastructure will earn the state more gazillions of dol-lars. Best of all, we can borrow most of that first gazillion from our Uncle Sam at astonishingly low rates of interest — if we do not wait too long.

We have a pair of aces in the hole that make this possible; two moderate Republican senators in a Democratic state. Unlike most Republican politicians, they do not need to kiss Rush Limbaugh’s nose to get re-elected. Right now, President Obama needs their votes to move the nation’s agenda forward. He knows about our gulf. He knows what a boon it would be to the Northeast. This is a win-win-win situation for Maine, the nation and for bipartisan politics.

By voting for the stimulus, our senators already have demonstrated that they can catch mice. Now the rest of us need to follow their example.

There is a broad streak of “again’ it” in the Maine character. Every time we decide we do not like something, we park our brains and engage our mouths. That’s got to stop. When we don’t like a particular solution or approach, we can’t settle for acting like a stubborn donkey in the middle of the road. Instead, we have to catch mice. This business of banging heads instead of solving problems may seem like good politics to some, but it is thin soup.

If we work creatively together, we can catch the brass ring on this merry-go-round. Somebody is going to do it, why not us?

Michael Thorne Kelly is chairman of the board and director of research at Advanced Management Catalyst Inc., in Wiscasset.

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