Cianbro president presents ideas for Maine’s economy

Posted April 16, 2009, at 9:06 p.m.

BREWER, Maine — Introduced as “a one-man economic stimulus package,” Peter G. Vigue, the big-thinking president of the Pittsfield-based Cianbro construction firm, told a gathering of area business leaders Thursday that they have an unprecedented opportunity to develop Maine into a national economic powerhouse.

“Maine is in the catbird seat, not at the end of the road,” Vigue said, speaking at a business breakfast at Brewer’s Muddy Ruddy restaurant held by the Action Committee of 50, a nonprofit group affiliated with Eastern Maine Development Corp. in Bangor.

Vigue is the chairman, president and chief executive officer of Cianbro Cos., which has about 1,900 employees, regional offices in three states, and annual revenues in excess of $350 million. He has been urged by business leaders to consider a 2010 run for the Blaine House.

At Thursday’s presentation, Vigue introduced a half-dozen private-sector ideas that he said could “turn the economy of this state around in very short order.”

They are:

• Heat security, including a proposal to weatherize all residences in the state and convert them to geothermal heating. Oil companies that now sell heating oil and gas must decide whether they’re going to be “oil dealers or energy dealers,” he said.

• Energy security, including developing offshore wind power capacity in collaboration with research groups and private investors.

• Improved health for Maine residents, by building on existing partnerships with medical, academic and public health groups.

• Food security, positioning Maine to become the “food basket to the Northeast” by strengthening the state’s production of foods ranging from bottled water to organic beef and by recognizing farming as “an honorable profession.” Maine’s brief growing season can be offset by greenhouse growers such as the massive Backyard Farm tomato-growing facility in Madison, year-round aquaculture production and other ventures, he said.

• Attracting businesses and investors by easing access to construction and expansion loans for established companies with proven track records.

• Rethinking commercial transport routes, especially by developing a privately funded highway and utility corridor across Maine to connect the Canadian Maritime Provinces with market destinations such as Detroit and Chicago. Vigue also supports the northward expansion of Interstate 95 to Maine’s northern border and reactivation of the state’s rail transport system.

All these proposals would rely largely on private-sector investment and innovation, Vigue said, and in turn would generate jobs, industry and wealth for the state, including a healthy tax base for the funding of public-sector needs.

The business sector must stand its ground against groups that would stymie responsible economic investment, he said, mentioning the recent debate about the Plum Creek development in the Greenville area that was nearly derailed by national environmental protection groups such as the Sierra Club.

“We’ve got to be bold,” Vigue told his audience of about 50 business leaders. “We have to have the courage and stamina to stand up and be counted, no matter who stands in our way, … or we’re going to be bystanders.”

After his presentation, Vigue described himself as a committed environmentalist and said environmental and economic concerns can and should be addressed in balance.

Many of Vigue’s ideas are reflected in LD 955, policy legislation now under debate in Augusta. Vigue said he has worked closely with Gov. John Baldacci and legislative leaders of both parties in developing the measure.

Will he run for governor? Vigue said he has not ruled out the possibility but that his current focus is on leading Cianbro while helping to stir the economic development pot in Augusta and within the business community.

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