Matching up to a global business example

Posted May 06, 2009, at 7:53 p.m.

A recent article in the Boston Business Journal offered this headline: “Major biotechnology project goes off without a glitch.” The article details an 89-acre development that includes a 183,000-square-foot manufacturing plant and nearly 100,000 sq. ft. of office and lab space. The total cost of the project is more than $750 million.

The result of a year-long nationwide selection process, Massachusetts won the project with a mix of state and local incentives, including discounted land. The project was located on Fort Devens, a former military base, and part of the property still belonged to the Army. It took only two weeks to get the land released from the Army for the project. The facility will be one of the 20 largest biotech engineering sites in the world. From the date of application, it took only 39 days to get all the permits approved for the site.

Thirty-nine days. Quick approval, coupled with aligned state and local incentives provided Massachusetts with competitive advantage. For this project, it is fair to say that Massachusetts has a winning business climate. There is a lesson for us as we think about redeveloping the Brunswick Naval Air Station.

In the early 1900s, trains were the primary mode of long-distance travel, and stations all over the world were constructed. But these stations were much more than just a place for trains to meet. In New York, Pittsburgh, Washington, Paris, Berlin and other cities, stations were built as monuments to their cities and their railroads. Each more impressive than the next, the cities and the railroads built these stations to show the strength and character of their cities. Today, our long-distance mode of travel is the airplane.

Today, all over the world, cities are constructing state-of-the-art airports much the same as the railroad barons of old. Hong Kong in 1998 opened its new airport — the third largest in the world behind Dubai and Beijing. I got the opportunity to fly to Hong Kong a few years ago. The facility services more than 49 million passengers a year. Trains in the airport travel at about 40 miles per hour and run continuously. I was able to check my bag at my downtown hotel, get my boarding pass and ride a very fast train to the terminal some 25 miles away. The underlying message was that Hong Kong was a business center and wanted to impress me as a businessman.

Recently I traveled to Albuquerque, N.M., to visit some friends. The airport terminal was very large with great lighting. Conveniently located in the waiting area was a very large table with probably 30 seats, with heavy, wooden southwestern chairs. Running through the middle of the table was a power strip where people plugged in their laptops and cell phones for charging. The airport had free wireless Internet connections. The many shops were local, well-staffed and reasonably priced. I came away with the impression that no matter what your job, it was easier to do it from the Albuquerque Airport.

How does Maine match up with these three examples? Could we approve a $750 million project in 39 days? How about in 390 days? What impression do we give visitors in our airports, especially Portland? We have the fastest growing ridership of any train in the Amtrak system with the Downeaster. What impressions do our guests have when they arrive at our station in Portland? Are we trying to make their jobs easier? How’s our business climate?

It’s time we realize that we are competing with Hong Kong, Albuquerque and Boston. Businesses make location decisions based on many factors. Ease of doing business is always high on the list. It is time to make Maine the place businesses want to come, not just because it is pretty here, but because we offer a world-class business climate.

Matt Jacobson is a Republican candidate for governor and president and CEO of Maine & Company. He may be reached at www.jacobsonforgovernor.com.

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