It’s time for 2020 vision

Posted April 16, 2010, at 7:51 p.m.

I was born in Bangor and I come from a family of “can-do” entrepreneurs who have run several businesses in central Maine. Our state is now in a slow process of recovery from the most severe recession since the Great Depression. Maine’s next governor must have that “can-do” spirit to look beyond immediate problems and have a clear vision for success.

Building on extensive experience as a small business owner, legislator, New England head of the U.S. Small Business Administration and state commissioner of conservation, I have a long-term plan — a “2020 Vision” — for Maine’s economy. I call it my 2020 Vision because in 2020 we will celebrate Maine’s 200th anniversary of statehood. My vision will put us where we need to be and where we should be economically in 2020.

At the core of my 2020 Vision is increasing the educational attainment of Maine’s population by making higher education a priority. The University of Maine System is one of our state’s greatest assets.

It’s a comprehensive seven-university system, stretching from one end of the state to the other. Each campus is unique and contributes to the system’s overall strength.

Its graduates have gone on to succeed in business, science, music, law and athletics, including Olympic athletes and a Nobel Prize winner. I also personally know the benefits of the system, having graduated from it myself, and seeing three of my children receive education at its schools.

With such a track record of success, one would think that investment in UMS would remain solid, even in difficult financial times. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Our state has seen prosperous and lean times over the past decades, but through good times and bad, funding continues to decline.

In 1989, the system’s base appropriation constituted 9 percent of Maine’s General Fund expenditures. Twenty years later, that appropriation is 6.5 percent. This reduction in funding caused average in-state tuition to increase from $1,646 to nearly $7,000.

For Maine to attract good, quality jobs within our borders, we must give our children the opportunity to have a solid education in the state they call home. As governor, I will be committed, in each and every budget I submit to the Legislature, to increasing funding for higher education and expanding scholarship opportunities for both traditional and nontraditional students, moving funding back toward a goal of 9 percent of all General Fund expenditures and avoiding cuts like the ones we have seen recently.

Maine needs a well-educated work force to support economic development, and I believe our higher education institutions are crucial building blocks for economic growth.

In addition to higher education, we must do more to grow our economy. I grew up here and have seen every corner of our great state. Based on my familiarity with Maine and its people, I know we need to support and modernize our traditional natural resource-based economy through investments in the research, development and commercialization of wood composites, biofuels, aquaculture and renewable energy. Forestry, farming and fishing are the backbone of our economy, and we must support, modernize and promote these sectors.

We also must support the small businesses and self-employed people that make up 90 percent of our work force. I served as regional administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration for President Clinton and have operated several small businesses in central Maine. I understand the struggles associated with running a small business and I will use that experience to help jump-start our economy.

The most important step we can take is increasing access to affordable capital for small businesses to start and grow. As governor, I will make available funds from all areas of state government as seed money for venture capital funds and loan guaranty programs.

If I had to sum up my 2020 Vision for Maine’s economy in one word, it would be “investment.” Just as investment is critical in building small businesses, investment is also critical in growing our economy.

I see our clearest path forward as investment in education and attracting the jobs of the future. If Maine invests in our youth, our youth will invest in Maine.

As governor, I will ensure that those investments are made, and that our next generation is given every opportunity to live, work and succeed in Maine.

Pat McGowan is a Democratic candidate for governor of Maine.

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