Innovation is needed in Maine

Posted June 04, 2010, at 7:53 p.m.

We need more jobs in Maine — good-paying, sustainable jobs. Innovate Maine is my action plan for a vibrant economy. It’s a plan that recognizes challenges and capitalizes on strengths. It’s about doing things smarter, better and more creatively.

Our top priority must be the skill and innovation levels of our work force. Education is key. My own West Point education has been the cornerstone of the opportunities in my life, and I saw my mother’s pride in earning her college degree at age 52 — after putting her children through school — and then entering a new career in teaching. Every Mainer deserves no less opportunity to be skilled, valued and challenged.

Adult education, job training and college degree programs must be more accessible, compatible, affordable and streamlined in delivery. For innovative K-12 classrooms, let’s look to high-performing, fast-improving Maine schools, like Jackman and Searsport — which include time and support for teachers to adopt best practices. To ensure children enter school ready to learn, let’s boost parent mentoring and childhood development — and save hundreds of millions of dollars in remedial spending annually.

If every Maine small business added just one employee, unemployment would drop 60 percent. I’ll provide a targeted tax incentive for that. I’ll also establish a Small Business Ombudsman, reporting directly to me, to help Maine-based businesses deal with state agencies and regulations.

In my 17 years in private business in Maine, I valued long-range strategy and targeted investment. As governor, I’ll work to increase incubators for Maine startups and to better use SBA and FAME loan guarantees to accelerate private lending to small businesses. Investing $300 million over five years in research and development, through proven programs like the Maine Technology Institute, will spur further innovation and new business clusters. It will cost too much in lost jobs not to do this.

Being married to a school nurse, I know what Maine families face when they can’t access primary care. Yet Maine has one of the world’s most expensive health care delivery systems. As attorney general, I fought for lower prescription drug prices — but we need more. We must shift to rewarding healthy outcomes, not volume of procedures. Let’s encourage primary-preventive care, recruit more primary care practitioners and create more community-based health clinics. Let’s create a state health insurance exchange: a competitive marketplace of cost-effective options freeing businesses to create jobs.

I want to make Maine the center of a clean energy economy that stimulates new jobs. Mainers export $5 billion annually for fossil fuels. That money should stay here. Natural gas and Canadian electricity can help, but longer term we must reduce energy consumption, and develop a mix of in-state renewable energy sources, including wind, solar, tidal, biomass and geothermal. Maine can be energy independent, sell its renewable energy and import jobs.

To grow, we must connect people and information to anywhere in the world. This means a strong transportation infrastructure and high-speed Internet. Let’s expand freight and passenger rail to reduce the wear on our deteriorating roads and bridges and identify a stable funding source to maintain them. Let’s ensure that all Maine businesses and consumers can access high-speed broadband Internet and reliable cellular service that today’s jobs demand.

Our vibrant natural environment and our economy are interdependent. Thirty years ago, as a single dad with three young children, I had the great fortune of marrying a woman from Maine and settling here. So began my deep appreciation for Maine’s forests, fisheries and wildlife that draw millions of visitors every year and support our resource-based industries. Let’s protect them with the Land for Maine’s Future program. To keep and attract talented workers and entrepreneurs, let’s aggressively boost ecotourism and promote Maine’s livable communities and unmatched quality of place as Maine’s unique “brand.”

Innovation can thrive in challenging times like these, but that requires leadership. As an Army officer, businessman, father and public servant, I’ve learned there is no shortcut for personal discipline, hard work, and the integrity of your word. While state government alone can’t create jobs, it can promote innovative policies and be a powerful partner in growth. Together, let’s innovate Maine.

Steve Rowe, a former state attorney general and speaker of the House, is a Democratic candidate for governor.

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