Fix productivity, control costs, report urges state

Posted July 21, 2010, at 12:03 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Two longtime advocates for economic growth in Maine have teamed up to provide a solution for what they say is too often missing from the state’s economy: rising productivity and better cost management.

A yearlong collaboration between Dana Connors’ Maine State Chamber of Commerce and Laurie Lachance’s Maine Development Foundation has resulted in a 19-page publication titled “Making Maine Work, Critical Investments for the Maine Economy.”

“This isn’t a document that condemns,” said Connors, president of the state Chamber. “It reinforces partnerships with government and businesses and emphasizes that much more needs to be done.”

Connors and Lachance are advocating for investment in productivity and management of cost inflation in eight key areas: health care, energy, taxation and regulatory policy, education, innovation, connectivity, quality of place and business finance.

“This effort was generated over a year and involved surveys of over 1,000 business leaders,” said Connors. “Our report sets forth the business community’s priorities.”

Those priorities are removing tax burdens, specifically on machinery, and emphasizing research and development.

“The top theme that emerged is a failure to articulate a shared vision of where we are headed and stick to it, as well as putting in place a long-term strategy for getting there,” said Lachance, the development foundation’s president and CEO. “What we’ve had over time with each successive governor or Legislature is we reinvent and take a program that’s working and making progress and change it.”

Lachance used as an example the state’s “technology incubators,” seven applied technology centers which nurture young, entrepreneurial companies around the state.

“We have enough resources to support two, maybe three, but we went with seven areas because we didn’t want to leave anyone out,” Lachance said. “They’ve operated exceptionally well, but they’ve never been able to operate optimally.

“We have consistently over the years put in place tremendous programs that show success and then we’ve under-funded them because we want to be fair to everybody and spread it out too much.”

That’s why the report focuses not just on specific policy moves, but also the mindset behind them. Specifically, the report urges the following:

• Challenge Maine’s health care leaders to reduce annual increases in health care spending below the national average every year.

• Use wellness programs, education and incentives to improve the health status of every Maine person.

• Use state government’s purchasing power to encourage the best health care practices.

• Limit short-term energy costs, even while creating long-term energy alternatives.

• Don’t stop now with tax reform.

• Change the government “culture of regulation.”

• Create an integrated state approach to education.

• Support lifelong learning among all age groups.

• Increase innovation in large and small businesses.

• Create balanced and affordable transportation and communications systems to better connect Maine businesses to customers and markets beyond our borders.

• Support quality of place efforts to conserve landmark places and views in Maine and to invest in main streets.

• Do all within the state’s power to increase capital access for Maine businesses.

Connors and Lachance also noted Maine’s standing as having the oldest population of all the states in the nation and a need not just to encourage younger people to stay or move to Maine, but also to utilize the state’s existing work force.

“We have to reach out to the incumbent work force to raise educational attainment and skills of the older work force,” said Lachance.

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