BANGOR, Maine — Independent gubernatorial candidate Shawn Moody said Tuesday that Maine needs to “grow our way out” of the current recession by making the state more friendly to the small businesses that are the backbone of the state’s economy.
“Some people will say you can’t run the state like a business. I say we can’t afford not to,” Moody of Gorham told several dozen members of the Bangor Rotary Club.
The owner of Moody’s Collision Centers, New England’s largest collision repair business, Moody said he would create additional regulatory or tax exemptions for what he called “microbusinesses” that have just a few employees.
Maine has never been a major destination for large corporations, he said. And while Maine also needs to change its reputation beyond its borders to attract large businesses, the state needs to start by addressing the issues that make it more difficult for small businesses here to succeed.
“We’ve got to look to incubate those businesses so they can grow, so they can succeed and so they can hire and get our economy moving again,” Moody said.
One of three independents running for the Blaine House, Moody started his auto repair business while still in high school. He later expanded into the auto parts industry and, after selling that business to a national parts recycler, turned his focus on the family’s collision repair facilities.
Headquartered in Gorham, Moody’s Collision Centers now operates in five southern Maine towns.
Moody said he was able to start his business at age 17 because of a co-op program at Gorham High School that allowed him to work during the day. He said Maine schools need to offer more work-training programs for students who are not college-bound in order to lower Maine’s dropout rate.
“Believe me, we need blue-collar workers in Maine,” he said. “I’ve traveled this whole state and there is a real cry out there for the next generation of tradesmen, craftsmen and machinists.”
Moody said his administration would do a better job surveying recent dropouts to find out why they left school similar to the way his business distributes customer satisfaction surveys.
Betsy Webb, superintendent of Bangor public schools, suggested that the older model of co-ops doesn’t work as well today in part because of the minimum graduation requirements for math and sciences. Webb also pointed out that a state law already requires high schools to attempt to survey dropouts and, in many cases, it comes down to difficult situations at home.
“The high school graduation rate is a very complex issue with multiple variables,” Webb said.
On the issue of government efficiency, Moody said he would take a page from his own business that features an “employee stock option” plan that shares a portion of the company’s profits with employees each quarter.
Rather than profit sharing, Moody has proposed “surplus sharing” in which state employees could receive a type of bonus for increasing efficiency and saving the state money. State employees know best where the waste is in government and his “surplus sharing” will give them incentive to embrace change.
“When you incentivize people to save, guess what, they shift into a different gear,” he said. “It’s a different thought process and different mentality.”
Rotary members also asked Moody for his plans to reduce health care costs and tackle the unfunded liability in the pension system for state employees. On health care, Moody did not go into specifics but said the state needs to find ways to increase competition in the market in Maine.
He also expressed support for construction of a privately financed east-west highway in Maine and for continued development of Maine’s alternative energy resources. Moody also said he supports negotiating low-cost energy contracts with Hydro Quebec but that the state must be careful to make sure not to suppress Maine’s renewable-energy industry in the process.
Moody was the third of the five gubernatorial candidates to address the Bangor Rotary Club. Independent candidates Eliot Cutler of Cape Elizabeth and Kevin Scott of Andover spoke to the club last month.
Republican Paul LePage and Democrat Libby Mitchell are scheduled to speak to the club next month.