Is Maine ripe for international investment?

Posted Oct. 29, 2010, at 12:30 a.m.

BREWER, Maine — A world-renowned yacht maker approaches the city of Eastport about creating a manufacturing facility in the coastal community. A Maine woman and her financial partners buy four defunct wood products plants with the goal of reviving them. A University of Maine professor hopes to develop wind-power tech-nology that can be used offshore to transform the state’s energy production.

What do these three recent announcements have in common?

They all have the potential to attract significant international investment to the state of Maine.

Janine Basaillon-Cary, president of the Maine International Trade Center, told a Bangor area development group on Thursday that encouraging new investment in Maine from unlikely places — including China, Japan and South Korea — should be a top priority.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the Bangor Region Development Alliance, Basaillon-Cary said foreign investments are not just for big businesses. Industries such as wood products, composites, renewable energy and food manufacturing have opportunities for growth, too.

Another area is education. Basaillon-Cary said bringing in high school or college students from other countries not only contributes about $25,000 per student annually to the Maine economy on top of tuition, it creates future opportunities.

“Think about people who invest here. It’s people who have visited or who have gone to school here,” she said.

The Bangor Region Development Alliance, a partnership of area municipalities, agencies and businesses, has been good at promoting the region and attracting investments in Maine by Maine companies, outgoing president Dave Milan said.

“We’re good at selling our region, but we need to ask, ‘What can our region actually support?’” said Milan, economic development director for the town of Bucksport.

BRDA’s new president, Stephen Bolduc, economic development officer for Bangor, introduced Basaillon-Cary and challenged his group to continue collaborating in a strategic way.

MITC’s president said the answer lies in harnessing niche markets and building on what Maine does well already. Basaillon-Cary’s group, which is headquartered in Portland but has offices in Bangor, promotes the Maine brand through a variety of trade missions and shows and by offering trade and industry expertise.

Maine’s exports steadily rose from 2000 to 2008 before dropping sharply last year. So far in 2010, Basaillon-Cary said exports are back to where they were in 2008.

It’s important to remember, though, that while the U.S. economy continues to struggle, other economies are doing well and those countries are looking to invest. For instance, Basaillon-Cary said, South Korea has recently made investments in nearby Canada. Why can’t Maine tap into some of that? she said.

There is fear that international investment in Maine will lead to the outsourcing of jobs, but Basaillon-Cary said the opposite usually happens. Jobs are created here and then some of the profits are shared overseas.

Asked what role Maine’s next governor will play in harnessing international investments, Basaillon-Cary said she doesn’t think any of the candidates would run from economic development opportunities.

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