June 19, 2018
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Bad business climate about transportation and lack of innovation

By Will Bradbury, Special to the BDN

It’s too bad that David Marlow decided not to buy the boat school in Eastport, but since he never signed an offer to purchase, or followed up his initial interest with some earnest money, it’s not too surprising. A beginning real estate sales agent would not have taken this offer to the seller, and it has been widely speculated in town that he wasn’t that serious and was just exploring options.

The problem brings to mind the much bigger issue of doing business in Maine. Our governor, his advisers, the Republican-controlled Legislature and a lot of these “pro-business” local governments tend to blame taxes, unions, workplace and environmental regulations. According to an extensive CNBC survey on “America’s Top States for Business” in 2011, they are very wrong.

The survey ranks Maine as 40. It ranks the “Cost of Doing Business” in Maine as 26 of the 50 states. It rates access to capital at 30 and “Business Friendliness” at 32, both down from 2009. It says the economy has dropped from 25 to 34 this year. The survey says we have held steady with our high “quality of life” at 6 and a little slip from 7 to 9 in education. It also says we pay a lot to be Mainers with our 39th ranked “Cost of Living.”

Still those rankings are not so bad, so why are we ranked 40?

In three categories we rank badly. For the last three years we have been rated 40 or 41 in “Innovation and Technology.” That’s not appealing when it comes to attracting potential business partners. Our work force is ranked at 44. I can only guess that some of the factors in that rating would be that we are older, not as well trained and much more spread out than most businesses would like, and the amount of union membership, though the majority of union members in Maine are public employees.

The last and worst area for Maine, and also the category that is most important for industries looking for a place to do business, is “Transportation and Infrastructure.” Since 2009, we have slipped from a pitiful 36th to an absolutely horrible 48th. The feeling seems to be that other states have shot past us when it comes to roads, rail, air and water transportation systems. Businesses don’t go to places where it is impossible to get the products to market. New technology businesses don’t locate in places where people have to travel half a day to get to a decent-sized airport.

Gutting environmental regulations, lowering taxes for Maine’s richest families, reducing workers’ rights and slashing educational opportunities for our young people may not be the answer to our problems. Bold initiatives to greatly improve our transportation and infrastructure not only would create ancillary jobs and businesses now, but would open up many long-term opportunities that are being closed right now.

Similar initiatives to bring Maine up to speed and stimulate new ideas with the technological infrastructure need support. Innovation should be the priority of Maine governments. We see a trickle of this activity, such as the ConnectMe program, but it needs to expand and pick up the pace.

I am sure the city of Eastport spent a lot of money trying to woo Marlow Yachts. The old adage goes, “it takes money to make money,” and a business, city, county or state that does not spend money will never be prosperous. Where we put our money is the key to our future.

Will Bradbury of Eastport has been advocating for a Maine School of the Arts in the city for years.

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