April 23, 2018
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Cooperation brings Maine manufacturing success

By Michael W. Aube, Special to the BDN

This week hundreds of former millworkers in northern Penobscot County learned they will have jobs this October. Resurrecting the mill had, many times, seemed like an impossible task. But through the collaborative effort of government, organized labor and business, an operation that will have a significant positive impact on Penobscot County’s regional economy will resume in the coming weeks.

Many places in the country are in political turmoil over jobs, but we were able to put politics aside and achieve an agreement, sale and implementation strategy among some very diverse groups and individuals. That says something about Maine’s style: we concentrate on the problem, put forth concepts and ideas and come to a consensus in order to benefit our region and our state.

Gov. Paul LePage and his team, organized labor, the political leadership and managers of the affected communities, along with Cate Street Capital, worked together to achieve a result that will put people back to work and provide for a return on the investment. This success came from hard work, honest discussions and a willingness to move forward. This is exactly the type of environment that companies see as positive and is the type that will, hopefully, attract more investment. We are sending a clear message: Maine really is open for business and we are actively rebuilding our manufacturing base.

As the affected communities come together with state government, we can say that Maine works for solutions, not for headlines. We are fortunate that our politics, although just as intense as elsewhere in the country, take a back seat to working together for positive results.

A 2008 survey by the Manufacturing Institute, a research and educational component of the National Association of Manufacturers, showed the two most significant priorities to manufacturing companies were the cost of labor and taxes. At that time, the United States was not an option for investment for many manufacturers. Now, as traditional “low cost” countries such as China, India, Mexico and Southeast Asia begin to face mounting demands from their work force, manufacturers are taking a second look and outsourcing is beginning to reverse.

A contributing factor to this reversal is the fact that the United States and Canada also continue to be principal markets for products. Thus, complex supply chains, quality management and intellectual property begin to make manufacturing investment in the United States attractive again. According to the “Area Development” publication, more manufacturers are investing in the United States. Among the headlines, Defense Tech Firm to Relocate 130 jobs to Virginia (Sept. 20, 2011); Alcoa to Invest $300 Million in Davenport, Iowa Plant, Add 150 Jobs (Sept. 16, 2011); Manufacturer for Aerospace Industry to Invest $30 Million in New South Carolina Facility, 350 jobs,” (Sept. 14, 2011).

As the global economy continues to rapidly change, Maine must insure that we are ready to actively seek, contact and welcome new manufacturing to our state. Maine continues to have challenges to our business climate and energy and transportation infrastructure, but we are working on it. Given the “let’s make this work” attitude exhibited for the new Great Northern Paper Co., I am confident that Maine can play a role in bringing manufacturing back to the United States.

Michael W. Aube is president of Eastern Maine Development Corporation in Bangor. He is a past commissioner of Maine’s Department of Economic and Community Development and former state director of Maine USDA Rural Development.

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