June 25, 2018
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Businesses see improvements in state’s attitude

By Matt Wickenheiser, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — At Texas Instruments in South Portland, officials have seen a greater willingness in state agencies to work on regulatory questions, said Anne Gauthier, public affairs manager at the computer chip company.

And, Bangor Hydro Electric Co. has been working with lawmakers on a bill to make efficient heat pumps more accessible to Maine residents.

Legislators on the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee have been very cooperative, as has the staff in the governor’s office of energy independence, said Kathleen Billings, senior strategy adviser at Bangor Hydro.

That theme of the state becoming more “business friendly” was repeated often at the State House Wednesday during the Maine State Chamber’s Business Day event. About 140 people gathered during the morning to meet with legislators and government leaders and talk about what the state has done — and has yet to do — to improve the business climate in Maine.

“We’re seeing very substantial progress on tax reform, regulatory reform, health care reform — matters of great priority,” said Frank McGinty, chairman of the chamber’s board of directors.

Those were issues tackled in the last legislative session, said McGinty. In the current session, lawmakers are addressing issues important to the business community including education reform, work force development and lowering energy costs, said Dana Connors, president of the chamber.

“All of those things are teed up,” he said.

Connors said those positive changes are starting to be noticed in the state, and that businesses were feeling more confident. That coincides with a rebounding economy, he noted.

A number of legislative leaders spoke to the crowd, which included representatives from IDEXX Laboratories, Bath Iron Works, Mercy Hospital, Texas Instruments, Proctor & Gamble, Nestle, Bangor Hydro and others.

“I believe every day should be business day at the State House,” said Speaker of the House Robert Nutting, R-Oakland.

Senate Minority Leader Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, told the crowd “we must always remember that businesses is the engine of the economy.”

Hobbins used the event to push for a bond package to be passed at the Legislature, to fund investments in infrastructure improvements.

John Butera, Gov. Paul LePage’s senior economic adviser, talked about how the administration is pushing a “can-do” attitude among government agencies.

“They are all working with business, not against it,” he said.

That attitude fomented by the LePage administration goes a long way, said Rich Malinowski, site human resources manager at Proctor & Gamble’s Auburn manufacturing facility. Challenges still include a familiar list for Maine companies, he added, such as health care costs, energy costs and a dearth of skilled workers.

Even as government is changing to help businesses succeed, businesses are working internally to cut costs and deal with challenges in the state, Malinowski said.

Deregulation of the energy markets helped in Maine, he said, and P&G has its own energy buyers who shop for the best electricity prices. The Auburn plant recently went 100 percent landfill-free, said Naomi Williams Pray, a site benefits leader in the HR department at the company. That means no waste goes to landfills. Waste that is burned generates electricity. And increased recycling has proven to be a revenue stream for the company, said Malinowski, netting the company $100,000 annually.

The company, which has 550 people working in Auburn, has also tripled its productivity in the last seven years, he said, largely through the use of automation to speed things up.

Gauthier, from Texas Instruments, said the biggest challenge will be for the state to maintain the shift in attitude toward seeing businesses as beneficial.

“Where they have to go is to continue that. Culture change takes time,” he said.

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