If you have been watching television this season, you would have noticed a top-rated series named “Once Upon a Time.” The blockbuster series takes place in the fictitious town of Storybook, Maine, and is based on famous storybook characters. It appeals to a broad market and age group. Do you realize if there were a real “Storybook, Maine,” as a theme park destination, the attraction likely would be significantly boasting Maine’s tourism industry?
This is what happened in Florida after Disney World arrived, in Connecticut after Foxwoods arrived and could happen in Maine if we take a new approach to economic development and look for fresh solutions for the new reality of a service-driven economy.
Let’s face it: old strategies will generate like results. For example, adding a huge LPG tank on our coastline in Searsport will generate a few jobs. On the other hand, adding a waterfront attraction or theme park likely will generate hundreds of jobs and thousands and thousands of tourists.
Which would add more to the Maine economy? Remember, for each tourist dollar spent there is a sevenfold multiplier effect on the economy. Is it not time to develop new ideas and stop trying to restart the dying and outsourced manufacturing sector? Is now the time to create a new strategic growth plan based on new concepts vs. the hope of resuscitating failed businesses?
Within one day’s drive of our beautiful state are millions of people looking for leisure activities, attractions for their children, and experiences for themselves. Maine’s new “strategic plan” should identify those markets, list the opportunities, establish tax incentive zones and re-prioritize our economic development activities. It should be accompanied by a new marketing plan which “packages” Maine in the most attractive manner. We need to generate fresh new ideas of how to reshape our economy with more balance and in growth areas.
One can look at dozens of examples across America in which imaginative initiatives have revitalized local and state economies on a larger scale than a new plant or manufacturing facility. Some examples include Branson, Mo., (country music); Nashville, Tenn., (Opryland); Mystic, Conn., (Mystic Seaport); San Antonio, Texas, (SeaWorld and the Riverwalk); Albuquerque, N.M., (Ballooning Capital of the World); and the Wisconsin Dells (Waterpark Capital of the World), to name a few.
Think about the assets Maine possesses and how to capitalize on them to fuel our economy. We have land (very attractive land); we have water (oceanfront and abundant lakes, rivers and streams); we have mountains; history; hard-work ethics and so much more. What we need is strategy, creativity, incentives and marketing.
Let’s return to a few of the examples previously stated. Some major impacts of the attractions referred to above include: new roads, better funded schools, new sources for many jobs, and increased revenues for the states, without additional taxes on individuals or businesses. Maine needs a future and must focus on it and not be lulled into thinking the best of the past will re-emerge. This has not been the case in most all other states.
In many of the areas referenced above, seniors have played a vital role in filling new job demand. New schools have opened, funded by the new revenues from the inflow of workers and their families. And, new small businesses have emerged to support the new visitors and residents.
It is time for us to think new, think big, and move forward. When I was younger I lived on the seacoast in Connecticut. My small town essentially folded up when the large manufacturing plant closed. Storefronts were boarded up and for sale and foreclosure signs lined the residential streets. The same was true in the town in which Foxwoods is located. Today, both the town I lived in and the surrounding towns are vibrant as a result of Foxwoods and the development of subsequent attractions. In fact, the entire Connecticut river valley has undergone dramatic and positive changes. This impressive economic turnaround can occur in Maine if we focus on the future and not the past.
Now back to Storybook, Maine. Watch “Once upon a Time” and imagine a real Storybook, Maine. Let your creativity take off. Do you see the idea? Maybe a Renaissance Maine, with a themed attraction, perhaps a Maine Water World or Maine Winter Wonderland? Can you envision a town without “for sale” signs and with new homes and roads being built? Can you imagine shopping in the new “themed” shopping area for authentic Maine-made products?
It all can be reality if we refocus our energy, resources, and creativity on the future for the Maine economy.
Ronald A Nykiel, dean of the College of Business at Husson University, is a member of the National Association of Corporate Directors, has written a number of books on management and marketing, counseled the President’s Commission on Executive Interchange and chaired a governor’s revenue forecasting commission.