Bonds are big news this week.
Bonds are investments, and while they must be seen as an expense incurred, Maine cannot whimsically dismiss its future by failing to place quality, reasonable investments into the “systems” that will help bring about economic prosperity and opportunity. This is not a new strategy. Private business does this for its growth, and the public sector also uses this method of “borrowing” for its strategic needs. However, actions and comments this week from Gov. Paul LePage indicate that he believes the path to success for Maine differs from what has worked elsewhere.
When the recent bond package crossed his desk, we witnessed Gov. LePage exercise his constitutional right to veto legislation that he disagrees with.
While no one can dispute the governor’s right to veto, what is most troubling is his announcement that he will “oppose” the bond issues that will be sent to the citizens for a vote this November and that, even if the people vote in favor of the bonds, he won’t “issue” any of those bonds unless other circumstances meet his standards. This action, or inaction, is evidence of a process that fails to find balance between solutions to immediate concerns and creating foundations for a brighter future.
The governor’s effort to insure the high standing of Maine’s credit rating and to appropriately prioritize our spending is admirable. Many Mainers fully support his effort to make Maine a more “business-friendly” state. However, that strategy alone does not create investment opportunities. Clearly focused steps are required if Maine is to participate and access the global marketplace.
It’s great to have lower taxes, but if we cannot provide business and industry with transportation systems that help export product through Maine ports so they can be sold throughout the world, business will not invest in Maine.
It’s great to have fewer regulations for compliance and ensure those rules are clear and scientifically based, but if we cannot provide quality, advanced educational facilities to help train and build a skilled work force, business will not invest in Maine.
It is great that we encourage our younger citizens to stay in Maine and aspire to their goals, but if we cannot provide incentives for research and development in our state, business will not invest in Maine and young people will have no choice but to look for work elsewhere.
Quite frankly, the concern is with a vision that seeks to say to the world, “Come to Maine. We have low spending, low taxes and fewer regulations.” This sounds great. But it is short-term and often short-sighted.
As a practitioner of economic and community development for more than 35 years, I know that such a vision results in attracting business investments that are short-term, temporary and limited, and offer low-paying jobs.
Maine can do better than that. Maine deserves better than that.
Instead, we need a vision that builds upon our assets, one that invests in developing opportunities which attract private capital seeking a long-term return for investment by creating sustainable, value-added products and systems that require a skilled and well-educated work force and offer pathways to careers, not just jobs.
If our strategy is to only create a job or to make simple, individual investments, we will continue to spiral downward and never properly position Maine to capture new economic opportunities. The world is changing and Maine needs to lead, not just buy time and wait.
A few years ago, when measuring the states’ research and development investments, Maine ranked near the bottom. Since then, a new vision was shared and, today, we are beginning to see the positive results of those investments. Maine is seeing a renewed entrepreneurial spirit and a growth in the small businesses that are the strength of our economy.
If we are to continue improving economically, we cannot discard the building blocks that are making a difference. The challenges in Maine’s economy weren’t created overnight and they won’t be improved with a quick-fix strategy either.
A number of years ago, Maine passed a bond issue that resulted in building upon our shipbuilding asset by supporting significant investment that lasted for decades and provided thriving jobs on the Portland waterfront, in Bath and elsewhere in the state. An investment then paid dividends for many years after.
Most economists, futurists, CEOs and economic developers strongly believe that growth requires a well-connected, focused and articulate universal strategy. Success will occur in environments that have focused spending, reasonable taxes and a skilled supply of workers coupled with high quality, state-of-the-art communication systems and intermodal logistical systems.
Maine needs to embrace the total vision, not just pieces.
Michael W. Aube is president of Eastern Maine Development Corp. 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.