Earlier this month we gathered as a nation to celebrate our country’s independence. The Fourth of July, a day marked by parades, social gatherings, community events and fireworks, unites us as a nation. It celebrates our ancestors’ formal separation from England and the start of what’s called “The American Experience.”
The American Experience has provided challenges and opportunities, setbacks and growth, but we have always moved forward, making democracy and freedom the pillars of our values. We have become the world’s economic, political and military leader. In partnership with other nations, we have overcome fascism, socialism and communism. We have built institutions that sent men to the moon and volunteers to distressed regions and have supported organizations that address needs in education, health and social justice.
Where we have been called, we have answered.
And so our independence provided not only separation but also unification as a people with purpose.
Today, we live in a global economic marketplace that requires more interdependence than independence. Efforts and actions that we take in Calais, Bangor, Portland or Saco may have effects in Calcutta, Bathurst, Prague or Stockholm. Economic development interdependence means regions and institutions are dependent on each other for goods, services, credit, investment, capital and human resources. We need to understand that actions and events in other places have an effect on our growth and opportunities or they can, regrettably, become barriers of our path to success.
There are those who feel interdependence is a way to build peace and those who believe interdependence eventually will lead to conflict. I am not sure what the outcome will be, but I am convinced that we can no longer just debate the question. We must recognize that the pathway to economic growth requires some level of collaboration and partnership.
We don’t need to begin with global aspirations. Instead we can start by recognizing the interdependence that exists right here in Maine. We are made up of more than 490 communities. Each of those communities has governance and an organizational structure that strives to keep actions and events within a geopolitical boundary. Within those communities, Maine also has several “service centers” and “minihubs.” These geographic and economic focal points are diverse, yet each provides essential services to those who live in the surrounding region. The best way for Maine to compete in the global marketplace is to recognize that each of these regions and the communities in them are not metaphorical islands unto themselves. Each is dependent on the others and we need to recognize and maximize our collective assets in order to move our state forward.
Each region in Maine needs to start by taking four major steps. First, we need to assess the current economic interdependence between our communities within our service-center regions. Second, working together, we need to draft and develop joint economic development plans or strategies. Third, we need to establish business partnerships that advance export and trade out of our region. And, finally, we need increase public awareness of those shared assets, goals and strategies.
The most critical component is that we need not fear where the discussions will lead us. Building collaboration and a common strategy is hard work. Maine can no longer afford to act in a singular manner. We need to speak, we need to listen, we need to make sure progress is made and it is being achieved with recognition and respect for a common goal from which we all gain. The alternative is a race to the economic bottom.
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.