PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage noted a change in attitudes about the Maine “brand” during his opening remarks to about 40 business and economic development leaders gathered Friday at Northern Maine Community College for a job creation workshop.
“At one point in time, maybe a couple of decades ago, Maine had a solid brand,” said LePage, who hosted the event, adding that he felt that reputation had “slipped” over the years. He said that he wanted the state to capture that reputation once more.
“I despise average,” he told the group. “And the reason I despise it is because you are just as close to the bottom as you are to the top.”
LePage said his office has completed surveys to determine common concerns.
“There are three [concerns] that keep coming up all the time,” he said. “And they are health care, energy and work skills.”
Breakout sessions were set up to discuss those topics and other themes. The media was not allowed to attend the breakout sessions, as officials said that they wanted attendees to be able to speak freely about proprietary information.
“These workshops have proven extremely useful in making Maine more business-friendly,” LePage said.
The four-hour event in Presque Isle focused on Maine’s agricultural sectors and was attended by multiple representatives from various state departments, including Agriculture Commissioner Walter Whitcomb, Environmental Protection Commissioner Pattie Aho and Labor Commissioner Robert Winglass.
Among the workshop participants were Alan Theriault and his son, Nathan Theriault, both of Eagle Lake, who operate Eagle Lake Sporting Camps and offer tours and guide services.
Alan Theriault said shortly after the workshop, which ended about noon, that he attended because he was interested in working with the state to relieve regulatory impediments to development. He said he found LePage “very responsive.”
“He was obviously interested in economic development and creating jobs.”
Nathan Theriault agreed, saying that he felt LePage was interested in seeing small businesses succeed.
“I think we are leaving with a renewed sense of accomplishments that we can work to remove impediments to our business,” the younger Theriault added.
In Oct. 2011, LePage announced that he planned to host a series of workshops with business leaders and state officials to discuss Maine’s economy and ways the state can improve policy to assist job creation. The primary areas of focus are on regulatory reform, workforce development and marketing the Maine brand.
The Presque Isle session was the third such event. The fourth and final workshop of the summer will be held in August and focus on Maine’s forestry sector.
On Friday, the governor noted The County’s “rich agricultural history” and said he wants to help the industry grow.
According to statistics provided by LePage’s office, Maine’s agricultural sector has provided an average of 17,000 jobs annually over the past five years, although the number fluctuates depending on the season. The state’s agriculture and farming industries produced approximately $500 million last year alone.
In 2010, Maine farmers planted 55,000 acres of potato crop, yielding a potato harvest worth $140 million — accounting for about 23 percent of the state’s total agricultural production. A large percentage of potato, small grains and hay crops are grown in The County.
LePage plans to be in Aroostook County on Friday and Saturday to participate in an array of events, including the Maine Potato Board Annual Industry Dinner on July 20 and the Maine Potato Blossom Festival, which started on July 14 and runs through July 22.