AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Senate on Thursday confirmed two people for high-profile positions within state government who will influence business and economic development policies.
The Senate confirmed Jeanne S. Paquette of North Yarmouth as the new commissioner of the Maine Department of Labor and Robert A. Martin of Newcastle as the new director of the Maine Technology Institute, the publicly funded nonprofit that provides grants and assistance to Maine companies developing and deploying new technologies.
Both confirmations were unanimous.
Paquette has served as the Department of Labor’s deputy commissioner since last July. After her official swearing in Friday, she will take over for Robert Winglass, 76, who announced his resignation last month.
The Department of Labor, which employs roughly 504 people and oversees the state’s unemployment benefits program, enforces labor laws, manages programs to help out-of-work residents train for and find jobs and researches employment data and trends.
Paquette is a former HR executive at Androscoggin Bank and former publisher of Employment Times and HR Times, two industry-focused publications she sold three years ago to Sun Media Group, which publishes the Sun Journal in Lewiston. She also has served on the Maine State Chamber of Commerce’s board and the Maine Jobs Council.
Given her background, Paquette told the Bangor Daily News her entrance into state government was a “natural progression.”
“I’ve always had my eye on working for the Department of Labor because it is in alignment with what I did my whole career,” she said. “I always had an interest in trying to help the HR community and business community get more involved in what’s happening from the state’s point of view.”
Paquette said a priority would be making sure workforce development dollars are being used effectively and efficiently to train people for “demand-driven jobs.” Another priority will be to create a “customer service-oriented agency,” she said, adding that the labor department has the reputation of being a “gotcha” agency. “I would like to change that paradigm, so [business owners] look at us as a partner to ensure they’re following laws and rules and staying on course so they’re not getting themselves into trouble.”
Her private business experience will aid her in pursuing those goals, she said. “I built a business, expanded a business, shrunk a business and merged a business,” she said. “I bring that experience, I guess you could say as a customer, to the inside.”
Gov. LePage is scheduled to officially swear in Paquette on Friday.
The Senate also unanimously confirmed Martin as the new director of the Maine Technology Institute.
Martin will take over for Betsy Biemann, who resigned unexpectedly in June.
Gov. LePage nominated Martin for the position because of his more than 30 years of business experience, including in advertising, management and venture capital.
Martin said he is excited to join MTI. “Quite honestly, the Maine Technology Institute is probably the best — in my opinion — program that Maine has focused on the state’s economy,” he said. “There are a variety of things it can do and does to stimulate business and help businesses.”
Martin has lived in Maine for many years, interrupted by a stint working in North Carolina’s Research Triangle. He now lives in Newcastle and runs a consulting company, Strategic Equity Partners.
“One of the reasons I’m really intrigued by this opportunity is I’ve always wanted to see Maine do better economically,” Martin said. “It always seemed that we weren’t where we needed to be or wanted to be, so when this opportunity came around it was a chance for me to involve my experience and background, and the interest I have in working to improve opportunities here in this state.”
He would like to develop a “more robust deal opportunity pipeline” by identifying those entrepreneurs in the state who are kicking ideas around, but are unknown or undiscovered, and help them with the resources MTI has at its disposal.
One of the things he brings to the table is a good mix of experience in business and venture capital, and understanding the needs of both sides of the negotiating table, not to mention a rolodex of people he said he’s not afraid to pitch Maine to via a phone call.
He wants to increase the visibility of MTI for business owners within the state, but also the visibility of Maine entrepreneurs to potential investors outside the state.
During his time in North Carolina, Martin was “heavily involved” in the state’s Council for Entrepreneurial Development, a private group with a proven track record of facilitating economic development. “I’d like to bring that same sort of atmosphere to MTI,” he said.
He recognizes there are various different initiatives already under way in the state, and hopes he will be able to “accelerate and increase the potency of those efforts so that more people get involved and more people are aware of what’s going on.”
MTI’s board on Monday will vote on whether to make Martin president, as well, according to a spokesman in the governor’s office.