Portland Regional Chamber

Politics roundup: The manufacturing jobs are there, but the workers aren’t

Posted Sept. 14, 2012, at 9:49 a.m.
Last modified Sept. 15, 2012, at 5:33 a.m.
Chris Hall
Chris Hall

PRC speaks out: Reports of the death of Maine’s manufacturing sector have been greatly exaggerated. Manufacturing Jobs: Trends, Issues, and Outlook, a recent 10-page report from the Maine Department of Labor, is worth reading for a refreshingly positive view of Maine’s manufacturing future (see also Stephen Betts article in the BDN).

While it’s true that manufacturing provides many fewer jobs in Maine today than in the past, the report offers insights into the basic health of the sector, and the opportunities ahead. Here are some highlights:

• Maine manufacturers’ contribution to the state’s gross domestic product has held steady over the last decade, and has grown each of the last three years;

• The productivity of manufacturing workers in Maine has risen almost 60 percent in the last decade, and output per worker has risen in 14 of 17 manufacturing sectors in the same time frame;

• Despite net job losses over the last decade, more than 2,000 new manufacturing jobs have been created every quarter in the last 10 years, and recently new jobs and lost jobs have almost equalized; and

• In Maine today there are more than 600 manufacturing job openings due to the skills gap ( BDN), a challenge shared by over 60 percent of manufacturers nationally.

The report concludes: “Manufacturing is and will be an important part of Maine’s economy. However, the nature of work is changing and employers need workers with higher skill levels. … [As] the World Economic Forum concluded, ‘Talented human capital will be the most critical resource differentiating the prosperity of countries and companies.’”

The next time someone says that manufacturing in Maine is dead, hand them this report and tell them they’re wrong, and that as we improve educational outcomes, the sector’s future brightens.

State Policy round-up: Lawmakers handled 72 nominations from the Governor ( PPH) in a one day Senate session last week ( BDN). Read more on the last legislative session — from chamber leaders (including yours truly) in MaineBiz and from Rep. Doug Damon. With Labor Day behind us state house races are in full swing ( PPH). Elsewhere:

Ballot watch: Public hearings on the possibility of new voter ID requirements resulted mostly in opposition ( BDN, MPBN, Forecaster) — the PPH editors and BDN editors both commented. The PPH’s John Richardson gave us all a primer on how to assess political polls.

Bonds: Mike Tipping commented on the continuing debate around the release of bond funds to local communities.

Budget: Federal officials indicated they would not make a decision on the legality of planned MaineCare cuts for some time ( PPH, BDN). The LePage Administration went to court to force federal officials to make a quicker decision ( PPH, BDN) — the PPH editors commented. A task force is looking for other Medicaid-related savings ( BDN, MPBN). A coalition of six Maine Mayors urged federal officials to reject the planned MaineCare cuts ( PPH, Forecaster). Alan Caron discussed the looming federal budget’s ‘cliff.’ State officials are considering a new deal for liquor sales in Maine which could produce more state revenues ( LSJ, PPH).

Economic Development: The BDN editors pointed to Brunswick Landing as a model of economic development done right, although recent developments raised concerns ( PPH). SMCC’s new campus in Brunswick is growing fast with programs aimed straight at the skills gap ( BDN). MaineBiz profiled the Blackstone Accelerates Growth initiative. Rep. Terry Hayes commented on the power of positive marketing. MPBN looked at how Maine companies are waiting for an upturn in the economy.

Education: The PPH’s Colin Woodard investigated the connections between state policy makers, private interests and the establishment of virtual schools in Maine ( PPH). He also assessed the performance of existing virtual schools around the country ( PPH). The PPH editors and BDN editors commented and Brent Littlefield appeared on WGAN to refute parts of the article.

• The state is seeking a federal waiver from ‘No Child Left Behind’ ( BDN, PPH). The waiver involves pursuing NCLB goals with new tools, including new measures of progress ( PPH). Federal ‘Race to the Top’ grants will be hard to come by for most Maine schools because they’re too small (but Portland is in the running) ( KJ). Commissioner Bowen’s student transfer policies came under attack by some superintendents ( BDN, Bill Nemitz).

• University of Maine President Paul Ferguson, Lois Kilby-Chesley, John Frary and Betsy Timm all commented on aspects of education policy.

Energy: The BDN editors commented on the future of natural gas in Maine. Wind power continued to attract supporters and opponents ( PPH). Efficiency Maine outlined a new 3-year plan ( BDN).

Environmental: Debate continued on whether to expand Maine’s BPA ban ( PPH).

Health Care: UNE’s new dental school in Portland is expected to ease the shortage of dentists across the state ( BDN, MPBN). Rep. Adam Goode criticized the results of state-level health care reforms enacted in 2011, echoing a report issued by Consumer for Affordable Health Care ( BDN, PPH). David Farmer also weighed in.

Labor: The Maine Department of Labor is asking for a federal waiver to restructure the state’s Workforce Investment Boards ( BDN). Laura Fortman wrote about the policy choices surrounding long term unemployment.

Statewide: Many small Maine companies are finding their niche in national and world markets ( MaineBiz).

Tax: State House Republicans celebrated the tax cuts enacted during the last legislative session ( MPBN). Rep. Susan Morissette and Sen. Tom Martin restated the Republicans’ case for the cuts, while Rep. Mark Bryant made the Democrats’ case against them. Doug Rooks also commented.

Transportation: Sen. Tom Saviello wrote about the debate surrounding the proposed east-west highway feasibility study. The substantial impacts on Maine companies of a possible national longshoremen’s strike were outlined ( PPH, BDN, MPBN).

Welfare reform: Eric Russell at the PPH looked at how TANF cuts (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) shifted the costs of aid from the federal government to state and local budgets. A task force looking for ways to save money for municipal governments in their General Assistance programs continued to make progress ( LSJ).

Around the Region: The Town of Cumberland and the City of Westbrook were among five new communities designated as ‘Business Friendly” by the LePage Administration ( BDN, Forecaster, Current, PPH) — congratulations to both! Renovations got underway at the Cumberland County Civic Center ( Forecaster, PDS, PPH).

Elsewhere:

In Cape Elizabeth three new school administrators are joining the community ( Forecaster). They’ll be part of a system that received high marks from a recent USM study ( Current). The municipal ballot may not have many contested races in November ( Forecaster).

In Cumberland the Council approved two contract zones designed to bring up to 34 new affordable housing units to town ( PPH, Forecaster).

In Falmouth the Council voted to joining neighboring Yarmouth and Cumberland to investigate the potential of natural gas service ( PPH). The November ballot will include a referendum question on the future of METRO bus service in Falmouth ( Forecaster).

In Gorham voters will have $5 million dollars in bond requests to decide on this November ( Current).

In Portland new School Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk hit the ground running by reorganizing senior staff, creating a new community liaison ( PPH) and initiating a series of community conversations on the future of Portland’s schools ( PPH, BDN).

• November’s municipal ballot is full up with candidates ( Forecaster);

• The City’s food truck ordinance hasn’t attracted any applicants yet ( PPH);

• City Hall is celebrating its 100th anniversary ( BDN); and

For the latest check out Chris O’Neil’s Inside City Hall. Chris serves as a consultant to the Portland Community Chamber, working closely with members and staff to represent the Chamber before Portland City officials. Inside City Hall covers a host of Portland related issues. It’s something that everyone with an interest in Portland affairs will want to read.

In Scarborough the school system received high marks from a recent USM study ( Current). A proposal to institute a general business license requirement was put off ( Current). The lineup of candidates for municipal elections in November is set ( PPH).

In South Portland the Council is evaluating the possibility of solar power at City Hall ( Current, Forecaster). Erik Carson, Director of Economic Development and former Assistant City Manager, resigned ( Forecaster, Current).

In Westbrook officials are getting ready to institute a major reconfiguration of City schools ( Current). The Planning Board approved a new affordable housing project ( PPH).

Want to speak out?

It’s easy to do, and believe it or not, it can really work. Notice that all the legislative committees mentioned above are linked — just click on them and you’ll get emails, phone numbers and everything you need to make your voice heard in the state house. If you need help, just email me!

Feedback:

So what do you think? We’d love to have your thoughts on anything you’ve read here, or on other topics that are important to you. The more you talk to us, the better we’ll represent your views. Send an email if you’d like to share your feedback with me — and thank you!

This report is compiled biweekly for members of the Portland Regional Chamber. It provides a breakdown of recent news around state policy, as well as a heads-up on coming events. The Bangor Daily News is publishing this report in cooperation with the PRC.

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