May 22, 2018
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For Portland region, economic trends make it clear there’s no time to rest on laurels

By Chris Hall, Portland Regional Chamber

PRC speaks out: If you scan through this week’s Update you’ll see some interesting items that bear directly on our region’s current and future prosperity, but point in opposite directions.

In the Statewide section you’ll find a report that shows average household income in Cumberland County dropped a whopping 4.4% in 2011, exactly double the state average decline. You’ll also see Portland was found to be one of America’s least diverse cities, bringing us another set of economic disadvantages.

In contrast in the Economic Development section the first article cited lists Cumberland County’s many advantages, and links to a recent N.Y. Federal Reserve report entitled Knowledge in Cities. The report’s co-author Prof. Todd Gabe said “that the fact that Greater Portland has such a high percentage of people who have a college degree has led to higher productivity and higher earnings.”

In short our region has advantages, and may be doing better than some other parts of Maine, but challenges remain and recent economic trends make it crystal clear this is no time to rest on our laurels.

All of which brings us directly to Portland Mayor Michael Brennan’s op-ed in Tuesday’s PPH. Brennan calls for a closer collaboration between business, education and research throughout the region in order to accelerate economic innovation and growth. It’s a call to action that we cannot ignore.

The Portland Regional Chamber will be working with Mayor Brennan, and all our region’s leaders, to find the best strategies designed to meet and exceed the Mayor’s vision. Our work will certainly be a challenge, but the alternative isn’t a pleasant future without worries, it’s the trend line starkly outlined by the U.S. Census data.

It’s time to get to work.

State Policy round-up: As the election season heats up education policy has become one area where the two major political parties differ ( MPBN). House Speaker Robert Nutting outlined others and criticized Democrats’ campaign positions ( PPH and on WGAN) – House Minority Leader Emily Cain responded in kind ( PPH). Cain and Governor LePage declared their intention to push for legislative ethics reform next session ( LSJ). Elsewhere:

  1. Ballot watch: Ethan Strimling and Phil Harriman shared their advice with candidates on how to win state house, congressional and presidential elections ( BDN). Mike Cuzzi had some presidential candidate advice as well ( PPH), as did Jeremy Fischer and Bill Becker ( WMTW). A proposal to re-establish presidential primaries in Maine died quietly ( BDN).
  1. Bonds: Rep. Don Skillings responded to criticism of the Governor’s disbursement of state bond funds.
  1. Budget: Earlier this month plans surfaced to re-write the state’s liquor contract, drawing negative comment from the LSJ and PPH editors, and a number of potential bidders ( PPH, BDN, LSJ, PPH). This week state revenues showed some weakness ( KJ). The August edition of Fiscal News, as always, is filled with state budget information.

The state’s lawsuit seeking an expedited decision from federal authorities on the legality of Maine’s planned cuts to MaineCare was dismissed ( PPH, BDN, MPBN). Lawmakers continued the search for alternative cuts to balance the budget if the federal government rejects Maine’s plans ( BDN). Comment from the PPH editors, Rep. Mark Eves and Rep. Richard Malaby.

  1. Economic Development: In the BDN Abigail Curtis and Whit Richardson took an in-depth look at statewide workforce issues by contrasting two Maine counties, and focusing on education, knowledge and skills. Craig Pendleton and the BDN editors both discussed the continuing importance of manufacturing to Maine’s economy. John Richardson and the BDN editors discussed recent developments at BNAS.

In other news Deb Neuman departed as Deputy Commissioner of DECD ( BDN). The Governor’s trade mission to China went well ( BDN, MPBN) – DECD Commissioner George Gervais discussed the trip on WGAN. The state’s ‘business friendly’ certification program continued to draw mixed reviews ( PPH).

  1. Education: The dust-up continued around the administration’s formation of virtual education policies: Commissioner Bowen replied to a Colin Woodard report, Woodard appeared on WGAN, the Governor used a Saturday address to discuss the issue, and Greg Kesich, Dennis Carron and Mike Tipping all commented. The virtual education company in question ran into problems in other states ( PPH, BDN).

In a big win for Maine’s tourism and hospitality sector USM and SMCC announced the start of a new alignment in their hospitality and tourism programs that will bring four-year studies to Maine for the first time ( PPH, BDN).

In other news Commissioner Bowen kicked off a statewide literacy campaign ( PPH, MPBN). The BDN editors praised the Commissioner for his collaborative work on education reform. Head start cuts are having negative impacts around the state ( BDN). The Governor shared a cartoon with high school principals, confusing some of them ( PPH, MPBN). Eight new charter school applications were filed ( BDN).

  1. Energy: The LePage Administration continued its call for lower energy costs in Maine ( MW). Natural gas service to the Kennebec Valley is up for bid again after the state revoked an earlier contract award ( PPH, BDN). A report on off-shore wind power in Maine drew questions from the administration ( BDN, BDN) – the BDN editors commented. More companies are joining the retail electricity market ( PPH, BDN, MPBN).
  1. Health Care: A ruling by Maine’s Attorney General led to the cancellation of a program providing Canadian prescription drugs to people covered by the state’s health insurance plan ( BDN, PPH, MPBN). The decision will impact state and municipal workers and budgets, costing the state budget over $3 million in savings, but will also make drug sales by Maine businesses more likely ( PPH) – Curtis Pickard explained why. Governor LePage said he wanted to get the Canadian deal back ( PPH), but analysis showed that could be difficult ( BDN).

Debate picked up surrounding the results of Maine’s 2011 state health care reforms advanced by Republicans in Augusta. The PPH editors criticized the reforms’ results, Rep. Les Fossel rebutted the editors, and Rep. Jon McKane also defended the law in the BDN. The PPH’s Eric Russell talked to both sides in the debate. Further comment came from Mike Tipping, Rep. Henry Beck and Arthur Batson.

Pending federal cuts to Medicare have hospital leaders predicting layoffs ( BDN) – the LSJ editors commented.

  1. Small Business: Maine’s Seed Capital Tax Credit supports investments in many small Maine companies – unfortunately the funding for the program is almost exhausted ( MaineBiz, MPBN).
  1. Tax: Al DiMillo Jr. urged cuts to Maine’s property taxes as the best way to promote economic equality. The U.S. Senate race brought the BETR program back to the pages of several papers ( BDN).
  1. Transportation: The proposed east/west highway continued to stir debate. Cianbro’s Pete Vigue made the case for the project before leaders of Maine’s forest industries ( BDN), while the Portland Phoenix and the Sierra Club ( BDN) raised objections.

Statewide: Two stories of importance to everyone in Maine are worth catching up on: Brown University conducted a study that named Maine’s three largest cities as some of the nation’s least diverse ( BDN) – Robert Long at the BDN produced a follow-up analysis of Maine’s lack of diversity and the BDN editors commented on the economic impacts of our situation.

Earlier this week the U.S. Census Bureau released new data showing Maine’s economy was in trouble last year, with poverty rates increasing and median household income falling – and notably some of the largest income losses were in Cumberland County ( PPH, BDN).

Senate Watch: Debate season opened up last week at Texas Instruments ( PPH, BDN, Current), followed by forums at USM ( PPH, MPBN) and in Lewiston ( PPH, BDN, LSJ). On Wednesday two new polls showed the race tightening ( PPH, BDN, LSJ, MPBN) – Ethan Strimling and Phil Harriman discussed the polls’ implications ( BDN).

For Your Information: What would you do if there was an active shooter in your work place? Cumberland County Sherriff Kevin Joyce forwarded this Public Service Announcement to me and asked that I share it with all of you. The video was produced for the City of Houston, but the information it contains is critically important to everyone in our business community.

The video is disturbing – but the planning it encourages could save your life, and others.

Around the Region: Regional races for three state Senate seats received coverage recently: Senate District 11 (Chebeague Island, Cumberland, Falmouth, Gray, Long Island, North Yarmouth and Yarmouth) in the Forecaster, Senate District 7 (Cape Elizabeth, South Portland and the eastern part of Scarborough) in the Current, and Senate District 6 (the western part of Scarborough, the southern part of Westbrook and all of Gorham) in the Forecaster. Elsewhere:

In Cape Elizabeth check the Town’s website for news on recycling fees, conservation work and the newly adopted School Board mission statement.

In Cumberland the SAD 51 school district may get smaller if North Yarmouth voters decide to separate ( Forecaster).

In Falmouth) a small public hearing turned out supporters of the Metro bus service’s continuation in town ( PPH, Forecaster).

In Gorham nomination papers are dues on Monday the 24th – check the Town’s website for more information.

In Portland after much anticipation the Federated Bayside project moved forward ( PPH, BDN). After some discussion ( PPH) the City contributed a generous finance package to help make the development a reality ( PPH, BDN, PDS). The PPH editors applauded the project. Elsewhere:

  1. The City’s Congress Street façade improvement grants are available and proving popular ( PDS, BDN, PDS);
  1. The BDN’s Seth Koenig took a look at the challenges and opportunities created by the recent, extraordinary turnover in City Hall leadership;
  1. Ferry service from Nova Scotia to Portland looks set to return with help from Canadian funding ( PPH, BDN);
  1. Portland school redistricting continued in the planning stage ( PPH, Forecaster);
  1. Portland still has only one food truck ( Forecaster);
  1. Six weeks after the concert it looks like the ‘Gentlemen of the Road’ tour stop in Portland was a cultural and economic success, but some questioned future events ( PPH, PDS, Forecaster); and
  1. 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 Pine Point zoning changes were approved, opening new marine related opportunities ( Forecaster). Plans were also approved for the proposed Oak Hill assisted living center ( Forecaster).

In South Portland the November municipal ballot is almost uncontested ( PPH, Forecaster). Ocean Street parking and traffic decisions are pending soon ( Forecaster).

In Westbrook Bill Baker, the new assistant city administrator for business and community relations, held meetings with business owners to find out what more the City can do to support economic growth ( Current).

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!

Partners for Progress Policy Updates from the Portland Regional Chamber are supported by the generous contributions from our Partners for Progress. If you’d like to become a Partner, please contact Chamber CEO Godfrey Wood. And for more information about joining the Portland Regional Chamber – businesses building a better community – just click here.

Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

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