ELLSWORTH, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage told small-business leaders Friday that he and his administration would champion the needs of businesses in the face of red tape and would work to reduce the cost of doing business in Maine.
The Republican governor, during a keynote address at the first Hancock County Business Conference and Trade Show at the Ramada Inn, told hundreds of attendees that lowering energy costs, streamlining business regulations and investing in Maine’s workforce were his top priorities in Augusta.
“My role is to make it easier for you, to create the environment so that you can create jobs,” LePage said in his closing remarks. “My role is to lower the taxes, lower the burden you face on business, get rid of red tape and allow you a path to use your creativity, your innovation, your hard work and, of course, your money.”
The conference was conceived two years ago as a way to support businesses who want to operate in Hancock County, said Phyllis Young, associate director of the Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce and one of the conference’s organizers. Thirty businesses set up exhibitions, and hundreds of people registered for more than two-dozen workshops.
“The trade show booths sold really quickly, in just two weeks,” Young said. “We’re hearing people would really like to see this become annual.”
One of the businesses in the exhibition was Lighthouse Web Solutions, a Bangor Web development and marketing company. The company already boasts an impressive Maine client list, including many medical powerhouses such as Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, Blue Hill Memorial Hospital and Acadia Hospital in Bangor.
“We’re a Bangor company, but we came to Ellsworth because we think the Hancock region is poised to explode,” Elliott said. “The benefit for us is aligning with the business community here.”
LePage told his audience that his plan to reduce energy costs will be back on the table in the next legislative session after being defeated in the Legislature last year. He said buying less costly Canadian hydro-electricity and providing the infrastructure to distribute that power, could lower costs in Maine.
“They want to sell an awful lot of hydro to Southern New England, to the big users, and we could let it pass through Maine, collect a little fee for distributing power and further reduce the cost of energy in Maine,” he said. “But, the big ‘but,’ is the Legislature. … Fortunately, the leader of the opposition is no longer there this year, so we’re gonna try again.”
LePage also said Maine needs to prioritize vocational and job training to provide the workforce he said businesses need to succeed.
“We have taken an approach, maybe 25 years ago, that every child in Maine is going to go to college; Big mistake,” he said. “What we’ve done in Maine is we’ve pushed away the technical and vocational schools. We make that a second-class citizen and put that in the back of the room. We need to put that in the front of the room.”
The governor said he would change the funding mechanism for technical schools, allocating state money directly, rather than funneling it through school districts.
LePage touted his administration’s “Business Friendly Communities” program, which promotes towns and cities deemed to have low regulatory barriers to business, and the Department of Economic and Community Development’s “account executives,” which he said would help businesses navigate permitting processes and advocate for businesses in the face of regulation.
“I pledge to you: If someone is giving you a hard time about getting permits, you give the governor’s office a call, and you’ll see some action,” LePage said.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.