New year, new focus on workforce development

By Chris Hall, Acting CEO, Portland Regional Chamber
Posted Jan. 14, 2013, at 1:26 p.m.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to 2013’s first policy update. You’ll find a few changes to our format and content — I hope you enjoy them.

As you know, our focus this year is on improved regional economic development and a stronger regional workforce. We’ll still be active at the state house, but we’ll be looking for a tighter connection between legislative issues and our regional priorities.

Given our focus, one new state house effort jumps off the page. Recently, Senate President Justin Alfond and House Speaker Mark Eves announced the formation of the Joint Select Committee on Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future. The committee will look for ways to grow Maine’s skilled workforce and help small businesses thrive. (Coverage in the BDN and on MPBN, and comment from Charles Lawton and the PPH editors.)

The skills gap will be the committee’s first priority — just as it is at the Portland Regional Chamber and all through our region. Many of us will have the opportunity to provide the committee with our best thinking on how we can close the skills gap and improve the economy. We’ll keep you posted on which lawmakers are appointed to the committee and when public hearings will start.

Until then you can help out by contacting your lawmakers and letting them know what you think. Whether you speak out now or later, make sure your voice is heard. Not everyone in a big organization like our chamber believes the same thing on every issue, so it’s very important to use the resources we provide to get your own views in front of lawmakers. As always we’re here to help — and with your help the Portland region will have a productive legislative session.

Notable Read: Some days there’s just too much to read. If you only have time for one thing:

State budgets are always complex. On Friday, Gov. Paul LePage released his proposed state budget for the next two years, starting 7/1/13 running through 6/30/15. It’s an understatement to say the governor’s proposals are controversial — news coverage is collected below, under budget.

Thankfully the governor’s staff put together an excellent summary of the 1000+ page budget — here’s a short document that anyone can quickly read through and get a good idea of what’s being proposed.

Keep in mind that many of these ideas are being opposed, and you won’t find any of those objections in the summary. Nevertheless, this is the best place to begin understanding the upcoming budget debate that will impact our communities.

For example, the governor has proposed completely suspending municipal revenue sharing for two years, cutting statewide transfers to municipalities by almost $100 million per year. In a controversial budget, this will be the biggest controversy, and we’ll be hearing more this week from municipal officials about the impacts of the proposed cuts on property taxes and local services.

By reading the governor’s budget summary, you’ll have a much better idea of which issues, such as major changes to the BETR program, may impact your business and your community.

In the State House: It’s always interesting to hear what folks are saying about the upcoming legislative session. Recent comment included: Senate President Justin Alfond on WGAN, Senate Republican Assistant Minority Leader Roger Katz, Mike Cuzzi, Greg Kesich, the PPH editors, the AP’s Glenn Adams, MPBN’s A.J. Higgins, Matt Gagnon, and Robert Long in the BDN.

Portland lawmakers and municipal officials discussed their priorities ( PDS), Sen. Dick Woodbury looked ahead in Mainebiz, and Duke Harrington in the Current wrote a nice piece that collects session predictions from eight lawmakers in our region.

Democratic leaders announced their agenda for 2013 ( PPH, BDN) — Republican leaders weren’t too impressed ( MPBN). Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall discussed the Democratic agenda on WGAN.

Mal Leary has been the dean of the state house press corps for some time now, so it’s very appropriate that Mal has joined forces with MPBN to start up a state house television system, much like C-SPAN ( Mainebiz). I hope the service will be up and running soon so everyone can see more of what actually goes on under the dome.

State Policy round-up:

The federal government issued a split decision on the administration’s request for approval of several cuts to MaineCare ( PPH, BDN, MPBN) — Appropriations Committee Senate Chair Dawn Hill discussed the impacts on WGAN and the PPH editors commented. Resulting DHHS cuts are coming ( PPH).

And of course on Friday the governor’s proposed two-year budget was unveiled. Here’s coverage in the PPH, BDN, BDN and on MPBN and comment from the BDN, LSJ and PPH editors. And here’s additional coverage of the proposed suspension of municipal revenue sharing for two years ( PPH, LSJ, BDN).

Professor Charlie Colgan offered his economic forecast for 2013 ( BDN, MPBN, PPH). Mainebiz got four other economists to join Colgan in offering their predictions. J. Scott Moody looked at Maine’s worsening demographics. Amy Stursberg and John Voltz discussed the Blackstone initiative to boost small business growth.

The KJ’s Susan McMillian profiled ‘Project Login,’ Educate Maine’s effort to boost computer science professionals in Maine; Michael Wing and Jennifer Dean reinforced the need for STEM training.

Other comment on education issues included the BDN editors on collaboration with local officials, Commissioner Bowen on continuing K-12 consolidation ( LSJ) (the BDN’s Mario Moretto offered a good analysis of past, current and future consolidation efforts), Charles Lawton on rising competition in public education, Theo Kalikow on reforming higher education, Lawton again on solving the skills gap problem and University of Maine President Paul Ferguson (at Eggs & Issues) presenting his Blue Sky initiative ( BDN).

Around the Region: The BDN’s Matt Stone took an interesting look at urban versus suburban state aid — who’s getting what?

Elsewhere:

In Cape Elizabeth, officials are looking at new approaches to large projects ( Forecaster).

In Cumberland, visit the Town’s website for news, events and community updates.

In Falmouth, Route 1 stormwater issues are on the agenda for 2013 ( Forecaster).

In Gorham, voters will decide in June on a new home for fire and police services ( PPH, Current). Several new private investments are on the horizon ( Current).

In Portland, Jerome LaMoria is the new Fire Chief ( PPH, Forecaster) and Sheila Hill-Christian is the new Deputy City Manager ( PPH, BDN) – congratulations to both.

Elsewhere:

In Scarborough, a new recreation area off Payne Road may be acquired ( Forecaster).

In South Portland, a March 12 special election will fill a vacant Council seat ( PPH, Forecaster).

In Westbrook, Assistant City Administrator Bill Baker is focused on revitalizing the riverfront ( PPH). SAPPI is making a major investment in its mill ( BDN).

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

Partners for Progress Policy Updates from the Portland Regional Chamber are supported by generous contributions from our Partners for Progress. For more information about joining the Portland Regional Chamber just click here.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/01/14/business/new-year-new-focus-on-workforce-development/ printed on August 22, 2014