Every four years Maine voters try to answer this question: “What’s the plan for Maine’s economy?”
Too often, we have answered with another question: “How will our state government make that happen?” We’ve thought about state government solutions instead of considering the dramatic regional and economic differences in our state and developing a partnership of private- and public-sector leadership to bring us to new solutions.
While the idea of a single strategy has appeal, certainly in implementation, the fact remains that Maine’s regional differences lie in our varying economic assets and sectors. What is a successful sector in Aroostook County may not find the same success in Portland. What works in coastal Maine may not translate to the western mountains. Instead, the positive aspects and economic sectors in each region should be harnessed and built upon to bring greater return on a regional basis.
There is no “one size fits all” economic strategy in a state as vast as ours.
During the McKernan administration, I had the opportunity to serve as commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development. Chellie Pingree, then a state senator, and I were co-chairs of the first Maine Economic Growth Council. When we began, our purpose was clear: identify a statewide inventory of economic development factors, measure their impact and shortcomings, then turn those shortcomings into successes. The “change agent” to accomplish the turnaround would include both public and private leaders who worked to advance private investments and policy changes.
To date, the council has done an excellent job identifying the factors and addressing the measurements of economic growth. Where it’s failed is in the third step — prioritizing investments and public policy changes that would foster economic growth.
In a recent Bangor Daily News article, John Dorrer correctly states that the “alignment” of economic planning and sector investment is absolutely critical if Maine is to advance. Laurie Lachance, president of Thomas College, is also correct when she points out that when Maine does make investment decisions, such as those regarding Maine & Company and the Maine International Trade Center, we tend to let them become minimized “on the vine” as we change our funding strategies.
However, Mobilize Maine is a different effort.
It’s driven by the visions and goals of private- and public-sector leaders in each Maine region. The Mobilize Maine model recognizes that substantial input by many is not only welcome, it’s necessary. The model builds on a region’s existing assets instead of only its needs. Mobilize Maine is an approach that is sustainable through the four-year political cycle and well beyond it.
Mobilize Maine is not created in state statute and it doesn’t depend on the state budget for its funding. It’s developed and implemented by the people who live and work in the regions it affects and helps grow. It’s the work of local leadership committed to building a better future for their area. In fact, in recent years, the Mobilize Maine concept has received national recognition for its transformative process for developing sustainable economic strategies.
In the Mobilize Eastern Maine region, we are building on a shared vision. We recognize that collaboration and networking among communities, business and institutions within the region must exist. We know the importance of including the state’s policymakers and executive department leaders in meaningful conversations and partnerships. The Mobilize Eastern Maine region is experiencing growth in a number of our identified sectors. We’re succeeding.
The law that formed the Maine Economic Growth Council was landmark legislation, and it established Maine as a national leader in creating a mechanism for analysis, measurement and policy change.
But, it’s the groups that have taken the concept one step further, locally, that are finding success. Continuing to look for a single strategy in the hope that it will be a panacea for an economically diverse state won’t result in strategies that create jobs. Working with local leaders and business owners on a regional basis is our best chance for spurring and sustaining growth.
Michael W. Aube is president of the Eastern Maine Development Corporation in Bangor.