Maine’s workforce is often discussed in various forums, and while there is great debate about job training and the always mentioned skills gap, policymakers have yet to focus on the best utilization of broadband Internet infrastructure to meet the state’s workforce and economic development needs.
The Maine Broadband Capacity Building Task Force has worked for more than two years to develop an achievable, high-impact report with recommendations that stimulate and expand the use of broadband and cover the economic development sector along with health care, education and state and local government.
Portland planning and research firm Planning Decisions has estimated that if Maine adopts these recommendations, the cumulative impact on our economy in 10 years would be the addition of 11,000 jobs, $500 million in new income and $70 million in new state and local tax revenue. These recommendations are small steps that Maine can take to achieve not only better high-speed Internet connections but open access for small business development, workforce and education training opportunities for job seekers and businesses alike, and a reduced tax burden for Maine’s state and local property taxpayers.
The task force report has identified key recommendations specific to economic and workforce development.
It is estimated that 97 percent of consumers look online for goods and services, but only 41 percent of Maine businesses have a website. The task force recommends a three-year tax credit for Internet-related staff training and marketing expenditures to all Maine small- and medium-sized businesses.
In northern Maine, Aroostook County Tourism has sponsored two workshops for Internet and social media training that have had great participation. Our experience shows that these trainings are much more effective if they are as hands-on as possible, such that the business owners get one-on-one help with developing a website or with refining their existing website.
Additionally, Maine already has a Universal Service Fund supported by fees on telephone use. The task force recommends that the fund provide assistance to companies that execute broadband expansion as well as landline expansion to Maine consumers. This fund is in addition to the ConnectME Authority fund, which also supports broadband extension. This fund should be expanded to include supporting upgrades to broadband to create jobs.
The ability to market its well hand pumps online has been integral to the success of Bison Pumps in Houlton. The company was established in 1999 and today sells more than 800 handcrafted pumps a year to customers all over the world. The business has grown by 20 to 30 percent annually for the past several years, and that growth probably would not have been possible without a network of Maine vendors and others embracing the power of e-commerce.
And finally, by expanding the use of InforME, the public-private state Internet provider, we can reduce state and local government administrative spending. One example is the shifting of state income tax filing to an online platform. This not only provides faster refunds to taxpayers, but it could also saves hundreds of thousands of dollars in administrative costs.
Broadband matters to Maine because it can help address the state’s problems of a slow growing economy, a high per-capita cost for essential public services and an aging, slowly growing population. The Broadband Capacity Building Task Force has developed a roadmap that gets us on the path to greater economic prosperity, tax reduction and job creation.
I encourage people to engage and advocate for broadband expansion and adoption in Maine to help us move to greater economic prosperity and self sufficiency. Learn more about the task force recommendations and read the full report online at maine.gov/connectme.
Ryan D. Pelletier is director of the Economic and Workforce Development Division at the Northern Maine Development Commission in Caribou and a member of the state Broadband Capacity Building Task Force.