Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce

Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce’s Issues of Impact 2014

Posted Jan. 24, 2014, at 2:42 p.m.

An important part of fulfilling the Chamber’s mission “To promote and advance a vital, healthy business environment” involves advocating for public policy that will help our region prosper and grow.

Rather than react to what policy makers propose, the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce seeks to define its agenda and bring it forward.

“Issues of Impact” outlines the policies that the Chamber believes will most help its members. Drafted in the Chamber’s Governmental Affairs Committee, the document was endorsed by the Chamber’s Board of Directors.

Health Care

Health care remains a chief concern among employers as a significant cost of doing business and a driver of public-sector costs. To that end, the Chamber supports:

• Continued implementation of federal healthcare reform legislation means Maine should take proactive steps to maximize support for the following, aid to small businesses and their employees to obtain affordable coverage; the development of modern healthcare information systems; and the development of healthcare delivery models such as accountable care organizations that could reduce the cost of providing care to Maine’s citizens.

• Expansion of MaineCare/Medicaid in Maine to fully leverage available federal dollars under the Affordable Care Act.

• Close monitoring at the federal level of the unintended consequences of the ACA and the quality of coverage and service offered through the insurance exchange.

• Close monitoring at the state level of the insurance reforms enacted in the 125th Legislature to make sure they are working as intended. The Maine Bureau of Insurance should also encourage private insurers to create products that align with the accountable care organization model.

• Restoring cuts to the Fund for Healthy Maine made in the 125th Legislature as a funding priority in 2014, as it is recognized that the Healthy Maine Partnerships are vital to Maine’s public health infrastructure.

• Efforts to sustain the Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Hospital, including new uses for the facility to strengthen the overall financial performance of a critical resource for people in our region who are experiencing serious and persistent mental illness.

Energy

The Chamber endorses an energy policy that makes paramount the goal of lowering the cost of power and fuel. With this as a priority, it also makes sense to pursue strategic investments in alternative energy. And policy makers should bear in mind that many, though not all, conservation initiatives can be the least expensive means for meeting our energy needs. To that end, the Chamber supports:

• Continued discussion of creating an energy corridor through Maine that will benefit Maine citizens and ratepayers as well as exploring whether Canadian power can be a source of less-expensive energy for Maine.

• Fully leveraging the state Omnibus Energy Act of 2013 to increase the supply of natural gas available in the state and larger region.

• Regulatory reforms that lower transmission and delivery costs for businesses.

• Research and development of offshore wind generation, bio-fuel manufacturing technologies and geothermal systems as well as the application of alternative energy in transportation.

• Development and deployment of energy conservation and efficiency techniques and strategies, including those of the Efficiency Maine Trust as well as policies that encourage businesses to upgrade old, inefficient boiler and lighting systems.

Taxes

The tax burden on Maine businesses is too high, and the tax structure here discourages growth. Maine cannot continue with an outdated and anti-growth system of taxation. To that end, the Chamber supports:

• No increase in, and ideally a reduction of, the overall tax burden for Maine people and businesses.

• Tax policies that encourage regionalization.

• Maintaining and building on the progress made toward lower state income taxes.

• Tax policies that make Maine a more attractive location for retirees.

• Tax reform that will reduce the volatility of tax revenues, with an eye toward broadening the sales tax base as one means for accomplishing this.

• Continued scrutiny of state spending and government efficiency.

Education and Workforce Development

Educational opportunity and achievement are essential to the region’s economic health and quality of life. Without an educated workforce and diligent efforts to develop the pipeline of workers that businesses need to compete globally, the region cannot succeed. To that end, the Chamber supports:

• Facilitation of a discussion with Maine Department of Education (MDOE) to establish innovative monetary grants to expand educational alternatives/programs relating to workforce development.

• Expanded access to early childhood education programs as a funding priority.

• Support for the integration of returning veterans into the community and our regional workforce.

• A detailed analysis of the University System, Community College System and Maine Maritime Academy, with the goal of finding structural efficiencies to ensure maximum value with an emphasis of exploring partnerships and collaboration within each public system.

• Analysis of the cost and effectiveness of K-12 consolidation efforts in the state.

• Identification and proliferation of best practices among all Maine K-12 school models, particularly those identified as “high performing and efficient.”

• Support for improved access and expansion to post-secondary education through partnerships, both financial and educational, among high schools, adult education centers and both public and private higher education institutions.

Research and Development/Commercialization

The future of the Bangor Region’s economy is tied closely to investments in research, development and commercialization and should be advanced by productive public-private partnerships. To that end, the Chamber supports:

• Execution of the state’s 2010 Science & Technology Action Plan calling for “an environment where science, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship stimulate Maine’s economy” as well as the goal of R& D activity equaling 3 percent of gross state product by 2015.

• Development and adoption of a 2014 bond package that would further enhance Maine’s research & economic development infrastructure.

• Fully leveraging the work of the Blackstone Accelerates Growth initiative aimed at improving the prospects for scalable, growth-oriented businesses in our region.

• Promotion of private sector support of research & development / commercialization through fixed, short-term (4-16 weeks), paid internships for qualified college and university students.

• Efforts to raise public awareness and understanding of the value of R&D to the state’s economy.

Transportation

Transportation is a key component of economic growth, and as such the Chamber supports maintaining our diversity of transportation modes and making investments in infrastructure to meet our needs. To that end, the Chamber supports:

• Preservation of an “intact” rail network capable of providing commercial freight service to points in Maine and beyond.

• Preservation and enhancement of critical east-west corridors, including rail, highway and port connections to Montreal and the Maritimes.

• Expansion of passenger, freight, ground services and allied businesses at Bangor International Airport.

• Development of the Searsport cargo terminal including dredging to maintain its viability and competitiveness, and further development of the Port of Eastport.

• Bond package initiatives to fund long-term priorities.

• Public transportation and pedestrian amenities that serve the needs of the region’s population, enhancing the livability of our downtowns and other centers of commerce.

Broadband Development

Broadband capacity is now a critical component to economic development and is emerging as a strength within the region. This technology holds the promise of eliminating geography as a concern with respect to our economic growth. Further, the industry mix here – research labs, factories, educational institutions and biomedical firms – is such that strong broadband connections are a necessity for the Bangor Region to be successful. To that end, the Chamber supports:

• Efforts to leverage our assets to bring “data centers” to our region.

• Economic development strategies that target companies with a high demand for bandwidth.

• Public policies and investments that will allow for greater penetration of high-speed broadband in our market, especially ultra-high-speed connections used by technology companies.

Regional Collaboration

Regional collaboration offers the opportunity to use public, private and nonprofit resources more effectively, but Maine’s long tradition of local control places a high value on local-decision making. Still, the possibilities for regionalization remain tantalizing. To that end, the Chamber supports:

• A continued emphasis on regional, public-private economic development efforts, including the creation of a shared vision among those entities looking to grow the economy of the Bangor Region.

• Further collaboration among higher education institutions in our region.

• Cooperative efforts among regional health care providers to improve quality and cuts costs through accountable care organizations and other innovative models, including furthering community and workplace wellness.

• Efforts by local governments to seek collaborations, affiliations, and where feasible, consolidation of services – even those services seen as the traditional province of municipalities.

• An awareness and discussion of the impacts of substance abuse and the crime that surrounds it with eye toward solutions with a practical positive impact on the region.

Housing

The Chamber regards housing as a critical social and economic issue directly affecting economic development. By encouraging the creation of affordable, quality housing and by achieving higher home ownership rates, the community creates a more stable workforce and enhances quality of life. The Chamber also recognizes the problem of chronic homelessness to be a multi-faceted one. To that end, the Chamber supports:

• Affordable housing initiatives from local, state and federal governments that maximize assistance for low-income families and first-time homebuyers and also allow seniors to stay in their homes longer.

• Support for land-use and other policies at the local and state level that reduce development costs.

• Banking regulations that support sound mortgage lending practices.

• A realistic and comprehensive strategy to combat homelessness by marrying housing with the services needed to support at-risk individuals through the health care system, the Maine State Housing Authority and the Department of Health and Human Services.

 

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