Michaud sets a policy direction — and a considerable leadership challenge

Cheryl Wixson (left) discusses her food products with U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud during a tour of Coastal Farms and Food Processing in Belfast on Sept. 6, 2013. Michaud’s business investment plan calls for the creation of a network of food hubs that allow small food producers to process and market their products.
Brian Feulner | BDN
Cheryl Wixson (left) discusses her food products with U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud during a tour of Coastal Farms and Food Processing in Belfast on Sept. 6, 2013. Michaud’s business investment plan calls for the creation of a network of food hubs that allow small food producers to process and market their products.
Posted Feb. 19, 2014, at 11:29 a.m.

U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud is cutting his work out for himself.

The six-term Democratic representative and gubernatorial candidate Wednesday released his plans for helping out the state’s small businesses, fostering key industries that have a realistic chance of growing and succeeding in Maine, and equipping the state’s workforce with the skills they need to find work and grow their incomes. It’s the first of a number of policy documents to come.

“Maine Made,” the name for Michaud’s business and investment plan, is a welcome addition to the 2014 campaign. Over the course of that campaign, Michaud needs to set himself apart not only as the most electorally viable alternative to Republican Gov. Paul LePage but also as a candidate with noteworthy policy acumen.

Michaud’s business investment plan is laudable for its detail. By laying it out there, Michaud starts to give voters an idea of what they should expect of him as governor. He gives himself a long to-do list if he’s elected.

We appreciate Michaud’s focus on capitalizing on and growing Maine’s existing assets and small businesses — a more realistic growth strategy than one that focuses on attracting large employers to Maine and developing new assets in hopes of attracting employers from out of state.

Michaud’s plan builds on the plentiful economic development and educational assets Maine has developed over time, often in an unfocused manner. Among his workforce development efforts, Michaud describes a program to ease community college wait lists and increase degree completion by expanding student access to summer classes on campuses that go underused in the summer months.

We appreciate Michaud’s willingness to make investments in key areas where Maine lags behind — from high-speed Internet and physical infrastructure to pre-K to research and development funds that help small businesses commercialize products. We find his proposal for a free sophomore year at Maine’s universities intriguing as an effort to make college more affordable and cut attrition.

Of course, “Maine Made” is Michaud’s business investment plan before Maine residents have bought into it and before lawmakers have vetted — and likely changed — the initiatives.

If Michaud wants to see his plan implemented largely as he has proposed it, he has an enormous leadership challenge before him in convincing the state to agree with his priorities and to buy into his vision.

Among Michaud’s steepest challenges will be persuading Maine residents to buy into his energy vision. He is clearly trying to set himself apart from LePage as a renewable energy proponent in promoting development of solar, wind and other renewable resources. Large-scale wind development, however, is a major source of division.

If Michaud is to promote the development of renewable resources as a primary economic growth opportunity for the state, it’s also his responsibility to provide leadership that might lead to a satisfactory compromise on the siting of wind turbines.

Michaud will also encounter significant challenges in convincing a Legislature working under a tight state budget to make many of the investments he’s proposing. His plan does well explaining the return on investment from these initiatives — in the form of increased business activity, higher worker incomes, more state tax revenues and a reduced need for public assistance.

However, it’s never easy to convince lawmakers to make room in the state budget for ambitious investments — no matter how much they deserve funding. Michaud stands a better chance of success, however, if he proves himself the type of leader who can convince a wide swath of the state to buy into his vision.

Michaud has started to set his policy direction. It shows the significant leadership challenge before him.

 

http://bangordailynews.com/2014/02/19/opinion/michaud-sets-a-policy-direction-and-a-considerable-leadership-challenge/ printed on November 28, 2014