I have observed with keen interest the debate about how Maine should grow jobs, grow small businesses or attract them from outside. I firmly believe that a sound economic development strategy for Maine involves both small business development and the attraction of large-scale employers with well-paying jobs to our state. While we must continue to grow businesses from within, we must also replace the industries and related jobs that we lose due to the dynamic worldwide economy.
Maine has well-established systems to support the development and growth of small businesses, with a strong record of success. Maine however, does not compete very well with other states and countries in the attraction of large business projects, particularly in the manufacturing sector. We simply do not have the comparable economic development tools, such as business incentives and capital programs, that our competitors offer. It’s not about what some call “chasing smokestacks,” it’s about staying competitive in the ever-changing economy and providing Mainers with the opportunity of additional well-paying, sustainable jobs that are being created.
Maine possesses tremendous economic assets at the former military installations in Limestone and Brunswick that were paid for by the American taxpayers. The replication of these assets today would cost tens of billions of dollars. Having better tools in our economic development toolbox to help repurpose and maximize these “already-built, open-the-door-ready” assets is a huge opportunity for Maine.
At Brunswick Landing, the former Naval Air Station Brunswick, we need to fill very large hangar spaces and land areas left by the Navy. We have been successful in attracting nearly 50 small businesses to the former base over the past three years. We certainly hope that some of the businesses that we have attracted thus far to Brunswick Landing, such as Molnlycke Health Care, Oxford Networks Data Center, Savilinx, Kestrel Aircraft and Tempus Jets will continue to grow. These companies have certainly added significant new economic vitality to the closed Navy base and the state of Maine, and we want to support their continued growth.
However, I would submit that Maine also needs to attract several large-scale “transformative” projects to the state because of the dramatic economic benefits that would ensue. The attraction of large enterprises to Maine also means the creation of more small business jobs in the state due to the “ripple” or multiplier effect. The highest multipliers are usually seen in the manufacturing sector, where you can realize up to five indirect jobs for every one direct job created by that business in its direct supply chain and indirect service sectors.
Maine’s small businesses will benefit greatly from major new business investment in our state. Companies such as Mid-State Machine in Winslow, Kennebec Technologies in Augusta, Millinocket Fabrication in Millinocket, Maine Tool and Machine in Brunswick and Mega Industries in Gorham already do business with larger companies in and out of Maine. These companies and others can gain significant additional business from large-scale projects, whether they are located in Bristol, Greenville or Fort Kent.
Over the years, we have watched world-class businesses with large-scale economic development projects go to places like Alabama, Florida, Texas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington, New York and Canada that we never really had a shot at, simply because we have been uncompetitive. We have the facilities, infrastructure and the talented people in Maine to support these projects, but not the economic tools and supportive business climate to attract them.
A balanced approach of continuing to support and grow our small business base and the attraction of new larger businesses to Maine is the key to our ability to grow our state’s economy and provide Maine people with good-paying jobs into the future. If Maine wants to be attractive to world-class industries, we need to embrace an environment that supports business growth, which includes competitive business incentive programs, greater capital opportunities, lower electric rates and more effective training programs.
Steve Levesque is the executive director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority and a former commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.