Unemployment looks no different in the 36 Maine communities the LePage administration has highlighted as “business friendly” than it does in the rest of the state.
The program put on hiatus this year was one of the LePage administration’s steps “toward partnering with business, to ensure they have the tools and environment they need to expand and create jobs in Maine,” Gov. Paul LePage wrote in a message about the program.
The governor made no specific promises about the business friendly program’s performance. It gives communities a listing at a state website, a “certified business friendly” sign and extra points in applying for community development block grants.
But unemployment estimates dipped to historic lows at the same time as the rest of the state. The same estimates show total employment in “business friendly” communities actually has dropped since 2010.
While the governor’s statement focused on job creation, the program run by the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development intended “to encourage business development and growth in communities throughout the state.”
Data measuring the full output of local economies are limited. State sales tax figures, which capture retail activity, provide the most local and recent measure of economic activity in cities and towns.
That data also show no significant difference in activity between certified business friendly communities and those outside the program. Since 2008, taxable sales in other communities have actually grown at a faster rate of 20.5 percent.
The department this year put the program on hiatus to consider changes.
“In lieu of accepting applications we are currently seeking feedback and input on what would make this program valuable to communities,” the department said in a posting on its website.
Only one city — South Portland — has had its certification rescinded since the program started. That doesn’t appear to have stifled the city’s economy. Unemployment dropped from just above 4 percent to an estimate of 2.6 percent in May.
Explore unemployment and taxable sales trends in Maine’s certified-business friendly communities using the map below.