New Maine workforce committee to focus on training, small business support

Posted Jan. 23, 2013, at 2 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 23, 2013, at 3:40 p.m.
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AUGUSTA, Maine — Democratic legislative leaders said Wednesday a special committee they’re forming will emphasize workforce training, support for small-business owners and entrepreneurs, and the revitalization of the state’s downtown areas.

Legislative leaders discussed their plans for a new Special Committee on Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future at a news conference held to introduce the panel’s Republican and Democratic members.

“We must all work together and draw on the experience of our business community, our employees and our experts,” House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, said at the event, which featured lawmakers from both parties and a handful of business representatives.

Democrats said last month that they planned to assemble a special task force to develop plans for cultivating a skilled workforce and helping small businesses as one of their first moves after an election that returned them to majority power in the State House. The special committee is akin to a panel Republicans assembled after they won legislative majorities two years ago focused on streamlining government regulation.

House Democratic leader Seth Berry of Bowdoinham, who will serve as co-chairman of the panel, said the committee will develop legislation after holding meetings across the state to hear from the public and experts in education, economic development and other areas.

The committee’s first meeting will take place Monday in Augusta, Berry said, where members will hear from economists and business leaders. The panel also is planning a meeting in Bangor in early February.

Lawmakers on Thursday cited statistics projecting a shortage of skilled workers in key economic sectors in Maine, slow economic growth in the state and the importance of small businesses to the state’s economy.

“We can no longer wait to help people get back to work and help our businesses grow,” said Senate Democratic leader Seth Goodall of Richmond, the panel’s other co-chairman.

Businesses starting up in Maine need access to an infrastructure that helps them expand, including a source of skilled workers and access to capital, said Susan MacKay, CEO of Cerahelix, an Orono company that’s starting to market a liquid filtration technology it has developed.

“It’s somewhat easier to start a business in Maine, but it’s really that expansion step that can be challenging,” MacKay said. “All I’m looking for is the ability to keep focused on my task and not have to build up the infrastructure around me. It’s nice to have committees like this helping with that.”

CORRECTION:

An earlier version of this story said the legislative leaders spoke Thursday. They spoke on Wednesday.

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