When you think of “business friendliness,” what comes to mind?
Perhaps how it was a key promise of Gov. Paul LePage’s 2010 campaign. Perhaps Forbes magazine’s dogged placement of Maine dead-last in its annual “business climate” rankings, based on a proprietary formula. Or perhaps it’s the sign that lets you know that not only is Maine the way life should be, but it’s also open for business.
Business friendliness is a slogan. That’s what makes it so difficult to pin down in hard numbers. But we’ve tried in the following story, in numbers.
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There’s no checklist to assess Gov. Paul LePage’s success at making the state “friendlier” to business. The term is general enough to mean basically nothing. To say that another way, it’s probably good politics.
But the LePage administration did come out with an early and clearly stated goal: to cut permitting times at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in half.
That hasn’t happened, nor is that still a goal. DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho said not reaching that benchmark isn’t a bad thing either. And data from the department supports that idea. The average time to get a site location permit peaked in 2007, a year when the economy and construction were booming.
In an interview, she suggested permitting times are more closely linked to the volume of permits coming into the department, which in turn reflects the level of economic activity going on across a broad range of businesses whose activities would involve construction or building such that the DEP is involved.
Looking at DEP permitting times, as a result, tells one part of the story. Of course, the more detailed look at employment in the state only brings us up to the end of 2013.
Since then, the estimated nonfarm payroll jobs in the state have shot up sharply by about 10,000. That’s about 20,000 higher than at the pit of the recession, a number the LePage campaign is tossing around.
And that gets to the main point and the main caveat in presenting these figures: Regardless of what’s happening in the state’s economy at that high of a level, it’s unreasonable to tie it all back to the Blaine House.