PORTLAND, Maine — More aggressive promotion of Maine tourism and lobster on an international scale can open the doors to more diverse economic activity, a top European diplomat suggested Tuesday.

Rudolph Simon Bekink, ambassador to the U.S. for the Kingdom of the Netherlands, told an audience at the Portland office of the law firm Preti Flaherty on Tuesday afternoon that Maine can still do more to capitalize on its trademark seafood and vacation offerings on the international market.

And doing so can introduce influential people to all that Maine has to offer, he suggested. After all, that’s what brought him here. Bekink began vacationing in Maine in the 1980s, and now has a second home in Scarborough, where he plans to retire next year.

“It’s so beautiful here,” he said.

“The Dutch are probably the logistics kings of the world in terms of the import and export business,” said Janine Cary, director of the Maine International Trade Center. “Even if it starts on the tourism side or the logistics side, it can expand out into more economic activity.”

Cary said the Westbrook-based IDEXX Laboratories, one of Maine’s largest employers, is one example of that. Founder David Shaw loved Maine and wanted to live here when he established his business, she said.

While Maine seeks to attract business leaders with its natural beauty, Bekink said federal, state and city officials should build up the infrastructure necessary to support their companies should those people begin thinking of relocating here permanently.

Much progress is being made through the return of container shipping out of Portland’s International Marine Terminal, where the Icelandic firm Eimskip has been operating for more than a year now.

But Cary, whose organization partnered with Preti Flaherty to hold the after-lunch talk, said more infrastructure changes must be made to push that import-export capacity to the next level.

She said restoration of a rail line connecting the port of Portland with the Intermodal Freight Transfer Facility in Auburn, which serves as a hub to other parts of the country and potentially Canada, is one such investment that’s necessary. Another would be the buildup of warehousing, cold and dry storage facilities near Portland’s shipping terminal, which would allow companies to keep products in bulk volumes closer to cargo ships and move them more quickly to market, Cary said.

The Maine International Trade Center director said she hopes Bekink can help facilitate a visit by Dutch trade experts to help evaluate how the state can best improve its connections with international customers.

“We can learn a lot from the Dutch in terms of investing in infrastructure,” Cary said. “[Bekink] sees a lot of potential for development here. Other ports in Massachusetts and even New York and New Jersey, as commerce begins to rebound, are going to have harder and harder times accommodating that trade because of congestion in the cities.”

She said Maine mimicked the Dutch approach to international trade during the state’s glory days of manufacturing, selling ship materials to the British and then textiles to the Chinese.

“[The Netherlands and Iceland] have relatively tiny populations and tiny areas,” Cary said. “Why are they so successful? Because they’re outward-looking. In the U.S., we’ve been more inward-looking because we’ve got more people here.

“When Maine was in its heyday, it was because it was outward-looking, shipping ships’ masts to the U.K.,” she continued. “We didn’t make money selling to ourselves, we made it selling overseas and bringing that money back here.”

Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.