- August 1, 2007
- Posted by: matt
- Category: Archived Newsletters
LETTER FROM MAINE
My family recently returned from our annual summer vacation in Stockton Springs, Maine. Like so many Americans, we love Maine for its scenic beauty, outdoor activities, and great food (read: LOBSTER!). There’s a good reason why many Maine license plates refer to it as “Vacationland.”
While Maine is a wonderful vacation spot, it’s also an interesting microcosm of the vexing economic development challenges facing many American states and communities. With the exception of Portland (Maine’s primary metro area), most Maine communities face a depressing mix of slowing growth, outmigration, and limited new economic development opportunities. Business leaders regularly bemoan the government’s attitudes toward business growth, and the state tends to perform poorly in annual report cards on how state are responding to the new innovation economy. Obviously, this mix is not unique to Maine. Similar descriptions would fit rural and urban communities across the US.
A 2006 Brookings Institution report, Charting Maine’s Future, highlighted several important challenges facing the Maine economy. First, much of Maine’s workforce lacks the necessary skills and talents to thrive in the 21st century economy. Second, the state is generating momentum in many leading economic clusters. Yet, these innovation clusters remain small and cannot achieve sufficient scale to have a transformational effect on regional economies. Finally, Maine’s policy environment is not sufficiently supportive of innovation or business growth. More resources and a more business friendly perspective are needed. Somewhat similar findings can be gleaned from the 2007 Maine Innovation Index, produced by Maine’s Office of Innovation (www.maineinnovation.com).
While Maine suffers from somewhat common economic development challenges, the state’s leaders (both public and private) are attempting to develop some uncommon solutions to these issues. Maine operates a number of initiatives, such as the Pine Tree Development Zones, that seek to attract new firms and support existing businesses. But, the government is also experimenting with some new approaches. Opportunity Maine is probably the most exciting such effort. This newly enacted initiative is designed to help Maine’s young people obtain a college education and remain in Maine after they graduate. It provides a tax credit of up to $2,100 per year to offset the cost of higher education at the University of Maine system or at the state’s community colleges. This program should help contribute to improving workforce quality and stemming the brain drain of Maine’s young people.
In November, Maine voters will determine the fate of another effort designed to further jump-start local development. In April, the Maine Legislature approved a $295 million bond referendum, half of which is focused on transportation with the other half focused on a variety of economic development related activities. Within this latter portion of funds are the following line items:
- $50 million for the Maine Technology Fund to invest in research and commercialization activities in key industries such as biotechnology, marine technology and information technology.
- $48.5 million for enhancements to the University of Maine system and the state community college system.
- $2 million for various broadband access initiatives.
- $6.5 million to support existing revolving loan funds such as those operated by the Finance Authority of Maine.
If approved, these new resources could have a significant impact in supporting economic development activity across the state.
These activities and initiatives in Maine are not the last word in how to promote local economic development. We don’t yet know how they will operate in practice, and, in the case of the November bond issue, we still don’t know whether the new funding will be approved. However, we can point to Maine as a state that is thinking and thinking big. Long-standing and persistent economic development challenges cannot be addressed by small-scale tinkering with existing efforts. They require major investments, major commitments, and a recognition that business as usual no longer applies. The state of Maine is moving in this positive direction.
What’s New at EntreWorks Consulting? (And Beyond?)
Instead of shamelessly plugging ourselves, this edition of “what’s new” highlights some recent accomplishments of EntreWorks Consulting’s friends and customers.
- The Pacific Mountain Workforce Development Council (Olympia, WA) was recently awarded a $5 million Department of Labor WIRED (Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development) grant to support the creation and implementation of the Pacific Mountain Alliance for Innovation, a new initiative to promote economic and workforce development in the five-county South Puget Sound region.
- The Fort Smith (AR) Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center (www.iecfs.org) officially opened its doors on August 31, 2007. The center will serve as a major catalyst for innovation in the Ft. Smith region and throughout Arkansas.
- The Georgia Department of Economic Development recently designated its 52nd county as an “Entrepreneur Friendly Community.” These counties are recognized for their outstanding work in building a supportive climate for new and existing business owners. To learn more, visit http://www.georgia.org/Business/Entrepreneur+Friendly+Communities.htm
Erik R. Pages of EntreWorks Consulting will be making presentations at the following locations this Fall:
- September 6: Paducah (KY) Chamber of Commerce
- September 28: Governor’s Economic Summit, Albuquerque, NM
- October 18: SSTI Annual Conference, Baltimore, MD
- December 13: Economic Development Institute, Oklahoma City, OK