February 20, 2006 | last updated December 1, 2011 6:53 am

Company man | Matt Jacobson takes over as CEO of Maine & Co., with the task of luring new companies to Maine.

Some might wonder why Matt Jacobson would give up his job as a vice president of marketing for a $6 billion-a-year railroad company in Chicago to work at a three-person Maine nonprofit. Jacobson's reason is simple: "We moved to Maine because we wanted to live here," he says.

His devotion to the state could be an important asset in his new role as president and CEO of Maine & Co., a Portland-based nonprofit focused on attracting new businesses to the state. Jacobson, 45, has served previous stints in the Maine business world, running the Saint Lawrence and Atlantic railroad in Auburn for four and a half years before moving to Chicago in 2000 to work for Canadian National. But Jacobson hopes his recent move back from Chicago will give him a certain amount of credibility with the executives he'll be courting. "We made the same decision I'm hoping to [get] other folks to commit to," Jacobson says.

Jacobson started the job in mid-January, taking over for Joe Wischerath, who'd served as CEO since Maine & Co. was founded in November of 1995. Since coming onboard, much of his work has involved developing a more aggressive approach to how Maine & Co. works with businesses. The nonprofit, which was founded by Central Maine Power Co., the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, traditionally has connected businesses seeking to expand into Maine with its network of in-state business locators, serving as a sort of go-between.

While that approach has helped a number of companies establish operations in Maine — including T-Mobile USA's Oakland call center and Wal-Mart's Lewiston distribution center — Jacobson says this style is too passive. "We're going to try to be a little more active in our role and target specific companies, rather than wait for them to call us," says Jacobson.

By targeting specific companies, Jacobson hopes to avoid what he sees as a pitfall in other economic development strategies that target specific industries. While there are sectors, such as biotech, that are attractive, Jacobson said it would be a mistake to target only companies within what's perceived to be a hot industry, at the expense of other sectors. "If I'm wrong [about a certain sector bet] we waste time and miss everything else while we're looking at [one] industry," he says.

Jacobson would rather focus on finding individual companies that have an interest in moving or expanding into Maine, be it for logistical reasons or because of a connection to the state — for example, companies that have existing partnerships with businesses in Maine. To target those companies, though, Jacobson doesn't plan to use traditional marketing methods such as attending trade shows and running ads in print and on television. Instead, he plans to do most of the work through word-of-mouth, networking with companies in Maine so they can introduce him — and Maine & Co. — to their business partners out of state. "The beauty of Maine is that it's small enough that you can do that effectively," says Jacobson.

Although he acknowledges it likely will be harder to draw attention this way, in return he hopes the approach will narrow down the number of other state business-attraction efforts he would be competing with in national business publications or at trade shows. At the same time, he expects the approach to allow him to tailor his message to an individual company. "It's a harder sell than putting an ad in the paper," Jacobson says, "[But] we can also know more about the specific needs to a potential company, and that's better than trying to be all things to all people."

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