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January 7, 2010 | last updated December 1, 2011 3:48 am
Bangorbiz

Bangor chamber head's record on business

Photo/Courtesy Bangor Region Chamber
Photo/Courtesy Bangor Region Chamber
John Porter, the new head of the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce

John Porter, the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce's newly tapped president, has long been on the record with his views on economic development and business attraction in the state. As editorial page editor of the Portland Press Herald for a decade, Porter penned opinions on topics including Bangor's racino (opposed it), business tax breaks (he wrote they should go only to employers that provide good jobs) and the recent tax reform initiative (supported it, as did the chamber).

Porter's previous experience as a business reporter and editor shaped an overarching "certainty" he noted in more than one editorial: Business managers care most about finding qualified workers at the right wages when deciding where to locate.

Below are some highlights of editorial positions Porter authored on business and the economy over the years. The opinions were shaped not solely by Porter but by the full editorial board at the Portland Press Herald, which also included publisher Blethen Maine Newspapers. Porter says he never forced his fellow members to write editorials they firmly opposed. "Some days I won, some days I lost," he told Mainebiz.

  • Racinos: Porter and his board opposed legalizing gambling in Maine, including the 2003 campaign to bring a tribal casino to southern Maine and the effort to install slot machines at harness racing tracks. That referendum paved the way for Penn National Gaming to open Hollywood Slots in Bangor, which is a chamber member. Porter called allowing racinos "a huge mistake" and urged the law's repeal in a Jan. 2004 editorial entitled "Racino law infects public life here: Mainers now know first-hand how corrosive big-time gaming can be."
  • Business incentives: In a May 2002 editorial, Porter advocated that the state get rid of every business tax incentive, including the Business Equipment Tax Reimbursement program and tax increment financing deals, saying the two programs when combined "produce an obscene amount of corporate welfare." Admitting that "I've got every business lobbyist in Maine on the ceiling," he added that money from those programs should instead fund a voucher system for businesses that provide good jobs. "By tying those subsidies directly to job creation and retention, [the state] will get the most for its money," he wrote.
  • Tax reform: Porter and the board supported the plan, which cuts the top income tax rate from 8.5% to 6.5%, raises the meals and lodging tax and extends the sales tax. He wrote in an April 2009 editorial that "businesses really aren't all that discouraged by our income tax rate." The "slight psychological impact" that reforms would have on employers, in addition to adding to Mainers' take-home pay and shifting some of the tax burden out of state, fueled his support. The Bangor chamber also supported LD 1495 -- now up for a people's veto on the June ballot -- and members' response was overwhelmingly positive but not necessarily unanimous, John Diamond, chair of its executive committee, told Mainebiz last July.

On the racino issue, Porter says he was comfortable supporting the owners' unwavering stand against legalized gambling in Maine, but says he doesn't have a longstanding philosophical opposition to it. "I'm confident that this facility fits this community and can be a part of the community's economic development going forward," Porter says of Hollywood Slots.

He doesn't disavow that business incentive programs could be better tied to results, but says his new role calls for a level of pragmatism. "Editorial writers exist in a universe where the world should be perfect," he says. The tax reform issue is far from black and white, he adds, saying strong arguments exist on both sides.

Porter has other issues on his mind, as well, as he prepares to lead the 780-member organization effective Jan. 25. In the short term, Bangor's search for a new city manager, the American Folk Festival and plans for a new civic center and auditorium top his list, he says. In the long term, he's eyeing leveraging research and development work at the University of Maine and The Jackson Lab in Bar Harbor, better utilizing the area's transportation assets and advocating a pro-growth position. Porter says he's eager to "get out into the community and let folks know it's a new day for the chamber."

Porter, who's leaving his South Portland communications and government relations firm to take the post, fills a spot left open in June when the chamber's executive committee dismissed former president Candy Guerette for alleged poor performance. He will earn an $80,000 base salary plus future incentives, according to Jerry Whalen, chair of the chamber's search committee.

The panel didn't review Porter's editorials, but did discuss the cooperative process that produced them and the paper's position on gaming, he says.

The search committee appreciated Porter's business acumen and felt his non-chamber background provided new eyes and a fresh vision, according to Whalen. "We were highly impressed with his focus on the health of the business community and economic development," he says.

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