July 27, 2018

Coalition outlines top priorities of Maine businesses for the next governor

Photo / Peter Van Allen
Photo / Peter Van Allen
Yellow Light Breen, president of the Maine Development Foundation, discusses the findings in “Making Maine Work: Critical Investments for the Maine Economy,” a report unveiled at a press conference Thursday at Tyler Technologies in Yarmouth. Joining Breen in discussing the report were Ed Cervone, executive director of Educate Maine, at left, and Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, at right.

Top priorities for businesses

The Top 12 issues for Maine's next governor, as identified in a survey of Maine businesses, are:

  1. Cost of health insurance, cited by 49.2% of survey respondents

  2. Availability of professional workers, 31.2%

  3. High-speed internet service, 30.4%

  4. Availability of skilled technical workers, 28.7%

  5. Availability of entry-level workers, 21.7%

  6. Energy costs, 20.3%

  7. Maine's transportation system, 20.1%

  8. Maine-based R&D, 16.6%

  9. Personal income tax, 13.7%

  10. State regulations, 12.8%

  11. Property taxes, 11.3%

  12. Recreational resources, natural features, 9.4%

Source: "Making Maine Work"

Maine will need to invest $100 million to upgrade the state's broadband in coming years, according to a report that's based on a survey of 1,000 business leaders.

That's one of the findings in "Making Maine Work: Critical Investments for the Maine Economy," a report that offers Maine's next governor a roadmap of priorities in tackling the economy, and says high-speed internet is critical to attracting businesses and workers and in making the state more competitive.

"Broadband is the interstate highway system of the 21st century. We need more state investment to stimulate public-private investment," said Yellow Light Breen, president of the Maine Development Foundation.

Breen presented the findings at a press conference along with Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, and Ed Cervone, executive director of Educate Maine. The three groups collaborated on the report. The press conference was held Thursday in Yarmouth at Tyler Technologies (NYSE: TYL), which has 750 Maine employees and plans to add more than 55 people this year.

Funding for the report was provided by Bangor Savings Bank, Central Maine Power Co. and Hannaford Supermarkets.

"Making Maine Work" makes 16 recommendations around pressing economic issues. It lays out an economic agenda for Maine's next governor. Shawn Moody, a Republican and founder of Moody's Collision Centers, will face Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat, as well as several independent candidates, on Nov. 6.

"It's a call to action," Connors said at the press conference.

They urged the next governor to come up with a comprehensive economic strategy.

The survey was last done prior to the 2010 governor's race. Then, as now, the cost of health insurance topped the list. But the shortage of professional workers and the need for high-speed internet have subsequently grown in priority, the leaders said. Issues like energy costs and state regulations were concerns among businesses surveyed, but were not top priorities.

The group's recommendation to invest $100 million in broadband is based on a five-year expansion plan, which would upgrade infrastructure while also providing digital education. To this point, Maine's broadband infrastructure has been built with $80 million in investment from the federal Connect America Fund, as well as substantial public and private investment, Breen said.

Key recommendations

Recommendations from "Making Maine Work" are focused on workforce development, broadband infrastructure and controlling health care costs. They include:

  • Marketing Maine as a career destination, much the way it does as a vacation destination
  • Providing college tuition incentives and debt-forgiveness
  • Engage people who have been out of the workforce
  • Attract Maine's "fair share" of immigrants to bolster the workforce
  • Develop a more skilled workforce, aiming to have 60% of workers having a degree or professional certification by 2025
  • Increase digital literacy and digital "equity"
  • Reduce "cost-shifting to private health insurance carriers."

The recommendations take into account Maine's changing demographics — its aging workforce and a shortage of young workers. Maine is one of only two states, along with West Virginia, where there were more deaths than births in 2016-17, according to the report. Unless things change, seniors will make up one out of every three workers by 2032.

Yet the study also points out Maine's considerable selling points.

"Survey respondents clearly defined Maine's biggest assets as our quality of life, quality of workforce and quality of place," said Connors. "Based on their input and priorities, our report recommends that Maine's next governor and the incoming Legislature prioritize policies and investments to leverage those assets that increase the size and skills of Maine's workforce; control health care and health insurance costs; and, expand affordable high-speed broadband access for communities and businesses."


Making Maine Work report


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