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February 22, 2016 Commentary

Students offer innovative ideas to stimulate Maine's economy

Students in Maine want the economy to improve, and they may be the ones with the key solutions to solve the elusive puzzle: creative ideas for tourism and lobsters, reduced taxes, more national parks, immigration, free community college and buying local.

In a macroeconomics class I taught last fall at Southern Maine Community College, I asked the 20 students to research and prepare end-of-term presentations on what would most improve Maine's economy. Student Kellie Coulter highlighted a study between 2009-11 that found almost 75% of graduates stayed in Maine. The study, by Paul Leparulo, also found that the difference in income between a two-year associate degree and a six-year doctorate degree was only about $20,000 a year, noted Coulter.

Two students entertained the class with excellent ideas on attracting tourists to Maine's islands and beefing up the promotion of hunting.

Another student, Rachel Guindon, showed support for a national park on about 150,000 acres of forest east of Baxter State Park, as advocated by Roxanne Quimby, co-founder of Burt's Bees and now outlined in the biography “Queen Bee” by Phyllis Austin.

According to the National Resources Council of Maine, two economic studies show that “areas across the country with national parks that are of a similar size and similar rural location have experienced higher personal income and job growth … than Penobscot and Piscataquis counties over the last 40 years.”

“I think that if community college were free for everyone it would stimulate our economy and over time bring a more educated youth into the job market of Maine,” said another student, Nellie Hetherington. “I know from experience that finding a job while you're in school part-time isn't the easiest, especially when you're trying to get a job that's a little more challenging than flipping burgers.”

Naomi Greenwood noted that New York state spurred economic growth by providing “10 years free of tax for new and growing businesses, including manufacturing, biotech and life sciences, tech and electronics, optics and imaging, clean tech and renewable energy, transportation equipment and food and beverage.” They also offered other incentives for smaller businesses, easier loans and grants.

Translating these ideas to Maine, Greenwood recommended five years tax-free for businesses in renewable energy, logging, seafood, tourism and technology — as well as incentives to stay long-term. All this will “move Maine forward without harming the natural beauty,” she said.

Seth Guiod compared Maine to Wyoming, finding that the 2016 State Business Tax Climate Index ranks Wyoming No. 1 for its low taxes, in particular corporate and individual taxes, while Maine is No. 34. “Should Maine's legislature adopt the governor's proposal, Maine would move to 23rd in our rankings, reflecting improvements in both rates and structure.” Guiod noted.

“I believe that taxes are a big reason why businesses don't come to Maine. And because businesses don't come to Maine, young people leave the state of Maine to have a broader choice of jobs,” Guiod added.

Another student, Madalyn Minot, proposed buying local. There was a time this was associated with “hippies, college towns and environmentalists,” she said. “At a very basic level, buying local food helps keep money into the local economy, benefiting people like you and me, as opposed to the mainstream food system where the money spent is flushed out of local economy.” “Spreading the message of 'buy local' also can create more jobs by bringing awareness to gaps in local markets, and helping promote business,” she continued. 

“Going local does not mean only shopping at small businesses, and shutting off yourself from large businesses,” she said. “[Now] it means supporting the businesses that use local resources wisely, employ local people at acceptable wages, and serve local consumers, putting less dependence on imports.”

Tove Rasmussen is an adjunct professor of business at Southern Maine Community College and president of Partners Creating Growth. She can be reached at

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