Every year, Maine fishermen catch tons of baby eels, which they ship to China to be grown to adult size and sold in Japan for 10 times the price.
At the same time, small businesses can’t expand and new ideas never get to market because local entrepreneurs can’t get access to financing.
Containers loaded with goods from Europe on the Icelandic steamship line Eimskip are leaving empty because Maine does not have the right kinds of seafood processing facilities to deliver products to a huge, untapped market.
All of these are missed opportunities to build Maine’s economy and provide good jobs to Maine people, who are still struggling to recover from the financial collapse of 2008. But the scenarios also illustrate the potential the state has to develop by building on what’s already here.
A package of bonds now before the Legislature should do just that. If all are approved, the state would raise $73 million to pump into infrastructure, venture capital and research and development to help new businesses start and grow.
The funds would be used to replenish successful programs like the Finance Authority of Maine’s Regional Economic Development Revolving Loan Fund, and build on existing public/private partnerships with Jackson Laboratories and Mount Desert Island Biological Lab. The package includes $15 million to create marine industry jobs with a competitive grant process that would bring business and non-profit entities together to develop new products and processes to reach new markets.
These ideas are all the products of the special Committee on Workforce Development, which spent much of the last year talking to business people and assessing what they see as barriers to growth. The resulting package has bipartisan support on the committee and should have enough support from the Legislature and governor to be sent to the voters in November.
Bonding has become unnecessarily controversial over the last three years, and Maine has missed out on the opportunity to invest during a period of historically low interest rates. It’s important for the state to recognized that thoughtful investment with a solid return is different than wasteful spending.
Maine lags behind its competitors in New England in research and development as well as job growth. Neither trend should be continued.
Lawmakers should send a strong bond package to the governor and he should send it to the voters.