The newspaper really ought to re-examine its story and subsequent editorial published Monday and Tuesday on the Legislature’s extension of the state’s Pine Tree Development Zone program (“Our View: State needs accountable job incentive program,” July 10). Both the editorial and news piece paint what we believe is a misleading picture of the effectiveness of the Pine Tree Zone program.

The pieces in question labeled the program as “controversial,” questioned the program’s effectiveness in terms of cost to the state, and claimed it has helped to create hundreds of “tax havens.” Using the term “tax havens” to describe the Pine Tree Zone program is simply not true; the term “tax havens” has nothing to do with the program.

Equally disconcerting was the use of outdated data to back up both the reporter’s conclusions and the paper’s position on the program. Specifically, a 2014 report undertaken by Investment Consulting Associates (ICA) was used, as opposed to an up-to-date comprehensive report completed by the same group that was done in 2016. The 2016 report paints a much different picture of the program.

According to ICA’s 2016 report, “the PTDZ program has been shown to effectively improve the competitive economic development environment of the State of Maine with a positive return on investment. The costs involved in the PTDZ program are outweighed by the direct returns on additional investment it has attracted.”

More than 200 businesses are enrolled in the Pine Tree Zone program across the state. The report concluded that for every $1 dollar invested the state gets back $2.32; in other words, a 122 percent return. That’s pretty impressive to say the least.

Furthermore, the report goes on to state that the benefits and tax revenues for the state with the Pine Tree Zone program is $3.3 billion, compared to $1.4 billion without. But there was no mention of these results in the news piece or editorial — results that helped in the Legislature’s decision to extend the program.

With respect to employment and new jobs, according to the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), Maine companies certified under the program employ 29,000 employees. Of that figure, more than 9,500 were attributed to jobs that were added after the companies became certified in the Pine Tree Zone program.

Also according to DECD, in 2016, program-certified companies made capital investments of more than $457 million. None of that sounds like employers seeking “havens” for their money — yet none of that information was shared with your readers.

The paper rightly pointed out that the OPEGA report found that the legislative changes to the PTDZ program over the years made it available well beyond the high unemployment areas it originally was meant to serve. But in reality, that was the Legislature’s intent. The Pine Tree Zone program was initially directed at economically distressed areas of the state. However, in 2009, during the recession, the Legislature voted overwhelmingly to make the program available to companies across the state with the exception of Cumberland County and parts of York County.

The size of the support the proposal received confirmed its importance economically. And rightfully so. Legislators wanted investment opportunities in their districts at a time where this state was begging for any jobs. Legislators did what they felt was best for the state and their own districts, and I applaud them for that.

I would also like to thank all the legislators for their support this year of L.D. 1654, which extended the Pine Tree Zone program by three years. The program has made a significant contribution to a net increase in jobs and the level of investment we have seen here in Maine. It’s the kind of investment that retains Maine jobs and businesses here and keeps businesses growing in the state as opposed to forcing them to relocate to more business-friendly states. At the same time, the bill instates greater accountability and transparency with which future lawmakers may judge its effectiveness.

Many people believe that Maine has significant investment dollars and programs available to attract jobs and opportunities to Maine. The real fact is Maine has few incentives on the books to attract investment. The Pine Tree Development Zone program one of those incentives. We believe keeping Maine businesses competitive should be a No. 1 priority. We feel the program is one incentive that has worked, and the state needs to ensure its future going forward.

Linda Caprara is senior government relations specialist for the Maine State Chamber of Commerce.

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