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Maine Governor Launches "Business Friendly Communities" Initiative
03/06/2012   Reported By: Tom Porter

Gov. Paul LePage today launched a program designed to try and attract more businesses to Maine. Speaking at a Blaine House press conference this morning, LePage, a Republican, described the Certified Business Friendly Community Program as a "step in the direction towards partnering with businesses" and making sure they have "the tools they need to expand and create jobs in Maine."

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Maine Governor Launches "Business Friendly Communi
Originally Aired: 3/6/2012 5:30 PM
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"Businesses face many obstacles and need the tools necessary to expand and be successful," LePage said. "They want to use their tools to get the job done. They do not need, nor should they be focusing on dealing with, local government, state government and federal government."

Under the program, which LePage says requires no state funding, communities can apply to get themselves effectively tagged as business-friendly if they meet certain standards. He say the idea sprang from the series of so-called "red tape audits" held across the state last year, where the governor and his team invited business owners to weigh in on the issue of what the biggest regulatory challenges are for them.

"What businesses look for is stability, reliability and consistency, and that's what we need to bring to the forefront," LePage said.

LePage decribes the Business Friendly Community Program as way to reduce the red tape that he says stifles job creation in Maine. Economic and Community Development Commissioner George Gervais says state officials will look at a number areas when assessing communities' applications for being certified under the program, including "customer service, collaboration between the community and businesses, licensing and permitting issues and their associated timelines."

For businesses, Gervais says time is money, and if the permitting process can be sped up, a community's chance of attracting business will be improved. Certified communities will get formal state recognition, an "Open For Business" road sign, and permission to use the "Open for Business" logo on all their letterheads.

In addition, Gervais says they'll get extra points in applying for community development block grants. "There'll be great value in being a member of Maine's business-friendly community," he says.

"I'm excited about it, I'm really excited about it because we have a new town manager in our town and he's excited about it," says Win Mitchell, who plans to set up a small craft brewery in Boothbay. He describes the mid-coast community as business-friendly, but says there's room for improvement.

"We need to get through the interpretations of our ordinances and understand clearly what our vision is of a town," Mitchell says. "And one of things that came up recently in talking with our new town manager is that our comprehensive plan is almost 24 years old, so that's something that he's working on, is that we need to update our plan and our town."

Not everyone is excited by the new program. Democratic state Sen. Troy Jackson of Allagah says he's more concerned than anything else. "You obviously want to do everything you can to help communities attract businesses and all that, but this just seems to pick more winners and losers between communities, and I don't understand how that's helpful," Jackson says.

Jackson, who sits on the joint Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee, is known as a strong labor advocate. He's worried that "business friendliness" may end up being a byword for an attack on workers' rights. He's also concerned about communities being pitted against each other.

"The communities that I represent usually work together, so I'm hopeful that it doesn't do that," he says. "But it certainly seems to be what the intent is here, to pick winners and losers, and I don't know that that's a good thing."

Maine Municipal Association spokesman Eric Conrad says it's hard to imagine a community in Maine that would not want to be known as business friendly.

"There are 492 municipalities in the state and they're all deeply interested in attracing business," he says. "Creating local jobs and strengthening the economic development is often the number one priority when people run for selectmen's board or city council."

However, he says not all businesses are welcome in all towns. "The other point we would make is that Maine is a home rule state, and one town may not want a series of big box retailers in town and another town or city may, and we think a lot of those decisions are left best at the local level," Conrad says.

State officials, meanwhile, say the new program is not intended to spark competition between Maine communities, merely to encourage those that want to do more to develop their economies.

Business-Friendly Communities will be certified on a quarterly basis. The first applications are due on April 6, and those that are chosen will be announced in May.
 




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