The Star-Herald

Fighting for good-paying jobs in Aroostook County

There is a lot of untapped potential in Aroostook County. Between our people, our agricultural heritage and vast natural resources, I know that our region of the state has a lot to offer if we were just given the right opportunity. It’s why I’m so proud to have sponsored legislation, which was recently signed into law, to attract companies to create good-paying jobs in Aroostook County. This starts with the construction of the Penobscot McCrum potato processing plant in Washburn.

When I first learned about this potential project earlier this year, I was immediately interested. Like most of my neighbors, I’ve spent most of my life in Aroostook County. I’ve lived there during the good times and bad, during triumphs and failures, and during a thriving economy and economic downturn. So when the town manager of Washburn reached out to me, I knew just what was at stake. Right away, I knew what this could mean for families, communities and even the entire region if it were done right.

As a result, I worked with the McCrums, the town of Washburn, the Department of Economic Development and many others to create a tax credit that in many ways exemplifies everything that I’m about. It targets Maine-based food processing and manufacturing companies that offer high-paying jobs, commit to creating new jobs, primarily use Maine agricultural products and make significant investments in Maine communities. The hope is that it will have a ripple effect on entire regions and industries. It sends a message that if you invest in Maine, we will invest in you.

I want to be clear: This tax credit is designed for companies committed to long-term investments in our people and our state. This bill — LD 1586, “An Act To Promote Major Food Processing and Manufacturing Facility Expansion and To Create Jobs in Maine” — is about promoting economic development in rural Maine by incentivizing companies to relocate to the rural parts of this state and provide good-paying jobs to hardworking people. And in talking to Mr. McCrum, it was clear he is committed to this mission.

To receive this tax credit, companies have to create good-paying jobs that grow over time. For example, in the first three years under the tax credit, a company must employ 40 full-time workers based in the state. After three years, the number of full-time employees increases to 60. This is great for hardworking families who want to remain in the area. It also sends a message to our young people that there will be professional opportunities for them when they graduate from school.

Not only will there be jobs, but these jobs offer competitive wages. The tax credit requires that a company pays at least 75 percent of their workforce above the income threshold established by the Department of Economic and Community Development. This is important to attract and retain working for young families in Maine. Not only will there be good-paying jobs available but these opportunities will continue to expand.

The tax credit also prioritizes products that are grown and harvested in Maine. For companies to receive this tax credit, 95 percent of the agricultural products processed in the facility must be sourced in Maine. This could have a profound impact on the potato industry as well as Maine’s emerging local foods industry.

Finally, companies must make a qualified investment of at least $35 million in the construction or expansion of a facility for that business within the first five years of the credit. With this type of significant investment, we can hope to see an increase in Maine construction jobs and other indirect jobs.

In rural Maine, the construction of a facility or big employer like this has the potential to revitalize an entire region. Lawmakers in Augusta talk a lot about economic development in rural Maine. But talk is one thing; action is another. By passing this new tax credit into law, we took real action to bring jobs and economic opportunity to the rural corners of this state. I’m hopeful the construction of the Penobscot McCrum potato processing plant in Washburn will mark the start of a much larger trend.

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