By Kathy McCarty
PRESQUE ISLE — Better, more efficient access to meetings at all levels through use of newer technology and continued support for new forms of energy were top concerns raised at a meeting of state and local leaders at NMCC in mid-January.
Members of Gov. Paul LePage’s Red Tape Audit Committee are concluding an information-gathering tour of the state — that included a stop in Presque Isle on Jan. 11 — designed to hear the concerns of local municipal and business leaders. Information gathered will help the state work more efficiently at all levels, including public and private entities. Chambers of commerce across the state were urged to have members attend and participate in the meetings, with the purpose of finding solutions to problems that have prevented Maine businesses from growing and new businesses from locating to the state.
“The LePage administration is now entering Phase II of the Red Tape Audit Removal meetings and is in the process of drafting legislation based on the recommendations from businesses to date,” said Linda Caprara, director of grassroots advocacy, Maine State Chamber of Commerce. Caprara is in charge of tracking events and keeping LePage informed about the workshops.
Caprara said it’s important “that the process continue to evolve.”
“The LePage administration has emphasized to us how valuable the input from local chambers and their members has been in creating this regulatory package,” said Caprara.
Hayes Gahagan, of Loring Companies, stressed the importance of continued support for the state’s energy infrastructure.
“As developers of energy infrastructure projects at the former Loring Air Force Base, we have experienced some development obstacles that an enlightened business-minded state government can help to overcome. Two of the more important time/money obstacles for any business are regulatory uncertainty and legislative uncertainty,” said Gahagan, suggesting a possible solution would be to introduce a Maine Ombudsman’s Office.
“The ombudsman would provide a single point of contact for all state of Maine legislative and regulatory licenses, permits, rules, regulations, guidelines, etc., whereby a business would be assigned an individual to help developers, engineers, financiers and others navigate through state legislative and regulatory waters from development concept to commercialization,” continued Gahagan, noting, “The ombudsman could also serve as a central point of contact for state financing programs, such as may be available through the Finance Authority of Maine, DECD and other agencies.”
Virginia Joles, president of Leaders Encouraging Aroostook Development (LEAD), encouraged the increased use of modern technology to improve efficiency and reduce costs.
“Speaking for LEAD, my whole issue is to connect northern Maine to Augusta. We need opportunities to testify before various committees and participate in what’s going on. But to do so means a four-hour drive down to Augusta. If a meeting’s postponed, that adds to the expense of staying down to do business, due to lodging, meals. Some business owners have to pay someone to go down, but small owners can’t hire a lobbyist,” said Joles.
Joles said she suggested to the committee one way to reduce costs would be use of the Internet.
“I suggested using ITV or Skype or some other system for video conferences. I was supported by others present who agreed this was a great way to communicate,” said Joles. “We need to pave roads with electronics instead of potholes.”
Use of “modern technology,” according to Joles, would “reduce time, cost and energy.”
Joles said she used as an example Aroostook County’s delegation and LEAD regularly meeting through phone conferences.
“This is our third year. The delegation meets with LEAD members, via phone, at various locations around The County — Presque Isle, Houlton, Caribou and Madawaska. We’re looking to do it again soon. LEAD members are invited to any satellite site to speak on areas of concern or provide input. Topics have included things like budgets, school consolidation and the paid sick leave bill,” she said.
“That’s the type of connection we hope continues. It gives local leaders an opportunity to keep in touch with legislators and hear what they’re doing and where bills are. It’s been very effective,” continued Joles.
Joles said another suggestion she discussed that received positive response was hosting a specific day in Aroostook to bring leaders here, rather than people traveling from here to Augusta.
“We want to work with LePage to host Capitol for a Day in The County. We want to do capitol business not just with the governor but his commissioners. We haven’t set a date yet and are open to hear from anyone with concerns,” Joles said.
Joles said she’s also working with LEAD members and state officials to host another Aroostook County Day in Augusta.
“That will be planned in the future,” said Joles.
The Red Tape Audit Committee is wrapping up its meetings around the state this week and will take a number of comments and suggestions back to Augusta.
“The governor has heard from a wide variety of business owners, including those who run car dealerships, day care centers, bed-and-breakfasts, antique shops, computer-based companies, landlords and more. The consensus is, ‘The unfriendliness of the state vs. the private sector is resounding throughout the state,’” said Adrienne Bennett, the governor’s press secretary.
Bennett said the top three concerns were excessive regulation, high energy costs and adversarial bureaucracy.
Areas of concern varied throughout the state.
“Topics have varied depending on the types of business owners who have attended the meetings. However, the message is very consistent and it’s that whether you’re an entrepreneur or longtime business owner, Maine isn’t a place where it’s easy to create jobs,” Bennett said.
Bennett said after each Red Tape Audit meeting, information from that session is provided to the governor.
“Gov. LePage has recently submitted to the Legislature’s Joint Select Committee on Regulatory Fairness and Reform a collection of proposals, many of which have been derived from these Red Tape workshops. Gov. LePage is listening to the people of Maine and turning their ideas into legislation that will help move Maine forward and improve the business climate,” said Bennett.
The last two meetings were scheduled this week — one on Monday, Jan. 31, in Rangeley and the final meeting will take place on Friday, Feb. 4, in Jay.
“In all, there’ll be 25. By the time we’re done, over 1,000 job creators will have shared their thoughts and concerns about moving Maine forward,” said Bennett.
By Kathy McCarty