Governor hosts workshops on job creation

12 years ago
Staff photo/Kathy McCarty
Gov. Paul LePage was pleased with the job workshop held at NMCC July 20 in Presque Isle. He met with local business and community leaders to discuss ways to create jobs in the areas of agriculture, forestry and recreation in northern Maine. Here, LePage smiles in response to a comment made by John Butera, his senior economic policy advisor.

By Kathy McCarty
Staff Writer

PRESQUE ISLE — Gov. Paul LePage and other state officials were on hand Friday, hosting workshops with local business and community leaders to discuss ways to create more jobs in the fields of agriculture, forestry and outdoor recreation.

John Butera, LePage’s senior economic policy advisor, said this was just one of several workshops being held across the state. Sessions have also taken place in Brunswick and Springvale.

“We find them to be extremely helpful in developing policy and initiatives,” said Butera, going on to explain how the three workshops would be handled.

“The blue group will meet with the governor and will discuss marketing the Maine brand; the red will meet with DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho to discuss environmental and agricultural issues; and the white will meet with Labor Commissioner Robert Winglass to talk about workforce issues,” explained Butera.

Each participant received a packet, which included a business survey. Butera said returned surveys would be collected until the fall and results compiled.

“We’ll use those results as a tool to develop policy. It’s a way for us to stay local in the process. The real battle begins in January. Today’s session is about you. We’re here to hear your challenges and issues,” said Butera. “We want to hear the things you are trying to do to be successful. If you are successful, in the end the state will be.”

Butera then turned the meeting over to the governor.

“We’re here to find out what we can do in Augusta to make it easier for you. Years ago, Maine had a solid brand. It’s slipped and we want to get it back. We want to get back to when you hear someone say ‘Maine,’ you think of the best potato or lobster you’ve ever had,” said LePage.

“I despise ‘average.’ We have the survey to try to find a common ground. We want to focus on health care costs, managing energy costs and having access to trained workers,” said LePage, “Everyone has an agenda and no one is willing to settle on common ground. It’s about the kids.”

LePage went on to discuss a recent educational survey that noted Maine’s educational system had not lost or gained any ground. He said that wasn’t good enough and that more needed to be done to improve Maine’s educational system.

“We match dollar for dollar for teachers. They don’t care. Maine spends $13,000 per year per student, while the average elsewhere is $10,000. I went by a beautiful school (Presque Isle Middle School) on the way here. There’s a lot of money in that, but I’ll leave it at that,” said LePage.

He stressed the need for a skilled workforce.

“We do not compete in New England, we compete against the world,” said LePage. “I really believe we have a great future if we’re willing to work at it.”

The meeting then shifted to the workshops, with each group gathering to discuss their respective topics. Sessions were closed to the media, according to the governor, to provide participants an opportunity to speak freely with state officials about proprietary matters. About three hours later everyone gathered back in the Edmunds Conference Center for final comments from Butera and LePage.

“We really enjoy getting out, hearing from businesses. We often hear common themes and always hear new ideas, suggestions. This is only the beginning. We hope you continue to have a dialogue with us. The only way to fix things is to know what’s broken. We’ll continue to fight the good fight and will present survey results to elected officials in January,” said Butera.

LePage said he heard a lot of good things and common themes on issues that affect the entire state.

“Some things will take legislation, some just a phone call from me,” he said.

The governor said there were two things, energy and education, that legislators failed at this time around but he hoped that would change.

“The people elected didn’t hear the message we had to send. Any time we get a bill, people do anything to distract legislators, coming to Augusta to protest. You need to keep legislators’ feet to the fire; you don’t need to be present, you can do that with a phone call. You just need to keep in contact,” said LePage.

“Our job is to persuade. We’re not powerful alone, we’re powerful as a state,” he continued.

LePage noted he’d heard recently that it wasn’t government that builds business, it’s taxes that build business.

“Job creators are the ones that move this country and society, not government. It’s been said we extort money instead of resorting to violence. We allocate money to best serve communities and will continue to do that,” said LePage.

In his weekly address, issued after the meeting, LePage stated: “The same report indicates that Maine is next to last in student achievement compared to 40 other states. This further reiterates my administration is standing up against the status quo of union bosses, superintendents and the Principals’ Association. The status quo is not putting our students or our teachers first and only a commitment to change will improve results. It is critical Maine offers more opportunities in the form of school choice and teacher development and training.”

LePage’s address noted that “for far too long, there has been a significant push for students to attend a four-year college. While post-secondary education does lead to higher wages, we are missing the mark when it comes to promoting the jobs of the 21st century.”

He cited the 51,000 manufacturing jobs in Maine that paid $2.5 billion in wages last year and the need for skilled workers to do those jobs.

“These aren’t mill jobs of the past. Instead these are positions being driven by new technology. These companies are seeking people with science, technology, engineering and mathematics, better known as STEM, skills. They want innovators and critical thinkers to provide solutions for their companies. The average pay is around $50,000 annually, said LePage.

Industry’s image can be revitalized, according to LePage, through educating the public and students about what these jobs are all about.

“There’s an array of opportunity out there, from designing of drumsticks and I-pod cases to pellet production and the making of medical devices. Manufacturing isn’t dead, it just needs a makeover,” said LePage.

“We can talk about jobs until we’re blue in the face, but what we need from our elected leaders is reform that will set us in a new direction. Lowering health care and energy costs are necessary and we must demand more out of our education system. These are priorities that will lead to a prosperous Maine and my administration has the plan to make good on these promises,” said LePage.