Connors urges businesses to think globally

Kathy McCarty, Special to The County
9 years ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Dana Connors, president, Maine State Chamber, was the guest speaker at the annual Maine Chamber breakfast, held June 18 at the University of Maine at Presque Isle’s Campus Center and hosted by the Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce.
Joining Connors for the event were: Ben Gilman, senior government relations specialist with the MSC, who provided input on energy issues in the state; Linda Caprara, director of grassroots advocacy with the MSC, who spoke on tax issues affecting the state; and Joyce LaRoche, vice president of membership and marketing with the MSC, who shared information about a new intern program. More information can be found at
Connors, a native of Easton and former city manager for Presque Isle, said he enjoyed returning to Aroostook and sharing the latest news from Augusta.
“This is an opportunity to share perspectives of what’s happening in Augusta,” said Connors, noting “there are not one or two Maines but many.”
The breakfast in Presque Isle serves as an opportunity for Connors and his staff to gain input and feedback. It’s one of eight such meetings he’s scheduled throughout Maine for 2014.
“We are looking at the positive and negative. Things that help us in the economy but also things that stand in our way,” he said.
He discussed how politics affect policy and how shorter legislative sessions result in fewer bills being reviewed and passed.
“The first session is considered ‘the session of unfinished business.’ The second session has quite a few carryover bills; of the roughly 500 bills, about 200 are carryover,” noted Connors.
Connors said some important issues were discussed during the first session.
“Many considered it a quiet session, but when you look at the issues, it wasn’t. Topics included: model drug testing, mining, education and health care — all issues that stand in the way of growing our economy,” he said. “We have to think not just in terms of measure but method as well. Even if (a bill was) defeated, every one has an important message.”
He said it was important to “find the good and praise it.”
“It’s important to our economy,” he said.
Caprara spoke on the Business Equipment Tax Exemption Program (BETE) and how it “helps businesses compete and levels the playing field.” She said LD1463 passed, which amended the reporting requirements for BETE.
“Before, if (businesses) didn’t provide the right data, they lost the exemption. Language was put in to correct the issue. This helps businesses compete at the global level,” said Caprara.
Connors spoke on education and what is needed to prepare for jobs in the future.
“If we can create an economy where education matches the skills we need, it will move us forward,” said Connors.
“We’d mistakenly thought all of us needed a Ph.D. We’re finding in the economy of today, technology and the fields we’re playing on require certain skills. With this awareness comes real opportunity,” Connors said.
He said the real challenge facing the state, given the number of people reaching retirement age in the next few years, is how to grow the workforce and provide them with the education that will give them the skills they need.
“I think the college presidents would agree. We need to invest in education, starting at the early age of 4 or 5,” he said.
Gilman said he was disappointed with the way the mining talks went this spring.
“About $20 million would be generated in biomass and woods jobs. Unfortunately early on it got tied up — people couldn’t be for the economy and for mining,” said Gilman. “Everyone in this room has metals on. They’re part of our lives and come from all over the world. We had the opportunity here in Maine to show we can do it and do it right.”
Gilman said water quality was the “huge issue for mining,” but he said any future mining in Maine would require water to be “drinking quality.”
“Unfortunately the focus was put on past mining issues, which came back to haunt talks on the current mining issue,” said Gilman. “We can have a robust industry — $5 billion statewide. That was a lost opportunity at the end of the day.”
Gilman also discussed the Public Utilities Commission and the defeat of a bill that would have impacted businesses statewide and likely deterred investors.
Connors said the mining issue was one of “science and facts.”
“Fear is what you find at the moment. Shame on us if we lose sight of this,” said Connors.
LaRoche said internships were one way to slow out-migration.
“Using the platform, we work with colleges and universities statewide. We need to explore ways for businesses to offer internships. This will enhance our ability to retain and attract students to return. We’re trying to develop tools to help businesses step into that,” said LaRoche.
She said work is also being done with the Maine Business Leadership Network, focusing on people with disabilities.
“We’re showing employers how they can mentor youth with disabilities. That’s a population that’s underutilized in Maine,” said LaRoche. “We’re engaging youth with disabilities while enhancing the workforce in Maine.”
LaRoche also mentioned, a national website that allows others to post their good-news stories.
“If you have a story about positive things happening with your business, we have a national and global platfrom now that gives you an opportunity to tell those stories to the rest of the world,” LaRoche said.
Connors said the site, which launched in October 2013, “today is the second most visited site in the country.”
“A lot of people envy what we have,” said Connors.
Connors concluded the meeting by acknowledging the efforts of elected officials.
“I appreciate their time dealing with complex issues — no greater admiration than for the people willing to go to Augusta and deal with issues today. It’s not easy but you have to admire them,” said Connors.
He also recognized the many chamber offices serving communities throughout Maine.
“We have great chambers in the state that get involved. Not to sound cliche, but ‘together we can,’” said Connors.
He said being fair, frugal and humble might be good qualities in some situations, but “in today’s economy, those qualities don’t work.”
“Being fair means equal; you need to have a plan and visibility. Being humble and not telling the rest of the world will continue to affect us; you need to find the ability to praise” your own products and services, said Connors.