Maine’s fumbled brand moment + expanding “business friendliness”


 Frustrated with LePage’s latest stunt—this one targeted at my friends an neighbors in the trans community—I lashed out by saying that Maine’s regressive bent is enough to drive my investment in the state elsewhere. I was frustrated—I AM frustrated—and what I said, I think, reveals and articulates my anger but clouds what I was ultimately trying to convey.

Most specifically my frustration is this: This administration—and the lawmakers who, despite occasionally quarreling with it, ultimately support its fundamental positions—pretends to represent the interests of economic development and business growth, though refuses to look at the avenues for doing so in ways more dynamic than fixating on “red tape” and purportedly onerous regulation. These are of interest to businesses, sure, but such a narrow view does little in a self-inflicted vacuum.

Young people stay in states that feel welcoming, that offer opportunities, and that appear to confidently be heading into the future. Professionals are attracted to a state that does the same. Whenever Maine lawmakers—one in particular, but others broadly—advocate on behalf of dragging our heels into the 21st Century, it counteracts any positive progress the “Maine brand” has made in the past several years. People want to come to Maine because it’s beautiful, mythical, rugged, interesting, hardworking. But putting a bully in front of the state, acting belligerently, or looking to re-create a nostalgic yesteryear that never existed deflates all that.

We are lucky to have some legacy industries in Maine. Some very exciting advancements in alternative energy appear to be on our horizon. Healthcare and education employ many here, but these are not growth industries. In order to create economic growth we need to be attractive to forward thinking people and industry. This requires looking at business friendliness in a broader way than we do right now. It’s not exclusively a matter of cutting red-tape—sometimes that isn’t it at all. Often, exclusively fixating on this is a form of distraction from the fact that those evangelizing on behalf of doing so have little to no perspective on how economic growth actually works. It’s about creating conditions, both economically and culturally, that are attractive enough for retaining young people and attracting industrious people and organizations.

What I meant to say, in the most immediate sense, is that I am a business owner and I am trying to grow that business. When I do business with people outside of the state, which brings money into ours, I don’t appreciate having to untangle my organizational brand from the confusion created by our lawmakers. And I don’t appreciate these lawmakers purporting to speak on behalf of economic advocacy when they insist upon looking at development in such a myopic fashion.

I meant to say that—and I am still getting used to this—I am a business owner and I am growing my company in Maine and I intend to use any increasing cache I have as a result to advocate on the behalf of looking at a whole approach to business development. One that focuses our culture and civic duties as closely as it does at examining regulations and related incentives. I will use this role to advocate for a more abstract and inclusive approach to growth, no longer because it is where I am coming from politically or philosophically, but because I believe this is best for our overall development as a state. I don’t believe that those who advocate for any less than this know as much as they pretend to know about economics and economic development.

We need to use our privilege, in any way it is afforded to us, to advocate for inclusivity, cultural enrichment, education, early childhood development, welcoming our friends from outside of the country (especially as our workforce is literally dying off), and making this place safe to live for everybody regardless of identity. Not only is it the human thing to do—if we refuse to do so, we’ll be left behind those who embrace these most fundamental tenets of modernity.

IMAGE CREDIT: Troy Bennett

Alex Steed

About Alex Steed

Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was an insufferable teenager. He has run for the Statehouse and produced a successful web series. He now runs a content firm called Knack Factory with two guys who are a lot more talented than himself.