Tim Cox | BDN
By Lori Valigra, BDN Employees •
December 17, 2018 1:00 am
Editor’s observe: In the course of the ultimate days of his tenure as governor, the BDN will discover the impression Paul LePage had on Maine throughout his eight years in workplace.
When Republican Gov. Paul LePage added an “Open for Business” signal to greet motorists getting into Maine throughout his second month in workplace, his political opponents dismissed it as a stunt.
However virtually eight years later, Maine enterprise leaders usually agree it was greater than a symbolic gesture and that LePage delivered on his marketing campaign promise to improve the state’s enterprise local weather. Whereas he struggled to hold Maine’s legacy paper business viable or to seal some high-profile offers to lure international corporations similar to Airbus to Maine, he labored aggressively outdoors the general public highlight to make state authorities extra responsive to enterprise wants.
Peter DelGreco noticed him as a governor who took constructive actions that few outdoors Maine’s enterprise group usually see.
“Early in Gov. LePage’s first term we identified companies that were growing,” stated DelGreco, president and CEO of Maine & Co., a privately held firm that helps appeal to companies to the state. “He took the time to write personal letters to them. It was impactful.”
DelGreco pointed to Collaborative Consulting, a Massachusetts info know-how firm that apparently needed to broaden past that state. Collaborative Consulting, which was purchased by CGI Group in 2016, leased area within the Hains Constructing, a centerpiece of the downtown Waterville redevelopment venture. The corporate plans to rent 200 individuals.
“The governor sent a note to the CEO, and it opened the door to the company’s move into Maine,” DelGreco stated. “The chief executive of the state plays a role. If he takes a phone call with the CEO of a company saying your investment is welcome here, it means a lot.”
DelGreco additionally pointed to Wayfair, a Massachusetts residence items firm that now has workplaces in Bangor and at Brunswick Touchdown, with plans to rent shut to 1,000 individuals.
[Online retailer Wayfair to add 950 jobs in Bangor, Brunswick]
Steve Levesque, government director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, which oversees Brunswick Touchdown, additionally credit the governor with serving to the location of the previous Brunswick Naval Air Station construct from nothing to 120 companies with greater than 1,600 jobs. Brunswick Touchdown has acquired greater than $350 million in public and private-sector investments in the course of the previous 4 years.
“We’ve had huge success with the redevelopment effort,” Levesque stated. “Part of the reason is support from Gov. LePage and the people he put in place [in various government agencies].”
Levesque additionally credited a change made underneath the LePage administration to the aviation use tax with boosting enterprise. Earlier than the tax code was modified in 2011, plane that got here to Maine for greater than 20 days per yr had to pay a 5 % use tax on the airport.
“That prevented a lot of people with a business here or a second home from bringing a plane into Maine,” Levesque stated. “Now they are exempt from the use tax. That has had a big impact on the aviation industry in Maine. It created hundreds of new jobs.”
Levesque, who served because the commissioner of the Maine Division of Financial and Group Improvement underneath then-Gov. Angus King (1995-2003), agreed with DelGreco that it makes an enormous distinction with the enterprise group when a governor comes to go to them. He observed the facility of such involvement by former Gov. John Baldacci (2003-2011) as nicely.
Businesspeople stated it’s troublesome to attribute a selected constructive or destructive enterprise consequence to one individual, even when that individual is a governor. However they typically agreed that LePage’s tight fiscal maintain on state authorities, particularly as Maine was rising from a deep recession extra sl o wly than many different elements of the nation, instilled confidence inside the state’s enterprise group.
Carl Flora, president and CEO of the Loring Improvement Authority in Limestone, stated that whereas different occasions stole the eye, LePage, “was very concerned with trying to do things that could facilitate economic growth.” The previous Air Drive base now has 28 corporations situated there.
“The headline for his legacy will be he held the line on spending. He was frugal and fiscally responsible,” Flora stated. “I heard him say a number of times that ‘capital goes where it’s welcome.’”
LePage constructed a key a part of his legacy by pushing by means of tax cuts and repaying the state’s multimillion-dollar debt to Maine hospitals. He additionally is understood for discord with the Legislature and off-color remarks that acquired nationwide consideration.
[LePage signs bill to repay Maine’s Medicaid debt to hospitals]
In October, the governor revealed his personal listing of accomplishments and proposals for the state authorities going ahead in a doc referred to as “Recommended State Budget: Key Principles & Framework, FY 2020-2021 Biennial Budget.”
Maine Division of Labor knowledge collected between January 2011, when he took workplace, and this yr present job progress and decrease unemployment throughout his administration.
In January 2011, the civilian labor pressure was 697,917, with an unemployment fee of eight.1 % and a participation price of 64.eight %. The participation fee is the share of the labor pressure age 16 to 64 that’s working or in search of employment. That in contrast favorably with a complete U.S. unemployment fee of 9.1 % and a participation price of 64.2 %.
The figures from October 2018 present that the civilian labor pressure in Maine grew to 705,463. The unemployment fee was three.four % and the participation fee was 63.6 %. Nationwide, the unemployment fee was three.7 % and the participation fee 60.6 %.
Maine’s gross home product, a measure of the state’s general financial efficiency, additionally rose from $51.87 billion in 2011 to $61.7 billion in 2017, in accordance to the Federal Reserve Financial institution of St. Louis.
Maine has Moody’s third-highest bond score of Aa2, which was the case in 2011 and 2018. The upper the bond score, the extra probably the issuer is to pay it again and the decrease the danger of default.
The state ended its most up-to-date fiscal yr on June 30 with a surplus of greater than $175 million, in accordance to the Maine Division of Administrative and Monetary Providers, which stated the excess signifies the state’s money place is at document ranges. The state carried monetary reserves totaling $316.2 million into the present fiscal yr.
“Jobs created and growth in income are key indicators of how well the economy is doing, and he is in charge, so he gets the credit,” Levesque stated.
LePage additionally is just not shy about touting his accomplishments and agenda.
“Over the course of the last 7½ years, our administration has been committed to a multi-year strategy of major structural reforms for state budgeting and fiscal management,” LePage stated when the fiscal 2018 outcomes have been launched in July. “Our philosophy is simple: Mainers expect a government that can live within its means. Today’s news reinforces the success of that philosophy and will provide my successor with the ability to focus on making investments in the future of our state rather than filling budget gaps.”
A knack for enterprise
LePage studied enterprise, finance and accounting at Husson College earlier than incomes a grasp of enterprise administration from the College of Maine. He then labored in administration positions at paper mills and Marden’s, a reduction retailer.
“He seemed strongest when he was working his way around the balance sheet with nuts and bolts and blocking and tackling,” DelGreco stated.
Janine Bisaillon-Cary, former president of the Maine Worldwide Commerce Middle from 2006 to 2017, obtained to see that firsthand when the governor was on abroad commerce missions.
“Because he came out of the private sector, he had a lot of comfort and business acumen,” Bisaillon-Cary stated.
“It definitely helps to have a governor on the international side who goes out and does talk about being interested in attracting foreign investment and meeting with business leaders,” she stated.
She stated he performed an enormous position in touchdown and rising Eimskip, the Icelandic delivery firm that has reworked a part of the Portland waterfront.
The quantity and worth of shipments by container by means of the Worldwide Marine Terminal has greater than doubled since Eimskip moved its U.S. headquarters to Portland in 2013, in accordance to the Related Press.
Bisaillon-Cary stated LePage and the Legislature supported an effort to promote new jobs via funding in commerce ventures. Underneath LePage, she stated the state developed the Maine North Atlantic Improvement Workplace in 2013 to land North Atlantic Area and Arctic area corporations like Eimskip.
LePage traveled on about eight of the worldwide middle’s commerce missions, together with an effort to woo Worldwide Grand Funding Corp., a U.S. firm with a Hong Kong funding fund that purchased the St. Croix mill in Baileyville and finally invested $180 million in it, together with two new tissue machines that revitalized the mill.
“I traveled twice to China to meet personally with the investors. Our productive meetings and the relationship we developed were an integral part of their decision to invest in Maine,” LePage wrote in a 2016 commentary for the Bangor Daily News. IGIC purchased the mill in 2010 and added the 2 tissue machines, which created 80 jobs added to the prevailing 400 jobs.
Bisaillon-Cary stated LePage additionally traveled to Mexico to encourage an funding from an organization that helped GAC Chemical of Searsport variety its pigments into the paint business at a time when GAC paper accounts have been downsizing.
She characterised the governor as a voracious reader who ready for the abroad visits.
“One-on-one he is pretty affable, interested and interesting,” she stated.
Vetoes and verbal abuse
However on the flip aspect, “If the governor isn’t in accord with something, it is much harder to do,” Bisaillon-Cary stated.
One instance is his primarily scuttling the offshore efforts by Statoil, a Norwegian firm that needed to check new floating turbine wind power know-how off the coast of Maine. LePage maintained Statoil wasn’t doing sufficient for the state’s economy and that prices of the pilot undertaking would unfairly burden electrical energy ratepayers. Citing perceived hostility from LePage, Statoil pulled out of the deliberate check.
[Statoil to quit work on $120 million offshore wind project in Maine]
The governor’s typically combative stance with the Legislature and record-setting use of his veto pen additionally annoyed some Maine enterprise leaders.
[How LePage — and his veto pen — remade Maine politics]
“I am disappointed with his fight over bonds, including energy bonds,” stated Kay Aikin, CEO of Introspective Techniques, a Portland-based innovation firm that makes use of synthetic intelligence to assist complicated techniques like power microgrids make selections about managing themselves.
“But I do applaud his signing of MTAF, the Maine Technology Asset Fund,” she stated. The $50 million bond, $45 million of which went to MTAF for funding in innovation and R&D, was accredited by voters in November 2017.
She added she doesn’t approve of “the shenanigans with offshore wind.”
Aikin, who moved to Maine from Hawaii, stated general it’s personal funding and teams just like the Maine Know-how Institute, a publicly funded nonprofit group that funds revolutionary corporations in Maine.
“I didn’t make a choice on being in a state on what the governor is saying because I know the governor is going to leave,” Aikin stated. “I think most business leaders make decisions based upon costs, can I get people to work there, can I afford to work there, not what the governor says.”
She stated LePage didn’t have a destructive or constructive impact on enterprise.
“He did bring unwanted negative attention to the state, which is never good,” she stated. “It stops people from coming here. but not companies from coming here.”
Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce in Augusta, stated LePage and the Legislature have completed quite a bit to strengthen the inspiration of the state’s economy through the previous eight years, together with reform of the pension system, paying hospital debt and reducing particular person revenue taxes.
General, the administration’s tenure has been constructive for the economy, Connors stated.
“Eight years ago people were looking for jobs. Today jobs are looking for people,” he stated of the scarcity of staff.
Nevertheless the governor’s outspoken demeanor could also be what comes to thoughts first when his identify is talked about.
“His legacy and [the positive] things that happened will unfortunately be overshadowed by the lack of collaboration and the strife with the Legislature as well as some comments that were made,” Connors stated. “Consider what more could have been done. But I don’t think it negatively impacted the business environment.”