Old News Archive


March 18, 2006 - TRC


Making the connection between Maine’s:
economic competitiveness
the environment and quality of life
government fragmentation
unplanned growth and sprawl

There is an uneasiness in Maine today, caused by troubling new threats to the state’s economy, special quality of life, and renowned landscape.

Manufacturing jobs continue to give way to a new service-based economy. Natural resource jobs in the state’s forests, farms and oceans--the historic backbone of Maine’s identity--are also dwindling. Taxes rank among the highest in the country while partisan gridlock in Augusta remains a constant threat and government duplication and inefficiency continue to drain resources from more productive investments. Meanwhile, unplanned and haphazard growth threatens to make parts of Maine look too much like the places that tourists and, increasingly, business leaders come to escape from.

Maine truly stands at an extraordinary crossroads that demands new approaches and a new spirit of cooperation and creativity.

Mainers are already responding in positive ways. In one unprecedented and unique example, a broad array of people from across the state have begun working together on an ambitious effort to better understand the state’s strengths and weaknesses and to produce specific recommendations for a Maine renewal.

They agree that, despite our challenges, Maine enjoys decisive strengths that can and must be better safeguarded and utilized, by putting aside old divisions and working together. Together, they seek to boost Maine’s economy while protecting its greatest assets, including its traditional towns, beautiful countryside, rural traditions and outstanding environment. Organized by GrowSmart Maine, a three-year-old non-profit organization dedicated to promoting healthy communities and sustainable growth, this informal alliance includes prominent business people, key conservation organizations and foundations, past and present political leaders, as well as ordinary citizens.

As a first step, GrowSmart Maine and its partners have asked the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. to undertake a major review of the demographic, economic, and land-use trends shaping the state and to recommend a series of bold steps that can be taken to protect the uniqueness of the state while building a prosperous and sustainable future.

The group is particularly interested in better understanding the connections between the state’s quality of life, its governance structures, and its fiscal and economic vitality. They also hope to better understand the role that unplanned growth and sprawl are playing in increasing local and state taxes and creating threats to our character and attractiveness as a state.

In the course of their work, Brookings researchers will talk with Maine scholars, businesses, non-profit and government leaders and citizens throughout the state to gather ideas and insight and to review critical in-state data and policy changes. Brooking researchers will also survey relevant models of change from around the country.

Optimism about the potential impact of this plan comes from the aftermath of a 2003 Brookings report on the state of Pennsylvania. There, massive media coverage and numerous briefings of elected officials effected significant and ongoing change and has generated a broad public dialogue on local governance reform and other recommendations of the report.

To develop the report, Brooking’s will explore the following topics, among others:
The state’s latest demographic, economic, and development trends, including:
a. Ongoing demographic trends of slow population growth, low immigration, modest household growth, out-migration.
b. Economic restructuring, including deindustrialization and sector shifts, housing market appreciation, major economic shocks like base closings.
c. Development patterns: low-density sprawl and downtown revitalization.
How Maine is growing, including the implications of present trends upon:
Maine’s economic and fiscal competitiveness.
The state’s environment and built landscape
The effect of state and local policies in Maine, including:
d. Maine’s proliferation of local government and its effect on the state’s ability to compete economically,
e. Maine’s governmental fragmentation and its effect on land-use patterns,
f. The cost of government, generally,
g. State and local tax policies and their effect on growth and development patterns.
Changes that Maine might adopt to grow in a competitive, fiscally responsible, and sustainable manner, including:
h. A bold, actionable policy agenda tailored to the economic and fiscal realities of Maine and dedicated to boosting the state’s economy and enhancing its quality of life.
i. Clear examples of best-practices from around the nation.

The Brookings report will contain a specific roadmap for reform that will be unveiled in September of 2006, and is expected to be heavily discussed during that fall’s elections.

It is expected that a larger alliance will then be launched to implement those recommendations, during 2007 and 2008. That effort to ‘envision Maine’ will seek to mobilize Maine people from all walks of life and all regions to join together in a push for action to create a more prosperous and sustainable future.

If you would like information on how you can become involved or contribute in some way, please contact:

Alan Caron, President
GrowSmart Maine, 207-847-9275, ext. 307

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.