Wednesday, April 9, 2008

2008 Mid-Maine B2B Showcase

[ Sharon , from MaineGeneral Medical Center]

[Capital Area Staffing Services were busy greeting attendees]

The Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce hosted their 2008 Business to Business Showcase, in Waterville, at the Grandeur Sun, just off KMD. With 50 plus businesses present, as well as other community organizations like the United Way on site, it was a worthwhile opportunity to put my network skills to work.

For those of you in Southern Maine, or anyone else that hasn’t spent time in Waterville lately, it might be easy to overlook this community on your way north or south on the interstate. To do so is a mistake. If you only jump off I-95 to gas up, you’ve only seen the remnants of 1960s urban renewal (aka, President Johnson’s attempt to destroy vibrant downtowns) on Kennedy Memorial Drive. However, if you drive into downtown, you’ll find a downtown area that is walkable and has some nice restaurants.

I’ve been impressed with the energy and passion of Kim Lindlof, the President of the Mid-Maine Chamber, as well as John Butera, from the Central Maine Growth Council. Both of them have been pushing for a WorkReady in Waterville and it looks good that this will happen in the fall.

One of the ways that I judge the potential of a community is the vibrancy of its business community. Waterville has a vibrant one that is willing to roll up its sleeves and do what’s necessary to reinvigorate their local economy that has struggled of late. Hathaway Shirts and other traditional employers have gone away. Manufacturing is still present with Huhtamaki, Mid-State Machine (across the river in Winslow) and others firms, however. Additionally, First Park in Oakland has a great deal of potential for future growth and both Inland Hospital and MaineGeneral provide a vibrant healthcare presence and economic anchor and don't forget Colby College, up on Mayflower Hill.

[92 Moose was in the house!]

[Irene and Kimberley from the Augusta CareerCenter]

[Inland Hospital encouraging people to make healthy choices by playing their health-oriented Wheel of Fortune]

There were several afternoon seminars. Unfortunately, I think I picked the most depressing one. Dr. John Mahon, from the University of Maine/Maine Business School gave a presentation titled, The Maine Economy: Up? Down? Or Out? While Dr. Mahon had a wealth of data that showed that Maine has some real issues to contend with, like its aging population, out-migration of young people, low wages, high energy costs and a host of other factors that paint a bleak picture, I fear that he left his audience clinging to a precipice, waiting to plunge into the ravine below—he left them with no prospects of what can we do? While reality checks are nice, I don't think anyone walked out of his seminar feeling very hopeful about the area's prospects.

To be fair, he did say the state needs to focus on creating value-added industries; precision manufacturing, instead of merely welding; eco-tourism, not just lodging; composites, not just lumber; financial services, not just banking. He also mentioned that we need a governor that leaves Maine every Sunday and visits CEO’s in the other 49 states, touting our state, our workforce and our quality of life. Mahon said that CEO’s want to talk with governors, not economic development people. It will take time and “the governor will run up a lot of frequent flyer miles,” but according to Mahon that’s what it will take. I wish he would have not cut his time so tight and had more input from the floor, as there was time for only two questions, before the next seminar had to begin.

I think that what we’re trying to do as a workforce board in Central/Western Maine, to develop a skilled/educated workforce, rich in middle-skills and beyond, is a cause for hope in our area and the direction we need to go as a state. Our efforts around TDL and developing a potential WIRED model has great potential in Lewiston/Auburn and I think, also Waterville. Unfortunately, I'm not sure many in Augusta are aware of these efforts. Other than the steady drumbeat of cries for tax reduction, there seems to be little else being talked about. Nothing would do more for this state than jobs paying living wages, workers engaged in meaningful work, buying new cars, houses and other durable goods. Too little conversation is heard about revenue generation.

Hats off to Kim and her staff for creating a very worthwhile event. I look forward to having the opportunity to work in her Mid-Maine communities in the near future.

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