Saturday, October 11, 2008

Notes from Summit 2008

[This is my own highly subjective report from yesterday's GrowSmart summit, in Augusta. You can read an excellent and detailed account by Christian, at the GrowSmart blog.--JB]

I attended most of yesterday’s Summit 2008: Charting Maine’s Future, put on by GrowSmart Maine. I had been invited to LiveBlog the day’s events, but decided to forego lugging around a laptop, and instead, took notes and hope to recreate a summary of my experience based upon those.

This was my second summit. I attended last year’s, which was good, but I thought this one was more pertinent to what I do on the workforce side, and the morning breakout session I sat in on was excellent.

GrowSmart’s President, Alan Caron welcomed the attendees to the Augusta Civic Center for the day and set up the day well, drawing upon the past week’s economic issues, and emphasizing the importance of the work that his organization does. GrowSmart is unique in that it is a non-ideological organization that is committed to ensuring that Maine is able to maintain its uniqueness of place, while also emphasizing growth that is sustainable and tied to perpetuating the geography of place.

[GrowSmart Summit 2008 opening address by Alan Caron-McNeil photo]

There were two morning keynotes following Caron. Bruce Katz, from The Brookings Institution, lead author of “Charting Maine’s Future” report, gave a progress update on where Maine’s come since its release in 2006.

Jim Chrisinger, of Public Strategies Group talked about Maine can get beyond its perennial fiscal crises through government innovation.

You can read about both of the keynotes via Christian McNeil's live blogging from the conference. I’m going to focus on the morning breakout session, as the green economy is an area I’ve become particularly interested in.

Adaptation and Building a Green Innovation Economy featured a panel made up of Ned Raynalds, Union of Concerned Scientists, John Dorrer, director for the Center for Workforce Research and Information/Maine Dept. of Labor, and Commissioner John Richardson, Dept. of Economic and Community Development.

The breakout was well-facilitated by GrowSmart’s Bruce Hyman, and included opportunities for members of the audience to ask questions, and posit some of their own ideas about how Maine responds to climate change, high energy costs, as well as seizing opportunities to utilize green solutions in growing our state’s economy.

I’m going to focus mostly on the workforce emphasis of the panel. I don’t want to slight Mr. Raynalds, but you can read the gist of his orientation by reading, Confronting Climate Change in the U.S. Northeast fact sheet.

I thought Mr. Dorrer was particularly strong on the panel. He contextualized well the intersection of the often talked about, but rarely defined, green jobs. In the midst of our current financial crisis, Dorrer believes that looking forward could be Maine’s “salvation.”

Dorrer expressed concerns about the capacity and skill makeup of Maine’s current workforce. Given the state’s demographics, the state’s labor supply continues to be constricted. He spoke of the need for a “massive inflow of capital,” which he believes is necessary to “engineer our future.” Rather than the typical call by government officials merely for capital, Dorrer also indicated his belief that there must be transparency when it comes to accountability and by extension, accounting structures must be in place to provide that to taxpayers, as he said “we owe that to them.”

With so much hype being made about jobs that are green, what specifically are they? Dorrer maintained that “many of these new jobs will look like the old jobs.”

Engineers will be needed (for R & D) and fabricators will be required to construct alternative energy infrastructure, like windmills. To match the capacity that will be required to meet the opportunity, Dorrer believes that it is essential that many more Maine students are channeled into science and engineering, which currently is not happening. I agree with Dorrer’s views, but without some type of change in our current emphasis at the state level, this is not going to happen. This is very much tied to the idea that Maine needs to orient its education to where are jobs are in the future, and by-and-large, this isn’t occurring now.

Commissioner Richardson spoke about the book, The Clean Tech Revolution: The Next Big Growth and Investment Opportunity, saying that “Maine is positioned nicely” to seize upon many of the tenets of this book.

Richardson, who resides in Brunswick, cited the efforts to develop the former Brunswick Naval Air Station as a “center of excellence” for alternative energy and innovation.

Some of the audience comments were very good. One young man asked about “Maine’s load capacity” as a state. How many people can the state support and still maintain a sustainable level of growth?

Another young professional spoke about the need to “bridge the gap” between the green social movement and the economic development model that leans green.

Discussion about the amount of total household income Mainers spend for energy (40 percent) was talked about. This is a significant issue, as it impacts any discussion about growth.

Ron Phillips, president of Coastal Enterprises, Inc. mentioned that today’s green movement is similar to the 1960s movements for change that he came out of, as a boomer. He mentioned the need for both state and federal tax policy to be adjusted to “promote green policies.”

Brian Doyle, a business development specialist for DECD, said that Maine’s youth need to be encouraged to move into the area of skilled trades, the earlier the better.

Not to overly emphasize Dorrer, to the exclusion of others, but he talked about Maine’s hope for success in the area of green technology requiring a “systems solution” resonated with me. Maybe it’s because I’m confronted (and frustrated) daily by systemic issues affecting workforce development, but I recognize that Maine has to meet this challenge and seize this opportunity, or, as Dorrer said, we’ll face “dire consequences.”

The day wasn't all wonking and policy. There was time for socializing, also. I met Peter, from Future Freeport blog. At lunch, I saw old friends from my activist days in Portland. I spent lunch catching up with another friend who I see too little of. He works for a Maine-based environmental organization. We had a chance to talk about the conference, some of the issues we see related to sustainable growth, and since we are both baseball fans, we managed to work in some conversation on the night’s opening ALCS game between the Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays.

Joel Rogers, co-founder of The Apollo Alliance, gave the afternoon keynote, after lunch.

Rogers talk was entertaining, as he blew through his PowerPoint at warp speed. Rogers spoke about “Climate, Energy, and Prosperity.”

Rogers, who lives and works in Wisconsin, drew similarities between his home state and Maine in that its residents have an almost prejudiced passion for their home state and its uniqueness. Rogers asked two questions. What makes a region rich? What makes Maine worth fighting for?

Building on the views of others, like former governor, Angus King, Rogers cited Maine tremendous wind potential. He also spoke about how investment in jobs tied to alternative energy/energy efficiency could create good career ladders that Maine no longer has, with the loss of many of its traditional jobs.

I had to cut out after Rogers’ keynote, to wrap up my week at the office.

The conference was worthwhile and I came away encouraged that a vision about where Maine should be headed was clearly laid out. The key will be whether collaboration and leveraging of resources can be achieved.

1 comment:

Christian said...

Thanks, Jim. Sorry the final few hours were too hectic for me to get back to you or meet you in person, but I'm sure we'll run into each other one of these days. Do you mind if I quote this post of yours at length (with attribution, of course) on our GrowSmart blog?