Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Postives helping to dispel the abundant pessimism

It’s easy, if one isn’t careful, to overdose on bad news. Too much television in the form of cable news, with its incessant drumbeat of doom and gloom political intrigue and partisan bickering can make it seem like the sky is ready to come crashing down upon us.

Granted, when the DJA dive bombs 700 basis points and your retirement account’s value plummets, it’s not easy to be a glass-half-full type of guy. But hey! It’s only money, right?

All frivolity aside, a few positive things have come across my desk that are worth noting.

Ideology aside, some type of rescue plan is coming down the pike, whether we like it, or not. Like most people that follow politics, I have strong opinions about the subject. My hope is that a plan is put together that benefits the majority of taxpayers, and also recognizes that Wall Street and financial services only make up six percent of the country's workforce.

I’ve been far too busy to mention that two weeks ago I attended the Maine Development Foundation’s Annual Meeting for the first time. The Augusta Civic Center’s main auditorium was filled with a veritable who’s who of movers and shakers in Maine. Even better, I ran into many friends, and others I haven’t seen for awhile.

Highlights for me were Shannon Haines, executive director for Waterville Main Street, being awarded the Ken Curtis Leadership Award. Shannon is an example of the kind of young professional energy Maine needs more of. She epitomizes passion for healthy downtown communities, and is about the right kind of vision, IMHO, for keeping our downtowns vibrant. Her remarks upon accepting the award challenged those in the room not to give into sprawl and big-box development, and support local businesses and the kind of community that Waterville is striving to be.

[Waterville Main Street's Shannon Haines with her Ken Curtis Leadership Award]

The Advanced Engineered Wood Composites Center at the University of Maine was the recipient of the public/non-profit sector Champion for Economic Development Award. AEWC Director, Dr. Habib Dagher, accepted the award and got everyone in the room fired up about the good things happening in wood-nonwood composite technology, at the University. Dr. Dagher showed why the AEWC is truly one of the state’s real success stories that far too few know about. If you haven’t been to the center, you need to make a point to visit and have a tour.

[Dr. Habib Dagher getting passionate about AEWC]

I was in Pittsfield this morning, attending the Somerset County Transition Team meeting, at the Pittsfield Town Office. Afterwards, I visited our WorkReady program, meeting at Warsaw Middle School. The 10 women that are participating, were not the same women I met two weeks ago, Monday, when I drove to Pittsfield for our informational meeting presenting this training opportunity to a group of laid-off shoe workers from San Antonio Shoes. I’ll be going back tomorrow to welcome 10 local employers who will be participating in our mock interview day. This was another reminder that despite an economic downturn, Maine’s employers are still looking for workers that know how to work, and can provide value. When these candidates graduate, October 23rd, they’ll be an asset to any employer that hires them. (I’ll be posting in the future about our mock interview day)

Lastly, staying on the positive track, I want to encourage anyone that hasn’t signed up for GrowSmart’s Summit 2008, to do so. The Summit takes place, Friday, October 10, in Augusta. Attendees will find out where we are at charting our future, and whether we’ve made progress since the release of the Brookings Report, Charting Maine's Future, in 2006. Joel Rogers, from the Apollo Alliance, will be the afternoon keynote. He’ll be speaking on “Building a Green Innovation Economy in the Face of Energy Challenges and a Changing Climate.” I’m looking forward to hearing his thoughts on this subject that is close to my heart and an area of passion for me. I’m slated to be doing some live-blogging from the event, so stay tuned.

Maine is far from perfect that’s for sure, but there’s more to our state than just high taxes and lack of economic opportunities that far too many harp on ad nauseum. Our state offers a measure of life quality that most points south of here don’t have. For too many of the “locals” however, I fear that it has become a classic case of “you don’t know what you got, ‘til it’s gone.” People love to complain about the Pine Tree State, but when viewed from afar (or from a plane, upon one’s return), it’s not out of the ordinary to find oneself reciting Dorothy’s mantra, “there’s no place like home.”

[Almost forgot--Dr. Jack Shonkoff's keynote at the MDF Annual Meeting--get the tape if you can; amazing stuff!!--JB]

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