Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Following others on cleantech

I’ve been on vacation since the middle of last week, visiting my son in Los Angeles. Capable fellow blogger, Industry Liaison, has filled in during my absence.

This is my first trip to LA, and my first trip to the west coast, period. Los Angeles is a sprawling city, one that has grown up entirely around the automobile. To understand Los Angeles, you must understand the central role of the automobile. It is the “language” of Angelenos.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa wants to change that, or at least begin looking for ways to capitalize on clean technology, and alternatives to the automobile, and at the same time, revitalize a large tract of downtown that is currently undeveloped. He would turn this scraggly section located not far from where I was yesterday (Olvera Street, and El Puebla Los Angeles Historical Monument, near City Hall), into an area connected to clean technology. In fact, the mayor’s business team has already begun courting firms to locate to this area.

While other cities I’ve visited (Chicago, Boston, New York) have vibrant areas downtown, where tourists feel welcome, Los Angeles, just a stone’s throw from the mayor’s office, is ugly, garbage strewn, and filled with transients, even near a historical area highlighting the birthplace of the city. Parking is expensive, and not easy to find, and for most people, there are better (and safer) sections to visit.

Wherever I go, even in decrepit post-industrial war zones, like Gary, Indiana, I manage to find my way downtown, mostly because I’m fascinated with the architecture, and the time, when these were the heart of urban communities. This is not the case in Los Angeles, as well as many other urban areas of the U.S. Given that sprawl is an issue, and very costly, finding ways to revitalize downtowns will be an important task for mayors, and other urban planners over the next decade.

[The core of what was downton, 40-50 years ago; now it isn't a haven for visitors]

While Maine’s motto, Dirigo, for “I lead,” is quaint, in reality, a state like California is a national, as well as global leader in business, particularly business connected to anything cleantech. What Maine needs to do is begin finding ways to capitalize on ideas, and sectors that will be national, and international leaders, and begin putting provisions in place, like workforce initiatives connected to economic growth strategies. Then, possibly, Maine might lead others, instead of constantly lagging behind other states and regions.

You can read the entire article on Mayor Villaraigosa in this morning’s LA Times, here.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Innovative Maine Company Helping the Environment

Jaime McLeod who contributes pieces to the Sustainable Maine section of MaineBusiness.com recently wrote about PRC Technologies, a Standish-based company. I found the article very intriguing and the product being produced worth promoting on our blog. PRC Technologies recycles and refills used toner cartridges and they have worked with inventors who have developed a soybean oil based toner. The SoyPrint is now in production and PRC is selling the prodcut to rave reviews of customers. Conventional toner is made from petroleum. Check out Jaime's article above and the other links provided for more information. You can sign up for the Daily Digest of MaineBusiness.com and if you are not, I would suggest that you do. Signing up for Daily Digest provides all of Maine's business news every morning in your e-mail.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Maine's Local Food Movement Important to Economic Development

Over the last week or so I have been reminded of the strength and growth of the local foods movement in Maine. I believe this movement and the agriculture sector are critical to Maine's economic and workforce development for three reasons; the development of regional economies that will make Maine stronger, the independence and safety of our food system, and our own personal health. I would like to highlight three collaborations that are new, but the supporting organizations have been around for years.

Recently, the Lewiston Sun Journal reported on the opening of the Western Maine Market. This is an on-line farmer's market that connects local farmers and producers with customers supported by the Western Mountains Alliance, a group celebrating 20 years of promoting sustainable communities and economic development in western Maine. This on-line market works by opening on Friday's, allowing customers to browse on-line for goods, and they place orders by Monday. The producer's bring the items to designated place for consumer pick-up on Tuesday.

Another group is working together to develop sustainable communities in Oxford, York, Franklin, and Cumberland counties, called Threshold To Maine started in 1970. This partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service provides local people with federal technical assistance to design and implement programs for local needs. They are working closely with the Oxford County Agricultural Group to develop farmer's markets and hopefully, a similar on-line market like the one mentioned above. In addition, Threshold To Maine holds educational seminars for producers and farmers to help them do their work better. For instance, on Tuesday, April 21st there is a workshop called "Maintaining Produce Quality from Field to Table" being held at the Oxford County Cooperative Extension Office in South Paris at 6pm. Finally, Threshold To Maine is the major force behind a "Shared Use Commercial Kitchens" program to to be an incubator space for food producers.

Finally, the Maine Foods Network is a collaboration of MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association), the Hancock County Locally Grown Foods Program, and the Farm Fresh Connection through the Maine Sustainable Agriculture Society. The goal of this partnership is to help Maine farmers find more markets and help Maine businesses provide the best local Maine food to their customers. You can join this network for free to receive information about the local foods movement. I believe that the local food cluster is one to watch and will be vital for Maine's economic development in the future.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sharing stories

The city of Lewiston has undergone many changes over the past 25 years. Even more dramatic have been the ones that have occurred during the past five, or six years.

As someone who grew up in a neighboring community (Lisbon Falls), and with roots in the city (my maternal grandparents were part of the large French-Canadian migration to Lewiston, when the city was a textile capital), the positives are not lost on me. It’s exciting to be working in the community, and to have a part in coordinating training programs, and to be part of collaborative efforts, like the New Mainers Workforce Partnership-L/A. This partnership has been the catalyst behind these first two pilot programs assisting members of our communities for whom English is not their first language, and that desire to learn the types of skills that employers are looking for, so they can be successful in the American workplace.

Both Mark Schlotterbeck, one of our instructors during the program, and I, couldn’t help but appreciate that the city’s current mayor, Laurence Gilbert, attended the graduation ceremony, and was pleased to be there. Just a little more than six years ago, both Mark and I were two of close to 5,000 community members and others who gathered at Bates College to show support for the recent Somali immigrants who had been targeted by a group called World Church of the Creator. They had decided to seize upon a letter written by Lewiston’s mayor at the time, which had blamed many of the new immigrants for the city’s budget shortfalls, and for putting a strain on city resources.

[Mayor Gilbert addresses graduates and guests]

In 2003, Schlotterbeck was the city missionary to these newly-arrived immigrants to Lewiston, serving with the United Methodist Church. Both of us have discussed many of the positive changes that have taken place in relations between Lewiston’s newest residents, and many that are natives to the area. Obviously, having city officials like Mayor Gilbert and City Hall supportive of workforce efforts like this latest 140-hour training program bodes well for Lewiston’s continued growth, and long-term economic wellbeing.

One of the highlights of both of our graduations has been the stories that Schlotterbeck helped each graduate create, about where they’ve come from, some personal history, and their hopes and dreams as Americans. These stories have elicited very positive feedback and comments from all that have had the chance to read them.

[Businesses and members of the community review resumes and stories of graduates]

I’ve taken the liberty to share snippets of these, because it helps to dispel some of the misinformation that is still perpetuated by some in our community, as well as by others outside Lewiston/Auburn.

I count it a privilege to get to know the stories of people who have come to Lewiston by choice, and want to make their community a better place, and are an asset to the city. I share a few excerpts with blog readers.

One graduate’s story of arriving in the U.S., and moving to Lewiston:

When I first arrived in the United States, I came to Atlanta, Georgia. It was beautiful. I liked it. But when I needed to do something, everything was very hard because I didn’t speak English very well. If I needed to go to the store, I had to ask my neighbor, who was Sudanese. When I got to the store, I didn’t know how to say what I wanted. I had to look until I found it. It took a long time to find it, but now it is easy. I go to the right section in the store, and I find what I need. I keep learning.

The first work I had in the U.S. was housekeeping. It was in Atlanta. It was very hard. I cried every night because I didn’t speak English very well. I could not find any better job.

After that I moved to Maine and worked at L.L. Bean. I liked that work. I thought it was easy. I didn’t have to use all of my body, just my mind and hands. I loved that job, because I did something I could do and I was working. That made me happy.

While many of the first immigrants to settle in Lewiston were from Somalia, our program had representatives from four different countries, including this student, a former teacher, who comes to the area from Peru:

I worked in my country for a long time. I taught kindergarten for five years. When I worked in my country, my schedule was very busy and full time.

When I came to the United States, I didn’t speak English, but I am studying in this country. I have had good teachers and they have helped me.

I came last year on April 30. I traveled for fourteen hours. I was tired, but my husband’s brother cooked for us. I knew Paul worked in the River Restaurant. I knew his wife and daughter, but I always need help with speaking. I want to learn more English in this country.

I want to get a job soon.

We have this excerpt, from a Somali student, who came to America, one year ago. He speaks three languages, including English. His wife, an American, shared with me how hard he works to learn English, and about his passion for learning:

When I was a child, I lived in Djibouti with my family. My first language is Somali. But I learned French and Arabic in school. I liked my country, because I had a lot of friends. I liked to play with my friends.

My family had a little store. I helped my family.

I like America very much, because I got married on January 12, 2008, in Lewiston, Maine. My wife is an American from Georgia. I hope my children live in the U.S.A.

When I came to the United States, we landed at the airport in Washington, D.C. It was the first airport I saw in America. I said, “Wow!” It was a very big and beautiful airport.

My English was not good. I also had many friends. My friends spoke French, but we didn’t understand English. The employee asked questions. It was hard to answer the questions. My friends were scared, but it was OK for me. They answered in French, but the employee did not understand. Then he said, “Wait.”

I said to my friends, “Why are you afraid?” Then my friends said, “Stop, _______.” I said, “OK, but I’m not afraid. I understand. I will answer the questions.”

In my country when I had worked at a store, I was a cashier. I had keys to the store. Every morning I opened the door. I was responsible for the store before the boss came.

But now I would like to be an electrician. After I finish my GED, I need to go to school for two years to be an electrician. I hope to work in the office at the power company.

The following story excerpt is from a woman, who came to America, from Morocco. She hopes to open a restaurant, or bakery at some point, as she is a gifted cook and baker, not to mention, she lights up any room that she enters with her vivacious personality and warmth:

When I was a child I lived in a big family in a big home, in a small town in Morocco. My father was a truck driver and my mom used a sewing machine. They didn’t make much money, but we went to school and I had a lot of friends.

The first time I came to the United States, I didn’t speak English. When I went to the store, I took my husband. I took him everywhere I went. One day my husband said, “I can’t help you. Take a map, ________.” When I went shopping I got lost, but I didn’t forget my address. I took a taxi home.

After that I made friends. They were nuns. I went to see them every day. I stayed with them and learned a lot, and I got used to it. I traveled and visited Morocco, my kids and I. But it would be difficult for us now to live somewhere other than the U.S. My husband, my kids and I love this country.

I would like some things for me and my kids and my husband. I would like to have a Moroccan restaurant, because I could cook different foods. We all have an American dream.

I wish that one day the world will have no wars anywhere. I would like people to understand each other’s religions, respect one another and be at peace with everyone.

Following my dream and accomplishing my goals can help people. I wish to speak English better and learn how to read and write English better. I am going to school to accomplish my goals. I also care about my children’s education. To me, school is people’s future. It teaches you many things.

Also I wish the American people would not tear down old buildings.

Friday, April 17, 2009

New Mainers program holds second graduation

Lewiston, Maine, 2009-04-17-The New Mainers Workforce Partnership-L/A, held its second graduation on Friday, April 17, in the Callahan Hall, at Lewiston Public Library.

A similar program was first piloted in Lewiston during the fall. Candidates for the current innovative 140-hour program were English Language Learners with basic speaking skills, but limited reading and writing skills. Each candidate was selected to participate, from Lewiston Adult Education’s Adult Learning Center Program, which meets at the Multi-Purpose Center, in Lewiston.

For seven weeks, classes were held Monday through Friday, four hours each day at Adult Education’s training facility located in the B Street Community Center.

In addition to information about the American work culture, trainees learn soft skills, communication strategies, general safety protocols, the job application and interview process, and basic computer skills. During this training, they are also working at developing skills in reading, writing and speaking. Trainees develop a resume, cover letter, as well as a personal narrative describing their journey to the United States, along with their goals for settling in this country. Additionally, they also complete a mock interview with a local business person who assesses their skills and provides valuable feedback. By the end of the program, trainees have documented performance in seven standards recognized nationally as key components to employability.

A key component of the Lewiston program has been the connection that has been developed with several local businesses, which included Oxford Networks, LL Bean, Bonney Staffing, Staff Management, TD Banknorth, as well as ING. All of these businesses participated in the program’s mock interview day. Additionally, several visited the training and presented for an hour on what their company looks for in employees, their expectations, and what would be involved if selected for a position with their company. These presentations were well received by the trainees, and each employer also provided valuable feedback to members of the partnership.

Each graduate presented their resume, a sample cover letter, and their own personal narrative for review to several members of the community, local business leaders, and other area dignitaries. Lewiston Mayor, Laurence Gilbert attended and delivered congratulations, as well as brief remarks. Deputy Commissioner of Labor, Jane Gilbert also was in attendance, and participated in conferring credentials to the 11 graduates.

Training programs are planned for the coming year in Lewiston and Portland, with the next New Mainers program in Lewiston being scheduled tentatively for September.

Funding for this program was made possible by Maine's Department of Labor.

Photo: L-R (front): Awadia Abushaga, Mohamed Haret, Said Mohamed, Halima Aden, Khadija Noorow, Angelina Mario, Ayok Lual, Jessica Olaechea Valle, Zahra Bachiri, Huda Kowe, Mark Schlotterbeck (instructor), Ibrahim Roble Moussa (absent from photo, Abdullahi Shongole)

Rear: Lewiston Mayor Laurence Gilbert

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

LD 1450/HP 1006 update

Here is an update about LD 1450/HP 1006, and yesterday's testimony held before the Utilities and Energy Joint Committee, in Augusta. Much appreciation to the MidCoast Green Collaborative, for this, as I was unable to find any information in the local press.

The public hearing on the bill before the Utilities and Energy Joint Committee was held on Tuesday, April 14, the meeting ran over 4 hours which is unusual. There was ample support for the bill with more people prepared to testify in favor than the committee had time to hear, about 14 of 23 who came to speak. There was a clear majority of support in the room that was filled to capacity. There were a few who spoke against the bill, most notably a Central Maine Power lobbyist and a representative of big industry in Maine.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Renewable Energy Resources Program

The Maine Legislature will be taking up a bill, LD 1450 (HP 1006) that could greatly increase the potential for renewable energy for Maine, as well as offer the opportunity for job creation.

The hearing on the bill is scheduled for 1:30 pm, Tuesday, April 14 in the Utilities and Energy Joint Committee's hearing room, Room 211, Burton Cross Office Building. The Cross Building is located behind the Capital building, on the Sewall Street side.

LD 1450 would allow Maine citizens to reduce their energy costs, in fact, may allow them to profit from energy production, by selling their net energy production (from, say, solar panels on their home) back into the grid. Basically, the legislation would enact a feed-in tariff in Maine. The feed-in tariff is credited with boosting the solar power industry in Germany, Spain, and Denmark, and the creation of jobs. Wikipedia has an article on the feed-in tariff and is a good introduction. The Midcoast Green Collaborative also has some helpful information about the tariff, as well as a list of other resources and articles to get you up to speed on the concept.

Ontario has enacted legislation similar to LD 1450 and only one month after passage, a company that produces solar panels is locating just outside of Toronto, in Kingston, and will create 1,200 jobs.

A friend of mine, with a strong science background and 20 years of engineering work experience in Maine's paper industry, as well as the state's semiconductor sector, is urging passage of the bill.

He sent me the following information in an email:

I believe the Renewable Energy Resources Program is vital for Maine's citizens because:

1. It lessens Maine's dependence on out-of-state energy sources.
2. It will create good paying renewable energy jobs in Maine. These jobs will be local jobs, difficult to export or outsource.
3. It will help Maine citizens to reduce their energy costs, in fact, may allow them to profit from energy production.
4. It will act as a model for other states. If enough electricity is generated from renewable sources it will lessen the amount of electricity generated by coal fired plants that contribute to Maine's acid rain problem and to global warming.
5. It encourages distributed power generation, alleviating outages caused by the electrical power grid. Just in the last few years Maine has suffered through several ice storms and experienced extended power outages for tens of thousands of Mainers. Distributed power generation will reduce this problem.

The proposed legislation is modeled on a German law passed in 2000 that has had extremely good results. In recent years, Germany has greatly increased the amount of renewable energy they produce. The costs associated with producing this power have decreased and the number of power outages (brownouts and blackouts) has been greatly diminished. With the passage of the Renewable Energy Resources Program, Maine will gain these same advantages.

The Renewable Energy Resources Program is good public policy. It does not depend on tax dollars or tax credits. The Renewable Energy Resources Program rewards investment in renewable energy sources by ensuring a predictable rate of return. It encourages early adoption of renewable energy systems and provides strong incentives for performance and efficiency.

There is an informative interview with the bill's sponsor, Maine State Representative, Herb Adams (D-Portland), explaining the bill, and speaking about the state's potential to harness some of our natural resources like wind, tidal, geothermal, biomass and other renewal sources, which could benefit our state. Click here for Rep. Adams' interview with Marc Strassman, of Etopia News.

Given the hemorrhaging of jobs occurring across the state, the bill could be a positive first step towards the development of real green jobs.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Giving (college) credit, where credit is due

It’s easy to forget, given the steady drumbeat of bad news rolling across the transom that at some point, Maine/New England (and many other regions of the country) will once again be scurrying to locate skilled labor, a commodity that is always in short supply during better economic times.

Some employers see the big picture, and continue to be proactive in making certain that they have the people they need, with requisite skills, to meet any short-term, or longer-term workforce need they might encounter. One such employer in Maine is the Cianbro Corporation.

From an article in today’s Bangor Daily News, we learn that Cianbro has entered into a partnership with Eastern Maine Community College, creating a pathway for employees to earn a college degree.

According to the article, Cianbro employees involved in welding and pipe fitting, electrical, building construction and millwrighting will be able to gain college credit for their skills through the new program.

This is a great example of the kind of public/private partnership that Maine needs more of, in order to provide the kind of skilled workforce required to remain competitive in the 21st century.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Skill-building in tough economic times

For nearly three years, our workforce board has shepherded the growth of the WorkReady™ Credential Program (WRC) in Central/Western Maine.

The employer community has been onboard since the beginning, recognizing that the soft skills imparted by a foundational program like WorkReady™, is exactly what they've been looking for. Some however, most notably those on the public side of the equation, have been slower to embrace the program, often not quite understanding the dimensions of the program, or questioning the veracity and effectiveness of 60 hours of intense soft skills training.

It has been my experience that once the program is observed firsthand, however, it becomes apparent where its strengths lie, and why WorkReady™ is effective in preparing candidates for the world of 21st century work.

One of the advantages that we've had in Central/Western Maine is that the sheer number of times we've been directly involved in coordinating the program has allowed us to witness the curriculum's unique capacity to provide a diverse group of trainees exactly what was necessary for them, individually.

The WorkReady™ curriculum has weathered well with people who've been out of the workforce for any variety of reasons, one of them being the lack of marketable skills. It has been effective with workers with a wealth of experience, who may have lost their job, and needed to reskill, particularly in the areas of resume prep, interviewing, and how to engage with employers using 21st century technology. It has had success with candidates that had skills, but for a variety of reasons, lacked self-esteem, and the confidence to present well enough to be effective in landing the job they are most qualified for.

Each one of these categories were represented on Friday, when the second WorkReady™ program held its graduation, at The Center, in downtown Waterville. Eight candidates participated in the graduation ceremony, which began with a 45 minute portfolio review, allowing the graduates to demonstrate their capacity to present their work, and the efforts they've put into learning how to talk about their skills, abilities, and how these translate into employability.

The Center, located in what once was the former Sterns building, and now utilized by REM Partners, is a great meeting space in the heart of what will be a thriving downtown in a few short years. Several local businesses participated, as well as community partners, including the Mid-Maine Chamber, the Central Maine Growth Council, the United Way of Mid-Maine, and representatives from both Senator Snowe's and Senator Collins' offices.

WorkReady™ continues to gain advocates across the state, providing the kind of foundational skill-building that will be necessary to meet the workforce needs of Maine, particularly when the economy bounces back.

[Waterville's second WorkReady graduation class]