AUGUSTA – Training Maine’s older workers, making state business regulations more consistent and integrating immigrants into the work force are among the strategies in a report aimed at improving the state’s economic fortunes.

Laurie Lachance, president and CEO of the Maine Development Foundation, and Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, presented “Making Maine Work” on Wednesday to state officials, business leaders and others in Augusta.

The report outlines the Maine’s business community’s priorities for the state’s next governor and Legislature. It is based on surveys of about 1,100 Maine businesses.

Businesses believe health care and energy costs, high taxes and transportation issues are stifling economic development in Maine.

Lachance said Maine’s demographics mean the state must get creative to increase worker productivity and per-capita income.

“We have to fully engage older workers and value every single person who lives in Maine,” she said. “We have to find a way to educate older workers. It’s got to be a strategy, though, that we live — not just give lip service to.”

Along those lines, communities also need to better encourage the integration of Maine’s immigrant populations in the work force.

“We have to help them help us grow,” she said.

The report also offered strategies for keeping health care costs from rising so quickly.

In the 1990s, Maine’s health care costs as a percentage of gross domestic product were close to the national average. 2004, they amounted to 20 percent of Maine’s GDP — the national average was 13 percent.

“We’ve been on a different path,” Lachance said.

Taking advantage of wellness programs, maximizing the state’s purchasing power and encouraging clinic visits rather than emergency care could reduce costs, she said.

The report also recommends building a liquefied natural gas terminal in Washington County, negotiating contracts with Canadian electricity suppliers and developing new energy sources, from biofuels to wind and tidal power.

Maine continues to rely too much on fossil fuels, she said: More than 80 percent of Maine homes are heated by oil and more than 85 percent of all freight is carried by trucks, she said. Maine’s electricity costs are 60 percent higher than the national average.

“When those prices fluctuate, we feel it,” Lachance said.

Maine’s tax burden — particularly the state income tax — should be lowered, the report says.

Businesses don’t necessarily believe state regulations are too strong, Lechance said, but they are seen as too inconsistent.

“Don’t change the rules every time we turn around,” Lachance said.

She also said the state needs to work harder to make the regulatory process more efficient.

“Leadership really sets the tone on this,” she said.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

[email protected]