PORTLAND – A research project that identified strategies for economic growth in Maine served as the jumping-off point for a panel discussion of business leaders Friday at the Maine Development Foundation’s 32nd annual meeting.

“Making Maine Work: Critical Investments of the Maine Economy” — a joint report released by the foundation and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce this summer — provided the basis for the questions posed by the moderator, Meredith Jones, president and CEO of the Maine Community Foundation. The report made recommendations in areas including health care, energy, taxation and business finance.

The panel’s wide-ranging discussion touched on modifying behaviors to keep down health care costs, communicating business strategies in the workplace, the need for more predictability and accountability in the regulatory system, and why the state’s community college system must expand its capacity.

The panelists were Michelle Hood, president and CEO of Eastern Maine Healthcare System; Bruce Wagner, CEO of Barber Foods; Peter Vigue, chairman and CEO of Cianbro Corp.; and Connie Gemmer, a partner at Barton & Gingold.

The panelists dispensed advice based on their business experience and expressed their hopes for how Maine’s next governor should go about improving the state’s business climate before an audience of more than 400 at the Holiday Inn by the Bay.

Wagner, for instance, emphasized the need to distill a company’s strategy into one or two critical goals at a time, rather than presenting a slew of them. He said he tested his own effectiveness in communicating them by asking employees if they knew the goals and their role in achieving them.

“Don’t give people 15 goals,” he said.

Hood said her field, health care, provides a good example of the need to continually invest in employees’ training and education.

“The skill set you need today is very different from the skill sets you needed five years ago,” she said.

Vigue advocated an outlook that views every problem as an opportunity. He gave Cianbro’s experience of exporting its skills when faced with shrinking business from the pulp and paper industry. “The word ‘can’t’ is the worst four-letter word you can use today,” he said.

Gemmer said the regulatory climate is one of the state’s largest obstacles to development. “We must change our culture of ‘no,’” she said.

Friday’s program included awards:

• The Kenneth M. Curtis Leadership Award to Robert Peixotto, chief operating officer for L.L. Bean.

• The Main Street Hero Award to the Betterment Fund.

• The Maine Employers’ Initiative Champion of Employee Education to Goodwill Industries of Northern New England.

• REALIZE! Maine Champion Award to Midcoast Magnet.

• Champion of Economic Development Awards to Axiom Technologies LLC, Hannaford Supermarkets, the Maine Health Access Foundation and the Maine Technology Institute.

 

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: [email protected]