AUGUSTA – A legislative committee unanimously endorsed Gov. Paul LePage’s nominee to lead the Department of Economic and Community Development on Thursday despite his admission that his experience in economic development is “thin.”

Philip A. Congdon, 69, of Bristol is a licensed engineer who worked for Texas Instruments for more than 20 years. He forged a friendship with LePage during the gubernatorial campaign.

“My background in economic development is thin,” Congdon said during testimony before the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee. “I have, I think, a strong business background. As far as community economic development, I’ll tell you right now, I haven’t done it. But I’ll also tell you that I am convinced that I can.”

John Butera, LePage’s senior economic adviser, told the committee that he was impressed with Congdon after working with him on the governor’s transition team, and that he thought Congdon was the right man for the community development job. Several residents of the Bristol area testified about Congdon’s civic record, which includes service on several town committees.

For the past 30 years, Congdon said, his work has emphasized management, business development, contract negotiation, government relations and intellectual property protection.

As an engineer, Congdon has more than a dozen U.S. and foreign patents. As LePage’s top official charged with job creation in Maine, Congdon said he would highlight Maine’s skilled workers, good universities, and growing biological and biomedical industries.

Though his family has roots in Maine, Congdon — who said he is one-eighth Penobscot Indian — moved to Maine permanently about eight years ago and became involved in many local organizations.

“I believe that the development of a multi-year strategy for business development and an improved employment environment is the solution to our current financial woes,” he said.

Congdon said he would focus on helping businesses already in Maine create more jobs, attracting venture capitalists to the state and persuading out-of-state businesses to move here.

“We need to convince more and more people to come here and stay and bring their business here,” he said. “The only way we are going to do it is improve our reputation as a business-friendly state. We are going to have to make some changes, and I think that some of the ways that we tax businesses need to change.”

Rep. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, said she was impressed with Congdon’s business experience, but asked him how much experience he had working with small businesses or tourism-related economic development.

“When you start talking about businesses with under 10 (employees), no, I haven’t had any direct personal involvement. But I have worked with businesses that I would consider on the small side,” Congdon said. He has no experience in tourism development, he said.

Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, asked Congdon how he would attract businesses to Aroostook County and other rural areas.

“It’s (a question) I haven’t thought about,” Congdon replied.

Jackson also asked Congdon about his connection to a group called the Constitutionalists of Maine.

“There is a small group of people that came together in Waldoboro probably about two years ago called the Constitutionalists of Maine,” Congdon said. “It’s not a political party, it’s a study group. I attended, I would guess, 10 or 12 of their meetings.”

That’s where he first met LePage, who was invited to speak to the group, Congdon said.

According to the group’s website, the Constitutionalists of Maine meet Monday evenings at the First Baptist Church in Waldoboro, and number about 120 people.

Among the group’s objectives, the site states, is to emphasize the “principles and philosophies” of the Founding Fathers and defeat the “socialist agenda.”

Congdon said the group’s current mission has changed greatly since it began, so he no longer attends its meetings.

“I have not been to one of their meetings probably since the first quarter of 2010 for the simple reason — in my own opinion, my own words — the group was taken over by the John Birch Society and I don’t want anything to do with it,” Congdon said.

Jackson told Congdon he found his honesty “quite refreshing.”

“I certainly like the opportunity to clear the air,” Congdon said. “I don’t own a tinfoil hat.”

Congdon still must be confirmed by the full Senate.

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

rmetzler@mainetoday.com