SANFORD — John Caramihalis spent all afternoon Monday at the Sanford Town Hall, waiting for his turn at the microphone.

Finally, near 3 p.m., Caramihalis, the parent of four children, rose and spoke.

“I can’t imagine my kids will be able to earn a living in this state. If they need a good job today, they (must) leave the state,” said the construction worker and former small-business owner.

Caramihalis was one of roughly 70 people who attended a three-hour public meeting Monday held by the Joint Select Committee on Regulatory Fairness and Reform, the legislative body soliciting community feedback on Gov. Paul LePage’s proposals to reform state regulations in the name of business development and job growth.

The Sanford meeting is one of seven sessions being held in communities across the state.

CHANGES NEEDED QUICKLY

Among the attendees were business owners airing specific grievances about state regulations.

Jim Ratner, who is opening a furniture store in existing retail space in Sanford’s Midtown Mall, told the commission he has been tussling with state code enforcers and local fire authorities over whether he must upgrade his space with a $60,000 sprinkler system.

Different officials have given him different answers, he said.

“I am just a business guy. I just want to open a business. It’s burdensome, to say the least,” said Ratner as he left the hearing.

Derek Volk, vice president of sales and marketing at Volk Packaging Corp., told the committee that changes to regulations must be made quickly to stem the flood of businesses leaving the state.

In the last year, he said, a number of his customers have left, including Bumble Bee Foods, Lemforder, Bushmaster Firearms and Cooper Wiring Devices.

“The regulations have to be opened up so we can attract businesses to Maine, or at least stop them from leaving,” he said.

And Volk said legislators must make “significant changes,” not just marginal improvements, because other states are also becoming more business-friendly. “If we do something average, we won’t gain any ground,” he said, referring to the recent Forbes list in which Maine was named the worst state in the nation for business.

MEETINGS ‘A GREAT START’

Some attendees saw the Sanford meetings as a positive step toward regulatory improvements.

“I think LePage is on the right track ... Government is too big,” said Carolyn Brodsky, president of Sterling Rope Co. “I love Maine, but I am frustrated by what seems to be a heavy hand, and regulations over everything we do. This is a great start.”

Some attendees, including Caramihalis, said state regulations must balance environmental concerns with job creation.

“No one will be here to enjoy the environment” if the state doesn’t improve the business climate, he said, adding that regulations drove him to close his small business — an assisted living facility — in the late 1990s.

Caramihalis suggested that the state improve job prospects for young Mainers by encouraging the state university system to work with businesses. Students, he suggested, should be given more opportunities to interact and network with local businesses so that they have a shot at a local job after graduation.

A work-study program like that at Northeastern University in Boston is in order, Caramihalis said. Students there can earn up to 18 months of professional experience related to their career interest while pursuing a degree.

While the business community urged changes, some attendees spoke about the need to preserve some regulations, such as those regulating hazardous materials and dangerous chemicals in children’s toys.

 

Staff Writer Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be contacted at 791-6316 or at: [email protected]