The Maine Development Foundation has released the annual report of the Maine Economic Growth Council. The report, “Measures of Growth,” uses the most recently available data to provide a retrospective view of the state’s progress in 25 measures of economic, community and environmental well-being.

Though viewing the report from a year-to-year perspective prompts healthy introspection, a look at the last five reports is even more provocative.

Each year the council awards plus, equal or minus signs to each of the measures, indicating whether Maine’s collective enterprise has moved the dial toward meeting or exceeding our relative performance.

I decided to assign a value of one for getting a plus sign, a zero for holding its own and a value of negative one for losing ground in each of the categories over the last five years. A roll-up in all categories measuring Maine’s progress produces a net value of zero.

In other words, it appears to me that after five years of dissecting and quantifying our measurable endeavors, the council’s work says we have made no progress in meeting a composite of goals relative to the nation and the region.

That’s not to say there aren’t bright spots. The council sees the conservation of land and improvements in sustainable forestry as having made progress in every one of the last five years.

In this year’s report, the council said land conservation actually met its long-term objective of conserving 1.8 million acres for public access.

Similarly, balancing tree growth with tree harvesting suggests that private landowners are doing a good job of managing their land for long-term production.

Also, very modest gains were made in the last five years combating poverty and the cost of doing business.

Poverty in Maine is less profound than in the nation but nearly one-third of our residents are considered in need of some form of public assistance.

The cost of doing business in Maine worsened during 2008, making us the third-highest in the nation, according to economy.com. The best Maine has ranked in this measure has been fifth-highest.

At the opposite end of my five-year scale of progress is Maine’s high cost of health care. The council’s goal has been to see Maine’s personal income keep pace with or grow faster than the cost of health care in New England. Not only are the two measures not even close, they are getting farther apart.

While we are maintaining or further improving our natural environment, Maine’s personal incomes lag far behind the New England region; the number of people having post-secondary education is low; and our fourth-grade reading scores are a cause for concern. By this last measure, Maine has only 36 percent of fourth-graders who are proficient in their reading skills.

That is not so much a failing of our schools as it is a deficiency that could be remedied by parents reading daily to and with their children.

Now it may be a leap of logic to conclude that our love of place and its pristine environment means a trade-off in our economic well-being; that choosing to live in Maine means accepting that you will earn less and pay more for the pleasure of being here. But that is exactly what is happening for far too many Maine workers who are either stuck here or choose to be here as a trade-off for forgoing higher compensation.

The problem is that we have too few jobs that are well compensated relative to the cost of living in Maine. We need more and better-paying jobs.

Health care and education, the two largest employment sectors in many rural communities, continue to grow, according to the report.

Those two sectors represent 34 percent of all employment in Maine. These are good careers and enable our communities to improve knowledge and health. They contribute to our communities’ quality of life. However, they cannot sustain us. We need to entice investment in private-sector jobs.

The only way to grow our economy is to bring new money here from value-added enterprises.

Maine relies far too heavily on social assistance payments, money that goes from one taxpayer to another. Such transfer payments do not create wealth or add value to the economy.

The conclusion I draw from this important report every year is that Maine government is spending enough to maintain our social services.

The challenge is to nurture private-sector growth so that one day it dwarfs our public-sector employment and diminishes the need for government assistance.

What do you think and what are you going to do about it?

Tony Payne is a lifelong Maine resident active in business, civic and political affairs. He can be reached at: [email protected]