SOUTH PORTLAND – Gov. Paul LePage told business leaders at Southern Maine Community College on Wednesday that legislation passed in June to reduce red tape was just a “down payment” on the work he intends to do to help them prosper.

“We cannot afford to lose any jobs,” he said. “We need to create jobs, and better jobs. That’s what we’re here for today. You need to tell us where we need to focus. By the first of the year, I would like to see this economy a lot more vibrant, a lot more excited.”

LePage spoke briefly in the college’s gymnasium to about 80 business leaders who signed up to participate in the first of three job creation workshops scheduled across the state. Many of LePage’s Cabinet officials came to talk, but mostly listen, to the business community.

LePage’s spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, said a few nonprofits — in particular hospital executives — attended the workshop, but the governor’s intent was to focus on the business community. Earlier this week, MaineToday Media reported that the head of the state’s association of nonprofits was upset that the group was not allowed to attend the workshop.

“We’re focusing now on private enterprise,” Bennett said. “Without private enterprise, we don’t have the jobs, the wages, that create funding for nonprofits.”

She said there will be opportunities for nonprofits to meet with state officials.

Before the afternoon workshop, Kelley Shimansky, vice president of human resources for Wright Express, said her company has had trouble finding skilled workers in Maine. The company, which specializes in credit-card payment and data processing, often has to recruit workers from other states.

“We’re working with the university system to look at information technology programs to see how they need to be modified,” she said. “Other employers in the state retrain Maine graduates.”

Wright Express, which has its headquarters in South Portland, employs 850 people worldwide, including 600 in Maine, she said.

Christopher Briley of Yarmouth, an architect who owns Green Design Studio, said he wanted to tell the governor that the Efficiency Maine program, which provides money for home weatherization, is an important part of the state economy.

“My business is OK right now, but I still have a level of fear for what the future may hold,” he said.

In June, the Legislature passed L.D. 1, a bill that established a program in the Department of Environmental Protection for businesses to self-report violations and created a small-business advocate in the Secretary of State’s Office.

LePage said he will continue to work to make state government more responsive.

“It’s not that we can’t get it done,” he said. “We want to get it done. The problem is, we need to change some culture, some attitude, so you can go to work in the morning knowing you can move forward and there’s not going to be an obstacle in Augusta.”

After LePage’s address, there were three breakout sessions to give business owners time to talk to state officials and directly to LePage. The media was not allowed into the session with the governor because he wanted businesspeople to speak freely, Bennett said.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

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