For Maine to shake its ranking as the worst state for business, it may learn from Utah, which consistently ranks among the top places for business, said Alan Hall, founder of the nonprofit organization Grow Utah.
Speaking Tuesday at the Maine Real Estate & Development Association’s spring conference in Portland, Hall told more than 300 attendees that Maine needs a business-friendly government, an educated workforce, “abundant and inexpensive” land, water, energy, transportation and communications, cooperative financial institutions to provide business lending, and key industries around which new businesses can be built.
“We think from cradle to career. We look across the whole spectrum. We’re there to make sure there’s opportunities for our residents across the key inflection points in their life,” Hall said. “There’s a little more you can do to move the needle. You’re close. You’ve got some great things. You just need a little more push.”
Utah had ranked as the No. 1 state for business for three consecutive years before falling to No. 3 last year, according to Forbes magazine. Maine ranked last for four straight years.
“Not much has changed,” says Forbes’ article on the 2013 rankings. Maine “is still burdened with an aging population and a weak economic forecast. Job growth projections are the worst in the U.S. and only Vermont is expected to have slower household income growth over the next five years, according to Moody’s Analytics.”
According to Forbes, Maine ranked No. 24 in the quality of life category, No. 33 in labor supply, No. 40 in business costs, No. 43 in economic climate, No. 45 in regulatory enforcement and No. 49 in growth prospects.
Utah, meanwhile, fared better in every category.
“There was a time when we all had to leave the state to find anything of value. There was a conscious shift and a change in business policies so our kids could live near us,” Hall said.
Hall highlighted several benefits he sees in Utah’s business culture, ranging from energy costs that are 29 percent below the national average to its status as a “right to work” state that frowns on unions. Utah also is mostly white, Republican and young. In fact, Utah is the youngest state, with a median age of 29 versus Maine’s median age of 43.5 years, the nation’s oldest.
Hall urged Maine to let go of political leanings and work together.
“Don’t fight each other. Go beyond politics. The time to make the changes is now. You probably need to take some drastic measures to move the state forward,” Hall said. “The people of Utah are committed for the common good.”
He pointed to other areas of the country that had a strong combination of business-friendly policies, education and entrepreneurship, such as Silicon Valley in California; Austin, Texas; Atlanta; and Seattle.
At the conference, a panel of six business and education leaders debated ways to improve Maine’s business ranking. The ideas ranged from improving railway and port infrastructure, efforts to get Mainers to complete their high school and college educations, partnerships between businesses and schools to train workers, and improving salaries to make the state more competitive with nearby rivals.
“In Utah, everyone seemed to be pulling in the same direction. It didn’t seem that there was that much bickering. Everyone seemed to be on board with that mission. I think that was pretty powerful – to see what can be accomplished with the same vision,” said Peter DelGreco, president and chief executive of Maine & Co., which works to lure businesses to Maine.
Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at: