More than 50 leading figures in Maine’s business, academic and political circles are throwing their weight behind an effort to solve the problem of economic stagnation in the state.
The group, which has joined forces under the name FocusMaine, said its goal is to boost Maine’s economy over the coming decades by focusing on the development of three key industries that the group’s research indicates have the greatest potential: agriculture, aquaculture and biopharmaceuticals.
FocusMaine representatives held a news conference at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute Tuesday to announce the group’s formation and lay out the path it intends to follow. They said their economic development initiative will be different in that it is privately funded, research-driven and free from the shackles of politics and special interests. “We wanted to do this in a pure way,” said former WEX Inc. President and CEO Michael Dubyak, one of FocusMaine’s two co-chairs.
The group’s leadership team also includes FocusMaine co-chair and Pierce Atwood partner Andrea Cianchette Maker, one of the state’s top lobbyists; former U.S. Small Business Administration Administrator Karen Mills; Idexx Laboratories Inc. founder and former CEO David Shaw; Eleanor Baker, co-founder and principal of accounting firm Baker Newman Noyes; former Maine Community College System President John Fitzsimmons; MaineHealth President William Caron Jr.; Robert Moore, president and CEO of Dead River Co., and William Ryan, former chairman and CEO of TD Banknorth.
At the news conference, Dubyak, Cianchette Maker and Caron said the group’s leaders are committed to sticking with the initiative for at least 10 years. They hope to facilitate the creation of 20,000 to 30,000 jobs in Maine during that time, Cianchette Maker said. Acknowledging that they have not yet developed a detailed plan, FocusMaine’s leaders said four advisory teams focusing on education, business, government and research will help develop it, and other teams will be involved in its implementation.
Possible elements could include pushing for business-friendly policy initiatives, developing targeted education programs, marketing the state to outside companies and enticing former Mainers to return with the promise of better job opportunities.
So far, the group has raised $700,000 for its research and planning phases, and plans to raise more for the implementation phase.
THE TOP THREE INDUSTRIES
To maximize job creation, the group decided to focus on three industries that export goods outside the state. Jobs in such industries are known as “traded jobs,” and they tend to create additional, local jobs in various support industries, Dubyak said.
The group selected agriculture, aquaculture and biopharma based on research that indicated those industries would have the greatest potential to grow and add value to Maine’s economy, FocusMaine’s leaders said. The research was conducted by the Boston office of global management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. and funded by private donations and grants. It was conducted under the leadership of Charles Lawton, chief economist at Planning Decisions Inc. in York and a columnist for the Portland Press Herald.
“It was built on previous research, but went beyond what was done with previous research,” Lawton said.
Dozens of other groups representing government, the private sector or both have sought to solve Maine’s economic stagnation problem. Caron said FocusMaine is the first such group he has been involved with that is free of biases, vested interests or a desire to be all things to all people.
“I’ve worked on a lot of economic development initiatives over the years, and I didn’t want another same old, same old,” he said. “The difference here is we started with a blank piece of paper.”
About 20 prominent businesses and foundations have contributed money to the initiative, they said, including Maine Technology Institute, Bangor Savings Bank, Camden National Bank, Maine Community Foundation, The Jackson Laboratories, Unum Group, Wright-Ryan Construction, and most of the companies associated with the group’s leadership team. FocusMaine was conceived about two years ago by Cianchette Maker and Dubyak. They recruited Caron, Lawton and dozens of other prominent leaders to join the volunteer effort.
Caron said one thing FocusMaine’s leaders have in common is a proven ability to grow smaller organizations into larger ones. They intend to apply those skills to the state, he said.
“We know how to grow things,” Caron said. “We know how to create jobs.”