Touting its vast forests and his administration’s ability to cut through red tape, Gov. Paul LePage on Wednesday pitched Maine as the perfect place for bioenergy executives to make investments.

Gov. Paul LePage

LePage offered his remarks to open the third day of the Advanced Bioeconomy Leadership Conference in San Francisco. The conference, which drew a crowd of more than 300, was convened to bring together investors, researchers, policymakers, executives and others interested in tapping renewable natural resources for new industrial uses.

Maine has more than 17 million acres of forestland, and its economy has been hampered by the closure of five paper mills in three years – mills that used to be a primary market for wood and pulp. Since the closures, several initiatives have sprung up, including proposals to build bioenergy parks that can revive unused biomass power plants and support new, connected businesses.

“I want to be sure that the word is out there that we are open for business,” LePage told the crowd. He noted that the state supports 24,000 forest-related jobs, down about half from when all the mills were running and robust.

But the state is reinventing itself, trying to attract companies like Ensyn Fuels Inc., which now provides wood-based biofuel to help power Bates College in Lewiston. He also noted that the University of Maine received $3.3 million from the Defense Logistics Agency to help its research in converting wood fiber into jet fuel.

In January, LePage expects the Legislature to begin debate on a $50 million commercialization bond intended to bring new products to market, something that could help attract bio-based companies to Maine. This session, a bill that would have authorized a $55 million bond to accelerate growth and capital investment stalled and was ultimately held over.

“We are going to invest, not in loans, but in equity,” LePage said of the bond proposal. He said the plan is for the state to provide equity funding, which would make it a part owner, in new companies interested in bio-based products. In seven or so years, after the company has built its infrastructure, it could buy out the state’s interest.

“Then we’ll watch you grow, on the sidelines,” he said to the attendees. He invited them to speak to him or officials from Maine’s economic and development office who were also attending the conference.

Referencing the gridlock in Congress these days, LePage said he could do nothing about that. But he said he does have the power to move things along in Maine.

He said his administration’s account executives, advocates who help businesses navigate layers of bureaucracy, can speed up the licensing and permitting process for businesses looking to locate in Maine.

“Because it’s not about government getting in the way, it’s about government being a catalyst to move your projects forward,” he said.

Julie Rabinowitz, the governor’s press secretary, said LePage’s address drew a strong reaction from attendees.

“Several organizations approached the delegation from Maine. They had varying interests, ranging from businesses already in Maine and looking to expand to others with early stage concepts who are interested in Maine brownfield sites, to others intrigued by leveraging new technologies against Maine’s traditional strengths in forest products,” she said. “Maine’s expertise in forest products, access to supply, legacy infrastructure and proximity to European trade routes resonated with the audience.”

In the afternoon, Kimberly Samaha, CEO of Born Global, which is backing a bioenergy project called Stored Solar in West Enfield and Jonesboro, was scheduled to participate in a panel discussion on pioneering products. Samaha said her company has invested $17 million in the Stored Solar project, which intends to build a shrimp farm that uses captured waste heat from biomass plants. The project has stumbled because of financing problems, but Samaha is optimistic that it will succeed and intends to break ground in the spring.

Carol Coultas can be contacted at 791-6460 or at:

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