February 20

Our View: Michaud looks to small business for big economic results

Support for Maine small business would create more jobs than bagging out-of-state industries.

Over the last month we have seen two very different visions of how to fix Maine’s broken economy.

click image to enlarge

U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud unveils his economic plan Wednesday in Portland’s Rosemont Market and Bakery – which is just the kind of small business that the Democratic gubernatorial candidate says could drive Maine’s economic growth.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

Gov. LePage, in his State of the State address, said that to catch big fish willing to invest $50 million or more in the state and employ 1,500 or more workers, Maine should package tax breaks, subsidized electric rates, job training and protection from unionization.

U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a candidate for LePage’s job, has proposed working with the 45,000 small businesses that are already here and that already employ more than half of the state’s workforce. Michaud’s plan, released Wednesday, would be to help small manufacturers find markets out of state, invest in transportation and communications infrastructure, and help businesses raise capital when they are ready to get off the ground or expand.

Of the two visions, Michaud’s go-small approach promises to have much bigger results. The governor can gamble on outbidding Mississippi for the next mega auto plant, but even if that effort were successful, it would be unlikely to produce as many new jobs as even a modest expansion of the small-business sector. According to Michaud, if the businesses in Maine with fewer than 30 employees grew at the national average rate, the state would add 31,000 jobs to the economy over 10 years. That’s more than the combined total currently employed by the state’s five biggest employers, including Hannaford supermarkets, Bath Iron Works and L.L. Bean.

Election Day may be nine months away, but the campaign for governor is on. There is an old saw that says nobody starts paying attention to politics until after Labor Day. If that’s true this year, people will be missing a lot.

It started with independent candidate Eliot Cutler, who released a 100-page policy book in September that is short on details, but strong on the analysis of what’s going on in Maine’s economy.

That was followed Feb. 4 by the governor, who added to his three-year record as Maine’s chief executive with a pugnacious speech that blamed liberal social welfare programs for the lack of economic progress during his time in office, but promised to turn the state around by cutting programs, cutting taxes and chasing after the economic development big game.

So far, Michaud’s plan is the most detailed and the only one that includes price tags for programs and projected results. That has already caused him to draw fire from both rival campaigns, and we can expect analysts to dig deep into the numbers to find things embedded in them that some voters won’t like. That’s why candidates are usually reluctant to be specific.

But the fact that this plan comes with so much detail, including cost estimates, sets a high bar for the other candidates to meet.

Michaud’s policy book is far from complete. He hasn’t yet offered his detailed vision for health care, education, how the state should take care of people in need and what taxes he would propose to finance state government.

This is going to be a long campaign, and there will be a lot of time for each of the candidates to answer those questions.

But at this early stage, Maine voters are lucky to have such stark competing visions already so well-defined.

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