December 17, 2012

Our View: Forbes ranking says little about Maine

Forbes Magazine has once again ranked Maine as the worst state in the nation for business, once again teeing up a political fight on economic policy. Gov. LePage, once again, has seized on the report claiming that it supports his program of reform, but the public has a right to be skeptical.

Last year, the governor got in trouble for relating a conversation he had with the magazine's staff, who he said told him we had too many people on welfare. The magazine published a blog entry that said that conversation never happened, and welfare is not even on the list of factors in its rating.

This year, the governor issued a statement saying: "During the past two years, I have advocated over and over again for changes that will improve Maine's economy. We've got to get serious about lowering energy costs, improving education and paying our bills."

But Maine has the lowest energy costs in the region, and it was beaten by every state in New England on the Forbes list. State indebtedness is not one of the factors Forbes lists to come up with its ranking, and if it were, Maine would probably do well compared to many other states.

It is impossible to see how Maine could lower its energy costs and pay off enough bonds to bring it any higher in this kind of contest.

Forbes does not say how it weights the different factors, but it's clear that Maine has some characteristics that no governor could change. For instance, the Forbes report notes that Maine has the highest median age in the nation, while the No. 1 state in the ratings, Utah, has the lowest.

Maine is also criticized for being the headquarters of few large companies; however, its culture of small businesses is often cited as a positive factor by people who live and do business here.

The one area on LePage's agenda that could affect Maine's position on the list is education, and this is an area that the majority Democrats in the Legislature have said they have ideas they want to work on, too. Investments in work force development, which narrows the gap between Maine residents' skills and the types of jobs available, would have a long-term positive effect on the state's economy.

What would also help would be if the governor would use his prominent position to promote Maine business-friendliness instead of reinforcing the negative image the Forbes ranking provides. There's a lot good going on here, and Maine's governor should be telling people about it.

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