February 9, 2013

Our View: Good news in Portland economic scorecard

But a report by business groups shows the metro region still has room for improvement.

We hear so much about what's wrong with the state and national economy, it's hard to notice when things are going well.

click image to enlarge

The Portland skyline looms over the Portland Fish Pier in a 2007 file photo. Unemployment is lower in Greater Portland than in the rest of the state, New England and the nation, and Portland has a more educated work force than comparable cities. But the region is lagging in other areas.

2007 File Photo/Gordon Chibroski

So we thank the Portland Community Chamber and the Portland Development Corporation for their report on the regional economy, which called our attention to some good news.

The chamber tracked the Greater Portland economy against those in comparable cities in Maine, New England and across the nation. What they found was that Portland and the Portland region are either leading or keeping up with competitors in many key economic measures.

Greater Portland has a lower unemployment rate than the state, New England and the nation.

It also has a more educated work force than most comparable cities, which bodes well for future economic development.

But there are also areas where the region is lagging behind.

We have been slow to create jobs in key areas such as biomedical science and information technology. We also remain a place where housing is expensive, taxes are relatively high and population growth is slow.

These are areas in which we should do better. Companies like IDEXX show that biomedical science is the new manufacturing, and it's a sector that can provide jobs with good pay the way mills once did.

The country is experiencing a digital revolution in which every traditional form of communication is being disrupted and rebuilt. In this world, distances don't matter and Maine can compete with any place on the planet if people here have the best ideas.

The Portland region, with the University of Southern Maine and Southern Maine Community College, has the opportunity to compete for the best jobs in the new economy.

The challenge for civic and business leaders will be to build on what's already working here. Individual policies should be seen as small steps to a bigger goal.

Affordable housing, investments in education and quality of life improvements should not be evaluated just for their own sake, but also to see how effectively they make Maine's biggest city a more attractive place to live and work and a vibrant place for new businesses to grow.

There is a lot of good news in the chamber's scorecard. The best news would be if next year, there is progress in those areas where there is still work to do.


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