February 15, 2013

Our View: Public investment made shipping deal possible

State and federal funds paid for improvements that opened the door to a new business.

It's not too often when we see the mayor of Portland and the governor of Maine singing from the same hymn book, so when it happens we know there really must be something to celebrate.

click image to enlarge

Standing with a picture of an Eimskip operation, General Manager Larus Isfeld talks to the media Wednesday about coming to Portland.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

It happened this week, with the announcement that Eimskip (the Icelandic steamship company) has signed a contract with the Maine Port Authority to begin operations in Portland.

Beginning in March, the company plans to call on Portland, off-loading containers from Europe and taking on American exports. The European goods will be transported all over North America by rail, with the extension of Pan Am Railroad's tracks to the marine terminal.

The city has had container ship service before, but this is different. Eimskip will not just visit the port, but plans to operate an onshore facility in Portland, that will serve at its North American logistics hub.

"Transformative," said an ebullient Portland Mayor Michael Brennan. "To have a major business come to Portland builds on our heritage as a port town."

Gov. Paul LePage was equally pleased. "Maine's economy will be strengthened by this new service and accessibility to our markets," he said in written statement. "I applaud Eimskip and thank them for this great opportunity which enables Maine to share our products with more people while growing our economy."

LePage predicted that the container service would open markets for Maine produce, forest products and manufactured goods, spreading the economic benefit far beyond Greater Portland.

He's right, and he was right to get personally involved, meeting with Eimskip and Pan Am officials last month to sell Maine as a participant.

But it's also important to remember that this deal would not have happened without a sizable investment in federal funds that improved the International Marine Terminal, enabling it to host this operation.

The state received a $5 million Department of Transportation grant that was funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. That was the bill supported by Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, but opposed by most other Republicans.

Projects like this one show that the stimulus bill was the right response to the financial crisis. It created both short-term construction jobs during the worst part of the recession and long-term economic opportunity that will aid in the recovery.

This is the way that government and business can work together to help the economy grow. Public investment in infrastructure opened the door to private investment, so we can all join the mayor and governor in celebrating.


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