Anytime the ownership of a major Maine corporation changes hands, the Maine economy holds its breath.

How will new owners, often with little or no connection to our state, view what we long considered an icon, a permanent part of our commercial environment? Will they shut it down? Or move corporate headquarters? Or turn it into a small, easily ignored piece of a much larger national or international empire?

Will homegrown business leaders with family and community ties be replaced by corporate nomads working their way up an international hierarchy?

Or will new owners see business value beyond Maine and provide the ongoing investment required to ensure continuation of a once (and it is hoped future) thriving enterprise?

From the earliest days of the leveraged buyout, Bath Iron Works has had a long history of changing corporate ownership but has remained a vital and innovative enterprise. People’s Heritage Bank was purchased by Toronto-Dominion and became a part of TD Banknorth.

Union Mutual Insurance merged with Provident, eventually becoming Unum Group. Hannaford Brothers was purchased by Belgian food retailer Delhaize.

Virtually all of Maine’s paper mills have changed hands as corporate fortunes, financing fads and global competition have swept through the forest products industry, most recently with the announcements that Cate Street Capital of Portsmouth, N.H., has agreed to purchase the on-again, off-again pulp and paper mills in Millinockett and that NewPage Corp. (owner of the Rumford paper mill) has filed for bankruptcy. And, in perhaps the most unusual transaction in a generation, the U.S. Navy has recently transferred ownership of its former naval air station in Brunswick to a local redevelopment authority.

In each of these deals, the jobs of hundreds, in some cases thousands, of workers hang directly in the balance. And hundreds of other jobs are at risk in the companies providing supplies to these economic bulwarks and in the communities that depend on them for property taxes.

Just as graduations, new jobs, marriage and divorce are major milestones in individual lives, so these corporate ownership changes are economic milestones for the state. As such, they ought to be studied carefully to see where and how they have gone well and where and how they have gone not so well.

Most importantly, we as a state need to think carefully about how we approach these deals. What can we do to help make them long-term successes for the communities where they operate, for their business partners and for the state as a whole?

These questions are particularly important in light of Texas Instruments’ recent purchase of National Semiconductor. The news so far appears to be good.

TI has said that, while there will be job cuts in overlapping sales and administrative functions, it will keep its chip fabrication plant in South Portland open and intends to increase its capacity to design and produce new and bigger chips there.

This decision is testament to Maine’s innovative engineers, energetic plant managers and skilled workers. Clearly, they have envisioned their jobs not merely as producing a saleable commodity but as constantly improving an evolving enterprise that has to prove its worth in a fiercely competitive global economy.

Whatever the name on the door may be, Maine’s semiconductor business will remain and grow in Maine as long as we can provide a steady stream of thoroughly trained and stubbornly innovative workers. These must be workers who see each day as an opportunity to improve both design concept and production efficiency, workers who know they have partners in the university and community college system who are equally committed to supporting their efforts to solve ongoing production challenges.

The fact that Texas Instruments has seen fit to keep and invest in its newly acquired plant in Maine should serve as a model for all Maine’s manufacturing industries. Conventional wisdom says that manufacturing “is dead,” but conventional wisdom is dead wrong. Only stale, unchanging, uncompetitive manufacturing is dead. Innovative manufacturing is booming.

Manufacturing that applies sensors to new uses, employs process engineers to find more efficient ways to make their “stuff,” constantly seeking new markets — that manufacturing is thriving.

For all the angst about jobs — “Do something to create jobs!” — the answer is right in front of our faces.

We need to look carefully at those who are creating jobs and help them do more, in more places, in more ways, in more industries.

We don’t need some big new idea. We need thousands of little ones.

Charles Lawton is senior economist for Planning Decisions, a public policy research firm. He can be reached at:

[email protected]