PORTLAND — The city’s new mayor said Wednesday that he wants to start meeting with business people to discuss ways to help them prosper, and wants to forge links between businesses and university researchers to generate new companies and jobs.

Michael Brennan outlined some of his thoughts on economic development during an “Eggs & Issues” breakfast meeting of the Portland Community Chamber of Commerce, less than 48 hours after being inaugurated as Portland’s first popularly elected mayor in 88 years.

He said he hopes to start a “robust business visitation program” to speak with corporate leaders about strategies to help them prosper in the city. He also touted his idea of helping businesses and colleges work together on research, hoping that the research will spawn new companies and high-paying jobs.

Brennan also used the occasion to underline some of his differences with the administration of Gov. Paul LePage, saying that unemployed workers want jobs, disputing accusations that low-income housing costs too much, and criticizing a proposal to cut Medicaid health insurance funding for about 65,000 Mainers.

LePage suggested recently that unemployment benefits are too high and discourage jobless Mainers from seeking work.

Without mentioning the governor or his comments, Brennan noted that Sigmund Freud once said work is essential to mental health.

“I think everyone in Portland wants a job,” Brennan said. “They want to be part of the community and, more importantly, it’s essential to mental health.”

When asked about affordable housing, Brennan said he disagrees with state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin about the cost of low-income housing. Poliquin says the cost is too high because the housing is being developed in old structures. Housing officials say that’s designed to take advantage of federal tax breaks.

Brennan said LePage’s proposal to cut thousands of people from the MaineCare program would simply shift the burden of providing health care to poor Mainers from the state to cities and towns.

Brennan said he would like to meet with some of the state’s other mayors to discuss the issue.

Most of Brennan’s speech concerned economic development, which he – and most of the other 14 candidates for mayor – said is a chief concern.

Brennan noted that after his election Nov. 8, he attended a program for new mayors at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. He said experienced mayors convinced him that it’s expensive, and often futile, to try to lure businesses to a city, so time and resources are better spent retaining and expanding businesses that are already there.

He said issues that aren’t directly connected to economic development, such as public safety, quality schools, a vibrant downtown and good health care system, are often important in retaining companies.

After his speech, Brennan said details of some of his plans will be filled out in the next few weeks, after the City Council meets to discuss its committee system and he meets with city economic development officials to set up the business visitation program.

Michael Bourque, president of the chamber and a vice president for the MEMIC Group, noted that the chamber endorsed Jed Rathband for mayor. He said the chamber felt that it didn’t hear enough about economic development from Brennan during the campaign to give him the endorsement.

But after Brennan’s speech, Bourque said, he was “really pleased.”

He said Brennan’s experience as a state senator will help the city, and his business visitation program is a key part of an economic development plan for the city, which the chamber has endorsed.

“His experience is going to be very helpful,” Bourque said. “He knows how things work, and that’s going to be a benefit.”

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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