I’ve been searching for something good to say about Gov. LePage, and now I have it.

Last week, the governor had lunch with about a dozen owners of what are generally called “micro-businesses.” Those are businesses that usually employ just the owner or a few others.

Big deal, right? Who cares about puny little businesses like that, when what we really need is large manufacturing operations and more call centers?

Congratulations to the governor for recognizing that micro-businesses are the engine of Maine’s next economy. There are more than 130,000 of them in Maine (not including small farms). They employ about a quarter of all the people in the state. Many operate out of people’s homes, basements and garages, and their ranks are growing.

While they’re small, they don’t always stay that way. Lots of them eventually grow into businesses that employ five to 10 or even 50 people, while others get much bigger and become anchors of local communities.

Maine has more of these micro-businesses than any other state in New England, and they fit who we are perfectly. Unlike many of the state’s largest companies, they aren’t owned by people in New York or Europe or Asia with very little connection to the state. Instead, they’re rooted in local communities and run by people who understand and appreciate Maine.

For decades we’ve been thinking that our salvation was going to be found in a new wave of big manufacturing plants transferring to Maine. Meanwhile, our best hopes have been here all along, and all around us.

The key to a new prosperity in Maine is in their hands. It is in building an economy from the ground up, around micro-businesses, small startups and entrepreneurs. What we need isn’t so much a few large engines as tens of thousands of little ones, all part of bootstrapping ourselves into the next economy.

But for them to succeed, and for our overall economy to grow, we’ve got to do a lot more to help them along, to keep them in Maine and to attract thousands of others like them from around the country.

Entrepreneurs and micro-businesses can’t afford the big lobbyists who hang out all day in Augusta. They don’t provide politicians with opportunities for elaborate ribbon cuttings, and they just about never get in the news when they hire somebody. They just keep quietly plugging away at making things happen, getting work done, fixing what’s broken and inventing what’s needed.

Those entrepreneurs usually get started without tax breaks and low-interest loans from anyone. They do it without high-powered lawyers and advocates. Which is all the more reason why they need more politicians and newspapers paying attention to them and becoming their advocates. It’s a good investment in our future.

Some skeptics will argue that LePage’s meeting was little more than a photo op for his campaign. Or they’ll ask why the champion of big business is suddenly interested in the little guys. I prefer to just applaud any action that brings attention to micro-businesses and entrepreneurs, and leave it at that.

If you’re wondering why you hadn’t heard about LePage’s lunch, or the importance of micro-businesses, the reason is simple. It’s the same reason you didn’t hear much about the terrific jet engines that the folks in North Berwick are making: Both stories were completely overshadowed last week by yet another LePage “joke” gone horribly awry.

While strapped into a simulator at an event at Pratt & Whitney, LePage managed to kill both of those stories with another of his trademark one-liners, this time about his desire to blow up the Portland Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News. Naturally, the story reverberated around the country, making Americans once again wonder what Maine voters were thinking in 2010.

When I read that story, all I could see was a small boy in one of those circling airplane rides at Palace Playland. With both hands firmly on the handles of the plastic machine gun on the hood, and sinister glee, he was firing away at buildings on all sides while making loud “brat-a-tat-tat,” “pow-pow” noises.

Watching LePage is like going to the July fireworks when the town has a little extra money. Just when you think he’s fired off his last rocket, here comes the “boom, boom” of another salvo. Everything is just a false finale, soon to be topped by the next burst.

For Maine’s sake, I hope the fireworks stop soon so we can focus on some of the good news that’s happening around the state.

Alan Caron is president of Envision Maine, a nonprofit organization that promotes Maine’s next economy, and a partner at the Caron & Egan Consulting Group. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]


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