Maine’s export growth outperforms the nation’s, a positive sign for the state’s economy, which otherwise lags behind the U.S. and the rest of New England.

Exports were one of the few bright spots highlighted in Measures of Growth 2017, the annual report released Tuesday by the Maine Development Foundation and Maine Economic Growth Council. The report assigns grades to 26 economic indicators that range from unemployment rates to fourth-grade reading scores and the quality of Maine’s air and water. Each indicator has a benchmark and an analysis of the state’s performance.

Among the business indicators, Maine seems to be making progress on unemployment and wages, in addition to exports. But it still faces significant challenges in areas such as research and development, transportation infrastructure and gross domestic product.

Overall, the state’s gross domestic product grew 1.1 percent from 2014 to 2015, from $50.5 billion to $51.1 billion, the first positive growth since 2010, according to the report. Maine’s GDP growth between 2010 and 2015 was essentially even, at 0.3 percent, compared with 4.1 percent growth in New England and 10 percent nationally.

“There is no question that Maine’s economic recovery has generally been lower than the country and the region,” said Yellow Light Breen, president and CEO of the Maine Development Foundation.

But Maine now has a 3 percent unemployment rate, the lowest in 40 years, and broke a record for private sector employment in 2016.


The state’s per-capita income was $44,316 in 2016, an increase of 14 percent from 2011. Maine still ranks 33rd in the country and has the lowest annual income out of the six New England states, according to the report.

International sales from Maine grew by 5 percent from 2015 to 2016, while U.S. exports declined by 3.3 percent over the same period. Maine’s export growth was rated second-best in New England and eighth nationally, according to the report.

Total exports were valued at $2.9 billion in 2016 for products shipped to 175 foreign markets. Despite a 15 percent decline in pulp and paper exports, forest products remained Maine’s largest export industry with $626 million in sales in 2016.

Lobster and seafood exports grew 27 percent from 2015 to 2016 and seafood was the state’s largest export commodity, valued at $565 million. The aerospace and defense industries also recorded significant gains. And there was double-digit growth in exports to developing Asian markets such as Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore, from the state’s food and agriculture industries in 2016, said Janine Bisaillon-Cary, president of the Maine International Trade Center.

She expects the growth to continue in 2017.

“We have seen a lot of Maine companies that traditionally traded in European markets going into Asian markets,” she said.


Other sectors, like pharmaceuticals, are also growing, Bisaillon-Cary said.

“We have been doing a lot more in terms of export development and seen a lot more companies diversify into export markets than in the past,” she said.

Companies that export tend to deal in higher-volume orders and pay more than those that deal with domestic sales, she said, adding that the true value of Maine exports is higher because numbers for semiconductors and lobsters are often underreported.


The report’s authors gave “red flags” to several areas, including research and development and transportation infrastructure, both cited as problems in previous years’ reports.

The percentage of Maine’s major arteries for private and commercial traffic that were rated in “fair” or better condition declined from 66 percent in 2014 to 64 percent in 2015, far from the council’s benchmark goal of 81 percent. The condition of smaller roads declined even further, from 60 percent rated “fair” or better in 2010 to only 54 percent in 2015.


The state’s road maintenance is underfunded by about $159 million annually, although the Maine Department of Transportation expects to bond $100 million a year until 2019 to make up some of the shortfall. Lawmakers are considering proposals to boost highway revenue by increasing the gas tax and adding fees for hybrid and electric vehicles.

Transportation spending as a proportion of total state revenues has dropped from 25 percent in the 1970s to 10 percent now, according to the report.

Research and development investment in Maine in 2014 was $596 million, about 1.1 percent of GDP, well below the benchmark of 3 percent by 2020. The U.S. average is 2.8 percent of GDP and New England’s average is 4.7 percent.

The state is on par for nonprofit and public research investment but lacks private sector spending, said the report’s authors. About 65 percent of the state’s research and development investment came from private industry in 2014, compared with 83 percent in the U.S. and New England.

“We just don’t have enough of a concentration of those players in Maine that are private sector,” Breen said.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

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