If I could put a daily reminder quote on the calendar of every Maine voter Tuesday morning, it would be from the Chinese philosopher Laozi: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Why? Because it’s the day we have the opportunity to put our money where our hopes are. We can say “yes” to a $50 million bond issue “to be used for infrastructure, equipment and technology upgrades … that enable organizations to gain and hold market share, to increase revenues and to expand employment or preserve jobs for Maine people.” A very clear goal, a very simple definition of success, but requiring a great deal of patience. The outcome of this vote will not solve this year’s budget crisis, nor the next year’s, nor the one the year after that.

But the thousand-mile journey that this bond issue calls for offers our only hope of eventually filling the ever-deeper budget gaps that now loom in our future as clearly as the prospects of global warming and rising sea levels. While the duration of the long journey to be initiated by passage of the research and development bond cannot be specified, however, there is clear evidence of its ultimately successful outcome – both nationally and in Maine.

According to a report by the National Science and Technology Council published in 2016, “at least one-half of America’s economic growth can be attributed to scientific and technological innovation.” In Maine, at least some evidence of that promise is evident in the data on job creation when viewed from the perspective of age of enterprise.

Using data from the joint Department of Labor-Bureau of the Census program that enables examination of net job gains in private companies according to their age, the net job creation for all Maine private employers between 2011 and 2016 – that is, the number of jobs created minus the number of jobs destroyed – was negative 192, a job loss of 5 percent.

When examining those private employers up to 3 years old, however, the net gain was 728 jobs, an increase of 52 percent. For employers 4 to 10 years old, net job gain was basically stable, an increase of 2 percent, and for employers 11 years and older, net job change was negative 923, a drop of 41 percent.

In what is perhaps even more encouraging news, when considering Maine’s non-metropolitan rural areas, the net job gain numbers are (naturally) smaller, but the pattern by age of firms is similar. Net job gain for young firms (those up to 3 years of age) was 45 percent, while for old firms (11 or more years of age), it was negative 65 percent. And for the middle-aged firms (4 to 10 years old) there was a small net gain of 158 jobs.

In short, even in the rural areas of Maine, where stories of aging population, declining school enrollments and emigration dominate the news, new things are happening in the local business community; hope seems to spring eternal in the entrepreneurial heart wherever it finds itself.

Obviously, not all young Maine firms are growing rapidly, nor are all older Maine firms cutting jobs. But overall, the trend is clear – younger firms are adding more jobs than older firms. Nor is the net job growth of young firms over the past several years a guarantee of continuity. The transition from growing 3-year-old firms into strong 4- to 10-year-old firms is extremely difficult.

But that is precisely why support for the research and development bond before us Tuesday is so crucial. It will provide at least some state funds to help identify and support those young firms (and older firms as well, but particularly young firms) that can make a compelling case that the infrastructure and equipment they need are crucial to a difficult transition from eager, hopeful young enterprise to mature, solid business with a clear path to growth.

A second reason to support Tuesday’s R&D bond is to prepare for whatever may come from the federal government. While Washington today seems to be stuck in the controversies surrounding investigations into our intelligence agencies and efforts to revive or stifle health care reform, at some point congressional attention will turn to infrastructure and economic development programs. If anything emerges from all the talk surrounding this topic, it will almost certainly involve grants and/or loans to state and local entities and requirements for matching funds.

However and whenever such programs may develop, Maine’s entrepreneurial R&D-oriented firms and research institutes will be far better positioned to take advantage of them with a recapitalized Maine Technology Asset Fund than they would otherwise be. If we are serious about reviving our economy and addressing the long-term funding problems facing our schools and health care organizations, we must pass the bond issue before us Tuesday.

Charles Lawton, Ph.D., is a consulting economist. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]