As I tour the State of Maine as a member of the Legislature's Regulatory Fairness & Reform Committee, I have been thinking hard about how jobs are created. The soundbite "government doesn't create jobs, businesses do," and its corollary "government just needs to get out of the way" for jobs to return are both missing the point in my view. I recently had the opportunity to visit with University of Maine students conducting complex research in the biosciences lab, during the Legislative economic development bus tour last month. Students and faculty at UMO, funded with federal grants and state R&D bonds, as well as general taxpayer funding for the University, are doing amazing research turning wood into jet fuel and building wooden bridges that are stronger than steel. Fortunately, because Maine taxpayers have supported bond issues and funded higher education, government is NOT "getting out of the way" but instead partnering with the University, which is in turn partnering with numerous businesses, such as Augusta's Kenway Corporation, resulting in new jobs and even brand-new industries.
This approach to job creation is consistent with the recent report of the Maine Chamber of Commerce which did NOT suggest repealing our environmental laws, but rather improving education and supporting research & development. While many jobs are created by businesses, many are also created by nonprofits - something I was reminded of when the Maine Association of Nonprofits visited the State House recently. A 2010 report found that Maine nonprofits both create jobs and contribute to the economic vitality of the State. During the last quarter of 2008, nonprofits provided 82,823 jobs, employing 1 in 7 Maine workers, making the nonprofit sectior the second largest employer in the state behind the retail industry - and they paid over $3.1 billion in wages in 2008.
As I listen to testimony this coming week at the regulatory reform hearings in Sanford, South Portland and Bangor, I'm going to be thinking about not only how regulations may hamper business, but also how balanced investments by the State and responsible regulation can actually support businesses and spur innovation. The recent chairlift deraillment at Sugarloaf has shone a spotlight on the important role of regulators in the ski industy. Vermont's economy is synonymous with maple syrup and skiing, and it regulates the heck out of both - which benefits jobs.
As reaffirmed by a federal report , the economic meltdown and worldwide recession was caused not only by greed and self-dealing by financial institutions and other Wall Street institutions, but also by the failure of financial regulators to properly intervene. Governor LePage's spokeswoman has stated that to create jobs, Maine should adopt Mississippi's 6-page hazardous waste rules instead of our 40 page opus. Isn't it amazing, then, that Maine had a December unemployment rate of 7.3% while Mississippi topped out at 9.7%? What gives? I think all legislators are focused on trying to create jobs; but let's remember we wouldn't be facing such high unemployment and economic distress had the financial industry acted more responsibly and government regulated more.