PRC speaks out: High summer in Maine is in full swing, but even though folks are enjoying great weather they’re also working on upcoming initiatives for the fall, and next year.

At the Portland Regional Chamber we’ve been a part of many exciting discussions that have the potential to help move our region forward in the months ahead. Here are just a few of them:

  1. Portland continues to attract national attention as a top-quality place to live, work and play. Kiplinger’s just rated Portland the nation’s No. 1 city for people starting “their second act.” Mayor Brennan is leading discussions on how to focus on education and innovation in order to keep Portland and the region moving forward so these ratings keep coming.
  2. Blackstone Accelerates Growth is a multi-year effort to accelerate companies and create 10,000 new high quality jobs in our region and across the state. Leaders of the initiative are reaching out to many of us in the community to help them achieve their goals.
  3. Portland Schools are about to get a new Superintendent. Emmanuel Caulk will join us later this month for conversations about how the Portland region’s business community can support K-12 excellence and a stronger regional economy.
  4. Regional transport policies need greater business community engagement and support. We’ll be working with our region’s transportation policy leaders to explore how national best practices can be implemented here to strengthen regional transit options for the public and our businesses.
  5. The Maine Department of Labor has asked us to partner with them to help connect state and federal workforce training resources with regional employers who have workforce needs. We’ll be working with other Chambers and trade groups to fill the workforce gap.

Look for more information about these initiatives soon. If these efforts produce results, and we expect they will, then the region will continue to build prosperity.

In the meantime make sure you find time to enjoy summer before it ends!

Did you know? That the Opportunity Maine program is a powerful tool to help businesses attract and retain skilled Maine students and workers? Companies that pay their employees’ student loans as an employee benefit can claim a significant tax credit, providing a strong incentive to expand or locate businesses here in Maine. And earlier this year the program was upgraded to provide additional benefits for STEM graduates as a way to help fill the workforce skills gap in these hi-tech, high paying fields.

MaineBiz featured the Opportunity Maine program in an article this week; you can also visit the program website for more information. If you’re not familiar with Opportunity Maine program take a couple of minutes to see if it can help your company.

State Policy round-up: The final line up for state house legislative races was set and both parties assessed their chances for victory in the fall ( BDN, MPBN, PPH). Democrats launched early attack ads ( BDN, MPBN). Ethan Strimling and Phil Harriman continued their BDN video series with segments on our bicameral legislative structure and the art of running for elective office. The PPH editors called for continuation of county jail collaboration policies. Elsewhere:

Ballot watch: The number of state house candidates using the Clean Elections system declined this year ( PPH).

Bonds: Controversy continued to surround the Governor’s decision to delay issuing some already approved state bonds, while letting portions of other bonds go out to sale ( PPH, BDN, BDN, MPBN). John Butera, an advisor to the Governor defended the policy, while Mike Tipping attacked it.

Budget: Last week it appeared that the State of Maine was getting ready to go to court if necessary to make sure that scheduled MaineCare cuts would be legal after the US Supreme Court decision upholding the federal Affordable Care Act ( PPH, BDN, MPBN). Comment came from the PPH editors and David Farmer. An initial federal response to Maine’s planned MaineCare reductions indicated that some but not all of the cuts could proceed ( KJ).

As always the July Fiscal News is full of state budget information provided by the non-partisan staff at the state house.

Economic Development: The PPH editors and George Smith both had good recommendations about marketing Maine in light of the Governor’s recent negative comments about Maine students.

The ‘3-ring binder’ project is nearing completion ( PPH, MaineBiz, MPBN); it drew comment from Daniel Sullivan.

The BDN editors ran a 2-part commentary asking first if Maine’s middle class is dying ( Part 1) and then offering an approach to reducing rural poverty ( Part 2).

Education: Fallout continued after the Governor’s education policy news conference ( PPH, BDN, PPH, BDN and BDN coverage of several twists and turns). The PPH editors, the LSJ editors, the BDN editors, John Frary, Lynne Miller, Paul Trahan, and Mary Paine all commented.

Supporters of charter schools celebrated their early successes and looked forward to more charters ( BDN), while John Jacques, head of Baxter Academy, explained the advantages of his school. Bonnie Titcomb Lewis wrote about the positives at USM while the PPH editors urged the entire UMaine System to better publicize its successes.

State budget cuts to head start ( PPH) and minimum teacher salaries ( BDN) both kicked in last month. At Lincoln Academy businesses and educators are working together to bridge the skills gap ( MaineBiz).

Energy: John Kerry, John Kassel and John Hinck all wrote about Maine energy policy. At the direction of the Law Court the PUC has opened an investigation into the safety of smart meters ( PPH).

Environment: Kevin Roche wrote about the benefits of Ecomaine.

Health Care: DHHS disclosed that the agency lacked the resources to follow up all the fraud cases in Maine identified by the federal government ( BDN) – the BDN editors commented. DHHS also disclosed that Maine had overbilled the federal government $9.2 million for Medicaid ( BDN). A Harvard study showed that Maine’s Medicaid expansion reduced mortality rates in Maine by more than 6 percent ( MPBN) – the BDN editors commented. The federal government is moving ahead to create health insurance exchanges for states, including Maine, that have not yet designed their own ( BDN).

Labor: Maine Department of Labor Commissioner Robert Winglass announced his resignation — Deputy Commissioner Jeanne Paquette has been nominated to take over ( PPH, BDN). A federal program allowing states to use unemployment insurance funds to create jobs will not be used in Maine because the state doesn’t have the money needed to participate ( BDN). MPBN’s Tom Porter reported on concerns among Maine businesses over new state laws allowing employees to bring guns to workplace parking lots.

Small business: Sen. Olympia Snowe and Google teamed up last month to help small business owners get their companies on line, and make that presence more effective ( BDN, MPBN).

Statewide: Maine topped a Gallup poll as the nation’s most pessimistic state when asked about our future standard of living ( BDN).

Tax: New Hampshire officials are fighting a bill in Congress that would require companies making Internet sales to collect sales tax for the state in which their customer lives. New Hampshire’s opposition is based on the fact the state has no sales tax, so it would gain no benefit from the law, and NH Internet retailers would only act as collection agents for other states ( BDN).

Transportation: The Maine Turnpike Board of Directors gave preliminary approval to a toll increase ( PPH, BDN, LSJ, MPBN). The LSJ editors commented.

Upcoming Events: Mobilize Maine is hosting two public forums in September that you might be interested in: Sept. 20 at Xavier Hall, St. Joseph’s College in Standish, and Sept. 27 at Freeport’s Community Center. Both forums run from 4 to 6 pm. For more information, or to register, contact Caroline Paras at 207-774-9891 or email

Around the Region: Many of the state house races in our region are set with new candidates stepping up ( Forecaster). Expansion of Southern Maine Community College in Brunswick is moving ahead ( BDN). Elsewhere:

In Cape Elizabeth nomination papers are available for 3 seats on the Town Council and 3 seats on the School Board ( Forecaster). The deadline for submitting signatures is Sept. 7. Negotiations to keep Crescent Beach in the state park system have slowed, spawning a petition ( Forecaster, PPH).

In Cumberland check the t own’s website for local news, municipal notices and more.

In Falmouth a new municipal rule allowing temporary business signs hasn’t been used much yet ( Forecaster). The Council is discussing new limits on the size of ‘big box’ stores on Route 1, and an Aug. 27 public hearing is set for input on the proposal ( PPH). The Forecaster’s William Hall looked at Route 1 and Route 100, and explored whether development on both roads will be treated similarly.

In Gorham the Town Council was considering using the Little Falls School as the new home for the Gorham Police Department ( Current, PPH) – now additional options are on the table ( Current).

In Portland the City Council’s approval of two new Tax Increment Financing (‘TIF’) agreements ( PPH, PDS, Forecaster) was accompanied by discussion of possibly changing the City’s rules for future TIF’s ( PPH report, list of current TIF’s, PPH editors offer reform idea). Elsewhere:

Plans to re-develop Congress Square Plaza ran into opposition ( PDS, Forecaster), and the PPH editors urged the City Council to keep looking for a way to support the Eastland’s expansion proposal. A new development proposal is in the works ( PDS, PPH). Rachel Miller commented;

The PPH editors saw opportunity in the City’s trend toward residents using fewer cars, and Bill Basford proposed a related property tax reform;

A campaign to support breastfeeding in public places, including businesses, kicked off ( BDN, PDS, MPBN, PP);
Restaurateurs in the City are grappling with new inspections, and new regulations ( Forecaster);

For the latest check out Chris O’Neil’s Inside City Hall. Chris serves as a consultant to the Portland Community Chamber, working closely with members and staff to represent the Chamber before Portland City officials. Inside City Hall covers a host of Portland related issues. It’s something that everyone with an interest in Portland affairs will want to read.

In Scarborough nomination papers are available for 2 seats on the Town Council and 3 seats on the School Board ( Forecaster). The deadline for submitting signatures is Sept. 5. This week the Planning Board approved the 81-unit senior living project in the Oak Hill area ( Current).

In South Portland nomination papers are available for 2 seats on the City Council and 3 seats on the School Board ( Forecaster). The deadline for submitting signatures is Sept. 10. New tenants have pushed occupancy at the Maine Mall to nearly 100 percent ( PPH).

In Westbrook a recent audit report has clarified past school system fiscal issues ( Current).

Senate Watch: Because we keep getting questions from members it’s worth repeating that the Portland Regional Chamber is neither supporting nor opposing any of the candidates running for Maine’s open U.S. Senate seat. The U.S. Chamber has made an endorsement ( BDN), but as Portland Regional Chamber CEO Godfrey Wood clearly explained in our newsletter, our organization is not connected to the US Chamber’s political action efforts in any way. Other Chambers in Maine also distanced themselves from the U.S. Chamber’s endorsement ( PDS).

Want to speak out? It’s easy to do, and believe it or not, it can really work. Notice that all the legislative committees mentioned above are linked – just click on them and you’ll get emails, phone numbers and everything you need to make your voice heard in the state house. If you need help, just email me!

Feedback: So what do you think? We’d love to have your thoughts on anything you’ve read here, or on other topics that are important to you. The more you talk to us, the better we’ll represent your views. Send an email if you’d like to share your feedback with me – and thank you!

Partners for Progress Policy Updates from the Portland Regional Chamber are supported by the generous contributions from our Partners for Progress. If you’d like to become a Partner, please contact Chamber CEO Godfrey Wood. And for more information about joining the Portland Regional Chamber businesses building a better community – just click here.