Maine Offers Business Climate, Workforce for Fast Growth
Companies looking to grow and scale up their operations can find everything they need in Maine.
Companies that come to Maine tend to stay there. That’s the trend Peter DelGreco sees when working with businesses relocating to or expanding in the state.
Executives from prospective companies often share some kind of connection to Maine – from attending college or camp there, skiing in the mountains or vacationing along the coast – and they are drawn not only to the state’s vast beauty and easygoing nature, but the character of its people.
“Because of their experiences here, they know what it will be like when they get back here – and they look for reasons to come back,” says DelGreco, president and CEO of Maine & Company, an organization that assists companies that want to invest, locate or expand in Maine. “Simply put, people just want to be here and stay here.”
With a $54.8 billion economy and a highly regarded network of colleges, universities and research institutions, Maine is known as an innovation leader in key industries such as renewable energy, advanced manufacturing, life sciences and information technology, but what sets it apart in these sectors is its ability to scale.
“If you look at more expensive areas of the northeast, you may be able to find the engineers and PhDs you need for research and development, but when it comes to the operational phase, it’s harder to find the middle-skill workers you need,” DelGreco says. “They are all over the place in Maine.”
Best of All Worlds
Not only that, people want to live there. A 2013 Gallup poll on relocation ranked Maine as the top-third state where residents wanted to stay. This creates a stable, productive workforce for businesses.
“People are happy to be here, and that translates into lower turnover, lower costs and a sustainable advantage for growing companies,” DelGreco says.
Their happiness comes, in part, from having the best of both worlds. Businesses have access to Boston, other top northeast markets and major airport hubs, but can raise their families more easily and live a more affordable lifestyle in Maine. Even “the places where you see entrepreneurial activity happening are the places where people want to live,” DelGreco says.
Not only are Maine’s cities and towns picturesque, they also embrace businesses. The state’s Certified Business-Friendly Community Program is an effort to encourage business development and growth in communities throughout the state, and recognize and promote the ones that show a true commitment to business. These communities provide exceptional service and streamlined regulatory processes for business owners. So far, 27 communities have earned the designation.
Along with supporting longtime business icons like Bath Iron Works and L.L. Bean, the state has also welcomed fast growing technology-based firms, from call centers for Boston Financial and NotifyMD to cloud-based service providers like athenahealth and Carbonite.
Tax and regulatory reform make it easier to do business in Maine, and incentives sweeten the pot for investment and job creation. The Pine Tree Development Zone program, for example, offers businesses in high-growth industries, including information technology, biotechnology, and advanced manufacturing, the opportunity to reduce or eliminate state corporate income and sales and use taxes for up to 10 years. State grants for technology and development also accelerate business growth.
Maine’s economy is a global one. Exports from Maine in 2013 totaled more than $2.7 billion, and major trade partners included Canada, China, Japan and Korea. In addition, foreign direct investment accounts for more than 30,000 jobs in the state, including 7,700 in manufacturing.
“We have seen trade double over the past few years because companies are getting more internationally active, and more foreign companies are investing here, too,” says Janine Bisaillon-Cary, president of the Maine International Trade Center, which assists firms in exporting.
Exports are growing more diverse, Bisaillon-Cary says, expanding from traditional products such as paper, seafood, and aircraft and computer parts to pharmaceutical and medical device products.
Frontier for Tech
Technology is driving investment in Maine, even in mature industries like seafood processing, dairy production and forestry.
“We have tech investors who are coming in to modernize and update the way traditional industries are doing things,” DelGreco says. “They are applying new technologies to sustain and revitalize these industries.”
Venture capitalists from Boston and beyond are also taking a closer look at the state’s emerging startups and investing funds to help them grow and scale, DelGreco adds.
Maine is doing its part to meet demands for a high-tech workforce. Its seven community colleges provide customized training resources to employers as part of the Maine Quality Centers program. Not only does the program train new hires, but it also helps businesses bring incumbent workers up to speed on new technologies, certifications and skills vital to advancement.
“One of the things companies are dealing with is how technology is changing their business on a daily basis and how to stay current,” says James McGowan, director of Maine Quality Centers.
As companies look for the right place to grow, DelGreco predicts more will gravitate to Maine.
“Companies are starting to realize that in a place like Maine they can have a growing business, a wonderful environment and employees, and make great things happen,” he says. “It’s a place that shows way beyond its size.”