By Rep. Linda Valentino, D-Saco
September 1, 2011
In Maine, more than 70 percent of our businesses are small. Our state’s innovative businesses and the people that make them work put Maine on the map.
Recently, a dozen Maine businesses even made Inc. magazine’s prestigious list of the nation’s fastest growing companies. Moreover, major employers that come to Maine say our workforce is a leading factor.
It is critically important that our policies in Augusta help continue to support these businesses, which are key to economic growth and job creation in our state.
Lawmakers in Augusta have passed tax credits to help existing businesses expand and to spur business growth in new markets, especially in poorer areas in rural Maine. Democrats also championed tax credits for traditional Maine industries like lobstering and commercial fishing, and took steps to grow our maple syrup production and marketing, building on the Maine “brand” that our state is known for across the world.
One bill I introduced this year to provide tax credits encouraging investment in Maine’s new companies, called “seed capital” investments, will become law this month. The law encourages investment in Maine’s entrepreneurs that run our small businesses, employ our neighbors, and line our Main Streets. In New England and across the country, we’ve seen these kinds of programs result in high quality and well-paying jobs.
The Ernst and Young investment research company rated Maine as having some of the best tax rates for business investment in the country because of targeted tax policies like these and others that Democrats passed a few years ago. Our state has also received high marks from the US Chamber of Commerce for our effort to expand access to the Internet in rural areas.
While our efforts have been praised by leading business groups across the country, many families and businesses are still struggling. That’s why Democrats advocated for a law this year to make it easier to weather economic downturns. We created a “work-share” program that helps employers to avoid layoffs by reducing employees’ hours and allowing part-time unemployment benefits until conditions improve. The program minimizes layoffs, helps businesses keep their qualified trained employees, and keeps more Maine people working.
While Democrats rejected the Governor’s efforts to rollback environmental protections that our state’s economy depends on, we found common ground on reforming our regulatory climate. We streamlined regulations to make it easier for businesses to work with the state. I had the wonderful opportunity to be a part of the regulatory reform committee, which listened to businesses across Maine about the importance of reforming our regulatory climate while still protecting our environment.
The Regulatory Reform law also directed the state to look into ways to attract foreign investment here through federal “EB-5” centers. The program allows foreign investors to come to the United States if they commit to spending capital and creating jobs in under-served areas.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that administers the program, estimates that the EB-5 Regional Center Program has created tens of thousands of American jobs and attracted more than $1 billion in investment in communities across the United States since 2006. As a member of the Regulatory Reform Committee, I have been appointed to work with the Department of Economic and Community Development and the Maine International Trade Center to explore this program.
Vermont has been a national leader in using the EB-5 program to create jobs. Foreign investors have put their dollars to work in diverse projects such as ski resort expansions in Vermont, dairy farms in Iowa, and the redevelopment of decommissioned military bases in California.
When the Legislature resumes work in Augusta in January, I hope to continue to push for laws that help our small businesses and working families. Working to improve our economy will be critical as our state and nation struggle to emerge from the recession.
Valentino serves on the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee and the Joint Select Committee on Regulatory Fairness and Reform.