The governor has decreed that Maine should hang its economic fortunes on the Maine Is Open for Business Chevrolet and Austin Theriault’s skill as a driver. This seems to be a foolhardy plan at best, hearkening back to economic development principles known as “smokestack chasing,” which arguably worked in the 1960s and 1970s, but are about 50 years out of date. Here’s what Peter Boothroyd and H. Craig Davis had to say about the practice in their 1993 report titled, “Community Economic Development: Three Approaches,” from the Journal of Planning Education and Research—I have a hunch that the governor doesn’t have a subscription to it.
Traditionally, growth has been espoused and promoted by chambers of commerce, unions, and politicians who have grasped at any opportunity to attract investment in order to increase the size of the local economy. This traditional, often haphazard approach to growth promotion has been labeled “smokestack chasing” by its detractors.
Yet, the governor and I’m guessing his economic development gurus, John Butera and George Gervais, apparently cooked this up and think this is a viable strategy. Butera’s economic development claim to fame is FirstPark in Oakland, another example of “putting all your eggs in one basket,” hoping for a home run by attracting a large employer to ride in on a white horse and bestow hundreds of jobs on a community or region.
Two articles written by two different reporters four months ago, which I referenced in a previous blog post on economic development, demonstrated that FirstPark and economic development practices like TiFs are not effective. Similarly, neither is running a stock car around NASCAR tracks, in my opinion. There are innovative models of public-private partnerships that don’t require investing $50,000 in a race car.
Most of Maine’s development community continues to build and develop as in the past—without any recognition of potential consequences relative to peak oil, as well as not recognizing the need for coordinated public transportation, while ensuring livable communities. This is fool-hardy, and just plain short-sighted—but that’s exactly how business boosters, most local governments, and Maine’s development mafia continue to roll.
I’m anxious to hear the usual suspects about government wasting taxpayer dollars weigh-in on this.