Maine is Open for Boondoggles

The Maine Open for Business Chevrolet. (Associated Press photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

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principles known as “smokestack chasing,” which arguably worked in the 1960s and 1970s, but are about 50 years out of date.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.

“Bueller? Bueller?”

5 thoughts on “Maine is Open for Boondoggles

  1. That governor of yours is an interesting guy. Seems kind of thin-skinned, actually. A bit like another weight-challenged and thin-skinned governor named Chris Christie. I wonder if they got pushed around when they were kids? And yes, I know the LePage story, so I guess that’s a moot point. Being bullied makes it okay to become one.

    He sure doesn’t like newspapers.

    I think he’ll win a second term. Nothing to do with any kind of mass support but a matter of having a third party candidate and no mechanism to make sure that another winner pulling less than 40 % doesn’t occur. Of course that smart lawyer Cutler’s also a piece of work. His ego is almost as large as LePage’s. He should feel good about giving you Mainers 8 years of LePage.

    Visiting the state a few times a year makes me realize Maine’s a mess right now. Well, Portland seems fine at least.

  2. Charles Hugh Smith said “the status quo is all about gaming functional systems rather than actually repairing functional systems.” It’s happening everywhere, including Maine but not Maine exclusively. When I think about this quote long enough, it’s evident that “everywhere” is a mess, even Portland.

  3. It’s always interesting to write about someone like the governor–if blog stats were an economic good that could be traded, then blogging about the governor might be an economic driver. As a writer, four more years of his failed polices might be a boon to anyone wanting to dig a little deeper.

    @JAB Interesting quote by Charles Hugh Smith. Mr. LePage has been a master at “gaming” systems and is savvy at pandering to his red meat base. Of course all politicians do this, just not in such an obvious way. There are messes everywhere, and neoliberal economics and austerity measures can’t fix a consumer economy. There are only two solutions–give consumers more money–or create a new economic model, perhaps oriented towards a local and regional scales.Currently, there is no “new” economy, just the same old economy, which is all about smoke and mirrors, trade-offs, with the trade-offs for you and me of unequal value.

    @PilgrimJohn Back in Maine and you didn’t stop to say “hello” or even call! Shame on you! I’d have been happy to meet you in Maine’s Mecca, Portland, for lobster rolls and a beer, down on the waterfront, before the developers scoff what remains of that up and put up another high-end hotel. Beware, PJ, not all is as it seems in Portland, Maine, as I’m finding out by digging just a tad deeper. Look me up the next time you are up this way and have time for lunch. We can trade notes and stories of our travels across the fair state of Maine. I’m also interested in what you’re seeing in some of your other travels across the US of A.

  4. We good–last trip was a quick-hitter. Might be back in November and happy to take you up on your offer. Interesting things happening all across the landscape. Someone told me that Biddeford has beer now. That would be fun!

  5. I disagree with the whole premise of your thoughts of why this is a bad idea.
    I own and operate two small motels in Northern Maine. I am also on the Board of directors of Aroostook County Tourism.
    Promotion of the State of Maine is the job of the Maine office of Tourism. I know several of these people and they work extremely hard at promoting The State of Maine. This particular promotion is unique and to my knowledge has not been done before. NASCAR is the largest spectator sport in the nation. In the Southeast part of the USA it is huge. This part of the country is and should be part of our target market. I have had people from South Carolina, Alabama, and South Carolina stay at my motel. They saw the State of Maine on American Pickers and thought they should come see what the state is all about. They got to the southern part of the state and thought they should see what the rest of the state was like. They spent three nights with us and then traveled to the western part of the state. When I spoke to these people these people were huge NASCAR fans. Their visit to Maine and Aroostook County was from accidental exposure. 85% of the State of Maine benefited from this accidental exposure.
    Even if Austin does not have a good race I think this car will get a lot of press and views while the race is being televised on ESPN. If Austin happens to finish in the top, this car will get huge exposure. Ricky Craven is the ESPN announcer for this race, and he is from Maine. That can’t hurt.
    I think the money spent on this promotion is a better investment than the money spent on the Red Sox promotion. The fact is Austin is doing well in a sport dominated by Good Old Southern Boys, and the fact that the state he comes from is sponsoring him is unique. Unique is a good thing in advertising.
    Marketing and advertising is a grey area. There are no hard and fast rules to say if you do this, then this WILL happen. I think this is a great idea, and I say kudos to you.

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