Thursday, December 13, 2012

Is Maine Really the "Worst" for Business?


Re: “Forbes names Maine worst state for business for 3rd time in a row,” Bangor Daily News, 12/12/2012.

I am beginning to feel like the editors at Forbes magazine have something against us, here in Maine.
Still, if we are to take the ranking at face-value and accept the premise that Maine is the worst state to do business, then let’s explore why that is the case.
First and foremost, our primary income comes from tourism. This is a great industry for what it is worth, but it is hardly a stable, steady source of revenue. For one thing, tourism is seasonal. More importantly, when the economy nose-dives, people travel less, take fewer vacations, and generally cut-back on nonessential spending. That does not mean people are no longer visiting Maine in the summer—believe me, they are. But a state cannot rely solely on tourism (again, especially in an economic downturn) as its main source of revenue.
As for our aging population, it is true: Maine has the oldest median population in the country. And many of them are still working because they either have not yet reached retirement age or, those that have, are not financially secure enough to retire.
Whichever the reason, Baby Boomers’ reluctance to leave the jobs they have held for over 30 years prevents young people from getting a foot in the door. And, despite middle-aged job seekers’ frequent complaints about employer age-bias, the fact is older workers have a distinct advantage over recent college graduates in that they have years of experience. Employers do not need to train them at all—a fact they love. As a result, young Mainers become fed up with the lack of employment opportunities and leave for Boston or farther. The entire state suffers from this “brain drain” because it deprives us of young people’s skills, talents, and innovation.
And while I cannot speak to Maine’s allegedly high business tax rates (said to be the highest in the nation, though I have never seen any credible study confirming this to be the case), my feeling is business owners will always find something to complain about. They will not be happy until their taxes owed are $0.00. Meanwhile, they make their own hours, serve as their own boss, and largely have the freedom to pursue the employment of their choice. That is a luxury many do not enjoy in this economy. A lot of my friends hate their jobs.
The rest of us must pay taxes. I do not understand why the business community feels it should be exempt from them.
I do not doubt Maine has many barriers that drive away businesses. But given the various factors one must consider (climate, geography, median income, overall population, number of major cities versus rural towns, weather, etc.) I also do not know how it is possible to categorically generalize an entire state as the “best” or “worst” for business.
Regardless, I think the Democrats’ first act in the new Legislature should be to tear down the ridiculous “Open for Business” sign that now greets motorists on the highway, and replace it with Maine’s original state motto, “The Way Life Should Be.” If we’re to believe Forbes, the new sign is clearly going unnoticed.   

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