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Kathy Gagnon

Jobs & the Future of Our Economy
By Kathy Gagnon
Oct 10, 2005 - 12:10:00 AM

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Should Millinocket sit back and allow the town to become a tourist haven? A new study of Maine jobs finds that 25% of them do not pay enough for a family of four’s basic needs, such as housing, food, transportation, and education. While approximately 50% of these jobs provide no pension, health insurance, or sick leave. Other findings in recent studies show the quality of service industry jobs is much lower than manufacturing positions. Currently, one in 12 Mainers holds more than one job in comparison to the national average of one in 20.

Tourism jobs in Maine have been found to be at a disadvantage compared to our closest competitors, MA, NH, and VT. This may be one of the reasons why Maine is plagued by a labor shortage for tourism jobs. While owners of tourism-based businesses enjoy the advantage of paying lower wages over the neighboring states, few offer a livable wage. Figures with the Department of Labor show the majority offer only slightly more than legal minimum wage with no benefits. Many tourism employers prefer to apply for permission to import foreign seasonal workers rather than offer better wages to Maine employees seeking jobs.

Low-paying service jobs do not offer health benefits. Lack of adequate health insurance is a leading cause for health problems that could have been prevented if treated. People without insurance tend to put off visits to the doctor and end up paying more when heath problems go untreated until they reach a medical crisis point and require a trip to the emergency room. Costs from these emergency room trips are high and  result in putting an economic strain on families who must sometimes need to request assistance from municipal services because of the medical expenses. Services at our local hospital are being cut back more and more with many of us needing to travel to Bangor for treatments or care. This only adds to the costs with gas prices rising.

Another family problem related to low-wages is that these jobs require workers to work more hours in order to compensate for the low wages. The results of this for families with children can be a lack of parental supervision, or problems related to child care.

Even though tourism has become Maine’s largest employer, job quality for employees is still substandard with long hours, hard work for low wages, and no benefits.

What tourism is doing to “host communities” has yet to be determined. Questions remain with regard to what the net contribution is to local and state government revenues after deducting the extra spending required for road maintenance, parking, public safety and waste disposal. Also the impact to water and air quality, wildlife habitat, and the ecosystem has yet to be realized. Large scale commercial development can potentially cause destruction of valuable natural resources as well as noise and traffic problems. To those who like the small town life, this can cause unwelcome issues with their quality of life expectations.

We have dealt with tourism here for years now without causing complete disruption to our lives, our town, or our forests. Tourism is a needed component to the area, but we can not allow it to be the only thing or to destroy our way of life as we know it.

In some cases - and we may be looking at this situation ourselves with Brims Ness and Allagash Valve - towns use tax incentives to entice industries to locate in their community, and end up placing even greater burdens on local property owner's taxes. Property taxes are the major source of local government revenue. Corporate tax incentives often end up decreasing tax revenue because most have few requirements of accountability to ensure the businesses receiving them are required to guarantee the creation of long-term jobs with adequate pay and benefits.

Maine has a serious problem with large corporations receiving tax breaks twice for the same purpose through different programs. This results also in small businesses supplying most of the state jobs being unable to benefit from these incentives. The same large corporations often relocate businesses when these funds dry up, leaving the towns high and dry, with nothing to show for their efforts. The out-migration resulting from the loss of  these corporations leads to less property tax revenue and less municipal revenue and higher property taxes for residents. For all of these reasons, I believe we need to concentrate on developing small business enterprises in our town. As Einstein said, “All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded the individual.”

The time has come for us to stop the MAGIC insanity and division in this town, and hire our own economic developer to work along with the town manager and a MAGIC-free town council. Fort Kent recently hired their own developer out of ten people who applied for this $35,000 a year position. Many other towns pay developers in this range for services.

Bruce Mclean states that MAGIC’s current yearly budget is $150,000 which covers little else besides salaries and operating expenses. I think we can do much better for far less. Mr. McLean also states that the $150,000 basically pays only for his time and knowledge. Obviously, that doesn’t include job creation, but isn't that the whole point? He then tells us that the services MAGIC offers to us are FREE. This is a surprise to me. Mr. McLean claims part of his services include organizing meetings with SBA, USDA-RD, FAME, EMDC and traditional lenders. But as far as I know, all of these services are open to the public and people may organize meetings with them by picking up the phone and calling for themselves. No expensive “middle man” is required. In turn, these organizations can and will assist people with what other options they may seek for assistance and programs, for free. They are very competent in assisting people with applying to programs and with writing a business plan.

Mr. Mclean lists his successes as:

Allagash Valve & Control, Lupine’s, Miller’s Department Store, D & S Engineering, Katahdin K-9, Home Grown on the Hill, Katahdin Paper Co., Fat Cat Advertising, Brims Ness, The Community Press Michael Brown Cabinet Makers, BRIC, Katahdin Time Dollar Exchange, Kathadin Energy Commons & unnamed others.

According to Mr. McLean, only one or two on this list are struggling for existence. Some of these listed, I am unaware of their existence. I believe more than one or two are either struggling or have ceased to exist altogether. Since the Pine Tree Zones are a state program, I don’t believe they can be claimed as an assist by MAGIC. However, Mr. McLean does claim credit for having helped create this program and for Millinocket being included in it.

Meanwhile, Lincoln Lake Region Development Corp., which serves Lincoln and 19 other surrounding communities operated on a yearly budget of $65,000 for 2004. For this $65,000, LLRDC pays for office space and overhead of that office space, one full-time Executive Director, one part-time secretary, 75% health benefit for Executive Director, and $2,500 for certification & reimbursement of mileage costs. No monies were allocated for marketing and promotion of the region. Think of the costs MAGIC has incurred for ads to promote its own funding.

In return for their $65,000, LLRDC has seen the following new businesses: Two restaurants, a hobby shop, two dental centers, upholstery business, two music supply and instruction stores, golf driving range, two exercise businesses, karate instruction, cleaners, oil company, photo business, and a business that sells Maine wood for cooking and smoking. Several existing businesses enlarged. These businesses are all up and running. The area has had successful revitalization for less than half of what we are paying.

Economic development aimed at helping local people to start numerous micro-businesses would help to revitalize the town. We don’t need large resorts or corporations owned by unknown people living far away. Locally owned businesses for local people and tourists with people shopping locally will bring the needed revenue back to town as well as quality jobs with livable wages. Paying excessive monies for administration costs for a program that has not shown success after five years and over a million dollars is not going to save our town.

Please think about this. Do your own Internet investigating. Make choices in November that will save and grow the town without making it what other people envision it to be for their purposes. Save our town and it’s heritage.

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