Message Behind a Mill Closing
Maine Sunday Telegram, Portland
The recent news that Georgia-Pacific was closing its mill in Old Town had been expected for months. But that doesn't make it hurt any less.
The announcement sent another shiver of uncertainty across a region reeling from years of upheaval in the paper industry. Should a buyer of the mill fail to materialize, four hundred people could be out of work and 34 percent of Old Town's tax base might vanish.
Governor John Baldacci, who is spearheading efforts to save the mill and its jobs, must feel like the Little Dutch Boy. Five times he has rushed into the breach in an attempt to stave off mill closures and hold back the relentless tide. This is Baldacci's second attempt to salvage the Old Town mill. In 2003, the state bought a Georgia-Pacific landfill, allowing the company to buy a biomass boiler to lower energy costs.
This time, the company's owner, Koch Industries, says the mill is an asset Georgia-Pacific no longer needs. That doesn't mean a new owner couldn't reorient its production line and turn a profit. Baldacci says several interested buyers have been touring the complex. We wish him luck.
But a new owner will almost certainly reduce the paper mill's work force. Many of the mill's suppliers, like the wood-chip operations that closed in Costigan, Houlton, Portage, and Milo, will also be pared back or lose their reason for existence.
That's if things go well. However, Baldacci and the rest of Maine have to understand that rescuing mill jobs is no kind of economic development strategy for the state's North Woods. The paper industry, once the state's economic mainstay, now employs about 10,000 people, or roughly half its work force of ten years ago. The grim trend shows no sign of abating.
Where does the region's future lie? Only time will tell, but an intelligent strategy will sustain the most valuable part of the North Woods' economic base, its natural landscape. Surely tourism, now the largest generator of forest jobs, has a big role to play. These may not be the mill jobs of yore, but those days are going fast. Plum Creek's proposal for the Moosehead Lake region, the North Woods' largest development proposal ever, also demonstrates how the shifting valuation of timberland could lead to unprecedented changes in the landscape.
The Land Use Regulation Commission, which controls development in the unorganized territories, has seen sharp budget and staff cuts that have left it unable to do proactive planning. Baldacci or his successor should give this vital agency the resources it needs to deal with the wave of change washing through Maine's vast and iconic North Woods.
Bangor Daily News
Bridging the Bear Gap
A committee set up to study Maine's bear hunting, baiting, and trapping laws has taken small steps to improve those laws. More important, the committee suggests studying the impacts of baiting on bear health and gathering more information about bear trapping, data that would be useful when referendum questions to ban bear baiting and trapping inevitably return to the ballot.
Those who want outright bans on trapping and baiting characterized the report as a failure while sportsmen said the department "caved in" to the interests of wildlife advocacy groups. While far from complete, the recently released report is an important start in bridging the gap between these two groups.
A referendum to ban the hunting of bears with bait or dogs and to outlaw trapping was rejected by voters in 2004. Although it failed, polls showed strong public disapproval of trapping. The bear working group, set up by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IF&W) after the vote, begins to address this concern by calling for a prohibition on steel-jawed leghold traps, devices even many sportsmen consider unnecessary. The department should enact such a ban and a one-trap limit, down from the current two.
The committee, which included sportsmen, landowners, and animal welfare groups, failed to agree on an outright trapping ban and recommended that the IF&W gather more information about how many trappers there are in Maine and what types of devices they use. The committee also called for more study of bear baiting and its effects on ursine health, reproduction, and survival. Such information was lacking during the 2004 referendum campaign.
Beyond bears, the best way to ensure that IF&W is not viewed as an agency that caters to hunters and fishermen is to fund more of its operations from the General Fund. Recognizing this problem, the legislature in 2003 passed a bill requiring the state to fund 18 percent of the department's budget with money from the General Fund. Because of budget shortfalls, this has not happened. Attempts to assess fees on hikers, kayakers, and other nonconsumptive users have also failed.
Improving Maine's bear-hunting laws and IF&W's funding situation will take time and cooperation from sportsmen and wildlife advocates. This working group should be a step in that direction.
Sun Journal, Lewiston
Plugging the Brain Drain
We have been too long content with the doubtful compliment that 'Maine is a good state to go from.' She must be made a good state to come to, and stay in. We want to induce our young men and women to remain among us, and better themselves and us and the state by so doing."
— Governor Joshua Chamberlain, inaugural address, 1867
A new study released recently debunks the long-held view in Maine that if we just offered our young citizens a better education, they would stay here and build a stronger and more prosperous Maine with their talents and ambition. Joshua Chamberlain knew better in 1867 when he made the inextricable link between good jobs and a good life in Maine. He implied that Maine's famous quality of life is a "doubtful compliment" and goes on in his first inaugural speech to argue that the inducement to keep young people in Maine must be good-paying jobs.
In other words, Maine needed more than its rugged beauty to offer its citizens a good quality of life. It still does: Maine remains one of the poorest states in the union and, thus, among the very highest taxed as a percentage of our income.
The new study by the Finance Authority of Maine harks back to Chamberlain when it concludes that, "only by expanding career opportunities will we be capable of turning the so-called 'Brain Drain' into a 'Brain Gain.' "
The study sadly reveals that not much has changed since 1867: college-educated Mainers who stay in the state after earning their degrees say they "sacrifice" by accepting lower wages and benefits in exchange for living near their families and enjoying the recreational opportunities that are so much a part of the Maine mystique.
The study also shows that the people who put higher pay and better benefits above all else — an alternate definition of "quality of life" — are the ones who don't stay in Maine or come back to Maine after college. They include 69 percent of the "best and brightest" students and 66 percent of new graduates who go into the business or technology fields. "Find me a job and I'll move back in a second," said one of the nearly 1,800 study participants.
Until now, Maine policymakers have long focused on improving education as the primary way to cure the state's historic economic malaise and keep kids in Maine. But that view ignores two crucial points: a college education does little good without jobs that require college educations — and pay college-education wages — and, as importantly, half of Maine's high school graduates don't go to college.
It is true that if you build something, such as universities and colleges, people will come. But six generations after Chamberlain, it remains truer that if you build economic opportunities, even more people will come. And stay.
Portland Press Herald
A Conglomerate Fate for Tom's of maine
No matter how the founders of Tom's of Maine and their new corporate parent spin it, things are going to change at this local toothpaste company. Colgate-Palmolive Company has agreed to pay $100 million for a controlling interest in Tom's, making the firm founded by Tom and Kate Chappell a small part of one of the largest consumer products companies in the world.
The Chappells seem to have done an admirable job of finding a responsible buyer and extracting conditions in the sale that will help Tom's retain much of what is special about it, including its base here in Maine. But change is part of the bargain. Tom Chappell noted that the whole reason for the sale is to link his company's all-natural toothpaste and deodorant lines with a marketing powerhouse that can accelerate growth.
That no doubt will bring change, and perhaps some of it will be quite positive for the state if the Tom's operation here grows as much as is hoped. Whether the new Colgate division retains all of the social awareness that marked Tom's management, however, is an open question.
In the end, though, given that the Chappells are well into middle age, the sale probably makes a good deal of sense for the couple. It also likely makes sense for the company because in a world growing more competitive because of new communications and computer technologies, consumer brands will be challenged on the price front. Getting distribution through the big, efficient retailers like Wal-Mart is essential, and working with those retailers is demanding.
Also, Tom's has a good story to tell and a product with a loyal following. Marrying those traits to a big marketing budget portends success.
So, while it is lamentable that another local company has sold out to a conglomerate, it's also an opportunity for Maine.
Kennebec Journal, Augusta
Hospital Cooperation, Not Competition
The recent announcement that Inland Hospital has dropped plans to build a new facility in Waterville is good news. Inland's plan was both ambitious and expensive, calling for a new 290,000-square-foot building at a cost of about $120 million. Including the 70,000-square-foot medical office, it would have been roughly four times Inland's current size.
The problem with those plans is that patients would eventually have had to pay for them. Donors can play a major role in providing capital for the construction of health-care facilities, but, in the end, patients pay to staff, maintain, and operate them.
The state has a certificate of need process for exactly this reason. New investments in buildings or technology have to be justified — that is where the "need" comes in. With MaineGeneral also planning a project in Waterville, a $107 million expansion of the Thayer Unit, it is certain that both projects would not be approved.
Now that a clash of building projects is no longer likely, the question becomes how can both entities work together. Inland and MaineGeneral had discussed the possibility of joining forces. Those talks collapsed.
Both entities should now step back and take a wider look at the needs of central Maine. At a time when medical technology is constantly improving but health care is becoming less affordable, the most important question hospitals face is how to provide top-quality care while keeping that care accessible.
The most precious resource our hospitals offer us is the expertise and compassion of their staffs. Cooperation, not competition, would allow both MaineGeneral and Inland to use that resource to best serve the whole community.
Kennebec Journal, Augusta
Sundancing at the Square
The recent announcement that Waterville's Railroad Square Cinema is one of only fourteen theaters chosen to be part of the Sundance Institute's Art House Initiative is well-earned recognition. The founders of Railroad Square started almost thirty years ago with only their ideas and a passionate desire to show high quality independent films, the kind that never make it to the multiplex screens. Being chosen for the honor validates the decades of work of a small group of people to create a cultural resource that serves all of central Maine.
Portland Press Herald
Finned Foreign Invasion
The discovery of northern pike in a pond feeding a tributary of the Kennebec River is more bad news for anglers who like their fish native. State fishery biologists this spring announced they'd found pike in a pond that feeds a tributary of the Kennebec. Once established, pike are virtually impossible to eradicate.
These pike didn't get there on their own, but were released by sportsmen who enjoy the pike's pugnacious disposition when hooked. These "bucket biologists" are not harmless tinkerers selflessly improving on nature by increasing the diversity of fish species. They're criminals whose only thought is for their own enjoyment.
Sun Journal, Lewiston
Unwise Pay Increase
Governor John Baldacci should be commended for wanting to increase the base salary of Maine teachers, but he also should be admonished for leading people to believe the idea would cost only $4 million a year. The governor doesn't mention that boosting the base pay will almost surely increase the pay of all teachers, as well as administrators. He also doesn't mention that the teacher salary problem is in northern Maine, where the average pay is about $32,500 a year, compared to southern Maine's $40,000 a year.
The governor might be looking for teacher votes for his re-election bid in November, but he is being insensitive to property owners who would have to pay for the raises and who already pay more of the overall tax burden than any other group of taxpayers in Maine.