In the spirit of this issue’s focus on the Best of Portland and beyond, here’s a look at the best of what’s been going down on the economic front:
Best Maritime Move to Link Maine’s Markets with the World: A sudden and unexpected surge of life came to Portland’s working waterfront last year when the Icelandic company Eimskip announced it would launch regular cargo ship service between Portland and European ports. Take a look at the huge piles of Eimskip shipping containers beside the Casco Bay Bridge and you’ll get a sense of the scale of goods that are now flowing in and out of Maine thanks to this move. The presence of Eimskip has also allowed for a bizarre infusion of Icelandic culture into Portland, including a recent Eimskip-sponsored series of free Nordic-themed events at SPACE Gallery. The main impact of Eimskip’s presence, though, is the chance for Portland to remain a real working port and for Maine to have a vital economic link with the rest of the world.
Best Effort to Derail Maine’s Economy: The chances of Maine becoming the nation’s next high-tech hub are slim, but there is at least one technology-oriented industry that the state is uniquely suited to serve: offshore wind energy. Maine’s coast is prime for the installment of offshore wind turbines, which is why the Norwegian company Statoil was willing last year to invest $120 million in floating wind turbines off the coast of Boothbay Harbor. But Governor LePage has made it clear he doesn’t like wind energy, and that’s why he reneged on a contract with Statoil that had already been approved by the Public Utilities Commission, prompting the company to back off the investment altogether. LePage says his intention was to give a University of Maine offshore wind project a better chance at winning funding, but the reasoning behind his excuse is incoherent. Since then, the UMaine project failed to win full funding, leaving scarce money for an industry that seemed to be the state’s best chance at combining large-scale economic development with sustainable energy production.
Best Common-Sense Economic Proposal: The city of Seattle recently drew the nation’s attention by raising the city’s minimum wage to $15 per hour. Maine’s minimum wage is exactly half that rate — $7.50 per hour. As long as Governor LePage reigns in Augusta, that’s not going to change. Fortunately, Portland has a mayor who recognizes that the city doesn’t have to wait. Mayor Michael Brennan said he expects to send a minimum wage ordinance to the City Council finance committee this fall (see “Efforts mount to raise minimum wage,” by Deirdre Fulton, March 28). What that ordinance will look like is yet to be determined. There’s a reasonable case to be made that Seattle’s steep hike is a step too far, even if it’s taking effect in a series of smaller increases. But there’s no sensible reason why any city, especially one undergoing a development boom, should allow its workers to be paid at a rate that’s 30 percent lower than the minimum wage in the 1960s (in inflation-adjusted dollars).