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Grow smarter
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  October 16, 2008

In 2006, GrowSmart Maine unveiled “Charting Maine’s Future,” a report by the Brookings Institution, a Washington DC-based think tank. The project was part report-card and part action-plan, geared toward improving Maine’s government and economy without losing our state’s quality of place (see “Unvarnished,” by Sara Donnelly, September 29, 2006).

Last Friday, at the annual GrowSmart summit held at the Augusta Civic Center, more than 500 people checked in on Maine’s progress, and brainstormed how to keep up (or increase) the momentum. The attendees were legislators and legislative hopefuls, non-profit employees, and local activists. Here’s a bit of what they learned:

Overall, Maine is doing a good job of implementing the Brookings recommendations, said Bruce Katz, who directs the Metropolitan Policy Program that authored the report. Katz, the day’s first keynote speaker, advised the state to continue revamping zoning, land-use, and tax structures in an effort to stem “chaotic and dispersed development.” He lauded the Maine Technology Institute for spurring research and development, and reaffirmed one of the major bits of advice found in “Charting Maine’s Future:” Maine should look for ways to shift its tax burden to tourists and out-of-state visitors.

 “Green economy” jobs look much like normal, traditional non-green jobs. The challenge is making sure that there’s a well-trained labor supply to support this work.

Redevelopment of the Brunswick Naval Air Station could be a major piece of Maine’s “clean-tech” strategy to attract renewable energy jobs to the state.

Healthcare is screwed. (Duh.) In Maine, there are variations in cost for the same procedures around the state. Not only that, but people are not getting the right care at the right time, according to Trish Riley, director of the state Office of Health Policy and Finance.

If you want to prevent a post-lunch conference stupor — even if the subject is economic development — call on Joel Rogers to be your postprandial speaker. The University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of law and political science, who also helped launch the Apollo Alliance and the Center for a New Democracy, is a brilliant and funny orator who was obviously well-qualified for the MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant he received in 1995. His rationale and suggestions for retrofitting Maine’s inefficient buildings — creating green jobs along the way — were especially convincing.

Next up: two “sequels” to the Brookings report, one about reorganizing government and public services, the other about climate change and energy. GrowSmart hopes to publish the former in the spring, and the latter sometime later next year.

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