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States aim to drive growth with new economic development, energy plans

December 19, 2019
By: Ellen Marrison

A trio of plans focused on economic development at the state level were released this month. Noting that it is at an economic crossroads and facing serious challenges, Maine’s Department of Economic and Community Development has issued a new 10-year economic development strategy for the state. Massachusetts has also proposed a new economic development plan, focusing on four key areas, while a new report in Maryland is targeting clean energy as an opportunity for the state to invest in the future.

Maine’s plan

Maine’s challenges include what they say is a likely global economic downturn, an aging workforce and threats to some of its largest industries due to technology and climate change. Noting that it has not had such a strategy in more than two decades, the new plan was developed incorporating feedback from more than 1,300 Mainers. Talent and innovation emerged as the two major necessities to spur growth in the state.

With Maine having one of the oldest populations in the nation, a current tight labor market, and an estimated 65,000 decrease in the workforce from retirements over the next ten years, its workforce challenges are many-faceted. The report recommends a branding effort to attract more people to the state; building bridges for those not currently in the workforce; welcoming foreign immigrants; expanding and simplifying debt relief programs, such as the Educational Opportunity Tax Credit; and, building the educational system to support a culture of continuous learning.

To drive innovation in the state, the report recommends capitalizing on the growth of clean, renewable energy sources, including solar, wind and biofuels; pursuing opportunities for sustainable fishing to complement traditional fishing; supporting the growth of bio-based alternative products; investing in R&D; and, helping with academic research support and with risk-enhanced financing from existing entities such as the Maine Technology Institute and the Maine Venture Fund.

Addressing the workforce and innovation challenges in the state is imperative — “doing nothing will result in dramatic economic, wage and job loss,” the report states.

Massachusetts’s plan    

Massachusetts has achieved what Gov. Charlie Baker called enviable growth over the past five years. The state’s new economic development plan sets out to build on those efforts, and centers around four main pillars — respond to the housing crisis, build vibrant communities, support business competitiveness, and train a skilled workforce. The plan builds on the state’s innovation system and aims to leverage emerging sectors like artificial intelligence and robotics. It also notes that the state will need to focus on “engaging employers, aligning training providers with employer needs, and preparing workers for the jobs of the future.”

Massachusetts General Laws require a new economic development plan formulated and signed by the governor within the first year of a new administration, and Partnerships for Growth: A plan to enable the Commonwealth’s regions to build, connect and lead, establishes a framework for the state moving forward. In Baker’s letter to the House and Senate, included in the plan, he says, “By focusing on these pillars and cross-cutting principles, the state will better align workforce training with employer needs and support an innovative business environment to help businesses grow.”

The previous plan, Opportunities for All, guided the administration’s first term and served as the basis for economic development legislation enacted in 2016 and 2018, the 2018 life sciences reauthorization and helped guide more than $1 billion in economic development investments.

Maryland’s clean energy focus

Clean energy is an opportunity for Maryland to “Invest for the Future,” and could strategically bring in investment to the state, leverage local clean-technology innovations and firms, foster economic growth, and complement the state’s commitment to energy efficiency, clean energy and the environment, according to a new report presented to Gov. Larry Hogan earlier this month. The report serves to present actionable recommendations on how Maryland can develop its clean energy innovation system to leverage clean-technology innovations that foster economic growth.

Noting that Maryland ranks among the top 10 states in the U.S. for innovation capability overall, a policy brief regarding the report highlighted the opportunity for the state to expand on the “limited recognition of clean energy innovation as a state priority” and build on the assets already existing in the state.  “The state of Maryland has the tools, capacity, and forward-looking thinkers to become a leader in clean energy innovation and reap its economic and societal benefits, but needs to strategically invest in its capability,” the brief notes.

Some of the recommendations for the state to advance leadership in clean energy include:

  • Designate clean energy as an economic development opportunity;
  • Broaden the definition of clean energy to ensure flexibility in supporting cutting-edge technologies;
  • Expand seed funding and developmental support for clean energy innovation firms; and,
  • Increase financial support for clean energy innovation.

The report was legislatively mandated by the state when it created the Maryland Energy Innovation Institute (MEI2) and was led by University of Maryland Department of Physics Distinguished University Professor Ellen D. Williams.

Maine, Maryland, Massachusettseconomic development, clean energy, strategic plan