Opus at the Blaine House

A few weeks ago, I had a chance to meet with the Governor of Maine. Mid December, I was invited to have lunch at the Blaine House in Auguta, ME with Gov. Paul LePage and his Senior Economic Advisor.

He welcomed me at the door, introduced me to the staff along the corridors, including the kitchen staff, mentioning how wonderful they treat him and his family. During the meeting, we discussed our backgrounds and exchanged our views and ideas on the economic development of the State of Maine. As you probably know, Gov. LePage is the first popularly-elected Franco-American governor of Maine and it was a pleasure to exchange some words on our backgrounds ‘en français‘. He is a passionate person, particularly when it comes to the people of his state and how we can improve the economy, bring jobs to our side of the country and create a fair environment for citizens and businesses. One of the topics was Education and how it is crucial to offer quality education to our children so they can stay in Maine and so that local companies can find employees to assist their growth.

If the State of Maine was a company, we could say that the ‘production’ department is one of the best, with all the talents we find in Maine. Efficient training will improve it. The State is actively changing the ‘admin’ department as you might have heard. But how about our ‘sales & marketing’ department? I emphasized that Maine has a tendency to not always have a consistent offering and a positive message out of the State to attract new opportunities, particularly towards Canada. Maine is nested next to the biggest economic poles in North America (Montreal/Quebec/New Brunswick, New York…). Beside tourism, it does not seem that we are attracting or improving our business with Quebec. Maine must change its communication messages, in and outside the US. We talked about how transportation ways with Canada for example are not adequate and that hopefully we will see improvement made in the next few years. Maine has very important French roots as well and it should be used to improve our business relationship with Quebec, through business forums but also education exchange. Gov. LePage assured me that they are working on reaching out to major companies internationally.

Over my past 12 years in Maine, I have seen large companies leaving the State of Maine, from Cole Haan being swept away by Nike to People’s Heritage Bank becoming a large Maine bank with TD Bank and right away moving south. And Fairchild SemiConductor to California. If companies are our ‘customers’ that create wealth and jobs in Maine, it seems logical to me that the Governor of Maine as ‘ceo’ would know and meet with his most important clients. I asked Gov. LePage when was the last time a Maine official had met with the CEO of Delhaize Group in Belgium, the company who owns Hannaford, the biggest employer in Maine, the biggest supermarket chain in Maine and one of the most prominent in the country. Headquartered in Scarbourough, ME, Hannaford started to consolidate its operation with Delhaize America in North Carolina, in 2010. This would be enough to me to fly to Belgium to understand what it means and how it will evolve. Needless to say, no one ever met Delhaize’s management in Belgium in the past. And this is only an example of what I think Maine is missing. Wondering when’s the last time the State of Maine talked to Nestlé in Europe, owners of Poland Springs Water?

Gov. LePage and I had a wonderful conversation. I found him very open to discussion and to ideas. It was also refreshing to hear someone who came to politics late in his career and that did not seem to be in the job for his personal benefit but to give a chance to his contemporaries to improve their lifes and his State to be successful, not only in business but also socially and environmentally. There’s a lot more to do and our team will continue to help businesses thrive and be successful.     Jacques Santucci