Global Matters: Maine fails the business investment multiple-choice test

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Imagine that you are about to make a major purchase.

You’re considering several different brands. Sales teams from the manufacturers have called on you. They’ve left you with literature describing their products and their companies. Each has tried to convince you that investing in its product will be a good use of your money.

Which of the following sales pitches moves you?

A – Our products and the people who make them are second to none.

B – Our management knows how to do things right.

C – We waste a lot of money and we’ve been doing so for years.

D – We operate in a toxic business environment.

You might find the first two pitches to be a bit self-serving and so you’d probably take them with a grain of salt. The second two, however, would surely get your attention, and not in a good way.

Chances are you’d be disinclined to spend your money on a company that can’t get or won’t get its act together, or that reflects a certain negativity and a “can’t do” attitude.

Now imagine that you are the owner of a company that is considering where to expand its business or build a new factory. You’re weighing locations in the United States, including Maine, and even some in Canada. You’ve been reviewing literature and data provided by the many locations keen to have you. You’ve hired consultants to help you with the choice. You’ve visited many sites.

Your consultants inform you now that several governors are anxious to speak with you to assure you that you’ll love doing business in their states.

It’s crunch time. You’ve narrowed your choices down to just a few, and it’s now at the point where subjective impressions and overall “feel” may tip the scales.

In a final effort to get a better fix on the places you’re considering, you review news articles and other media regarding the various places in which you might invest. You try to look beyond the glossy brochures and slick DVDs, and you do a bit of research on the business environment.

You start with Maine. You’ve met many nice people here, you’ve vacationed here. You know that a number of major companies operate here, and that the lifestyle is agreeable. You are taking Maine seriously.

In the course of your review and in particular your consideration of news and comments coming from Augusta, however, you begin to wonder just what it would be like to do business in the state. You’re aware that the governor is controversial and plain-spoken, but you are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, chalk his remarks up to the glare of the spotlight and so on.

Surprisingly, it’s the comments on the business environment that give you pause.

Your colleague hands you an op-ed piece written by a Maine state legislator that describes Maine’s business environment as “toxic.” That doesn’t sound very promising.

Then you see that the state is conducting “red tape audits” designed to expose and eliminate government waste. It’s good to try and fix those things, but it seems they’re not fixed yet.

Now you’re reading that there are good workers in Maine, but most are not adequately trained for the jobs that are available. When exactly will there be enough people with the right skills, and how does that affect your business?

All in all, you begin to see the outlines of a state in which the pieces don’t fit together. The brochures and the DVDs tell one story, but the words coming from state leaders say something entirely different.

So you turn back to those brochures and DVDs, and you begin to wonder, just what is Maine’s sales pitch?

A – Our products and the people who make them are second to none.

B – Our management knows how to do things right.

C – We waste a lot of money and we’ve been doing so for years.

D – We operate in a toxic business environment.

It may be that saying C and D out loud are the first steps towards being able to say A and B with confidence.

In the meantime, however, you have to wonder whether it wouldn’t be better to invest in a place that has pride in itself and its business environment, even as it works to make things better.

So, who’s next on the list?

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Perry B. Newman is a South Portland resident and president of Atlantica Group, an international business consulting firm based in Portland, with clients in North America, Israel and Europe. He is also chairman of the Maine District Export Council.

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