AUGUSTA — A more than 20-year tradition continued in Augusta Wednesday, Jan. 25. About 40 Aroostook County business leaders, economic development officials and others gathered with more than 25 Maine lawmakers for Aroostook Day at the Legislature.
The event, sponsored by the Aroostook Partnership, is an opportunity for members of the private, public and nonprofit sectors of Aroostook County to interact directly with the Aroostook County delegation and other legislators from downstate.
Bob Dorsey, President of the Partnership, said Aroostook Day was a signature event for LEADers Encouraging Aroostook Development (LEAD) and when the Aroostook Partnership for Progress and LEAD merged into the Aroostook Partnership it was decided that it was important for Aroostook Day to continue.
“We thought it was foundational to maintaining good relationships with our lawmakers,” said Dorsey. “Any bill that comes up that has a positive or negative impact to The County economy or job prospects, we want to be apprised of and we want the lawmakers to understand our input and know we are here to help.”
Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, a long-time legislator from Aroostook, is no stranger to Aroostook Day and has attended many in the past.
“It’s surprising how many lawmakers have never been to The County, haven’t heard the stories and don’t understand how hard people are actually working to make things better,” said Jackson. “Having Aroostook County come here to Augusta is really important.”
Partnership Chairman Chris Anderson, President of F.A. Peabody, welcomed the legislators and Aroostook contingent to the event and provided some background of Aroostook Day. He also talked about the Partnership and how the organization speaks with one voice to encourage, advocate and support economic development in northern Maine.
Following the dinner, a more formal program on three topics was presented by three panelists.
Jason Parent, Executive Director of Aroostook County Action Program, discussed workforce issues and two pieces of legislation forwarded by Presque Isle Representative Trey Stewart. Parent advocated support for “An Act to Support Working Families” and “An Act to Promote Workforce Participation”. The proposed legislation would address the so-called welfare cliff, where some people benefit greater by staying on certain forms of public assistance than by entering or reentering the workforce.
The second panelist, Dana Doran, Executive Director of the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, presented a quick look at the forest economy of Maine and recent recommendations to improve its outlook. Doran said the industry is facing challenges, but there are five important efforts to grow the forest economy. The first of which is to conduct a global market analysis for future wood products. The other steps include conducting a statewide wood supply analysis, grow low value wood opportunities and develop an integrated marketing plan.
The final topic for formal discussion was the potential for mining in Maine and the difference between modern mining and legacy mining. Dorsey said with the mining rules coming before the Maine Legislature for the third time in five years, it is important to separate emotion from facts and urged lawmakers to consider the possibility that you can have economic growth based on the state’s natural resources and still protect the environment. Representative John Martin, who sponsored the 2012 mining rules bill, said this latest bill would provide the most comprehensive mining rules in the nation.
“Mining practices have advanced significantly in the last 20 years,” said Dorsey. “I purposely showed recent pictures of a modern mine in Michigan that show a clean, well-managed environment with advanced water treatment facilities, and it is night and day different from the horrors of the mines from 50 years ago. I also pointed out that mining is the most heavily regulated industry in the US to mitigate those previous problems and that Maine has made our state laws more strict.”
Dorsey added the primary focus of the mining discussion was to point out the tremendous economic benefit an industry like mining would have for both Aroostook and Maine.
After the panel discussion, lawmakers in attendance were asked to identify themselves and their district and share their thoughts on the legislative session or why they attended Aroostook Day.
“It was pleasing to hear many lawmakers note how Aroostook County folks, unlike some other areas of the state, are willing to work together to achieve goals,” added Dorsey.