Opinion

State should join Mainers in supporting local business

Mainers like to shop local, and that extends well beyond the holiday season. Whether it’s purchasing local produce from family-run farms or buying quality, handcrafted goods for loved ones, Maine people recognize the value of keeping their hard-earned dollars local. They recognize the value of investing in their local community and economy. Most importantly, Mainers recognize that when you “buy Maine,” you get high-quality products from regular, hardworking people. 

When it comes to shopping local, Mainers get it — they’re already on board. Now, it’s time for the state government to follow their lead.  

Buying and hiring local is something that hits close to home for me. I firmly believe that when Maine spends taxpayer dollars, it should be used to invest, support and lift up Maine workers and small businesses. Each year, Maine spends hundreds of millions of dollars on procurements and contracts. It only makes sense that Mainers should benefit from that economic activity. It’s good for our communities and our overall economy. 

Maine is slowly but surely taking steps in the right direction. This year, the Legislature passed into law my bill to facilitate the construction of the Penobscot McCrum processing facility in Washburn. However, this new law does more than just create good-paying jobs in Washburn, it creates a tax credit that supports businesses that primarily use Maine workers, pay good wages and process produce grown here in Maine. Under this new law, Penobscot McCrum can only receive the tax credit if they use 95 percent of produce from Maine farms, which will boost farms all across rural Maine.  

The Legislature has also passed measures from Senate Majority Leader Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, that will support local farmers by bringing fresh Maine produce into public schools and institutions. Instead of purchasing food elsewhere for state schools and institutions, we are looking at the food producers in our state. By growing the demand, Maine food producers are in a better position to grow and compete nationally.  

Recently, we even switched the coffee in the Senate Democratic Offices to Wicked Joe, a Topsham-based company that puts so much passion and commitment into treating their workers fairly and improving their community.  

While this is a good start, these efforts really lay the foundation for our work next year. When the Legislature reconvenes in January, lawmakers will have the opportunity to consider two measures that build on our efforts to “Buy Maine.” 

The first bill – LD 1280, “An Act To Establish the Maine Buy American and Build Maine Act” – aims to promote the use of Maine businesses and workers whenever possible. It ensures that all state agencies and institutions use public dollars to support the workers and businesses in the state at every turn.  

By contracting with out-of-state companies when there are Maine workers and companies capable of doing the work, the state literally ships taxpayer dollars across state lines. It represents a lost opportunity to re-invest taxpayer dollars in Maine, which allows businesses to grow and pays workers wages that will be spent locally.  

The second bill – LD 1690, “An Act To Certify and Promote Products That Are Made in Maine” – aims to grow and promote the Maine-made brand. As a state, we’ve seen the impressive growth of Maine lobster and blueberries by using Maine as a marketing tool. I believe we can do the same for the hundreds, if not thousands, of other quality Maine products from wood products and produce to coffee, textiles and craft beer.  

As a Mainer, I am incredibly proud of the work that my family, friends and neighbors do each and every day. There is a reason Mainers are known for their uncompromising work ethic. There is a reason our many Maine-made products have become household names nationally. If we want to hire the best people or purchase top quality products, in many cases, we don’t need to look further than our own backyard.  

As Mainers head downtown to purchase gifts for their loved ones this holiday season, the state should think about doing the same whenever possible. This is our time to revive our downtowns, support small business owners, grow the “Made-in-Maine” brand, and keep tax dollars local.

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