June 7, 2012

Certified business friendly

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA -- The city has spent 30 years taking steps to become a place that is welcoming to businesses, and on Wednesday those efforts were rewarded by a special state designation.

Along with eight other communities in Maine, Maine's capital city was named a "certified business friendly" community.

"It's really just a validation of what we've been doing for the last three decades," said Augusta Development Director Michael Duguay. "That, to us, is reward enough."

The nine communities earning the designation, which is good for two years, are Augusta, Bath, Biddeford, Saco, Brewer, Bucksport, Guilford, Lincoln and Sanford.

In a Cabinet Room ceremony Wednesday morning, Gov. Paul LePage said the state has made modest improvements to help reduce red tape for businesses. The program he announced in March is designed to recognize cities and towns for "their commitment to job creation, reducing red tape and being open for business," according to the state Department of Economic and Community Development.

"The No. 1 focus of our administration is to create prosperity for the state of Maine," LePage said.

Although 19 cities and towns applied for the designation, only nine were certified business friendly. The communities will receive road signs so they can tout the award, but it does not come with additional state funds, LePage said.

Those that did not get chosen this time around are welcome to apply again, said George Gervais, DECD commissioner. He said the town of Cumberland was very close to receiving the designation, and that others, such as Portland and Bangor, chose not to apply at all.

The next round of applications are due July 6.

A panel of business experts evaluated the applicants in many areas, including customer service, business involvement and collaboration, input from the public and licensing and permitting. Augusta scored well because of the effective way it uses tax increment financing, known as TIFs, and for its efforts to make it easier for businesses to get through planning and permitting, Gervais said.

Duguay said he's especially proud of the strides the city has made in the downtown.

"I would say it's a reflection of the mood in this community of wanting to see revitalization," he said. "I'm extremely proud of the downtown activity. I think there's a lot of stuff in the pipeline for us for future growth. I think we haven't see the best yet."

LePage said the state needs to work with cities and towns to be more competitive and prosperous.

"Not remove regulations, so much as speed up and streamline the process," LePage said. "I think there's many other communities that want to do it."

Susan Cover -- 621-5643


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