By Colin Hickey, Blethen Maine News Service
AUGUSTA – Maine is an up and coming player on the national economic scene, with the potential to bring an era of enviable growth and prosperity to its residents.
That was the message delivered by Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution Friday in a keynote address to nearly 800 people at the GrowSmart Maine Summit III, held at the Augusta Civic Center.
“Maine has a character, a quality of place, a distinctiveness about it, that is very, very alluring,” Katz said.
Katz’s bullish assessment is based on the results of a more than yearlong study by the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program.
Maine’s strength, Katz said, is the quality of its places: its beautiful and abundant natural resources and the character and distinctiveness of its communities.
Former Gov. Angus King, who moderated a workshop on investing in Maine’s quality places, backed that assessment and warned those who attended the workshop that Mainers must be careful not to spoil their state’s best attributes.
“My belief is quality places is Maine’s economic calling card,” he said, “and if we mess them up, we won’t have any advantage to play with in this global economy.”>/p>
Maine must also work to be more strategic and efficient with the resources it has, Katz said in his keynote address. The Brookings Institution study, he said, pointed out some disturbing trends that run counter to the state’s long-term interests.
Among the most alarming of those trends, he said, is the suburban sprawl that has taken place. From 1980 to 2000, Maine lost 869,000 acres of rural land — more than 1,300 square miles — to suburban development, a change that serves to diminish one of the state’s most attractive qualities.
The Brookings Institution study made a recommendation on what Maine could do to poise itself for a future of sustained growth and prosperity. It suggested the creation of two funds: one of $190 million to invest in preserving quality places, and a $200 million fund for research and development aimed at creating jobs in innovative industries.
The Brookings study was the basis of a 132-page report released earlier this month.
GrowSmart Maine organized its third — and best attended — summit around the study, offering nearly two dozen workshops that explored various aspects of the report.
Whatever the topic, the overall message at the conference was optimism that Maine can succeed economically as long as it preserves what makes the state distinct.