Maine needs to cut red tape for businesses

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When Gov. Paul LePage was first elected to office he launched what became the 25 “Red Tape Workshops” tour throughout Maine, hearing from “1,000 job creators about how government red tape impacts their businesses.” That direct feedback was instrumental in modifying or getting rid of some of the useless red tape plaguing business owners, preventing them from hiring — even causing would-be businesses from starting or expanding in Maine.

I thought the “Red Tape Workshops” were common sense and long overdue.

In that same “Red Tape Workshops” spirit, the Maine Legislature and governor approved a new position within the Maine Secretary of State’s office: Maine’s first Small Business Advocate, who was Jay Martin from Bangor. Martin was recommended for the job, liked the scope of the new position, and agreed to serve.

“The scope of our office was focused on helping small business owners of 50 employees or less, who were running into state regulatory penalties that would potentially cause them to shed jobs or to shut down — whether it be license revocation, a financial penalty, or license suspension. We stayed very busy because we were getting calls from people in exactly that situation,” Martin told me recently by phone.

Today, Martin is founder and owner of Write It Right, an Old Town based business consulting firm assisting with business acquisitions, proposals, grant writing, fundraising, and desktop publishing.

Martin is also a friend with whom I’ve enjoyed chewing the fat about Maine and national economic and political matters. That was true when we both worked in Augusta and since we’ve returned to the private sector. I am glad Jay agreed to share some of his thoughts on making rural Maine more viable now and into the future.

He describes his work career as unique. “I have business experience in three different business sectors: in the private sector, as a restaurant manager primarily, and as a small business owner. In the nonprofit sector working for Washington-Hancock County Community Agency and doing their principal grant writing, fundraising and marketing. And, of course, in the public sector as the State’s first Small Business Advocate,” Martin said.

Based on experience, Martin said all of Maine — including rural Maine — would benefit from simplifying and clarifying the government complexities involved in starting and building small businesses.

“To start a business, get licensed, get the necessary capital funding, to go through the regulatory process of building or buying a facility, of making sure you’re within the boundaries of the myriad health and safety and environmental regulations, it is complex. You know it. I know it,” said Martin. “You can be out of compliance without knowing you’re out of compliance because the regulations are so incredibly dense and sometimes just really hard to interpret.”

Martin told the story of a Maine daycare center operator who approached him for help. She was facing “a rather significant penalty” for failing to properly report and maintain records. But, said Martin, the regulatory clause in question “was buried in pages and pages of regulations” and easy to miss and not understand.

“This is the standard reporting function you expect of all day care centers in the state?” Martin asked the regulatory agent involved, who answered, “Yes.”

“Has the state ever considered creating a standard reporting form daycare center operators can use as is or as a template? But at least to point out the standard reporting form we expect and require that operators maintain?” Martin asked.

“Well,” said the regulatory agent, “that’s not our job.”

“But, if government expects everyone to do this — why not make it easier? Why not simplify the process?” said Martin.

In future columns I’ll share more solid ideas for rural Maine from the State’s first Small Business Advocate.

Scott K. Fish has served as a communications staffer for Maine Senate and House Republican caucuses, and was communications director for Senate President Kevin Raye. He founded and edited and served as director of communications/public relations for Maine’s Department of Corrections until 2015. He is now using his communications skills to serve clients in the private sector.

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