Mills Nominates State Broadband Official To Be Economic Development Chief

Dec 28, 2018

Maine Governor-elect Janet Mills has chosen the Director of the ConnectME Authority, which promotes broadband access, as her nominee to oversee the State Department of Economic and Community Development.

Heather Johnson has been director of the ConnectME authority since the Jan. 1, 2018. Prior to that she served for three years as executive director of the Somerset Economic Development Corporation and has also worked in the private sector for companies such as Polaroid and Nokia. Johnson says that if she is confirmed as Commissioner her first order of business will be to assess the distinct challenges facing different parts of the state and different sectors of the economy.

“I think step one is really understanding who is working on what, and what those missions are and how we leverage that work to fill the need,” says Johnson.

Johnson says that part of the task at hand will include working with regional and local groups to make development efforts more efficient. Workforce development has been identified as a problem by companies seeking to locate or expand in the state. Specifically, workers lack the skills that those employers say they need. Johnson says that is an issue that must be addressed not only in the Department of Economic and Community Development, but across many areas of government.

“I think there is a lot of development work there that needs to be done with the businesses to have those solutions, but we have had creative options already,” says Johnson. “You know Cianbro trains their own people because they need a larger workforce.”

Another factor cited in several legislative studies of Maine’s economy is the high cost of electricity in Maine. But Mills -a democrat- believes that there is an even bigger problem.

“It depends on the business and its use of electricity, but we have one of the lowest rates in New England actually,” Mills says. “To me, what I have read most recently is that the highest burden, highest challenge Maine businesses have is health care, the cost of health care. We are addressing that in a separate way.”

Mills says that part of the answer will be the expansion of Medicaid. She also says that expanding accessibility to broadband, an issue that Johnson has been working on this past year, is also crucial to business development.

Johnson’s nomination will be reviewed by the legislature and must be approved by the state senate.

Originally published Dec. 27, 2018 at 1:39 p.m. ET.