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Business and Economy

Maine Seeks to Strengthen Economic Ties with New Brunswick

Gov. Paul LePage hopes to encourage expanded economic ties with the province of New Brunswick through a memorandum of understanding signed today with Premier David Alward. The governor's office says the agreement is designed to strengthen relations between both regions by identifying areas for future job creation and cooperation in trade development and tourism. 

Some experts on Canadian trade say that there are some real opportunities for Maine, but state-side businesses must be prepared to engage the Canadian market on its own terms.  

The trip to Woodstock, New Brunswick was, to some extent, symbolic. But it also provided an opportunity for Gov. LePage to demonstrate that Maine is anxious to enhance its relationship with the Canadian province, to create economic development, improve government efficiencies and promote tourism and commerce.  

Janine Cary, president of the Maine International Trade Center, says Maine has an important relationship with its neighbor to the east. And she says the so-called "memorandum of understanding" LePage signed with New Brunswick Premier David Alward continues the state's ongoing efforts with a significant trade partner.

"Usually with those MOUs, the governor's office reaches out to places like the Trade Center, or working with the Office of Energy or Tourism, in saying we want to stimulate more bilateral trade and also cooperation in these fields," Cary says. "And so it does get us talking to each other and connected."

Last year, LePage signed a similar agreement with the premier of Quebec that has led to the inclusion of Maine as part of the World Acadian Congress, a celebration held every five years that serves as a sort of homecoming to Acadians from around the world.

"It'll be taking place between, I think, Aug. 4 and 10, and taking place in Quebec and most of the Atlantic provinces of New Brunswick, and also up in Fort Kent," Cary says. "So that has both economic - there's some export conferences and business conferences that are taking place on that - as well as cultural and tourism."

Beyond unique cultural events, there are also areas of trade collaboration for Maine and Canadian provinces.  Dan Bookham is director of business development for Allen Insurance and Financial in Camden.

"We have an opportunity, perhaps, for 'collabora-tition' or 'compet-lation,'" he says, "you know, one of those horrible compound portmanteau words that describe competitive collaboration," Bookham says.

Bookham says that for Maine businesses interested in finding a foothold in New Brunswick, one of the biggest challenges is learning how to find a niche within the Canadian economic model that can include generous subsidies for certain industries.

"It's almost a governmental philosophical issue between provincial government and Canada that seems more willing to invest on behalf of industries in some regards," Bookham says. "Perhaps there's more capacity coming out of the federal government in Canada for that too, versus our more entrepreneurial approach, which I think pays dividends but also can sometimes be a bit of a challenge."

Two Republican state senators, David Burns of Whiting and Roger Sherman of Houlton, and GOP state Rep. Beth Turner of Burlington, joined LePage during the signing of the agreement with New Brunswick.  They say the memorandum will build on the state's long history of cooperation with the province.