MaineBiz hosted our CEO Kathie Leonard and three other Maine business leaders at its recent Five on the Future event to share their views Maine’s economy. Jeffrey Fuhrer, Executive VP and Senior Policy Advisor, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, delivered the opening remarks and served as moderator to the panel discussion.
Topics ranged from monetary policy, to changes in unemployment rates, to job skills and hiring. Following are some of Kathie’s insights:
On the impact the new federal tax reform will have on Auburn Manufacturing and the Manufacturing Sector of our economy as a whole:
“In 2012, we coined the tagline ‘Innovation on Fire’ for our business. Since then, it’s been more like ‘Innovation on Hold’. Now with tax reform and a strong possibility of infrastructure spending, businesses will be investing and I think we will see a big surge in orders. We are buying equipment right now to catch up and keep up, and I think investment in equipment among all manufacturers will be huge. I’m calling it ‘Innovation on Rebound’ – and for Auburn Manufacturing in particular, it’s ‘Innovation on Reheat!’”
On the state of the labor force in Maine:
“Things have changed a lot since we started AMI in 1979. At that time, the paper mills had recently closed and the unemployment rate in our area was 20%. Finding people today is more difficult. Young people want to go into IT, not factory work, but we know there are people out there who want to work with their hands. We need to work more closely with our education system to find and train these people.
“We need people with skills, but we also need people who can ‘connect the dots.’ I find that millennials happen to be really good at this – they tend to be more entrepreneurial.”
On competing with other companies for talent:
“We recognize that to retain our good people, we have to stay ahead. Last year, we discovered that the local big box store was paying its warehouse distribution workers more than we were – we realized we were underpaying. It wasn’t a conscious decision – it was just a holdover from how sluggish the economy had been. We gave everyone in the company a $2 hourly bump in pay. Our area (Lewiston-Auburn) is a hub for manufacturing for the state, and we need more good people. We have to be willing to pay for it.”
On federal regulations and their impact on the community:
“In the 1970s, the Androscoggin River, once the source of hydropower for our textile and shoe factories, was polluted by effluent from paper mills further north on the river. We passed legislation to clean it up, and it transformed our community. The Great Falls are beautiful again – we kayak on the river, and people are fishing again. It has become an amenity that attracts people to our area of the state. Federal, state, and local regulation of our waterways has been good for our community, and good for Auburn Manufacturing. Our own wastewater is controlled by our local pollution control authority. It’s a partnership, and we are proud of the work we have done together to make sure Auburn Manufacturing remains a good citizen of our community.”