During those 4 years I was back in Maine, I spent some time as a board member of RealizeMaine, an initiative designed to retain and recruit people under age 40 to the state. (Just to be clear, I am no longer on the board, and the comments to follow represent my own personal viewpoint.) Maine is not only the whitest state in the nation, but it also has an aging population, and for a number of reasons young adults tend to leave (the lack of jobs being pretty high up on the list). This is not good for the state's economy for a whole host of reasons. Research demonstrated that one of the most critical factors in attracting young workers, particularly young professional workers, to the state was diversity; ie, we were more likely to attract them if we increased the state's diversity. And we're talking about diversity on a broad scale: race, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, etc. The state's lack of diversity makes many people LEAVE, and many who wish to start new businesses look elsewhere because they know their business will best thrive in a truly diverse community, something most places in Maine cannot offer them.
So you can imagine my dismay this week when I learned that (at least as of Monday) the new Governor of Maine had not appointed one single woman to his cabinet (see the Maine Women's Policy Center's press release here.) And today, he told the NAACP to "kiss his butt", calling them a "special interest".
I'll put aside the ridiculous notion of human and civil rights being "special interests", because frankly it's so absurd I can't even wrap my head around it (not to mention the fact that the Governor's adopted (black) child is equal in front of the law as a result of Martin Luther King and the NAACP's work). And I'll put aside the fact that a governor telling any group to "kiss his butt" is simply unprofessional and unbecoming of such an elected official, because it is. I'll also put aside the ridiculous notion that in a state that produced Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins that he can't find any smart and qualified Republican women to hire (maybe women are just too smart to work for him?).
But that a Republican so focused on making Maine a "business friendly" place could not see how his actions and comments will affect the business climate in Maine is horrifying to me. Because, statistically speaking, if you are going to increase small business creation, you'd best be talking to the women and the minorities:
- 10.1 million firms are owned by women (50% or more), employing more than 13 million people, and generating $1.9 trillion in sales as of 2008.
- Three quarters of all women-owned businesses are majority owned by women (51% or more), for a total of 7.2 million firms, employing 7.3 million people, and generating $1.1 trillion in sales.
- Women-owned firms (50% or more) account for 40% of all privately held firms.
- 1.9 million firms are majority-owned (51% or more) by women of color in the U.S.
These firms employ 1.2 million people and generate $165 billion in revenues annually.
(taken from the Center for Women's Business Research)
Small businesses are the back-bone of the United States (and Maine's) economy, and generate over 60% of all new jobs in the United States (see the SBA website here). Women and minorities, those "special interests", represent the fastest growing segments of entrepreneurs. And yet the Governor of Maine is both literally and figuratively telling them to kiss off, while simutaneously telling everyone he's going to make the state a great place to do business. Realistically he can cut all the red tape he wants, but generally speaking people don't go where they aren't welcome. If you want to improve your state's economy, why on earth would you insult the people most likely to start new busineses and create new jobs in your state? At best his words and actions are irrational, and at worst they are patently offensive and childish and wrong. Mostly, though, it's just backwards, and I think we'd all agree that backwards is the one direction in which Maine can least afford to move.