Eliot Cutler, independent candidate for Maine governor in 2010 and chairman of the marketing consulting group MaineAsia LLC, was the keynote speaker at Maine Built Boats‘ first Global Outreach Conference on December 6 at Maine Maritime Museum. While many of Cutler’s comments were specific to boatbuilders and/or the China market, much of his talk was relevant to many businesses in the Midcoast and Maine in general. Here’s the relevant excerpt:
As we think about our Maine coast and try to solve the challenge of jobs and incomes that it presents, sometimes in unforgiving ways, we sometimes get confused . . . and confounded. We often make the mistake of thinking about this amazing resource – this ecosystem – in pieces independent of each other.
What do we need to do to keep the big ships rolling down the ways at BIW? (Well, they don’t roll down the ways anymore, but I like the imagery!)
How do we revive the ground fishery in the Gulf of Maine? How do we process more of our own lobsters for export to markets around the world?
What is the best way to promote the unmatched quality of Maine-built boats?
Tourism – exporting the Maine experience – is Maine’s biggest export product. Where can we find the money – now estimated at roughly $3-4 billion – that it will cost to repair Maine’s roads and bridges so that we can double the number of tourists who visit Maine?
In fact, all of these issues are elements – deeply interrelated to each other – of a single larger and deeply important question: How will we preserve Maine’s coastal communities?
As a state, what are the policies we need to pursue and the investments that we need to make that will help Maine’s coastal towns and villages, both those with working waterfronts and those without, retain young people and survive against the gravitational pull of larger urban areas?
If we fail to answer this question in a smart and strategic way, the consequences will be tragic.
Without coastal communities, from Eastport to Kittery . . .
- Maine’s largest industry – tourism – will be decimated;
- Our Gulf of Maine fishery – the third largest by dollar value in America – will be left to fishermen and women from southern New England and the Canadian Maritimes;
- Maine-built boats will become a lost art; and,
- We will have ignored our own DNA, abandoned our competitive advantage, turned our backs on our past and put Maine’s future in peril.
Yet, today we have no clear goals for preserving Maine’s coastal communities to which we are all committed.
We’re not focused, we’re not thinking, and we sure as hell are not investing.
We have no plan, no strategy, no shared idea of where we will be ten or twenty years from now. We have become fatally preoccupied in Maine with fighting over shares of a shrinking pie.
Let’s set a new course. Let’s put our extraordinary competitive advantages to work. Let’s build a Maine brand, market the hell out of our products and start making the pie bigger.
Some might ask, why do we need to build an overarching, umbrella Maine brand? After all, lobster is already synonymous with Maine. And you boatbuilders have a great brand, “Maine Built Boats.”
But you know what? Too many people around the world think that Maine lobster really comes from Canada or Boston, and no one in China has ever heard of Maine.
Yes, we need to build and develop the Maine brand.
The latent power of the Maine brand is extraordinary; there are a few states that are mythic, that hold Americans in thrall, and Maine is one of them. Yet, a powerful brand for our state is an opportunity that we have ignored for decades.
Over the years we have moved from one slogan to another faster than our weather changes.
Recently, and for a few years, our slogan was It Must Be Maine, a brand that some Business Week analysts said isn’t well-known because “it is bland, dreary, and vague.”
Now our slogan appears to be The Maine Thing.
Really?? The Maine Thing?
We don’t have everything wrong – there are, for instance, some wonderful new videos on the Maine tourism web site with Maine folks talking about why we all love to live here – but there is no evidence that we have invested the kind of time, effort, expertise and, yes, money that is necessary to develop a brand that is meaningful and that casts its net over all of the products and experiences for which we want Maine to be known.
We need to develop a brand that motivates people to place a higher value on what we make and sell and on the experience of living and visiting here.
If Virginia can be for lovers (as it has been for decades), if you and I can love New York, if pork can be the new white meat . . . then we ought to be able to figure out how we want people to think about Maine, and develop a brand that will get them to think that way.
For a state where so many jobs – now and in the future – are and will be found in this Maine Coast economic cluster – in tourism, in seafood production, in boatbuilding – there aren’t many more important investments that we can make in our future and in our kids’ futures than the development of a strong brand.