This morning GrowSmart Maine hosted a discussion with five individuals here in our offices with the US State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program. The purpose of the program is to introduce the US federalist system of government, with emphasis on the division of authority and responsibility between federal, state, and local governments. International visitors travel the United States for about two weeks, visiting states on both coasts as well as the central part of our country. While in Maine, their itinerary includes a local high school, speaking with a town manager and a tour of the Old Port for dinner and sightseeing.
We sat for more than an hour, discussing the mission of GrowSmart Maine, and how nonprofit organizations work to impact government at all levels. There were four men and one woman in this most recent group, three representing non-profit organizations focused on youth, rural issues, and sustainability. What a great fit with our own mission! Two were elected officials; a member of the Bangladesh National Parliament and a member of the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly in India.
Much of our discussion focused on the work of non-profits in Maine versus the roles of various state agencies. Do we provide corn for farmers to plant, or technical assistance? I told them of the expertise offered by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Resources, as well as the Cooperative Extension, and the University System. They learned of the federal assistance for farmers while visiting the USDA in Washington DC last week. We spoke about the importance of public education as a key component of economic development, and government’s role in health care and worker training.
When asked if GrowSmart Maine would support any industry that wanted to come to Maine, I expanded on our role in encouraging economic development that builds on our unique downtowns, villages, and working and natural landscapes – our quality of place. I compared the impacts of destination tourism with nuclear power production, saying that the first builds on the “brand” of Maine, while the other had the potential to be a real detriment to it. We even discussed the advantages and challenges of wind energy production in Maine.
In my role as Legislator, I have twice met with women from Iraq to compare women’s roles in our two countries. Now with GrowSmart Maine, this relationship with the US State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program participants has continued. In July, we hosted five gentlemen from Iraq, including a journalist, a city manager, a government minister, a government engineer, and the Chairman of a District Advisory Council. One of the most profound discussions of quality of place took place that day, when I heard these men speak of the things they care about in their country; and that their “family connections” to the land go back as much as 900 years. I enjoy these encounters very much and look forward to the next opportunity.