GrowSmart Maine Testifies in opposition to LD 483, “An Act to Promote Small Businesses by Enhancing the Use of On-premises Signs ”

Testimony of Nancy Smith, Executive Director of GrowSmart Maine

in opposition to LD 483,   “An Act to Promote Small Businesses by Enhancing the Use of On-premises Signs ”

March 8, 2013


Senator Mazurek, Representative Theriault and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Transportation.  My name is Nancy Smith and I am the Executive Director of GrowSmart Maine. As many of you know from our previous interactions with the committee, GrowSmart Maine is a statewide non-profit membership-based organization working to grow Maine's economy, protect its distinctive character, and enhance the quality places that make Maine unique.  You may also know that my professional background includes serving in the 121st through the 124th Maine Legislatures as well as about fifteen years working for private landowners large and small as a professional licensed forester and nearly twenty years as co-owner of a Maine family farm.

As a part of our commitment to strengthening Maine’s economy, GrowSmart Maine advocates for legislation that empowers Mainers to implement economic, community revitalization and environmental protection strategies within their communities.   In this case, we are opposing LD 483 because it does the exact opposite. 

We remain steadfast in a long-standing opposition to any weakening of Maine’s highly effective ban on billboards.  The 2006 Brookings Institute Report, Charting Maine’s Future, commissioned by GrowSmart Maine, emphasizes that Maine’s unique and enduring quality of place is a valuable asset in itself, as well as a powerful economic development resource. In fact, we believe that the current restrictions on signage are extremely effective in protecting our state’s quality of place while allowing advertising and promotional efforts that are more than adequate to publicize various businesses and destinations. 

I remember in past conversations that the limits on billboards reduce the cost of doing business in Maine – in that a business that may not be inclined to mount a large sign would feel compelled if their competitors were to do so, adding a cost not previously required.  I’ll also note that, although the bill title is tempting, I did not see any provision in the bill to limit this to only small businesses.

Maine’s distinctive lack of obtrusive and excessive highway signage is in direct contrast to our neighboring New England states where excessive signs significantly detract from the scenic landscape and may often actually work against the careful effort to attract and promote local business and industry.  If you need reminding, just travel the I-95 corridor south of Maine to be reminded of how overwhelming and obnoxious this signs can be.

A few thoughts on specific components of the bill:

– Section 1, lines 9-12: These edits are unnecessary.  While signs are important, times have changed.  Effective marketing on the internet is key, whether directed at a person is planning a trip from the comfort of home or those using their smart phone while on the road.  Businesses would be better served by having a snazzy mobile app, a facebook page, regularly tweeting their offerings and more, rather than focus on more and bigger signs.

-Section 2, lines 15-16 and 24: whether on business premises or not, billboards impact on the view shed is the same.  Allowing an exemption for on-premises signs is not appropriate.

-Section 14, lines 8-18, “approach signs” is unnecessary.  In my experience with retail sales of farm products, OBDS (official business direction signs) are quite effective in directing people to our farm as well as informing making those who travel the nearby roads of our offerings.  These meet the business need without unnecessary impact to the view shed.

-Section 15: Changeable signs: – proceed with caution concerning any increase in changeable signs, with an eye towards the same important issues as billboards as well as the potential safety issue resulting from distracted drivers.

In summary, GrowSmart Maine urges members of the Transportation Committee to oppose this bill, in recognition that the current statutory restrictions on highway signage are working as intended and do not need to be changed at this point in time.