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The business of social change

The business of social change

In public life and private business, John Melrose and Maine Tomorrow have helped the state and communities find solutions for complex problems

Each year in january, the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce (KVCC) fills the auditorium of the Augusta Civic Center to celebrate and recognize distinguished individuals and businesses. One of this year’s KVCC awards recipients happens to be a long-standing member and supporter of the Maine Better Transportation Association (MBTA). Maine Tomorrow and its president, John Melrose, were honored with the chamber’s President’s Award for the company’s work in the Kennebec Valley Region and throughout the state of Maine.
Maine Tomorrow was founded in 1982 by John and another MBTA stalwart, former Transportation Commissioner Roger Mallar. John assumed Roger’s interest in the company in 1983, and he and his wife, Molly, have owned and operated it since, with the exception of a period between 1995 and 2002, when John joined then-governor Angus King’s cabinet as Commissioner of the Maine Department of Transportation. During that time, Christine Burke owned and directed Maine Tomorrow.
Maine Tomorrow is a for-profit consulting firm doing public policy research, policy formulation, consensus building, communications, advocacy and governmental affairs for groups including the Maine Better Transportation Association and the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition and for such companies as Concord Coach Lines. Maine Tomorrow serves as an advisor to Leaders Encouraging Aroostook Development (LEAD) on its efforts to enhance north-south transportation connections.
“John has an amazing capacity to find elegant, practical solutions to the most complex problems,” said Maria Fuentes, MBTA executive director, who has worked with Melrose and Maine Tomorrow for many years on transportation issues. “He understands not only how government works, but what works for communities and for businesses and he knows how to bring all of those elements together.”
John Duncan, director of the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System (PACTS), has worked with Melrose and Maine Tomorrow on several projects and said that John’s experience and energy have a way of bringing people together. “He certainly is a creative thinker, and he generates ideas quite quickly and gets people thinking. When he puts an idea forward, people listen.”
Maine Tomorrow is also active in community development, primarily providing support to private and non-profit interests. A notable initiative in the Kennebec Valley involves work for the Augusta Board of Trade, the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce, MaineGeneral Health and others to improve access to I-95 in northern Augusta at exits 112 and 113. The goal of the project is to accommodate two million square feet of proposed development, plus a new medical center. Melrose’s company participated in another local development initiative, the Augusta Crossing retail center for New England Development.
Association management is the third strength of the Maine Tomorrow team, with clients ranging from the Maine Grocers Association and the American Council of Engineering Companies of Maine to the Kennebec Valley Tourism Council and the Maine Apartment Owners and Managers Association. With the support of the Maine Technology Institute and the Maine Manufacturing Extension Partnership, Maine Tomorrow has been on the ground floor helping to establish the Maine Food Producers Alliance to support Maine’s emerging value-added food products businesses.
The Maine Tomorrow staff includes John as president and his wife, Molly, as business manager and overseer of the firm’s beautiful office building in historic, downtown Hallowell on the Kennebec River. Rick McCarthy is vice president for governmental affairs; Shelley Doak is vice president for association management; Paul Lariviere and Valerie Geredien are senior associates with Tanya Bentley and Amie Coffin as staff associates. Since its inception, Maine Tomorrow has employed more than 50 people. Many of the company’s employees past and present gathered to celebrate at the chamber’s awards event.
In accepting the President’s Award, John noted his belief that the power of business to bring about social change, good or bad, rivals that of both the public and non profit sectors. “Gary Hirshberg, founder of Stonyfield Farm, makes the case in his recent book Stirring It Up that business has the greatest capacity to bring about social change,” Melrose said. “Maine Tomorrow is unusual and fun in that it is a business in the business of social change planted firmly and operating with ease within the public, private and nonprofit sectors.” The history of the close relationship between MBTA and Maine Tomorrow over the life of this company serves well to illustrate these points.
John’s work with MBTA actually goes back to the mid-1970’s when he lobbied for the Maine Municipal Association on transportation matters. Since forming Maine Tomorrow, he has been front and center for MBTA on efforts to raise transportation revenues and send bond issues to the voters. Twice John has been honored by MBTA, ASCE and MaineDOT as a recipient of the association’s Max Wilder Award for his outstanding presentations at the annual Maine Transportation Conference. He has authored key publications for the Association including Losing Ground: A Report on the State of Maine’s Highway Fund and Can We Coast Much Longer?: The Case for Transportation Finance Reform. The latter publication served to introduce one of MBTA’s most significant legislative efforts, the passage of LD 1790: “An Act to Secure Maine’s Transportation Future,” 2008 legislation spearheaded by Senator Dennis Damon (D-Hancock) that sets priorities and establishes new means of transportation funding.
John Melrose says Maine Tomorrow loves to solve problems whether in business and community development, public policy, or in management. “When all of the problems are solved,” Melrose states, “we will be out of business, but until then we can count on many more years of operation as a change agent striving to contribute positively to make tomorrow a better day for Maine”.
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