Maine’s international exports rebounded last year to outpace the national growth in exports, but the cost of doing business in Maine was still higher than average, and two-thirds of Maine adults are overweight or obese.

Those were some of the findings of the 17th annual report of the Maine Economic Growth Council prepared by the Maine Development Foundation. Titled, “Measures of Growth in Focus — 2011,” it was presented at a Statehouse news conference Thursday, March 3, that was attended by legislative and business leaders.

The report measures Maine’s progress against 25 economic, community and environmental benchmarks the Growth Council has established as goals for the state. This year, the group handed out two gold stars — for achievement that exceeded the benchmark — to international exports and conservation of lands.

Five areas got red flags, indicating they need particular attention to improve. Getting red flags were research and development spending (a repeat red flag), fourth-grade reading scores (a new indicator), cost of doing business, cost of health care and wellness and prevention (obesity, a new indicator).

Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry, said, “Year after year, this report shows how we are doing. We are tackling barriers to job creation, mainly, to borrow a phrase from President Obama, ‘dumb regulations.’ The point of this report is to arm ourselves with the facts and to make necessary investments.”

House Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, said, “This report shows that Maine’s business climate needs to be significantly improved.”

Maine exported $2.84 billion of commodities in 2010, up 27 percent from $2.23 billion in 2009, which was a down year from 2008, which was even higher than 2010. National exports increased 16 percent during this time. The benchmark is that Maine international exports will grow faster than U.S. international exports.

“This export market is a true bright light,” said Steve Schley, president of Pingree Associates, a member of the Economic Growth Council.

“The state of Maine must continue building relationships worldwide to identify market opportunities for our businesses,” says the report.

Forest products increased from $681 million to $904 million in 2010 to rank as the largest segment of exports. Electric machinery grew from $398 million to $745 million of exports in 2010. Fish, crustaceans and aquatic invertebrates accounted for $252 million of exports while industrial machinery, including computers, made up $158 million of exports. Vehicles were $74 million of exports, ships and boats were at $18 million and all other products accounted for $692 million.

Canada remained Maine’s largest trading partner, buying 35 percent of Maine’s total exports, followed by Malaysia (24 percent), China (11 percent), the Netherlands (3 percent) and the Republic of Korea (3 percent). The remaining 24 percent of exports were purchased by 170 different countries worldwide.

The report found the cost of doing business in Maine was 14 percent higher than the national average and third highest of the 50 states in 2008. Massachusetts ranked second. Maine ranked fifth highest in 2005 and 2006 and fourth in 2007, according to the Economy.com index.

The index is a weighted scale of labor costs (wages and productivity), energy costs (industrial and commercial electricity) and tax burden (state and local). The report says high reliance on oil as an energy source leaves Maine businesses vulnerable to price spikes in this commodity. It says Maine’s tax burden remains above the national average, but Maine has made progress in lowering the burden from the highs of the 1990s.

“It is important to get cost structures in line,” states the report. “It is also important to invest in the workforce and infrastructure that will allow businesses to do well in the larger economy.”

In a new category called Wellness and Prevention, the report for the first time measured the percent of overweight and obese adults in Maine and the U.S. It found the percent of Mainers in these categories was about 50 percent in 1995. It grew steadily so that by 2009, almost two-thirds of the adult population, 64.2 percent, were considered overweight or obese.

The national average for this condition is 63.1 percent, not far behind Maine. The benchmark is for the percent of overweight and obese adults in Maine to decrease to 50 percent by 2015.

“Being overweight or obese is the third leading cause of preventable deaths in both Maine and the United States,” says the report. “Obese adults are five times more likely to have diabetes, have a greater risk of heart disease, stroke, high cholesterol, asthma, arthritis, and some cancers, and their children are more likely to become obese.”

A 2004 study found that being overweight or obese in Maine causes $357 million in annual medical expenses. A 2006 study found the combined effects of overweight and obesity result in productivity losses of more than $2 billion a year.

Another new indicator collected another red flag. In 2009 in Maine, 36 percent of fourth-grade students read proficiently and above, the same percentage on standardized tests that Maine fourth-grade student scored in 1992. The national average of fourth-grade students who read proficiently is 32 percent.

“Indicators like personal incomes, productivity, employment and health are closely tied to educational success,” states the report. “Ultimately, positive movement on these other economic indicators starts with children having the tools to become productive members of society.”

The benchmark for this indicator is that Maine’s share of students scoring proficient and above will reach 50 percent by 2015.

Some of the other findings of the report include:

• In 2009, Maine’s per capita income was $36,479, which was 92.1 percent of U.S. per capita income. Maine’s national rank remained 30th of the 50 states. The goal is for Maine to rank 25th in per capita income by 2015.

• Total Maine employment decreased by 22,200 jobs or 3.6 percent between 2008 and 2009. The three biggest sector losses were construction (-15 percent), information (-12.4 percent) and manufacturing (-10.9 percent). Two sectors grew. They were health care and social assistance (1.3 percent) and educational services (0.5 percent).

• Research and development spending was 1 percent of the state’s Gross Domestic Product in 2007, the same as it was in 2006. The goal is for R & D spending to increase to 3 percent of GDP by 2015. This indicator did not move relative to its benchmark and again received a red flag.

• The Growth Council has a goal for the growth in the price of health care in New England to be equal or less than the growth of personal income in Maine. New England health-care costs grew 385 percent from 1984 to 2009, while Maine income grew 258 percent in the same period. This category moved away from its benchmark and received a red flag.

• Maine’s median 2009 annual income for women was $32,395 compared to $42,205 for men. This represents an earning ratio of 76.8 percent, a step backward from 79.6 percent in 2008. The goal is the median annual income of women working full-time will improve to 100 percent of the median annual income of men working full-time by 2015.

A limited number of copies of the report are available at the Maine Development Foundation office at 295 Water St., Suite 5 in Augusta. The report may be accessed online at mdf.org.