In the more than 30 years that I’ve lived in Maine, I’ve had the great fortune of visiting every corner of the state for my work as a commercial photographer and director. The environment and the landscape of Maine have defined who I am as a business owner and provided me with the inspiration to do what I do. I’ve worked with potato farmers and physicians, cranberry growers and oyster farmers, teachers and counselors, lawyers and lobstermen. I’ve met and worked with some of the best furniture makers and ship builders in the world right here in Maine and the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well all across the state. Manufacturing is up and small start-ups are thriving now as the world becomes smaller all the time. There are pockets of real economic strength in Maine but we need to push those outward to other communities. High speed internet state-wide must be a priority. Innovation can happen anywhere. Let’s see it in Lubec. Let’s see it in Dover-Foxcroft or Madawaska.
Maine needs a long-range economic plan, not stop gaps from one project to another. And for that to happen, we need economic development professionals to partner with business leaders to set the strategy for the future of Maine. Maine economic growth relies on skilled workers - this is where education comes in. We cannot afford to have towns shutter when a mill goes down. The ripple effects are just too great. The state needs to work with educational partners and the private sector to respond quickly and nimbly to retrain workers to rejoin the workforce purposefully. In my experience, Mainers want to work and in times of adversity they want to work even more. While some formerly robust industries in Maine are approaching their twilight, other new ventures are coming on line and we need to have a qualified workforce ready to handle these changes. That’s what will make Maine competitive.
I don’t feel strongly that we should incentivize our young to stay but I am firm in the belief that when they decide to come home, good work will be here for them. Work that will help them set down their own roots, grow their families and take care of their children in the best way possible.
Maine is a tremendous place to work and raise a family. It’s an innovative, incubator state that has spawned many small businesses that have thrived and grown into large, global corporations. We need to not only create the space and the workforce for these businesses to stay and thrive in Maine, but we also need to create a landscape where new start-ups can prosper. Strategic planning for Maine’s economic development should rely on private and public partnership insights and action in a measurable way. We must think in terms of 10, 20 and 50 years down the road to secure our vibrant economic future.