Just before the holidays, the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce hosted a meeting with our partners at Coastal Enterprises Inc., the Maine State Chamber and Maine Development Foundation. We had about 25 people sitting around our boardroom table, and the message was clear: Our workforce demographics leave no doubt we are facing a serious problem that will only get worse as more baby boomers retire. Just like the editorial says – we need more workers, and we need them now.
The BDN points to three key strategies for Maine’s economic future around population, education and innovation, each with its own article.
Maine needs more immigrant workers. The paper recommends creating a state-level Office of New Americans. That would be a great idea, but just in case the State House and the Blaine House can’t get behind that, the Portland region can, and should, do it now. Attracting new Americans and connecting them to work is one of the best ways to expand our workforce and escape our demographic death spiral.
Maine needs more post-secondary graduates. The paper calls for business, political and education community leadership to implement what we already know: namely that low income Mainers’ need help getting the post-secondary education and skills they need to successfully participate in the economy. We have the education reform blueprints from pre-K to adult ed, we just need get it done.
Maine needs a data-driven understanding of how innovators create jobs – and then a plan to expand those opportunities. The BDN tells us to know our innovation economy better, then use what we learn to support its growth. But recently Charles Lawton wrote in the Portland Press Herald that “We need to do a far better job of new business creation (be those businesses totally new or new to Maine), and we need to nurture those businesses through their first few years so that they reach a level of strength capable of sustaining continuous job expansion.” Lawton explains that new business job creation is lagging, and we must do more to grow our future employment opportunities. We all recognize the need to support the innovation economy, but we must do more to make that a reality.
These are big ideas, but nothing here is new. What’s different is the urgency that worker shortages are creating for existing employers, and for new businesses. Half of Maine’s economy is in and around Portland. It’s up to us to demand action on these priorities now, so in the years ahead we can continue to grow economic prosperity for our region, and the entire state.