That was one of the messages given by Janine Basaillon-Cary during the latest Portland Community Chamber of Commerce’s Eggs & Issues.
Maine is usually well-represented during the many international trade missions throughout the year, Cary said. In fact, when on international “match-making” visits, the state is often the focus of attention for its representation.
“We hate the word boondoggle, and we don’t ever use it, and we also are one of the states that bring more companies on trade missions than any other state,” she said. “We always have our partners overseas amazed at how a little state like Maine can bring so many companies with us to matchmaking.”
While the state has been well-represented abroad, Cary said Maine also faces a large challenge in the current make-up of its workforce.
“Maine has some really troubling demographic challenges over the last decade, with our aging population and with dwindling student populations,” she said. “As a result this has put a lot of pressure on our schools and colleges with decreasing enrollment.”
“As we were executing yearly trade missions we started seeing more and more school systems saying ‘We’d like to come on the trade mission. We want to be meeting with agents and schools and get more international students participating,’” she said. “What a great thing to make our schools more globally connected and diversified. What started as few schools, I think it started with four, and we’re now up over 20, maybe up to 25… has really blossomed, in terms of student attraction, in terms of coming on trade missions.
“We’re getting packed with schools wanting to get more connected. I think this is something really healthy.”
Cary said that while communications and technology shrink the world, nothing helps as much as making meaningful connections.
“Everything is local. All politics are local. All relationships are local,” she said. “You start by meeting someone from a foreign country, and suddenly you have connections there and the world gets a little smaller.”