Maine is at an economic crossroads.
For generations, our forests, farmlands and waters have created economic opportunity all over this state.
Furs, fisheries, timber and land made fortunes for many until the late 1800s, and then large-scale production of lumber, granite, ice and lime, fishing and shipbuilding drove success in our coastal communities and resulted in a network of railroads. Textiles and paper products drove the work of mills across the state and put food on the table for thousands.
But recent decades have showed us the dangers of over-reliance on any one industry. Market demand for paper products has dwindled and foreign competition has caused some mills to shutter, putting thousands of Maine people out of work.
Well, in recent decades we’ve learned to adjust and change our economy and now it’s time for a long-range economic plan — the first time in decades that we’ve done one!
While our aging population has left many employers across the state seeking a qualified, ready, and able workforce our children and grandchildren are leaving Maine unfortunately to find jobs in other states.
We’ve been digging deep to form a plan to redevelop our workforce in so many ways.
The strategic plan we’re unveiling creates a roadmap to foster innovation, to drive collaboration, to help jump-start economic growth in our state to achieve a diverse, forward-looking economy that will offer everyone the opportunity to succeed.
This plan synthesizes the views and opinions of thousands of people across the state and across the political spectrum, private and public sector, and is grounded in one overall mission: That by 2030, our state will be an international leader and will have a vibrant and environmentally-sustainable economy.
The plan establishes three overarching goals for the next ten years in Maine: grow our average annual wage — what people make for a living — by 10 percent, increase the value of the products we sell by 10 percent and attract 75,000 people to Maine’s talent pool.
To accomplish these goals, our plan establishes seven key strategies: growing talent in Maine, attracting new talent to the state, promoting innovation, improving connectivity, bolstering infrastructure, maintaining a stable business environment and promoting hubs of excellence.
Within each of these strategies, our plan offers concrete action steps that will be taken.
For example, we’re talking about a Maine Career Exploration Program to allow internships for high-school age students and to work with them throughout their young years to determine their interests and identify their passions and allow them to connect to the resources, and skills, and employers that can prepare them and put them on a career path whether that’s in trades, or tech or academics.
The plan creates a Welcome Home Program to welcome employers, entrepreneurs, and innovators to our state, enticing those who have grown up here and left, and those who are interested in moving here, to come to Maine.
The plan also recommends common-sense ideas like simplifying the Education Opportunity Tax Credit to help motivate people to stay in Maine after their college education by helping them pay off their student debt. And it recommends expanding the Maine Seed Capital Tax Credit.
Importantly, it identifies other things like critical infrastructure — expanding broadband with loan guarantees to those providers wanting to invest in internet expansion, particularly in rural Maine. And it calls for a more stable business environment and streamlining of government processes.
While, just like any other state, we have our challenges, we are extraordinary in so many ways.
In a world that is seeking clean, renewable resources, we have abundant forests, wind, water, and sun. We’ve got world-class researchers at the University, at The Jackson Laboratory, at Bigelow, MDI Biological Laboratory, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and so many more. And innovative companies like Atlantic Sea Farms developing new ways to grow kelp.
We have challenges, but we have a lot going for us, too. With this new economic plan, it is my goal that the State of Maine will be known as a place of innovation and excellence — where people can establish their roots and live happy and fulfilling lives, and where entrepreneurs and innovators start and scale their businesses and create jobs.
I love our state. I love Maine people — and because of them I have such great hope for our future. As we approach Maine’s bicentennial, it is time to build on the foundation of our past two hundred years to create a forward-looking economy for the next two hundred years.
Let’s get moving.
Janet T. Mills is the 75th and current governor of Maine.