LEWISTON — Mayor Robert Macdonald was bullish on the city’s future and job markets for young adults Friday talking to students at the Lewiston Regional Technical Center.
Lewiston is maybe five years away from a major turnaround, the mayor said.
“Hopefully, in about five years, you won’t be leaving the city to find jobs,” Macdonald said. “You’ll be here, because this is where it will be.”
Macdonald is one of several local luminaries to speak to the tech center’s Jobs for Maine Graduates program. Past speakers have included state legislators, representatives from local nonprofits and business leaders.
Macdonald’s talk began with Lewiston’s economy and how it is improving. Local officials are trying to bring the train to Lewiston-Auburn and Macdonald said that will bring in new business.
“Then, when that happens, businesses are going to come in here, people are going to come in here and we are going to start thriving,” Macdonald said.
He urged the students, from the Classes of 2015 through 2018, to pay attention and work hard.
“You will be the future leaders,” he said.
The group included many students of Somali descent who challenged Macdonald for urging immigrants to leave their culture at the door.
The comments came from a British Broadcasting Corp. documentary that aired in September 2012. Macdonald admitted he said it, but said his quote was cut short.
“They didn’t finish my sentence,” Macdonald said. “I said ‘Leave your culture at the door, come in become Americans and prosper.’ And I would say that to anybody: Irish, English, Finnish, Asians, I don’t care.”
Macdonald said people should be free to celebrate whatever holidays they want and practice any religion they want. He also encouraged immigrants to practice their native language while they learn English.
“But don’t bring your baggage with you,” he said. “You are escaping from someplace. You dont’ want to be there because things are bad and you want a better life. Well, we have developed a country that you can have a better life in. But in order to have that, we can’t have the Irish people saying ‘We did it this way’ and the Spanish saying ‘We did it that way.’ We have one culture, you’d better come in here and accept our culture.”
Macdonald also made a pitch for more emphasis on technical education, saying he’d like to see neighboring Central Maine Community College in Auburn give up its junior college identity and become a technical college once again.
“You should be able to go over there and learn a skill,” he said. “You need some academics, you need math and you need some English. But what you really need is to be shown a trade. You need to get yourself into a trade and get to the point where you are an expert at it. That’s going to get you money.”