Maine’s lack of population growth source of economic concern

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AUGUSTA — State lawmakers heard again Monday that Maine’s dwindling and aging population will continue to be one of the biggest factors in the state’s long-struggling economy.

Key policymakers, including Gov. Paul LePage, are focused on a series of issues they believe would make the state a more welcoming place for job creators, including reducing corporate taxes, lowering energy costs, and eliminating unnecessary and cumbersome regulations. But the state’s economy is still largely hinged on its ability to grow its population.

State economist Amanda Rector presented the Legislature’s budget-writing Appropriations Committee with a Nov. 1 report of the state’s Consensus Economic Forecasting Commission during the committee’s final meeting for 2014.

While the forecast for Maine shows slow and steady economic growth through 2019, that growth pales when compared to the growth expected nationwide.

Part of the forecast presented to lawmakers included information the commission gathered from a range of Maine industry associations, including those representing the manufacturing, medical, financial and energy sectors.

“Overall, these business perspectives helped confirm the (commission’s) subsequent findings that Maine’s economy continues to see slow growth with considerable challenges posed by the state’s aging population and lack of population growth,” the report states.

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State Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, the House chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, said that policymakers need to take seriously the state’s demographic challenges. She also said the state needs to begin an earnest discussion about what can be done to attract immigrants to Maine.

Rotundo said several other states, facing similar demographic challenges as Maine, have developed policies and programs aimed at recruiting immigrants to grow the population and the workforce.

Although she had no specific legislation in mind, Rotundo said lawmakers needed to start looking around the country for ideas.

“It’s a conversation that needs to be started in the State House,” Rotundo said. “Are we interested in looking at other states who are trying to solve this problem by encouraging immigration? And if that’s the case, what can we do as a state?”

But other members of the committee, including state Rep. Tom Winsor, R-Norway, said they believe creating a business-friendly environment builds the industries that would provide the kind of good-paying jobs that would attract more young workers and their families to Maine.

“It’s really kind of the chicken or the egg kind of discussion we are talking about here,” Winsor said. 

LePage’s administration has also focused on improving the state’s ability to attract good-paying industries and jobs. 

Peter Steele, LePage’s communications director, said the administration welcomes legally documented immigrants coming to Maine in search of jobs and better opportunities for themselves and their families.

“Making Maine more competitive — nationally and globally — will encourage companies to come, expand and stay in Maine, and create the kind of good-paying career jobs that will attract immigrants, as well as young people and families, to our state,” Steele said.

The state is already well known for “our unparalleled quality of life, but that’s not enough to recruit workers and families,” Steele said. “We will struggle to lower our average age and grow our population until we can overcome the high-tax, big-government policies that have held Maine back for decades.”

sthistle@sunjournal.com

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