The only constant in Maine’s economy is change. This has been true since the early days of fishing, fur trapping and subsistence farming by native people and European settlers. These practices were soon overshadowed by sawmills, gristmills, tanneries and textile mills. In 1735, the first paper mill in Maine was established, kicking off an industry which persists to this day. Shipbuilding and commercial fishing became Maine’s dominant industries in the early 1800s, and by the late 1800s agriculture, particularly in Aroostook County, began to make up a larger portion of the state’s economy, fueled in part by the expansion of rail service to northern Maine. It was about this time that tourism began to play a larger part in our economy.

Most of these industries remain today, although they look very different from their 19th-century counterparts. Changes in technology, the availability of certain resources and the market for certain products have created an environment of growth and change in Maine’s economy. Given the rapid pace of transition in the economy, it is crucial that Maine government have a focus on the future when making economic policy decisions.

One way to do that is to think critically about how our education system meets the needs of a 21st century economy.

We in the Maine Legislature need to support expanded career and technical education (CTE) opportunities. A good education system isn’t “one size fits all”, while some students might excel in the traditional three Rs (reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic), some students’ talents lie in other areas. Learning and exceling in a trade can be very lucrative, and usually comes without the financial burden of attending a four-year college. Instead of trying to force square pegs into round holes, we should give students the opportunity to do what makes sense for them. This year, I’ll be supporting a bond package introduced by my colleague Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, to purchase equipment for CTE schools in Maine.

This also means thinking about the role the University of Maine can play to help develop the technology and workers of Maine’s future economy. As the only research university and the largest higher education institution in Maine, UMaine has a central role to play in our state’s economic future. Research and development projects taken on at the University related to cross-laminated timber, biofuels, composites, agricultural technology and renewable energy hold promise for the future, as do the roughly 2,500 students in each undergraduate class, many of whom are exposed to Maine for the first time at the University.

Investing directly in research, development and commercialization of emerging products and industries is another way we in the Maine Legislature can focus on the future of our economy. This session I have submitted a bond bill which would provide funding for such projects across the state, in seven target technology sectors:advanced technology for agriculture and forestry; aquaculture and marine sciences; biotechnology; composite materials; environmental technologies; information technology; and precision manufacturing.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, I’d like to hear from you. I can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 207-287-1515.

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