AUBURN — A new effort to bolster the state’s economic future aims to address Maine’s troubling demographic trends.

Mainers are the oldest and least-diverse group in the country, too often stuck in low-wage, low-skill jobs and often living in rural areas with poor infrastructure, limited child care options and minimal public transportation.

One in seven of its 700,000 workers is slated to retire by 2025 — and there are not anywhere near enough newcomers to fill their ranks.

Bruce Wagner, chairman of the state’s effort to create a new economic development plan, outlines Maine’s opportunities and barriers during a workshop Wednesday in Auburn. Steve Collins/Sun Journal

Given those realities, “doing nothing is not an option for Maine,” said Bruce Wagner, chief executive officer of the Finance Authority of Maine.

Wagner is chairman of a new effort to create a 10-year economic development plan for the state that aims to identify steps Maine can take to fend off the demographic crisis and spur growth throughout the Pine Tree State.

In a work session Wednesday at Central Maine Community College in Auburn, Wagner solicited ideas from about 60 community leaders who gathered to identify problems and propose solutions.


The 20-person strategic planning group Wagner heads was created this spring by Gov. Janet Mills “to work collaboratively with government agencies and private businesses to develop a long-term strategic plan that drives economic growth, addresses our workforce challenges and results in a strong, sustainable and diversified economy.”

Mills said last month that “strengthening our economy and tackling Maine’s workforce challenges requires a multifaceted approach that addresses skills training, research and development and increasing” Maine’s productivity and wages.

Slated to issue a plan by Nov. 15,  the group is holding regional work sessions across the state to pinpoint opportunities and issues that need be addressed in the plan, Wagner said.

Though Maine’s demographic trends are troubling, they are not unique.

David Daigler, president of the Maine Community College System, said the trends “are happening to us faster in Maine” than elsewhere, but most of the country is dealing with similar issues.

Since “stopping people from getting older is pretty difficult,” he said, the state has to look to ideas for attracting more newcomers and bolstering opportunities for its own residents and businesses.


Fortunately, Wagner said, it is not all dire.

That state, he said, has many strengths that offer hope for a better future, including the strong appeal of “the Maine lifestyle brand,” the state’s abundant natural resources, the surging economy in southern Maine, the responsiveness of its colleges and a number of promising new businesses.

Wagner said the state may be able to build on its close ties to Boston and the entire North Atlantic.

Attracting more people is possible, too, given the increasing global migration — with many refugees possessing training and skills Maine needs — and the trend toward a high-tech workforce that can do jobs from remote locations.

“Our state’s ability to support established employers and attract new businesses is dependent on maintaining a skilled workforce,” Laura Fortman, commissioner of the Maine Department of Labor, said recently.

She said while unemployment is at historic lows, Maine should seek “to increase opportunities for those currently on the margins of our economy, including our young people, older adults, New Mainers, people with disabilities and those who need additional skills to find good jobs.”


Many of the ideas offered during the workshop Wednesday focused on ways to lure more people into the workforce, from paying them during the time it takes for specialized training to offering more help coping with student debt.

There was also considerable talk about the need for more affordable housing, better public transit, ensuring broadband access and advertising Maine to more than just tourists.

Wagner said existing marketing has largely sent the message Maine is “only moose, lobsters and blueberries.”

He said the new development plan, the first in two decades, aims to be “regionally sensitive” by recognizing priorities may differ across the state.

Wagner said the group is reaching out at eight regional workshops to make sure the final plan is inclusive and broadly based. He said it would not be effective to have someone put it together in a backroom. “We want to know where we’re going as a state.”

He said the plan will be data-driven, reviewed by economists and nonpartisan.

“We’re going to look for breakthrough strategies,” Wagner said, because “we have to do something different.”

Heading into the process, officials summarized their vision for the report in a long summary sentence: “We will empower innovators and entrepreneurs, attract young families and new businesses, and revitalize rural Maine so that every person will know unequivocally that living in Maine means not only an unmatched quality of life, but an unmatched opportunity for good-paying jobs in innovative industries across the entire state.”

A preliminary report is slated for discussion at a Sept. 10 summit, with the final report due two months later.

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