Maine needs a bridge that spans not a river but a gulf between the troubled present and a post-pandemic future.

To get there, Gov. Janet Mills established her Economic Recovery Committee last week, which met for the first time Friday morning via the Zoom videoconferencing service. Mills wants recommendations on designing that bridge.

Co-chaired by Thomas College President Laurie Lachance and Tilson Technology Management CEO Josh Broder, the committee includes 37 other members from a variety of economic sectors as well as an additional staffer working for each of Maine’s four congressional delegates.

In December, Mills unveiled a long-range economic growth plan designed to tackle the state’s challenges of low unemployment, aging population and small workforce. Three months later, Maine confirmed its first case of coronavirus infection, and unemployment numbers soon reached record highs.

“We’re facing brand new challenges of a very dramatic sort,” Mills said Friday morning during the committee’s inaugural meeting. “I think the challenge to this committee is to look at the forces that require us to re-imagine how we do everything over the long term, from business to healthcare to recreation and education.”

Mills spoke of elevating the lives of lower- and middle-income families amid a prolonged economic downturn, about reducing disparities between rural and urban Mainers in terms of jobs and affordable health care, and about attracting business investment and innovation.


“I think we need short-term and long-term recommendations for policy action,” she said, making clear that she’s not looking for specific suggestions such as “when to open the bars in Portland.”

Lachance, who served as the state’s top economist under three governors; and Broder, a former Army signal corps officer with expertise in communications and information systems, have broken down their members into six subcommittees, each with its own chair.

Larry Shaw, CEO of MMG Insurance, will lead Manufacturing and Natural Resources. Bob Montgomery-Rice, president and CEO of Bangor Savings Bank, will lead Retail, Tourism and Hospitality. James Herbert, president of the University of New England, will lead Education and Workforce. Susan Corbett, director of the National Digital Equity Center, will lead Infrastructure. Betsy Biemann, CEO of Coastal Enterprises Inc., will lead Innovation. Bill Burke, chair of the MaineHealth board of trustees, will lead Healthcare, Nonprofits, Childcare and Support Services.

“There’s some diversity of background on each (smaller) committee,” Lachance said. “I think that will strengthen the work of the committee, as different perspectives will lead to much more creative solutions.”

The larger committee has two deadlines. The first comes on July 15 for a report on stabilization and support during the current economic upheaval. The second is Dec. 1 and will focus on sustainability and a renewed growth path.

“This shouldn’t be a brand new start from scratch,” Lachance said. “Our goal is really to breathe life back into that long-term strategy.”


Broder said one of the buzzwords during the 2008 recession was “shovel-ready” projects that could immediately take advantage of federal stimulus packages. Identifying those ahead of time can position Maine to compete for those dollars at a time when the state’s revenue streams have been severely curtailed.

Lachance said Thomas College would have missed out on the first round of funding for the recent Paycheck Protection Program had the college not been so organized and prepared to apply.

“That’s why we need to form and activate these committees as soon as possible,” she said, “to see what might be available for help and how do we line up to compete for those resources.”

Broder and Lachance envision weekly meetings of the larger committee. All proceedings, along with those of the subcommittees, will be open to the public for viewing and listening in. On Friday morning, viewership of the committee meeting peaked at 149 in addition to those involved in the actual work.

“It would be very easy to not deal with this until later,” Broder said. “But we’re starting that critical planning now so we can make good decisions and have an impact on the outcome.”

Before signing off, Lachance gave committee members a little pep talk.

“Having studied our economy for the 200 years of our existence, Maine has faced incredible challenge before,” she said. “We’ve gone through one transformation after another. I have great hope we will find a path out of this. It won’t be easy. It will take a lot of hard work. And it will take every ounce of our Yankee ingenuity. But I know that together, we will produce something that will help Maine get back on track.”

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