Omasombo Katuka tills the land May 11 for a vegetable garden at Packard-Littlefield Farm in Lisbon. The new Mainer, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, has been working with the Cultivating Community program on about 30 acres of the 500-acre farm for the past 10 years. He has learned new skills and has taught others about farming for themselves, community-supported agriculture and farmers markets, and has learned about marketing through the program. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file

LEWISTON – City leaders hailed a move this week by Gov. Janet Mills to create a new state government office to focus on issues important to New Mainers.

Lewiston mayor Carl Sheline conducts a news conference in March 2022 in the council chambers at Lewiston City Hall. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file

“This makes a lot of sense and I appreciate Governor Mills’ leadership on this issue,” Mayor Carl Sheline said.

“The faster we can get people settled and plugged into the workforce, the better it will be for everyone,” the mayor said.

Mills told underlings to lay the groundwork for a new Office of New Americans by January 2024.

“My order will develop a plan for a new office to help us ensure that Maine is fully drawing on the talents and skills of those who want to live and work in and contribute to our great state,” Mills said, according to a prepared statement.

State Rep. Kristen Cloutier, a Lewiston Democrat who serves as the assistant House majority leader, said the new office “is part of an exciting larger national effort to welcome and support our immigrant neighbors, friends and family as they adjust to a new community.”


Rep. Kristen Cloutier

“Maine has long struggled to provide the necessary resources required of New Mainers to live and work in our state,” Cloutier said.

Lewiston City Councilor Scott Harriman said he is excited about the governor’s initiative.

“Immigrants have been adding to the fabric of our state for centuries,” Harriman said. “Given the increasing age of Maine’s population, we need immigrants now more than ever in order to fill jobs, start businesses, and keep our economy vibrant.”

“I’m hopeful that this office can help make that process even smoother and more coordinated,” Harriman said.

Shanna Cox, president of the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, called the proposed new office “an important next step in expanding the pathways to success for the many people born abroad who today call Maine home.”

“Immigrants are strong leaders in business and contribute greatly to our communities and economy in Maine, and the need for in-migration and immigration to contribute to our workforce and economy has never been greater,” she said in a prepared statement.


Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Shanna Cox in Lewiston in May 2021. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file

“This new office will be a catalyst for improved engagement and greater success of our neighbors, customers, employees and business owners,” Cox said.

State Rep. Margaret Craven, a Lewiston Democrat, said she thinks the new office will help.

“Social injustice for people of color is still rampant,” she said, “and having a centralized office to address issues that need addressing will be available.”

“Educating the public, employers, educators, bankers and law enforcement is crucial,” Craven said.

“This will absolutely benefit both Lewiston employers who are struggling to fill positions and the larger Maine economy,” Sheline said.

Cloutier said that in Lewiston “our immigrant population is a proud part of our community looking to sustain themselves and their families while contributing to our city as a whole, but we have struggled to eliminate some of the challenges that stand in their way.”


“I am hopeful that this new office will help alleviate some of those barriers,” she said.

Cloutier said, for example, that this year she sponsored legislation telling a commission “to study how our state can better support foreign-trained physicians and those who are new to practicing in Maine,” a bill that lawmakers approved.

“The Office of New Americans has the potential to expand work opportunities to additional sectors,” Cloutier said.

“I hope we in the Legislature can work closely with this new office as we continue to develop relevant legislation,” she said. “Ensuring our immigrant community members have viable employment options is not only a priority, but it is crucial to the long-term well-being of our economy and our people.”

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