Back in September, we talked about Maine’s shrinking labor force, a trend that is affecting businesses in every corner of the state, caused by a declining population and a lack of trained workers. I suggested that our focus should be on the thousands of small business owners who are job creators for Maine; making sure we have training in place for the careers of the future; and ways to incentivize young people to stay or return to the state, by helping with their college debt or guiding them toward mentoring and apprenticeships. In that column, I also made the case for welcoming people from other places who wish to work here and make Maine their home.
But what about new jobs? How do we go about creating an atmosphere that encourages even more entrepreneurship in our state?
As someone who has started two Maine businesses, run another, and in my capacity as a Realtor helped many others get off the ground, I am familiar with the challenges to entrepreneurs in this state. Improving the state’s infrastructure is key -- not just bridges, roads, and ferries -- but our digital infrastructure as well. Right now 80% of households and businesses in Maine do not have access to high-speed broadband, and three-quarters of households do not have a choice of providers. That’s crippling us – because today’s businesses, whether they are family farms raising free-range chickens, or a team of architects designing homes, need up-to-date digital tools to be able to compete on the world stage.
Another step we can take is to streamline the confusing jumble of state agencies designed to help launch businesses. Why not make it easier for people with great ideas to get them going? With nearly zero job growth predicted over the next ten years, we need to do everything we can to encourage small and micro-businesses, along with supporting our traditional industries such as fishing, forestry and farming.
We also need to be actively supporting new industries that can help us in more ways than one, such as clean, renewable energy. Solar, wind, tidal, turbine, and wood will not only move us away from our reliance on fossil fuels, but they create good-paying jobs for skilled laborers. Aquaculture is another area where we can be forward thinking, create jobs and sources of protein for the planet, provided we ensure that protections for the marine environment are also in place.
I believe that creating new jobs also means a focus on investing in our best resource: our people. Funding new business grants for veteran-owned small businesses, creating public-private partnerships that encourage apprentice programs for our high school seniors, rebranding Maine as a place to put down real roots – these are all ways in which we can continue to make our state more vibrant, create more work opportunities, and become a place where all of us can earn a good living. Yes, there are costs associated with making these changes, but they pale in comparison to the price we will pay if we do not embrace economic change.
Paid for and authorized by Vicki Doudera.