Maine is headed toward a demographic crisis. We are losing working-age Mainers, especially younger Mainers, while more Mainers head into their retirement years. Our young people are leaving for other parts of the country where opportunities are more plentiful. To bring them back and to ensure the next generation has the chance to make the same decision to stay in Maine that we did, we need a roadmap toward economic growth.
To understand where we need to go, we need to understand where we came from. Maine built its middle class through hard work in industries that produced high-quality products and solid paychecks — industries like fishing, logging, shipbuilding and large manufacturing, just to name a few. But globalization, trade deals without adequate protections for American workers and the philosophy of profits-before-people gutted our middle-class economy. At the same time, our state has missed opportunities to make the investments necessary to adapt to the changing economy.
There are a lot of politicians who believe we can cut our way to prosperity. But cutting simply for the sake of cutting is not a strategy for growth. We need state government to be an active, nimble engaged partner for growth — to make smart, strategic investments that will grow our economy and provide opportunities for our youth.
Legislative Democrats recently unveiled our vision for how to build A Better State of Maine through smart investments that create fertile soil in which businesses can grow and young families can plant their roots.
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In the coming Legislature, Democrats will support an agenda of growth by focusing on three key policy areas:
Strengthening our infrastructure: Our transportation, information and energy systems are the backbone of our state’s economy. But all three are lagging behind. Nearly 40 percent of Maine’s major roads are in need of some level of repair. Our broadband network is sparse, unreliable and too slow to meet the needs of today’s economy. For our environment and our economy, our energy portfolio requires an injection of clean, cost-efficient, renewable energy. Investing in our infrastructure will create jobs and build the foundation for our economic success for years to come.
Capitalizing on Maine’s competitive advantages: Maine’s eager and hardworking labor market, paired with the natural resources in our forests, farmlands and fisheries, will continue to be the bedrock of our economy and identity. We will build on the success of new partnerships between colleges, universities and growing industries to ensure prosperity for workers and businesses alike. We’ll train students for the skills they’ll need in Maine’s new economy. We will support the growth of farmers, fishermen and food producers by creating food hubs, where they can work together to add value to their products, market them and get them to customers. The vast majority of Maine’s food businesses are small, making some aspects of business difficult. Collaboration will help them succeed.
Creating communities where young families can thrive: Young Mainers and young people looking to move to Maine need good-paying jobs, but they also want thriving communities to call home. We’ve seen growth in communities that invest in their downtowns, from Belfast to Skowhegan. We’ll reinvigorate the village centers left behind by the changing economy, by directing state funding to those communities with dedicated strategies for downtown revitalization. We’ll invest in early childhood and K-12 education, so that young families will know their children are prepared for success. And we’ll pursue creative ways to encourage home ownership, so that young families can be invested in their communities.
Now is the time to act. To empower young people to thrive, we must rejuvenate our economy. The fate of both are inextricably linked. Young families cannot prosper without jobs, and entrepreneurs and businesses cannot grow without the skills, creativity and hard work that young people provide.
Many of these goals are not new. They represent opportunities that have passed us by before, when politics and division made us unable to seize them. We must be clear-eyed about these goals: They will cost money.
But these are investments we need to make. Our job is to work with our colleagues in the Legislature and the private sector to figure out how to meet these goals.
Our journey to prosperity has been riddled with detours for a generation. But we need to keep our foot on the gas. When the curve approaches, we need to speed up. In doing so, we’ll regain our competitive edge in a changing and globalized world, to the benefit of the next generation and our state’s future.
Sen. Dawn Hill is a Democrat from Cape Neddick. Rep. Sara Gideon is the Democratic House assistant majority leader. She lives in Freeport.