Pittsfield job fair, Fayette online candidates forum grab our attention this week

THUMBS UP to a Pittsfield job fair that drew several hundred prospective employees to Warsaw Middle School on Wednesday.

The fair, in its seventh year, took on new meaning this year after Pittfield’s second largest employer, United Technologies, announced in March that it was closing its Pittsfield plant. That’s a loss of more than 300 jobs, although about 100 positions will be available for UTC’s Maine employees who are willing to transfer to North Carolina.

The closure was not good news in Somerset County, which has 9.1 percent unemployment, compared to 5.9 percent statewide.

The good news, however, was that the roughly 50 businesses and organizations represented at the fair — the largest number in the fair’s history — offered about 300 open positions.

It will be interesting to see how many of those positions are filled as a result of Wednesday’s job fair. It also would be worthwhile for state officials to follow up with employers who took part in this job fair, and others to see how well the skills of those seeking work matched with the needs of the organizations.

There has been a lot of talk lately about the “skills gap” in Maine. By tracking the results of job fairs, the state could get a much better sense of the size of that gap, and would go a long way to figuring out why there is persistent unemployment at some levels.

THUMBS DOWN to the ongoing spat between Democrats and Republicans regarding funding for nursing homes.

If you are following at home — and given the political back-and-forth in this debate, that has been difficult — Gov. Paul LePage introduced a bill on the second-to-last day of the most recent session to provide additional funding for Maine nursing homes, which have historically been underreimbursed through MaineCare, leading to a financial crisis for some of the homes.

During negotiations between Republican and Democratic lawmakers, the source of the funding was changed. LePage then said he would veto any amended version of his bill, leading lawmakers to scuttle the proposal before going home.

Now, LePage and Republican lawmakers are blaming Democrats for refusing to come back for a special session to find a compromise on the matter. They say nursing homes are in danger of closing if additional funds are made available, and that some cannot afford to wait until the July 1 funds arrive.

Democrats countered by pointing to the millions of state and federal funds already earmarked for nursing homes starting July 1. They say Republicans are playing politics in advance of the election by courting the votes of seniors.

Who’s right? It’s hard to say amid all the noise, and without solid facts about the health of the nursing homes. Guess we’ll have to wait until July to find out.

THUMBS UP to the town of Fayette for offering a virtual forum for local candidates.

Residents can go to the town website and leave questions for candidates in the June 10 election. Town Manager Mark Robinson, acting as forum moderator, receives the questions then puts them out to the candidates, who can answer in their own time. On Wednesday, eight questions were posted with responses from candidates for school board.

The town also will hold a traditional candidate forum closer to the election. But those forums, in Fayette and elsewhere, are not typically well-attended.

The online forum gives busy residents a chance to test the candidates on their own schedule. It’s a great way for a rural community to use technology to serve residents, and to build community.