Editor’s note: This is the third in a five-part series about Maine’s economy and the future. It is condensed from the book, “Maine’s Next Economy.”

The foundations of the Maine’s next economy are under construction, thanks to the energy of the state’s innovators, startup entrepreneurs and determined dreamers. They are busy constructing a new bottom-up economy that is perfectly attuned to who we are, as a state, and to our national brand.

The question we confront now is this: How can we accelerate that process so that Maine can experience a new prosperity in all parts of the state? The answers to that question are the subject of the remaining three installments of this five-part series.

The first steps seem clear and have to do with our attitude: Maine needs to think and act in new ways. We need a more optimistic attitude. And we need focused actions that support our innovators and small businesses.

Innovation and entrepreneurs are key. To grow a new prosperity in Maine, we need to fully embrace the idea that creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship are the driving forces of tomorrow’s economy.

Innovative companies grow faster, have higher profits and pay higher wages, whether they’re big or small, high-tech or no tech, in a city or a rural area. Innovation can happen in new industries or older ones, in multi-generational companies that are constantly reinventing themselves or in start-ups.

An innovation economy won’t happen if it is simply another item on our to-do list. We have to commit ourselves to the idea of becoming an innovation state.

— Catherine Renault, Innovation PolicyWorks LLC

A feeder system for a new economy. To really support our innovators and entrepreneurs, we need an infrastructure that encourages and helps a wide array of smaller businesses and startups, at all the stages of their development. Each one of them will add jobs, but as they get bigger and become so-called gazelles, they can become major employers in the future.

— Don Gooding, Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development

Small is not only beautiful, it’s essential. Tomorrow’s economy is likely to have fewer large employers and a lot more small ones, including micro-businesses with four or fewer employees. Micro-businesses are often under-appreciated, but they are an essential part of Maine’s unique character, an important thread in the fabric of our communities and the foundations of the next economy.

— Eloise Vitelli, New Ventures Maine

Growing without wrecking the place. Mainers have appreciated — and been protective of — our amazing woods and waters for decades. Unfortunately, we can’t eat the scenery.

Can we prosper and still protect what makes this state special? Is it possible to protect critical wildlife habitat and still cut lots of trees, place wind towers in the right places without ruining our mountain tops, have beautiful lawns with protective buffers along the lakes, and even become energy independent — all without wrecking the place?

The answer is yes, but it won’t happen by accident. We need effective rules at the state and local level that protect what we value, including clean water, wildlife habitat and more, continue to purchase and protect our very best places and direct growth to appropriate areas.

— George Smith, outdoor advocate, author and columnist

We can learn from the rebirth of agriculture. After decades of decline, Maine is poised to build a vibrant farm economy — and to be become the “food basket of New England.” How that has happened offers useful lessons for building the rest of the economy.

1. We won’t find success by doing things the way we’ve always done them. We need to experiment and innovate with new strategies, invent new products and constantly explore new markets.

2. Good things happen when we get behind small and innovative businesses that are determined to succeed.

— John Piotti, Maine Farmland Trust

Reinventing education to prepare ourselves for tomorrow’s economy. There are three ways in which education has to reshape itself to help accelerate the growth of the next economy:

1. Focus more on the new jobs that are being invented every day, particularly in high-tech and engineering fields, where jobs are going unfilled. We need to better prepare students, and people already in the workforce, for tomorrow’s jobs.

2. Help kids, at all levels, learn how to create their own jobs, which they’ll be increasingly called upon to do in the future.

3. Reshape higher education so it focuses less on head counts and degrees and more on the practical and timely skills that innovators and entrepreneurs need in a rapidly changing economy.

— Jim Shaffer, former news media executive and educator; Sue Inches, former deputy director of the State Planning Office; Ryan Neale, Maine Development Foundation

Building high-speed connections to the world. The critical infrastructure of the next economy will not be rivers, railroads or highways. It will be broadband connections that allow people to live in Maine while working anywhere in the world. The private sector, alone, cannot build the system we need outside of our cities and larger towns. We will need the kind of public commitment that brought electrification and telephone service to the entire state.

— Fletcher Kittredge. Great Works Internet (GWI)

Creating a home-grown energy economy. Maine exports $5 billion each year to pay for fossil fuels from away. It doesn’t need to be that way. We have abundant local renewable resources in the form of wind, tidal, wood and solar energy.

We need to pivot quickly to producing more of our own energy, so that we can reduce and eventually eliminate this draining outflow of energy dollars. We also need to rethink energy production away from big centralized generators to decentralized power on our rooftops and places like capped landfills.

Transitioning Maine to a sustainable clean energy economy can create thousands of new jobs to help offset the loss of some of the traditional jobs we’re losing elsewhere.

— Phil Coupe, ReVision Energy

Climate change will be part of the next economy. No plan for the future of Maine’s economy can ignore climate change, which already is affecting our landscape, seasonal tourism, forestry and fishing, and which eventually will reshape jobs in everything from natural resources to energy and health.

We need forward-looking and coordinated action at all levels to reduce the negative impacts on Maine and help us adapt to the future, including seizing opportunities to build new jobs around climate innovation and energy.

— Catherine Lee, Lee International and the Climate Table; Lucy Van Hook, climate and fisheries consultant

We can’t grow without more people. We’ve been losing young people for decades, largely because of a weak economy. We’ve also been aging, as a state. Now we’ve begun to make newcomers feel unwelcome.

To reverse those trends, we’re going to need to build an economy that provides more opportunity for young people and is better suited to their world. And we’re going to need to become more welcoming to everyone from young innovators around the country to skilled immigrants from around the world. It’s time to erect a big WELCOME sign at our border that isn’t just for tourists.

— Chuck Lawton, Planning Decisions Inc.

Next week, we’ll look at how investing in ourselves can fuel the growth of Maine’s next economy.

Alan Caron, a Waterville native, is the owner of Caron Communications, which is based in Freeport. Email at [email protected]. “Maine’s Next Economy” can be ordered through the Envision Maine website, www.envisionmaine.org.

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