We may be of different generations, but we share many of the same passions and priorities. As elected officials, we are committed to growing Maine’s rural economy through legislation that creates jobs, promotes the outdoors and supports local businesses and industries.

We’ve had a lot of bad news recently with mills closing or cutting back operations. Just last month, Huhtamaki in Fairfield laid off more than 50 workers and Madison Paper Industries reduced its operations from seven days a week to five.

This has caused fear and uncertainty for the hard-working men and women in this state who have dedicated their lives to working in the mills. They have put their hearts and souls into their work to ensure the success and longevity of the paper industry.

Even though we have been behind other states in our economic rebound, Maine is now on the upswing. We need to make sure that rural Maine has the same comeback from the recession as southern Maine.

Somerset County, where we both live, is still struggling. We have twice the unemployment rate that counties such as Cumberland and York do. We fear that the loss of mill jobs will undo the gains we have seen.

We owe it to these men and women to keep the focus on Maine people and Maine businesses. We are committed to creating good-paying jobs that encourage people to stay in our state to live and work.

In order to do this, we must provide job training opportunities for displaced workers. In some cases, Maine does not have enough skilled workers to fill open positions. With targeted training efforts, we can match Maine workers with growing sectors that have unfilled positions. Last year, we supported the bipartisan “Put ME to Work” proposal to grow good jobs and strong wages. We invested $10 million for scholarships to help Maine students and workers pay for college through the Maine State Grant program.

We must make sure that our tax policies create jobs — not loopholes that benefit out-of-state and off-shore companies — and put our homegrown businesses at a competitive advantage. We need to urge politicians in Washington, D.C., to rethink the negotiated trade agreements that are hurting our country, our state and our middle class.

Whenever possible, goods and services should be produced here in Maine and purchased from local businesses. New Balance of Skowhegan is the last major athletic shoe manufacturer in the country. We strongly supported efforts to ensure that the Department of Defense provide American-made sneakers to new recruits.

Promoting our outdoor economy and growing our agricultural sector are also top priorities. The Land for Maine’s Future program is a key economic driver in rural Maine. It supports projects in each of Maine’s 16 counties, creating opportunities for hunting, fishing, hiking, snowmobiling, biking, camping and many other recreational pursuits. These activities support the jobs of outfitters in restaurants, lodging and more.

We have been working hard in the Legislature to ensure bonds tied to this program are released so that it can continue to help grow Maine’s rural economy. One of the first things the Legislature did this session was reauthorizing $6.5 million of the voter-approved bonds that expired when the governor would not release them.

In December, Central Maine Sportsman’s Access Project acquired five separate tracts of land in Embden, Ripley, Detroit and Burnham from the release of the bonds in October. This includes roughly 1,000 acres of deer yards, critical habitat where deer take shelter during winter. Habitat protection will help to ensure the next generation of sportsmen has places to hunt and fish.

Another economic imperative for rural Maine is to help small businesses reach customers and suppliers online. Fifty-nine percent of Maine’s small businesses don’t even have a website and 80 percent of Maine addresses have inadequate or no Internet access.

A bill before the Legislature would help address the lack of broadband access by increasing ConnectME’s funding by an additional $1 million a year. The ConnectME Authority is a unit of Maine state government whose mission is facilitating universal availability of broadband to all Mainers. Expanding broadband would help our manufacturers, small and large, grow their businesses and reach more clients.

Our state motto is Dirigo — “I lead.” It is time for lawmakers to come together to show Mainers that our workforce and local businesses are our top priority and that we will do everything in our power to help communities across the state thrive.

Rep. Stanley Short Jr., D-Pittsfield, is serving his second term in the House of Representatives and represents Clinton, Detroit and Pittsfield. House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, is serving his fourth term in the Legislature and represents Skowhegan and part of Madison.

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