Maine’s economy and Maine’s demographics are inextricably linked: To grow our aging, shrinking workforce, we have to attract more people. While state officials should be taking the lead role in this effort, they’ve channeled their energy toward discouraging newcomers. In fact, the progress lately has been at the local level.

The Portland Office of Economic Opportunity, created Monday night by a unanimous vote of the City Council, is aimed at better integrating underserved groups into the workforce. While people of color and young people are included in the mission, immigrants are the focal point.

The new city office isn’t looking to provide services. Instead, it wants to connect newcomers with community groups that address challenges like lack of English proficiency or employment skills.

Other goals on the city’s agenda: improving coordination among service providers; gathering data about the effectiveness of local programs; assessing what services aren’t being provided, and working with local businesses to identify their workforce needs.

Though there’s bound to be xenophobic sniping from the likes of Gov. Paul LePage — who has baselessly linked immigrants to everything from disease to crime — Maine needs as many newcomers as it can get. Here’s a refresher on the statistics in case you’ve forgotten them: Maine’s population is the country’s oldest, and our birth rate is among the country’s lowest.

Meanwhile, there are people are coming here who want to work, many of whom are well educated. The Portland Community Chamber of Commerce supported the Office of Economic Opportunity, which says a lot about the need for ready, willing and able workers. And the shortage isn’t limited to southern Maine: Bangor recently unveiled an effort to help immigrants bolster the workforce there.

Granted, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine researchers, that first-generation immigrants cost states and towns more in services than they provide in taxes, largely because of the cost of educating their families.

But according to the same recently released data, children of immigrants pay more in taxes and use fewer services than their parents do. They also contribute more to state and local revenues than the general population does.

It’s worrisome that the Office of Economic Opportunity is largely grant funded, given that the city’s Office of Refugee Services had to close after grants dried up a year ago. We hope that the new program can find firm fiscal footing, because everyone in Maine stands to benefit from increasing economic opportunities to the state’s newcomers.


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