Rural Maine’s story is a hard one. Like most of rural America, it has been in decline for decades, as jobs in farming, forestry and fishing having fallen victim to machines and competition.

There are plenty of people in southern and coastal Maine who don’t think much about rural Maine and what it means to this state. They go through rural areas to get to the ski slopes or the lakes, or maybe to drop a canoe in a stream or climb a trail, but they’re don’t spend a lot of time looking out the window.

They like the wilderness, of course, and they want to do whatever they can to protect it. Mostly, they want rural Maine to remain forested and beautiful, but don’t think much about the people who live there or what they’ve been going through.

They should think some more. Rural places are essential to who we are as a state, and so are rural people and small towns. They have for centuries defined Maine, our heritage and our cultural DNA. And given our vast forests, much of which was once farmland, rural areas may well be a critical element element of our future economy, as new inventions and technologies open new doors to the land, the woods and the sea.

Rural areas are also critical to our politics, as we recently discovered. It was rural folks, after all, who largely propelled Donald Trump to the presidency and, in Maine, who twice elected Paul LePage as governor.

Since the 1950s, the people of rural Maine have seen their way of life change. They’ve watched farms and friends leave. Seen their towns lose energy and schools shrink or close. Familiar shops have been shuttered. And the factories that once supported thousands of families, directly and indirectly, have too often gone silent.

Along the way, town volunteers have aged without enough young people to pick up the slack. Those kids who stayed long enough to graduate from high school went off to somewhere else, and more often than not never came back except to visit.

Politicians have promised to bring it all back, just as they’ve promised to revive manufacturing. But most rural folks don’t believe that any longer.

The reasons why rural areas have been declining are simple and apparent. Labor-intensive work in growing and cutting and mining raw materials and manufacturing has been supplanted by machines that do the work once done by large crews. Big families aren’t essential to farming any more. Massive logging machines now do the work that hundreds of men once did with saws and horses or skidders. And a handful of trawlers have supplanted thousands of small fishing boats.

The economy is like a forest sometimes. The older trees need to fall to the forest floor so that sunlight can penetrate the canopy and reach the seedlings struggling to grow below.

That is what has been happening in Maine, in a kind of slow motion transition. The new seedlings that are growing include young farmers who have increased the number of farms over the last two decades. And people who are inventing new uses for the forests and the sea while expanding our state’s reputation for quality, dependability and wholesomeness.

They are the leading edge of the next rural economy in Maine, and they’re helping to re-energize some of our rural towns, especially those that are looking forward, building fast internet connections and innovative schools.

Many of the people who are shaping the future of rural Maine will be gathering in Bangor next month for a summit on rural Maine’s next economy, hosted by Envision Maine and an array of organizations ranging from the Bangor Chamber of Commerce to the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and the Maine Forest Products Council.

The all-day event will feature close to 50 presenters who are working every day to revitalize the rural economy and expand opportunities for the future.

As with other Envision Maine events, this will prove to be an uplifting and energizing day for all who attend. I urge you to consider being part of this conversation, whether you live in rural Maine or not.

After all, we’re a small family in Maine. Our urban siblings are doing OK. But not so much those in rural areas. So we need a kind of modern barn-raising to help them help themselves. A place where we can gather together to listen and to learn, and to find new ways to reinvigorate rural Maine together.

To find out more, or to register, go to

Alan Caron, a Waterville native, is the principle of Caron Communications, the president of Envision Maine and the author of “Maine’s Next Economy” (2015) and “Reinventing Maine Government” (2010). He can be reached at: [email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: