Gov. Janet Mills unveiled on Wednesday a 10-year economic development plan that focuses on increasing wages, business income and the size of Maine’s labor force.

Mills announced the development of the plan in May, and said it would be the first long-range economic plan for the state in two decades. The Maine Department of Economic and Community Development followed up with a series of meetings around the state to determine regional economic needs and solicit ideas for addressing them.

The package of recommendations doesn’t include a price tag, but it will be forwarded to the Legislature to consider and come up with ways to pay for the programs it supports.

The plan focuses on people. It seeks to increase average annual wages by 10 percent and also attract 75,000 people to Maine’s labor pool, offsetting the loss of workers to retirement in Maine’s aging population. About 19 percent of Maine’s population is 65 or older. The plan also calls for increasing worker productivity by 10 percent.

Maine is lagging in all three areas. The state projects that more people will leave the labor pool than enter it in the next decade and that average annual incomes are just 78 percent of the national average. That also restricts business earnings, with the average job in Maine producing just $88,000 in net sales, well below the national average of $120,000.

That statistic measures the state’s economic output divided by the number of workers, said Heather Johnson, the commissioner of the DECD. That’s a better yardstick of Maine workers’ economic output than some broader measures, she said, and provides a strong sense of the need to increase the size of the workforce.


“Talent is the new currency,” the report said, adding that Maine is in competition with other states to attract workers.

The plan calls for expanding broadband access, improving and expanding access to childcare, developing a stronger funding system for public transportation and creating a more stable regulatory system to provide businesses with predictable rules.

But the report said the state already has some of the ingredients needed for growth, including renewable resources that will be more valuable as the world seeks to address climate change by reducing the use of petroleum-based products. The report also touts the state’s fishing industry, deep-water ports and livable communities, and calls for greater investment in research and development and promoting exports to help  startup businesses.

An analysis commissioned by the department found that the sectors where Maine has strength include the food and marine industries, forest products, technical services and manufacturing. For instance, research at the University of Maine has helped identify new composite materials, some of which combine derivatives of forest products, to make new building materials, bioplastics and biofuels, the report said.

In addition, a growing focus on combating climate change can generate opportunities in creating green energy sources, the report said, through solar projects, wind energy and biofuels that can support good-paying jobs.


But those opportunities require people to fill the jobs, and the report said the state must do more to attract workers to the state, especially with the loss of thousands of workers annually to retirement.

The plan proposes supporting Maine students with a “career exploration” program that will work with students beginning in kindergarten to create connections between students and jobs. The goal is for all Maine students to have a six-month paid internship between their junior year in high school and a year after high school graduation. It also calls for a greater focus on getting working-age people into the workforce – about 100,000 people in Maine are in that age group but don’t work, the report said.

The roadmap calls for stepped-up efforts to attract people to the state, creating an expanded and simplified tax credit for college debt repayment, and help for immigrants to obtain U.S. licenses to work in the fields in which they were trained before coming to the U.S.

That could have a big impact on the state’s economy, said Ryan Wallace, director of the Maine Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service.

Increasing the size of the workforce “is and should be the No. 1 priority,” Wallace said. The state’s tight labor market is reflected in the unemployment rate, which has been below 4 percent for 46 straight months.

Without bringing in more people to the state, “Maine is, No. 1, not going to grow, and competitively, its industries are going to struggle and its regions are going to struggle,” he said.


Using Maine’s quality of life to attract people to smaller communities also will be important, Wallace said, because the workforce needs are spread around the state and not just in its largest cities.

But David Clough, the Maine State director for the National Federation of Independent Business, a group that represents small and independent business owners, said the economic development plan sounds well-intentioned, “but it’s more than 50 percent wishful thinking.”

Clough said that, to be effective, the plan will need to be constantly reviewed and adjusted and also needs to take into account what neighboring states are doing to attract businesses and customers.

The policies also should reflect that Maine’s economy is dominated by small businesses. Some of the proposals – such as offering paid internships to high schoolers – would be easier for large businesses to implement, he said, than it would be for small businesses.

“It should be termed an economic vision instead of a plan,” he said. “There is no plan – no concrete steps and benchmarks to accomplish the vision.”

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