Maine started 2010 in the trough of the Great Recession, with the state’s economy suffering from high unemployment, stagnant real estate development, depressed home prices and a dearth of investment capital, both public and private.

What followed was a decade of steady growth and recovery for many industries, with some going on to achieve new heights, including tourism, dining, hospitality, craft brewing, lobster and animal health. One new industry – legalized marijuana – has emerged, while an old one – pulp and paper – has experienced tremendous decline.

One worsening economic factor that threatens Maine’s future growth is the state’s aging population. Companies in Maine say a growing shortage of skilled labor has become their biggest challenge.

CONSTRUCTION

Framers build the facade of the new Hobby Lobby building under construction at the Elm Plaza in Waterville in November. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

The construction industry was hit particularly hard by the Great Recession. Development projects largely stopped, except for those undertaken by institutions such as hospitals and colleges, and transportation projects that could tap into federal economic stimulus funds for financing. Although construction activity has since resumed in Maine, the industry itself is still recovering. Thousands of tradespeople left Maine during the recession to find better-paying jobs elsewhere. Although construction projects are now plentiful, industry employment in Maine still has not reached pre-recession levels, and as a result the cost of construction labor has become prohibitively expensive for some types of development. At the beginning of 2008, 33,868 people were employed in construction in Maine; at the start of 2019, there were 31,816 people employed.

HOUSING

In 2010, the U.S. housing market was facing a home foreclosure epidemic so widespread that politicians were debating whether to institute a nationwide freeze. Maine’s relatively stable housing market largely avoided the foreclosure crisis, but the aftermath of a global real estate crash in 2007 and 2008 still depressed home prices and sales in the state. Over the decade that followed, the volume of home sales and the median home sales price in Maine both skyrocketed to record heights, creating a buyer frenzy in some areas that is still going strong. New home construction has not kept pace with demand in high-growth areas such as Greater Portland, making it difficult for many young families and first-time buyers to find affordable homes. The statewide median home sales price increased by 35 percent from $166,500 in October 2010 to $224,900 in October 2019.

LOBSTER

Cory McDonald pulls lobster out of a trap while fishing off the coast of Stonington in 2015. Over the past two decades, the lobster population in the Gulf of Maine has doubled to 250 million adult lobsters, even as the lobster catch has tripled. Photo by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Maine began the decade landing 96 million pounds of lobster valued at $318 million. As the decade progressed, the temperature in the Gulf of Maine hit a lobster sweet spot, the number of lobster predators declined and China’s middle class fell in love with its red hues and sweet meat. The industry crested in 2016, landing 133 million pounds valued at $541 million. Year-over-year landings are reportedly down considerably in 2019, the U.S.-China trade war has hurt exports, and scientists forecast a declining catch if not a climate-fueled bust. Still, the most recent data available show that lobstermen have had a terrific decade, landing almost 120 million pounds in 2018 that earned them $485 million – a 25 percent increase in landings and a 53 percent increase in value.

MARIJUANA

Marijuana buds and other products are in the display case in the now-closed Cannabis Healing Center in Hallowell. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

Maine’s grassroots marijuana scene has transformed into a full-blown industry over the past decade. In 2009, residents passed a referendum allowing the sale of medical marijuana at state-licensed dispensaries. Eight dispensaries have opened their doors since 2011, and by 2018, they were selling $26.6 million worth of marijuana to about 50,000 Mainers each year. Medical marijuana providers have kept the craft in Maine’s cannabis scene, growing in both count and clout. In 2016, voters legalized adult-use marijuana. After three years of political wrangling, Maine expects the first commercial recreational growers and retailers to open in early 2020. Industry experts project $158.7 million in annual recreational marijuana sales revenue in 2020 and $452.7 million by 2025.

WORKFORCE

Maine’s aging population and flat population growth have proved to be the key stumbling blocks to developing the state’s workforce. Unemployment has plummeted as businesses have struggled to find enough workers. After peaking at a high of 8.3 percent in 2009, Maine’s unemployment rate has declined steadily and employers have been forced to resort to incentives such as offering signing bonuses to lure new workers. Gov. Janet Mills has made efforts to improve productivity and increase the size of the workforce by 75,000 as a key part of her 10-year economic development plan, but current forecasts indicate more people will leave the Maine workforce than enter it in the coming decade.

WAGES AND INCOME

Voters in 2016 decided to raise the state’s minimum wage, which had been stuck at $7.50 since 2009. The minimum wage was boosted to $9 an hour and has increased by $1 an hour every year until its final hike to $12 an hour kicks in on Wednesday. After that, the increase will be tied to changes in the rate of inflation. Supporters had argued that the increase was necessary to improve living standards, while opponents said it would make it harder for small businesses to survive and lead to a decrease in hiring. The latter argument proved incorrect, as a tight labor market led to falling unemployment, which has been below 4 percent in the state for nearly four years. The state’s minimum wage will have increased by 60 percent as of Wednesday, while per capita personal income in Maine has grown by 30 percent – lagging behind the national increase of more than 34 percent.

CRAFT BREWING

Merritt Waldron, director of quality control at Rising Tide Brewing Co., stacks a case of MITA on a growing pallet. In June 2019, C&R Research named Portland the No. 1 city in America for the number of craft breweries per 50,000 people. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

 

Maine’s craft brewing industry exploded in 10 short years, growing into a nationally acclaimed beer epicenter. By 2019, there were 153 licensed breweries in the state, up from 28 at the beginning of the decade – a growth pace of about one new brewery opening per month. As small local breweries proliferated, larger companies such as Allagash, Maine Beer Co., Lone Pine, Sebago and others dramatically expanded production to satisfy thirsty regional, national and even international customers. As brewery tasting rooms became de rigueur for craft beer makers, visiting them turned into one of the top experiences for hordes of out-of-state tourists, with one in five tourists now going to a local brewery during their trip. As craft beer enters the next decade, the industry now employs at least 2,000 Mainers and contributes $260 million a year to the state’s economy.

ANIMAL HEALTH

Idexx Laboratories founder David Shaw and his son Benjamin Shaw launched a startup venture in Portland in 2010 called Vets First Choice. Fast-forward a decade, and the company has since launched as a publicly traded company called Covetrus with $4 billion in annual sales. Maine’s animal health industry has grown tremendously throughout the decade, with three of the state’s four non-bank publicly traded companies in that space as of 2019. Veterinary diagnostics firm Idexx, based in Westbrook, has grown from $1 billion in annual revenue in 2010 to an expected $2.4 billion in 2019. Another publicly traded animal health company, Portland-based ImmuCell, recently completed work on a new $20 million production facility and is seeking U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for a new product aimed at boosting the market for antibiotics-free dairy products. Another industry player, Putney Veterinarian, was purchased by British firm Dechra Pharmaceuticals for $200 million in 2016 and continues to operate in Portland.

TOURISM

Maine’s tourism industry grew steadily over the past 10 years and became an even more important part of the state’s economy. Domestic visitation to Maine grew by an average 6 percent a year, attracting 37 million visitors who spent roughly $6 billion in 2018. Acadia National Park, one of the state’s top tourist destinations, had its busiest period in 30 years, with more than 3.5 million guests visiting annually by the end of the decade. Cruise ships have steadily become a regular feature in harbors all along the coast, especially in Portland and Bar Harbor. What the state offers visitors expanded, too – tourists still take in lobsters and lighthouses, but also are drawn to Maine food and beer, year-round outdoor pursuits and luxury accommodations. As tourism grew to account for one out of six Maine jobs, a chronic shortage of seasonal workers and unreliable visas for temporary foreign workers has left some hospitality businesses scrambling to keep up with the tourist throngs.

PULP AND PAPER

The past decade has not been good to one Maine industry: pulp and paper. From the post-war years to the late 1980s, the state’s pulp and paper industry was fairly stable, maintaining about 18,000 jobs. Since then, industry employment has plummeted in Maine from a high of nearly 19,000 jobs in 1967 to just 4,600 jobs as of summer 2019, according to the Maine Department of Labor. Maine’s pulp and paper industry has shed at least 2,400 jobs over the past decade, largely the result of increased automation and reduced demand for printed materials. Six Maine pulp and paper mills have shut down since 2008, leaving only six remaining in the state. Some mills in the state have retooled to stay relevant as demand for glossy, coated paper – once the staple of Maine’s paper industry – continues to decline.

BRUNSWICK NAVAL AIR STATION

Lt. Cmdr. Greg Smith of Brunswick is welcomed by his daughters, from left, Madeline, 11, Mary, 3, Riley, 8, and Rhyse, 1, who shows her daddy how she can walk, while VP-26, a Navy squadron stationed at Brunswick Naval Air Station, arrives at the Portland International Jetport on June 7, 2010, after a six-month deployment in Europe, Africa and Central America. The Navy closed the base in 2011. Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

Brunswick Naval Air Station officially closed as a Navy base in June 2011. At its peak, the base employed 4,000 people in support of the Navy’s patrol and reconnaissance missions. The Navy transferred 3,200 acres and dozens of buildings to the town, which established the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority to oversee the transition of the former base into an economic engine for the area. As of this year, 135 businesses and educational organizations have moved to the campus, which now employs 2,000 people. Developers have taken over the decommissioned base’s former military housing and have been refurbishing units for use as private homes.

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