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January 20, 2016 | last updated January 20, 2016 11:03 am

Private-sector group forms to grow three industries

Maine's agriculture, aquaculture and biopharma industries will be the focus of a nonpartisan effort to create thousands of high-paying jobs over the next decade.

FocusMaine, a nonprofit under the umbrella of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, will concentrate on so-called traded jobs, positions at companies that are exporting products and services from Maine. Traded jobs pay better, require more education and might be exemplified by WEX, Idexx or L.L.Bean, Maine-based companies that have much of their customer base outside of Maine, as well as Unum.

The effort, which is led by leaders in the private sector, has thus far raised $700,000, including $100,000 from Maine Technology Institute and from foundations.

It was launched Jan. 19 at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland. The press conference was led by four business leaders — Andrea Cianchette Maker, a partner at Pierce Atwood; William L. Caron Jr., president and CEO of Maine Health; Michael Dubyak, chairman of WEX Inc.; and Charles Lawton, chief economist at Planning Decisions LLC. In all, more than 50 leaders were listed as playing some role on FocusMaine industry teams or advisory teams. The Portland marketing firm Industrium provided free expertise and created their website.

The industries were chosen for their history of growth and for their projected growth in coming decades.

"We want to strengthen Maine. We wanted to find the right sectors to drive for 30 to 50 years and do it sustainably," said Dubyak. "We want to go very deep on sectors, growing sectors with a 'long runway.'"

Maker added: "We are people who are passionate about Maine."

Maker has an interesting role in the effort: She was the moderator at the MEREDA conference in May 2014 in which Utah was highlighted for turning around its economy. At one time, the western state had one of the oldest populations in the country and its economy was lagging. By cutting regulations and aggressively courting business, Utah was able to hone its economy and attract young workers.

Lawton and other economists have highlighted what's been called Maine's "demographic winter," being the oldest state in the nation, with a stagnant and aging population.

FocusMaine hired the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. The two consultants assigned to the task both have Maine roots. An estimated 500,000 Mainers have left the state; 175,000 live in the other New England states.

Maine would have to add 35,000 "traded jobs" to match the national average, based on Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers and the McKinsey analysis.

The effort will work on education and workforce development, attracting out-of-state workers and building infrastructure, including better broadband.

Next up for FocusMaine: teams assigned to the three sectors will meet to discuss what strategies for growth might work. A fourth team, led by WEX CEO Melissa Smith, will focus on how to build a knowledge and education base.

For more coverage, see J. Craig Anderson's account in the Portland Press Herald and Darren Fishell's story in the Bangor Daily News. Also, there's a document with frequently asked questions provided by the Portland Press Herald.

Read more

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