March 7, 2016

FocusMaine: Making the case for jobs in ‘traded’ sectors

Maine needs more good jobs. That is why the recently formed nonprofit, nonpartisan FocusMaine aims to work with two or three promising industries in a concerted effort to grow 20,000 to 30,000 jobs over the next 10 years. FocusMaine's independently researched effort identified agriculture, aquaculture and biopharmaceuticals as the three sectors with the best prospects for delivering these jobs for Maine.

All three of these industries are in "traded" sectors — industries where companies ring up sales for their products and services primarily outside the state and bring those dollars back into Maine. Some key examples of traded sector companies in Maine that we can already point to are IDEXX, L.L.Bean, Sappi, Unum and WEX.

Why focus on traded sector jobs?

Traded sector jobs on average pay an average $50,400 annually, nearly 50% higher than jobs serving a primarily local market. Traded sector companies have a higher percentage of full-time employees than non-traded sector companies.

Each traded sector job on average supports 1.6 additional local jobs. These jobs are found both in local suppliers serving traded sector companies and in local companies providing consumer goods and services purchased by traded sector employees in their communities. These multiplier effects flowing from the money brought into Maine by the traded sector businesses constitute the ultimate engine for overall growth of the Maine economy.

Reversing the decline of traded sector jobs

In 1980, traded sector jobs in Maine represented 40% of the state's total jobs, essentially mirroring the national average. Today, traded sector jobs account for only 27% of Maine's total workforce, a decline that has bought us well below the national average of 32%. This loss of traded sector jobs has had the duel effects of out-migration of young people seeking better jobs and declining overall income as we become more and more dependent on lower-paying local jobs.

Had Maine maintained a traded sector workforce equal to the national average of 32%, we would have 35,000 more traded sector jobs and, because of the multiplier effects, 55,000 additional local jobs.

Had we somehow avoided the loss of traded jobs, would we be the oldest state in the nation? Would so many of our best and brightest have left the state? Would our social services and schools be better funded?

Those of us involved in FocusMaine certainly think these jobs would make a difference in our state's economy and the wellbeing of the Maine people.

Driving growth in traded jobs

FocusMaine made it a core principle to identify two or three industries that offer the greatest potential to grow traded jobs in the state. Agriculture, aquaculture and biopharmaceuticals were chosen because Maine's inherent strengths in these sectors allow to us to compete nationally and even internationally in those growing markets.

The FocusMaine mission is to be a catalyst to accelerate growth, helping insure that companies large and small in these three industries have the resources to grow, compete and create jobs. We are now building a 10-year implementation plan, engaging key stakeholders and partners — educators, innovators, business leaders and others.

We believe that with a focused effort in these three sectors, over the next 10 years we can create an additional 8,000 to 10,000 traded jobs across the state, along with an additional 12,000 to 20,000 local jobs. That's a total of 20,000 to 30,000 jobs.

Ambitious? Yes. Achievable? Absolutely. What it will take is a sustained, collaborative effort, which we know is possible. It will require business leaders, government, educators, labor, foundations, entrepreneurs and many others in our community to all come to the table and work together. The result will be more good-paying jobs and greater opportunities for people all across our state.

Karen G. Mills is a senior advisor at the Harvard Business School, former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration and part of the leadership team of FocusMaine.

Michael E. Dubyak is chairman and former CEO of WEX Inc., a leading provider of corporate payment solutions, and co-chair of FocusMaine.

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