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May 15, 2020

Economic Recovery Committee will be bridge to rebuilding economy, members told

Image / Zoom screen capture Members of the state's Economic Recovery Committee weighed in Friday morning on what words in the committee mandate resonated, forming a wordclous on Zoom. David Plumb, who faciliated the commitee's inaugural meeting, looks on.

The new Economic Recovery Committee will be a bridge between the economic emergency caused by the pandemic and and Maine's long-term economic renewal, Gov. Janet Mills told members at the group's inaugural meeting Friday morning.

Meeting via Zoom, aside from the 40-member committee, an additional 16 panelists and 126 other attendees joined. Mills announced the commitee May 7 , drawing members from across sectors and industries in the state.

This morning she told the committee the focus is on what happens to the state once the immediate crisis is over, using the state's 10-year economic plan, which her administration unveiled in December, as a guide.

"I’m not asking this committee to come back with specific recommendations on when to open the bars in Portland or anything like that," she said. The state already has specific committees that are dealing with the immediate public health issues.

The first meeting was an introductory one, where co-chairs Laurie Lachance, president of Thomas College, and Josh Broder, of Tilson, talked about the committee's charge, and Heather Johnson, commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development, gave members an outline of what will be considered.

Broder and Lachance, while stressing the dire economic situation, also said the believed Maine is up to the task. Broder cited the state's history of innovation, while Lachance said its reputation for "Yankee ingenuity" will help.

The committee is undertaking the task "clear-eyed and well aware this is going to be bad," Broder said. But he added that there are things that can be done to change the outcome.

Lachance said the task is great, and, given the current situation, difficult. "With businesses closed around us and COVID-19 ravaging our state, it's hard to think of anything but this terrible emergency at hand," she said. 

While it will "feel very awkward to" look at a future growth plan while so many businesses are struggling, the committee needed to take up the challenge of looking several steps ahead.

Different barriers, same concept

Johnson acknowledged that it's difficult to think about the future. "That's why this group is so important."

While the economic picture is different from when the 10-year-plan was formed, it's still a valid outline, Johnson said.

"At the time, our biggest challenge was the work force," she said. The situation now "doesn't change the focus on talent."

"How do we we bring people currently out of workforce back into workforce?" she said. "The barriers have changed, but the concept remains consistent."

The 40-member committee has been split into six subcommittees, a way to get more done, Lachance and Broder said. The subcommittees are:

  • Manufacturing and natural resources, chaired by Larry Shaw, CEO of MMG insurance;
  • Hospitality, tourism and retail, chaired by Bob Montgomery-Rice, CEO and president of Bangor Savings Bank;
  • Education and workforce, chaired by Jim Herbert, president University of New England;
  • Infrastructure, chaired by Susan Corbett, founder and direcotr, National Digital Equity Center;
  • Innovation, chaired by Betsy Biemann, CEO of Coastal Enterprises Inc.; and
  • Health care, nonprofits and child care, chaired by Bill Burke, chair, MaineHealth Board of Trustees.

The committees will look at barriers to success for their sectors, what's stopping people and organizations from reengaging in a productive way with the economy, and identify opportunities for each sector to get back on the growth path. They'll also look at innovation opportunities and resources that are available.

The meetings are all open to the public, and the overall committee will meet once a week to review progress. Information about the committee is available on Mills' state webpage.

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