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December 11, 2019

Mills takes aim at 'lackluster' economic growth with 10-year plan

Courtesy / Office of the Maine Governor Images from the 10-year strategic plan unveiled by Gov. Janet Mills today.

Gov. Janet Mills today, Dec. 11, unveiled a 10-year strategic plan that calls for increasing wages for Mainers, the value of products in the state, and its talent pool, as a way to combat "serious challenges" to the Maine economy.

Speaking at Robbins Lumber in Searsmont, Mills said the plan, the first for Maine in more than two decades, is necessary as the state faces "an economic crossroads."

The blueprint aims to grow and diversify the state's economy by fostering collaboration among the public and private sectors. Mills' goal is to attack "lackluster economic growth," including a sluggish gross domestic product, shrinking talent pool, low wages and other challenges, she said.

"Our traditional industries — farming, forestry and fishing — have laid a strong economic foundation for our state, and the time has come for us to build on that," she said. “This strategic plan creates a road map to foster collaboration, drive innovation, jump start growth, and, ultimately, achieve a diverse, forward-looking economy that offers everyone an opportunity to succeed."

Mills was joined by business leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators, education and nonprofit officials at today's unveiling.

The plan was launched in March, and kicked off shortly after with a summit that included more than 200 community and business leaders from around the state. Heather Johnson, commissioner of the state's Department of Economic and Community Development, gathered input from more than 1,300 people statewide, a news release accompanying the unveiling said.

Johnson is preparing a long-range implementation plan that will prioritize immediate steps, such as simplifying and streamlining business processes, while planning for longer-term investments. The plan is designed to be responsive to changes in the economy, and its implementation will be driven "at the ground-level, outside of Augusta" through DECD partnerships with the private, education, nonprofit sectors, and labor organizations and will leverage federal and private dollars wherever possible, with support from the state.

"Maine’s economy has a place for everyone and we need everyone to participate in order to succeed,” Johnson said today. "Our assets — the wind, tides, sunlight and expertise to confront climate change; thriving tourism, hospitality, and outdoor recreation sectors; leading researchers driving innovation in biosciences and technologies; and adapting heritage industries already diversifying fishing and farming — include the unmatched character and resolve of Maine people."

Tackling 'serious challenges'

The state’s gross domestic product has increased at a third of the rate of the rest of the United States over the past 10 years. Meanwhile, the average annual earnings in the private sector is 78% of the national average, and the average job in Maine produces about $88,000 in net sales, while the national average is $120,000.

The plan also comes as more people are expected to retire than enter the labor force in the coming decade. The "lackluster economic growth, slow wage growth and prospect of a further dwindling workforce present serious challenges," the release said.

The three main goals of the plan are to increase the state's annual wage by 10%, increase the value of products sold per worker by 10% and attract 75,000 people to Maine's talent pool over 10 years.

A broad variety of action steps are proposed, including:

  • Establishing a Maine Career Exploration Program that works with Maine youth while they're in school to determine their interests and connect them to resources and skills training;
  • Creating a Welcome Home Program to entice those who have grown up in Maine or those interested in moving to Maine to come to the state;
  • Expanding and simplifying the Education Opportunity Tax Credit to help graduates living and working in Maine pay off student loan debt;
  • Expanding the Maine Seed Capital Tax Credit Program to help innovative businesses take root, create jobs, and strengthen the economy; and
  • Identifying opportunities to enhance critical infrastructure, for example, with loan guarantees to support broadband.

Wide-ranging support

According to Mills' office, the plan has the support of the University of Maine System, the Maine Community College System, the Maine Development Foundation, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, the Maine Venture Fund, Coastal Enterprises Inc., the Maine Technology Institute, FocusMaine and the Finance Authority of Maine, among others.

Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said, "The plan is a blueprint for our economic growth as a State that is both realistic and achievable. I am grateful that the plan was developed using a comprehensive and inclusive process that included feedback from Maine business leaders and people across all parts of the state, which will contribute mightily to its success.”

Dannel Malloy, chancellor of the University of Maine System, said, “Maine’s public universities develop the state’s future workforce, attracting and retaining tens of thousands of talented people to study, live, and work in Maine. We also accelerate discovery and innovations in both iconic and emerging industries." Malloy, who is a former governor of Connecticut, said the plan "promotes focus and partnership, aligning our public university teaching, research, and outreach to best serve our state and position Maine as a national leader in the 21st century knowledge economy."

Yellow Light Breen, president and CEO of Maine Development Foundation, said the state has long needed "a data-driven, long-range plan like this that allows us to build broad-based consensus and long-term consistency so that all sectors and regions can focus and pull in the same direction, making the most of our limited resources and capitalizing on our unique Maine ability to be nimble and work together."

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December 13, 2019

Governor Mills,
A large sector of Maine workers provide direct support and case management services to contracted agencies of the State. These are also some of the lowest wage jobs in the state. I’m a social worker with more than 20 years experience I spent 13 years in DHHS. I now work as a community case manager. I can’t survive on the wages provided. I left the state for a few years and came back because I missed my family in Maine. I’m finding I can’t make ends meet. I know if the economy doesn’t improve for me I will leave the state again.

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