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Updated: August 1, 2022 Q&A

Nate Wildes reflects on the art and science of ‘selling’ Maine as a place to live and work

Nate Wildes standing with hands in pockets
Photo / Jim Neuger
Nate Wildes is executive director of Live + Work in Maine, an initiative that partners with employers, communities, nonprofits and individuals to promote Maine’s attractiveness for quality of life and career.

Nate Wildes is executive director of Live + Work in Maine, an initiative that partners with employers, communities, nonprofits and individuals to promote Maine’s attractiveness for quality of life and career. While Maine has attracted new residents as a safe haven in the past two years, Wildes addressed how the marketing of Maine may have changed during the pandemic.

Mainebiz: What challenge does the ongoing housing crunch pose to ‘selling’ Maine as a live-and-work destination?

Nate Wildes: It’s a real challenge. The silver lining for Maine is that the housing crunch has been happening everywhere. I’m of the belief that Maine will see a housing crunch last much longer than most places, because the world has discovered what Maine has always been — a balanced, healthy and welcoming place. Eventually, the housing crunch will fade from places dealing with dynamics which in a ‘normal economy’ would be considered big detractors, like wildfires, flooding, dramatic changes in the legal/political landscape, and so on.

MB: How do you attract employers in today’s wage-inflation environment?

NW: We need to stay focused on Maine’s key value proposition — quality of life. There are a lot of factors that go into defining quality of life. Maine has a really compelling balance of all of them: Four-season living; competitive cost of living compared to East Coast urban areas, diverse employment opportunities, connectivity to the world (fiber, well-connected airports, Downeaster, etc). We need to focus our employer attraction efforts on connecting with business models and people who would view Maine’s offerings as a business advantage — whether it’s employee attraction, their own quality of life, etc.

MB: To what extent are rural areas of Maine gaining more traction as places to live?

NW: The last few years have been rural Maine’s time to shine. While there’s been immigration-driven population growth statewide, we’re seeing schools all over Maine with higher enrollments, indicating so-called ‘COVID-refugee families;’ aren’t just here for a short while; they’re staying.

MB: If Maine could produce tiny homes on a larger scale, what impact would that have?

NW: Tiny homes could have huge implications. We’re fortunate to have a number of businesses in Maine leading the way in this space, and capitalizing on their brands and innovative products will be an important piece of the puzzle. There’s no silver bullet here, but tiny homes are already working well in certain areas in Maine, and it’s time we look for ways to expand the opportunities they present for housing.

MB: How much attention do you pay to national rankings, good or bad, for Maine?

NW: So-called rankings should be taken with a few pounds of [Maine] sea salt. Most of the time, rankings are designed by and for internet marketing, and not actual analysis, so we get results that are pretty shallow, and usually comparing apples to oranges. For example, ranking Maine poorly versus Texas on the list of ‘states with the most in-ground pools’ misses the point. Good luck finding a swimmable pond, lake, river and ocean all within 15 minutes anywhere in the Southwest.

MB: What impact has Northeastern University’s Roux Institute had on Maine’s innovation cachet?

NW: Enormous. The Roux Institute has dramatically accelerated and raised the ceiling for the global economic, academic and cultural engagement in Maine. There’s nothing but opportunity and possibility ahead thanks to their approach to partnership, and we’re excited to continue working with them to build the future.

MB: Finally, what do you see as Maine’s biggest economic challenge and opportunity and why?

NW: Challenge: Housing. The housing market will eventually get back to normal, it’s just a question of how long that takes. If it takes too long, it’ll put Maine back decades. Conversely, if we can get ahead of other areas around the U.S. in having a diverse and affordable housing stock, it’ll leapfrog us ahead in talent attraction and retention. Opportunity: Climate change. Maine is uniquely positioned, literally and figuratively, to be both a top destination for talented climate refugees. It could also be a source of inspiration for other regions of the world looking to create a sustainable, high-quality place to live and work.

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