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July 10, 2017 Politics & Co.

Q. and A. with Sen. Angus King: Maine needs to harness its 'workforce and people'

Photo / courtesy university of maine U.S. Sen. Angus King says Maine needs to revitalize its forest products industry.

U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, says the state's economy is generally good but uneven. In a recent interview with Mainebiz that focused mainly on energy, he also shared his thoughts on bolstering the economy by expanding broadband in rural areas and finding new uses for forest products.

Mainebiz: What's your readout of the general business climate in Maine?

Angus King: The economy of Maine right now is good but uneven. There are parts of Maine, the Portland area, for example, where I suspect the unemployment rate is probably under 3%, which many economists would tell you is pretty close to full employment. There are other areas, though, in the north and east, that have much more difficulty. One of the greatest challenges we face, that I've been working on since I've been here, is how to revitalize the forest economy, and to take advantage of Maine's greatest resource, which is our workforce and people. Revitalizing the forest-based economy is probably my highest economic development priority. Part of that is providing broadband throughout Maine, particularly in the rural areas. Lack of lack of broadband capacity is a huge detriment to economic development in rural areas, and so that's an area I've really been focused on. I think we know where we need to get, and which areas are the strongest.

MB: How concerned are you about the worker shortage?

AK: We are facing a serious worker shortage in Maine over the next 20 years. Training and retraining and good quality education and training programs are going to be absolutely crucial to be sure that we have people that are able to pick up and do the new jobs of the 21st Century.

MB: And what about all the paper mills that have shut down?

AK: We need to figure out what are the replacement jobs. We are sitting on a goldmine of fiber in Maine. Maine is the most heavily forested state in the United States. [U.S. Sen.] Susan Collins and [U.S. Rep.] Bruce Poliquin and I sponsored a program called the Economic Development Assessment Team, or EDAT, where we brought seven agencies form the federal government together last summer to help us think through how we can revitalize the forest economy, for example by finding new uses for forest products. One, for example, is something called cross-laminated timber, where around the world we are starting to see tall buildings up to 15 stories tall built of wood. I love the idea of Maine wood being the structural building material for tall buildings in Maine and in the U.S. Another example is using fiber-based material as the feedstock for 3D printing. That's something the University of Maine is working on with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and that grew directly out of the EDAT process. We need to strengthen and support the paper industry that we have, but we also need to think about what is the industry in the future based upon this enormous fiber resource that we have.

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