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Governor’s Address: Let’s Keep Our Economy on the Right Path by Attracting More Workers

The Maine Department of Labor recently released its projections for job growth for the next several years. The media has focused on its prediction of a net increase of only 100 jobs by 2026. As usual, they missed the real story.

There is a saying that “demography is destiny.” It means the size and ages of your population determine your future. As the oldest state, we must put forth policies that ensure our population includes enough younger people to replace the baby boomers who are retiring.

The Labor Department’s prediction is an important call to action about our population and workforce. It echoes the call I made when I introduced legislation this spring to attract younger workers to Maine.

As I testified on my bill: “Our businesses need young people here to fill the jobs that will help keep our economy growing. We need young people to settle here and have families. We need them to buy houses as our retirees downsize to keep our communities vibrant.

“The longer we can keep a young person here after graduation, the more likely they will make a long-term commitment to living here and starting a family in Maine. This should not be a partisan issue.”

Unfortunately, the Legislature failed to pass my bill because they are short-sighted. The Legislature needs to make investments in attracting people in the same way we focus on attracting businesses.

Not only did the Legislature refuse to pass my bill, they did not advance any other initiative to address our aging population. So the economists at the Department of Labor had to make their predictions based on the Legislature’s lack of vision.

The report indicates what could happen – and is likely to happen – if no changes are made and existing economic conditions remain fairly steady. No one can predict the future. But we can turn this around.

The Labor Department’s report concludes: “To maintain our workforce, it will be increasingly imperative that we pursue policies and initiatives that reduce barriers to employment and that encourage young people to stay or to move here. If we do not, the challenges employers already face attracting staff will increase.”

This is a call to action. We do not need to attract hundreds of thousands of people, and we do not need to change the Maine quality of life we treasure.

In 2016 and 2017, we reversed the trend of out-migration, and we started attracting more people to move here. We’ve proven this can be done. If we work to attract an additional 2,000 working-age people a year for the next 10 to 15 years, that would be at least 30,000 new workers. That would be a game changer if they choose to make Maine their permanent home.

This is achievable – but we must act now. We must implement initiatives that provide student debt relief, lower taxes, reduce the cost of energy, and improve our schools. These policies will signal to workers that we welcome them and we want Maine to become their permanent home.

Thank you.

Paul LePage


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