A plan for a Maine where families and businesses can plant roots
Maine is a great place. Ours is a state of hard workers, abundant natural resources, unparalleled scenic beauty and an untapped potential for growth.
Despite all our advantages, we’re staring down a crisis that cannot be avoided and must be addressed.
Young people are leaving the state in droves. Many of them aren’t coming back. And they’re not being replaced.
Our next generation is one of our greatest assets. We must direct our energy toward policies that help them and their families make homes for themselves in Maine. Democrats in the Legislature have a long-term vision and the blueprint to make our state a welcoming place for young people and new businesses. This vision will guide Democrats’ work in the 128th Legislature and beyond, and it was created with one goal in mind — to create A Better State of Maine.
Democrats will invest in things that last
Our children and grandchildren leave Maine when they can’t find opportunities here. So priority No. 1 must be creating a hospitable environment for the entrepreneurs and businesses that will create the jobs that make Maine living feasible. We need to focus on the fundamentals, which means smart investments in our infrastructure — the backbone of Maine’s economy. That means:
- modernizing our transportation infrastructure: Nearly 40 percent of Maine’s major roads are in need of some level of repair. Those potholes wreak havoc on family budgets in the form of auto repair costs — about $485 per year, on average — and make it more difficult for businesses to move the products and people necessary to do business.
- expanding access to broadband internet throughout the state: Reliable, high-speed internet is a prerequisite of the modern economy. Businesses need it to connect with customers, workers need it to do their jobs, and families need it to stay connected with their loved ones. Expanding access to broadband will have a transformative effect on rural Maine. It will allow for new business opportunities and give workers the flexibility to clock into work from anywhere.
- supporting clean energy: Climate change threatens so much of what makes Mainers who they are — our forests, waters and natural resource-based industries are all in harms way if we don’t mitigate the effects of climate change. But this challenge is also an opportunity. States that adopt, embrace and encourage renewable energy will be the ones that reap the benefits of innovation and job creation. Renewable energy, such as solar power, will lead to lower and more stable costs, decrease pollution and create jobs.
In the short term, investing in our infrastructure will create jobs, and lots of them. In the long term, it will lay the groundwork to sustainable economic growth for years to come.
We know infrastructure investments can pay huge dividends: For evidence, we need look no further than the benefits that came from targeted investments to the Port of Portland. Federal and state government worked together to improve the infrastructure at the port. Those investments attracted Eimskip, a world leader in container shipping, easing access to markets all over the world for Maine-made products. Today, shipping is up 1,300 percent in Portland, and the activity is spurring further private-sector development in the waterfront.
Infrastructure investments are the first step on the path toward our prosperous future. This is how we grow.
Democrats will focus on our natural advantages
Maine has an eager workforce ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work. We also have natural resources — from our forests to our farmlands to our fisheries — that have been and continue to be the bedrock of our economy and our identity. On that foundation, Maine has built a rich tradition of farming, fishing, manufacturing and creating high-quality products and brands such as LL Bean and Old Town Canoe.
Democrats will focus our economic development efforts on these natural advantages, to take the things we do best to the next level. We’ll do it by:
- supporting Maine farmers and fishermen by helping them collaborate and get food and value-added food products to the market through the creation of regional food hubs: From 2002 to 2012, the number of farms in Maine grew by 13.5 percent. From 2007 to 2012, the value of Maine farms increased by 25 percent. Our fisheries are more valuable every year. But it’s not just potatoes and lobsters. Maine has a growing reputation for craft brewing, artisan cheeses and other value-added products. A study conducted last year by Harvard University cited the potential of Maine’s food industry, noting “growth in niche sectors, increases in land farmed and new farmers, Maine’s growing reputation for authentic, sustainably-produced food, and innovation boosting production.” What’s more, farming is one of the few sectors that’s actually attracting young people to Maine.
- building on success of partnerships between colleges, universities and growing industries to ensure prosperity for workers and businesses alike: The Maine State Chamber of Commerce recently surveyed its members, who revealed that a lack of skilled workers is their greatest impediment toward growth. Democrats have tackled the issue head-on with the Put ME to Work program, which partners growing sectors with community colleges and funds new programs to train Mainers for good-paying jobs at companies looking to hire. The program is part of Maine Quality Centers, which have helped more than 234 Maine businesses expand, representing over 13,392 new jobs and $2.4 billion in private investment in Maine. Democrats will continue to support smart programs that give Mainers — and Maine businesses — the tools they need to succeed.
All over the world, people know that “Made in Maine” is a synonym for quality. Our industrious people and our natural resources offer us a competitive advantage, if we are smart enough to focus on it.
Democrats will create places where young families can thrive
Young Mainers and young people looking to move to Maine need good-paying jobs, but they also want a community they’re proud to call home. The next generation wants vibrant, healthy, connected communities where they can plan their roots and grow. Maine Democrats will promote policies that build and support the kind of healthy communities that our young people want to live in. That means:
- reinvigorating our downtowns and village centers to support the businesses and lifestyle that young people demand: At the local level, communities large and small alike all over Maine are finding success and growth with strategic investments to breathe new life into their downtown districts. Democrats will target resources through programs such as the Community Development Block Grant toward communities with smart plans redevelopment plans that foster the kinds of downtown district growth that can make Maine even more attractive to our own young people and to prospective new residents.
- investing in early childhood and K-12 education and improving access to quality childcare: We know now more than ever that early childhood experiences are crucial in helping our children grow up to be the best adults they can be. Programs such as pre-k are linked with higher graduation rates and salaries later in life, as well as lower rates of unemployment and crime. Recognizing this, states around the country are making moves toward universal pre-k. But just four out of 10 Maine children have access to early childhood education. Meanwhile, our K-12 education system faces an impending teacher shortage crisis, thanks in part to low rates of pay and high rates of burnout. Democrats will continue to fight, as we always have, to ensure we’re doing everything we can to help our children succeed in school, so that they can continue succeeding after they receive their diplomas.
- helping families plant roots in local communities by encouraging home ownership: Programs that support first-time home ownership give young families a chance to plant roots here in Maine. Democrats will focus on incentives toward home ownership, so that our young people can start their lives in homes of their own.
Quality of life is critical to keeping Mainers, young and old, here for the next generation. People want good-paying jobs, housing, good schools and strong, livable communities. That is the better state of Maine.
For a printable version of Legislative Democrats’ plan for A Better State of Maine, click here.