BANGOR, Maine — The economy continues to make a lethargic crawl toward recovery, and as a result 52,800 Mainers were still unemployed in March, according to the state Department of Labor.
Although Maine has seen little change in its jobless rate in recent months, 7.6 percent unemployment is unacceptable to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who says the state’s workers need better training to prepare them for a rapidly changing economy and better opportunities to match their skills with the employers who seek them.
Collins visited the Eastern Maine Development Corp. on Wednesday morning to hear how the private, nonprofit organization has developed a new plan to foster job growth. As it turns out, EMDC’s plan is similar to her own vision.
EMDC wants to help transform the region’s economy by 2020. To do so, it will build on the economic strengths of the state. Its goal will be to grow the private sector so that people who live in the region’s six counties will see their median household income exceed or match the national average.
Combined, the region currently employs 54,643 people. EMDC’s plan envisions the addition of 5,182 jobs by 2015.
“We need to create and foster an environment that leads to job creation and job growth because putting people back to work is the key to Maine’s economic recovery,” said Collins. “I’m excited to see, even during a time of great budget constraints, that Eastern Maine Development Corporation is searching for ways to train more people more effectively.”
Officials with EMDC told Collins on Wednesday that the private sector in Maine needs to take better advantage of the state’s economic strengths, including forest products, transportation, education and recreational tourism. They say job training programs must better prepare Mainers for work in the state’s stronger industries, rather than for those that are losing jobs.
As it implements its plan, EMDC will try to improve access to capital for smaller businesses so they can add more jobs and assist in training the work force they need. The organization also will work to strengthen local hiring programs, such as career centers, so that businesses can easily connect with job seekers.
“We will work with whoever we need to in order to help meet our goals,” said Michael Aube, president of EMDC.
The goal will be to foster a strong and prosperous business environment by providing a trained and skilled work force — something that officials with EMDC say will create stronger business and better incomes.
EMDC’s plan was particularly appealing to Collins, who said it is similar to her seven-point plan to create more jobs in Maine.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Collins highlighted her own goals and said the state’s greatest asset is its people. In addition to deregulation, reducing the payroll tax, capitalizing on the state’s natural resources and promoting Maine’s agricultural exports, Collins said the most important “way forward” is work force development.
Collins said she will now pursue federal funding for EMDC as it prepares to assist job seekers in various communities throughout eastern Maine.
“The state does not have a built-in system that can connect skilled workers to the jobs that are out there,” Collins said. “Businesses also need a better designed system, and I feel that the Eastern Maine Development Corporation is showing that we can put it all together and create a 21st century economy right here in our state.”