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Why are Maine’s college graduates leaving the state?

Posted Feb. 06, 2012, at 5:13 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 07, 2012, at 10:14 a.m.

When I think about what I’m going to do after I graduate from school here in Maine, the first thought in my mind is to move away. And I say that with the most sincere hesitation. But when I consider my options, moving away seems like the best choice. And I’m not the only one who thinks that.

Having spent four years as an undergraduate at the University of Maine in Orono and embarking on my first of two years as a graduate student here, I’ve seen a lot of students come and go. I also have noticed a trend with a lot of these students after they graduate. They move away.

There is a deep problem here. It goes beyond our schools and our youth. And, the effects of the problem are clear: our skilled, soon-to-be business leaders are leaving the state.

So the solution is for the state to create job opportunities, right? Yes and no. Obviously people leave because there aren’t enough opportunities in the state. But before we can dig into the deeper problem, we first must ask, who is the state? Are they our elected officials? Are they our citizens?

Simply answered from what I read and hear, the state refers to the government that we have elected. And often times from the comments I read, “the state” is the problem. But at the same time, I see the state bringing in new ideas and new proposals for business. So by definition, aren’t the state officials doing exactly what they were elected to do?

Here is what I have witnessed many times. A proposal comes to a vote to the people of the state or to the town/city in which the new business will inhabit. There are public meetings, debates, new articles, opinion editorials and finally a vote. The vote then turns down the new proposal citing reasons such as, “This is bad business for the state,” or “All of the money will be going out of the state,” and finally one of my favorites, “They just want to use our land and take our money.”

This begs the question: Do these people understand how a business works? The purpose of the business is for the owners to make money. Whether the owners are local or foreign, this object remains the same.

So what about the workers for these businesses who will be spending their money at local stores? What about the foreign investors who are visiting that will spend money at local restaurants? What happened to the economic development? Yes, infusing money into already established businesses is economic development.

Whether a company is foreign or local, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is they want to come to Maine. You bring a propane terminal to Maine, and then you have new jobs. Not only do the new workers spend money in the state, but also so does the business. Who do you think they are going to call when their toilets back up? They certainly aren’t going to hire a company out of state.

Now let’s go back to the beginning, what is the deep problem here? It isn’t the government officials. It isn’t the businesses. What could it be?

I’ll leave this question out for the readers to answer. I wish that problems such as this could be black and white, but unfortunately it is more complex than that. I understand that not every business proposal for the state is good but there has to be a point where something changes. Consider whom you are talking about when you say “the state.”

Think about why people like myself are getting an education in Maine and then leaving. I would surely be glad to stay in this state if I could make a good living here. I know that incentives such as Opportunity Maine are a great benefit, but even with that I still don’t feel like it is worth while staying in Maine.

Lastly, think about the future of Maine. If we spend all of our time thinking and talking about what could have been, then our future will be lost. When a new business wants to come here, I’m not going to think about who is going to make the most money on the deal. I’m going to think about creating jobs for residents and creating new customers for already established business. Those are the real winners in my book.

Charles Hastings is a first-year MBA student at the University of Maine in Orono.

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