Aroostook planners look to increase 18- to 44-year-old population

Posted Nov. 16, 2012, at 9:47 p.m.

CARIBOU, Maine — In terms of demographics, Maine is the oldest state in the nation, populated by what the state Office of Aging and Disability Services calls one of the largest concentrations of baby boomers.

The data in the State Plan On Aging, commissioned by the OADS, also indicates that the state’s population is aging faster than any other state.

With those facts in mind, officials with Mobilize Northern Maine are meeting to draft goals and strategies to minimize the impact that the retirement of older employees will have on the region.

Mobilize Northern Maine is an economic development group focused on helping the area grow and prosper.

Officials have concluded that they will need to do more than just train and retrain younger people in Aroostook County to prepare for the future. They have set a target of growing the 18- to 44-year-old population by 3 percent by 2017.

Representatives of Mobilize Northern Maine and other organizations working on economic growth in the area — the Aroostook Partnership for Progress and Northern Maine Development Commission — met Tuesday to form a consensus on several goals. One major priority is growing the number of younger workers.

Mark Madsen, chief economist for the consulting firm ViTAL Economy, said earlier this week that stable economies are powered heavily by the 18- to 44-year-old demographic. That should be about 35 percent of the working population.

Figures from the Aroostook-Washington County economic development district revealed that the working population in the region is approximately 29 percent, according to data gathered in the 2010 census.

Increasing the 18- to 44-year-old population by 3 percent would bring an additional 3,000 people to the region, planners indicated.

Bob Dorsey, APP president, acknowledged that it was an ambitious but necessary goal,

According to the OADS plan, the media age in the state rose by almost nine years during the last two decades. Currently, 22.6 percent of Maine’s total population is age 60 or older, meaning that more than 300,000 people in the state can look to the Area Agencies on Aging for services and support.

“It is clear from the declining workforce trends that we are seeing that we will not be able to sustain our existing business base let alone grow a new industry such as mining without a major effort to retain our young people and attract 18- to 44-year-olds to the County,” said Dorsey.

The group also is looking to increase the labor force participation rate to 62 percent by 2017. That is one area which has shown improvement since the first round of goal setting in 2009. The 2010 census revealed a labor participation rate of 58 percent.

A subcommittee of educators will submit recommendations on what the targets should be for growing the numbers of County residents with bachelor’s degrees or higher, associate degrees and professional certificates.

In the coming months, officials will focus on industry clusters that may help achieve the agreed-upon goals.

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