MAINE FOCUS

From north to south: Economic and jobs disparity across Maine

Posted June 24, 2013, at 12:39 p.m.
Last modified July 03, 2013, at 2:36 p.m.

Much has been made lately of Maine’s skills gap — the chasm between what skills and knowledge workers have and what employers need. Gov. Paul LePage has made closing this gap a high priority.

This work is complicated by the fact that the gap — and its causes and consequences — varies widely across the state.

Consider the tale of two counties. Cumberland County, with an unemployment rate that is significantly lower than the national average and a per-capita income that is much higher than the state average, has for years stood alone in Maine as a marker of prosperity, according to former Maine State Economist Laurie LaChance.

It is close to the urban areas of both Boston and Portsmouth, N.H. It has a diverse economy, a major airport, a seaport, passenger rail and a highway.

Large multinational corporations in fields including technology, medicine and retail have located their headquarters in the county, along with thousands of good, competitive jobs. A recent study by the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce found that more than 40 percent of jobs in the state were located in the Portland region alone.

Cumberland County also has the state’s highest education rates, with nearly 40 percent of its residents over age 25 having obtained at least a bachelor’s degree, according to U.S. Census figures.

The story is very different in other parts of the state, including Piscataquis County.

The large and sparsely populated northern county is home to moose, much of Baxter State Park, abundant natural beauty and one of the oldest populations in the state. It also has an unemployment rate that is now hovering around 10 percent and a median household income of $34,016, which is well below the statewide median of $46,933.

It also has Maine’s lowest education rates, with just 15 percent of the county’s over-25 population having obtained a bachelor’s degree.

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