Maine business leaders roll out plan to reverse statewide job losses

Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, talks about how the latest report in the &quotMaking Maine Work" series will help lure 65,000 more workers into Maine jobs by 2020. Connors and other business leaders unveiled the report at Tambrands in Auburn on Tuesday.
Daryn Slover | Sun Journal
Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, talks about how the latest report in the "Making Maine Work" series will help lure 65,000 more workers into Maine jobs by 2020. Connors and other business leaders unveiled the report at Tambrands in Auburn on Tuesday.
Posted Nov. 19, 2013, at 1:31 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 19, 2013, at 4:59 p.m.

AUBURN, Maine — Repeatedly calling it ambitious but essential, business leaders unveiled a report Tuesday morning with ways they hope to lure 65,000 more workers into Maine jobs by 2020.

If nothing is done, the state is on track to lose 20,000 workers by the end of the decade, according to Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce.

“We want success for our people as well as our economy,” Connors said during the unveiling at Tambrands.

The new report, fourth in the “Making Maine Work” series by the chamber and Maine Development Foundation, suggests tactics like a new committee of state leaders to shepherd Maine workforce goals and a new private sector Maine Marketing Commission to promote the state.

MDF Interim President Cheryl Miller said the new workers could come from a mix of putting more people to work who are already here, “to more fully realize potential,” and in attracting people from away.

They suggest targeting six populations: young adults, foreign workers, people with disabilities, older workers, veterans and disengaged youth, looking to boost employment with each group.

According to the report:

— 40 percent of people with disabilities in Maine have jobs, below the national average. Drive that participation rate up to 58 percent, and that’s another 10,000 workers.

— 75 percent of veterans have jobs in Maine. Boost that to 80 percent, the same as New Hampshire, and that’s another 5,000 workers.

— 16.4 percent of older workers have jobs in Maine. Get that up to 19.3 percent, also the same as New Hampshire, and that’s 12,000 more workers.

— 15 percent of youths have graduated high school but not gotten a job or gone on to college. Get that down to 10 percent, and that’s 6,000 more workers.

— 0.14 percent of all foreign workers moving to the U.S. settle in Maine each year. Double that to New Hampshire’s level, 0.28 percent, and that’s another 12,000 workers.

— Boost in-migration to 1 percent of adults age 20 to 39, and that’s another 20,000 workers.

“None of this is really rocket science,” said Miller. “We need to set our eyes on a goal and go for it.”

Connors said Maine’s workforce had been growing, from about 500,000 people to 700,000, between 1980 to 2010. That came from a mix of people moving here, more women working and Baby Boomers in the workplace, but those trends have slowed.

Implementing their ideas could mean the difference between a slow bleed and growth, he said.

“Essentially, there is no downside to this effort,” Connors said. “It’s essential we do it. It’s absolutely attainable.”

Hearing that the state is projected to lose 20,000 jobs, shrinking from 704,116 to 683,871, by 2020, “that’s a cry or call for action,” he said.

Connors said the two new groups, of policy leaders and the commission, could be created by the Legislature, which he’d like to see.

Jobs for Maine’s Graduates President Craig Larrabee said strategies for engaging more youth include expanding programs that have worked to a broader audience.

Also, “if we get our students to start thinking about careers at an early age that creates relevancy for why they’re in school,” Larrabee said.

Tambrands, a Procter & Gamble company, was chosen as the setting Tuesday for its innovative FlexiCenter, a two-year-old pilot project that employs about 20 people with disabilities and saves the company $2 million a year by keeping more custom projects in-house.

“It feels good to have the lead on this within the state of Maine and within Procter & Gamble,” said David Bartage, the plant’s finance manager.

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