The Dec. 18 Bangor Daily News editorial about Maine’s shrinking workforce and the state’s need for more people in the face of our declining population demographics is spot on.
As Maine’s largest statewide business association, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce works to ensure a business climate in which Maine State Chamber members, large and small, can compete successfully in the local, regional, national and world markets. The most recent Maine State Chamber of Commerce and Maine Development Foundation report, “Making Maine Work: Preparing Maine’s Workforce,” provides strategies for raising incomes and improving productivity on a variety of focused topics. Central to any strategy is an available and skilled workforce.
Economists agree Maine’s economic success in the next 20 years will depend largely on its workforce. Given the challenge of Maine’s declining and aging population, economic success is far from guaranteed.
As we reported in our fourth Making Maine Work report, “Growing Maine’s Workforce,” Maine labor force growth has slowed progressively since 1980. Baby boomers who were in the workforce in 1990 are now entering retirement age. Women’s workforce participation peaked in 2000. Births in Maine have declined by 40 percent since the height of the baby boom from nearly 24,000 in 1960 to just below 13,000 in 2010, resulting in smaller school populations in much of the state.
From 1981-1990, Maine’s workforce grew by 12,000 per year. From 1991 to 2000, that workforce grew by 5,000 annually, and growth from participation was only 30 percent. From 2001 to 2010, the workforce grew by only 2,500 per year, and participation rates declined.
Without changes in Maine’s population growth and participation rates, the civilian workforce will cease to grow and will decline by 20,000 by 2020. As we noted in our report, we need a positive inflow of young people to offset our declining native population that is leading to a shrinking workforce.
One way to increase the young population and provide the skilled workforce is to expand college enrollments.
Critical common sense steps were taken last month when the University of Maine announced a first-in-the-nation program to keep Maine students in Maine, as well as attract high-achieving students to the state. The Maine Matters scholarship offers financial rewards and incentives to ensure our state’s top students stay within our borders. That was accompanied by a second program, the Flagship Match, which enables quality out-of-state students to pay in-state tuition and fees to UMaine — the same amount they would have paid at their home state’s public flagship university. These innovative programs have attracted the attention of The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and TIME magazine.
When students come to UMaine, many stay in Maine to begin their careers, start families and open and grow businesses.
This is how economies are built. This is where competitiveness begins.
The Maine Matters and Flagship Match programs aim directly at affordability, which is at the heart of competitiveness. With merit scholarships cutting out-of-pocket tuition and fees by as much as 50 percent for some students, there will be less stress on wallets, smaller bites taken out of savings and less need for student loans. Maine will be well-positioned to benefit economically if its students graduate in strong financial shape.
With Maine Matters, every Maine high school graduate is eligible for up to $8,000 toward his or her tuition and fees, renewable up to four years. Further, through Maine Match, for any Maine student who receives a more attractive financial aid package from the flagship university in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania or New Jersey, UMaine will match it in net cost.
For too long, the other New England land grant universities have recruited Maine’s best and brightest students out of state with generous financial aid offers, and that resulted in Maine losing a tremendous amount of young energy, enthusiasm, innovation and talent.
With Maine Matters, that stops.
The Flagship Match is focused on bringing even more youthful vigor to Maine. The university has long known UMaine was on many prospective short lists, but when it came time to make a decision, out-of-state students often chose home because in-state tuition was significantly cheaper. Those students who qualify can now attend UMaine at their home state’s flagship rate.
Maine’s business climate is heading in the right direction. To sustain this progress, Maine needs to attract talent to and keep talent in our great state.
The University of Maine understands this need and is helping to generate our future workforce and innovators.
Dana Connors is president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce.