What Maine needs more than anything right now is imagination.
This is a great state. We have vast natural resources, and vast people resources. We have world class recreational landscapes, potential for self sufficiency in food and energy, potential for developing dispersed small businesses.
We have what it takes to thrive, but right now we are out of synch with ourselves, and we’ve not kept up with change. Getting back ahead of the curve is not so far fetched.Anyone who claims to be interested in Maine’s future should care about and/or be involved in the following:
EDUCATION – Maine should strive for a 100% high school graduation rate. At the same time technical, two year and four year college attendance should be improved to first meet, then exceed national levels. The Deer Isle- Stonington High School recently went from one of the lowest graduation rates in the state to one of the highest. They did it without spending more money, which tells us education is more a matter of will than economy.
Energy: Maine is blessed with a strategic geography. With wind, solar, biomass, and tidal technologies now available, Maine has tremendous potential for energy production. There is no reason Maine cannot be self sufficient in energy, and produce surplus for sale. Maine people and their businesses should be the beneficiaries of this energy windfall, and should not be bypassed for corporate advantage.
Food: Maine is a big state with tens of thousands of acres of agricultural land. There are farmers in Maine now growing vegetables year round. Maine is within a day’s drive of the East coast megalopolis, and has the potential to be New England’s breadbasket. The market is there, the capacity is there, the know how is there – it’s a matter of connecting the dots. At the same time the state gets to growing a surplus of food, it can kick the obesity habit, and save millions in medical bills.
Recreation: Tourism is Maine’s biggest industry. Investment and land use planning should enhance and exploit opportunities for green tourism. The same megalopolis population that will eat Maine food needs places to get out of town and into the country. There is scientific research now that confirms forests emit chemicals good for your health. (I doubt there is any evidence a highway is good for your health.) Maine’s mountains, lakes, streams and forests can offer such opportunities. This does NOT mean subdividing the landscape into house lots, after the fashion of Plum Creek, but it does mean comprehensive design of small scale dispersed “green” developments that function as “destination nodes” throughout the state. Non motorized recreation should be the priority.
Imagining Industry: What Maine needs here is policy and program that promotes small business development. IKEA, a wood furniture maker is Sweden, started out with simple home assembled furniture designs in the forests of Sweden. It evolved into one of the worlds largest companies. Natural resources combined with good design and good business sense were behind this success. Similar things can happen in Maine. It has to be said that Maine’s traditional forest products industry, with emphasis on large mills and commercial lumber products are a drag on innovation and are holding the state back.
The Arts: Maine has a long history and tradition of both attracting artists from away, and producing it’s own artists and writers. The arts can be huge economic drivers, and the talent and abilities that already exist here should be acknowledged and promoted. New arts centers should be developed in relationship to tourism venues.
So, if someone wants to invest in Maine, here are some places to do it. An open Committee on Maine’s Future could develop ideas and recruit investment. Ideally, the goals in one area would complement the goals of another – an inclusive, open and transparent process should unfold.
The state needs leaders to take up it’s future. So far they are not much in evidence, but we have what it takes, and then some. There are small signs it’s starting to happen.