It’s a common refrain among politicians: Maine must do more to keep its young people here.
They have good reason to keep repeating themselves. Not only do they know families want their beloved children nearby and gainfully employed, they understand a critical mass is necessary to support a thriving economy.
They also know it’s not just enough to keep Maine’s young people here. More must come from other states.
After that, though, it’s hard for to know what to say. How, exactly, can Maine draw young people? How can it develop and attract businesses to employ them? How can it help create communities where they want to live?
Too often, politicians make the mistake of aiming for big deals, in ways that are well-intentioned but not entirely realistic.
For example, Gov. John Baldacci’s Council on Maine’s Quality of Place aimed to preserve the “Maine brand” and facilitate growth through broad goals such as land conservation, historic building preservation and local-regional-state partnerships.
And this week, Gov. Paul LePage, in his State of the State address, proposed “Open for Business Zones” to try to attract companies investing more than $50 million and creating more than 1,500 jobs. While that type of job growth would certainly be welcome, it’s also unlikely. There are only 13 private companies in the state employing more than 1,500 people; they include major hospitals, Bath Iron Works, TD Bank, Shaws, Hannaford, Walmart, L.L.Bean, Unum and Verso Paper.
So it’s refreshing to see Bangor City Council Chairman Ben Sprague’s proposed population growth strategy — which is, therefore, an economic growth plan, as the two go hand in hand — because it contains specific ideas grounded in improving upon projects and programs already in existence.
His 38 ideas include some of the following: creating a “how-to” guide for starting a business; reaching out to people who left Bangor to figure out why and if anything could bring them back; creating a grant program for home rehab for first-time homebuyers; launching a branding campaign to promote the city; creating a 10-year plan for the waterfront, Main Street and downtown; launching business recruitment missions; and providing partial property-tax rebates for first-time homebuyers.
Other ideas include developing an easy-to-search list of city-owned residential properties for sale; creating a virtual tour of Bangor and the Bangor School Department; expanding the city’s trails system; convening a youth summit to spark suggestions for retaining young people; and promoting internships between businesses, nonprofits and schools.
In the scheme of what will ultimately be necessary to boost the population of the Bangor region and the state, these are relatively small ideas. But that’s precisely why they’re so good. They are doable. The Bangor council and selectmen everywhere should have been acting on proposals like them years ago. Growth rarely happens in leaps and bounds. It builds on itself. It requires lots of work by many people on many projects over time — essentially, commitment and focus.
It’s easier for politicians to claim credit for a big business moving into town. It’s not so easy to claim credit for many small improvements — a local business adding a new client, an improvement that makes a city a marginally more attractive place to live — even though they are more likely to happen and have a collective impact.
Sprague has set the direction. Let’s follow it and build upon it.