BANGOR, Maine — A group of Maine universities, major employers and minority advocates want to launch, possibly in Bangor, a multicultural center dedicated to helping immigrants bolster the Bangor-area workforce, officials said Monday.
Four universities and several minority organizations and businesses have joined a steering committee to create the Maine Multicultural Center, according to a six-page proposal written by City Councilor Sean Faircloth. They include the University of Maine, Husson University, Islamic Center of Maine, Maine Chispa Centro Hispano and South-Asian Association of Maine. The businesses include General Electric and Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems.
The Bangor City Council agreed on Monday to join the steering group. Faircloth and several others began planning the center about a year ago, well before President-elect Donald Trump gained political traction by threatening to build a wall on the Mexican border, Faircloth said.
Greater Bangor needs immigrants to work and create businesses, he said. The magazine Mainebiz reported in May 2016 that 75 percent of the Maine businesses it surveyed reported trouble finding qualified workers. The state Department of Labor projects Maine will lose 10 percent of its working-age population over the next decade.
Maine needs business entrepreneurs and more skilled workers, Faircloth said.
Studies by the Kauffman Foundation formed by the late pharmaceuticals baron and Kansas City Royals owner Ewing Marion Kauffman show that immigrants are nearly twice as likely to be an entrepreneur as a native-born American. Kauffman found that from 2006 to 2012, more than two-fifths of the startup tech companies in Silicon Valley had at least one foreign-born founder. Maine needs that kind of savvy, Faircloth said.
“The idea is that they are desirables. They are an entrepreneurial set of folks,” Faircloth said Monday.
Faircloth isn’t alone in seeking immigrants. In September, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the nonprofit Maine Development Foundation called for state policymakers to attract immigrants to the state. A report by the immigrant-advocating Partnership for a New American Economy found that they accounted for 28 percent of all new small businesses nationwide in 2011.
“While we are always thrilled to hire qualified people from the area, we are recognizing that a lot of our workforce will be dwindling, and that has created a mandate to create opportunities for people who come from outside the Bangor area,” said Catharine MacLaren, vice president of talent and diversity at Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, which works with 15 Maine hospitals and supports the center.
Faircloth said he hopes the center would be funded as much as possible by grants and become operational in an existing city or local space by late 2017, if all goes well. It would employ one full-time and one-part time staffer. His proposal calls for it including “an event space for the whole community to share various cultures, traditions and perspectives with each other.”
The center would welcome immigrants to the area, including international students and scholars. It would connect immigrants “and others to resources meeting their cultural background and logistical needs.” It would also recruit international workers sought by local businesses in fields such as health care, education and technology.
Offsetting the county’s population loss is critical to growing its economy, Faircloth said, while multiculturalism is a strong draw for millennials.
“Bangor has held its own, but the Bangor region has had a significant population loss and even more significantly, a younger segment of the population has left,” Faircloth said. “We need more working-age people to put their shoulders to the wheel.”