June 25, 2019
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How Janet Mills aims to boost Maine’s economic growth in the next decade

Linda Coan O’Kresik | BDN
Linda Coan O’Kresik | BDN
Heather Johnson, the commissioner of Maine's Department of Economic and Community Development, spoke at the Hilton Garden Inn on Wednesday morning about the state's new strategic economic development plan.

The administration of Gov. Janet Mills has started creating Maine’s first formal economic development plan in more than two decades, an effort that will enlist state agencies to partner with businesses, private groups and schools with the goal of boosting economic growth over the next decade.

The initiative is being led by the state Department of Economic and Community Development, which will spend most of the rest of the year seeking public input and putting together a report to guide the administration’s efforts, the department’s commissioner, Heather Johnson, said on Wednesday morning.

The last time the state tried to create such a plan came in the early 1990s, when the administration of then-Gov. John McKernan and lawmakers charged a 19-member council with developing a long-term economic development strategy for Maine.

But that effort fizzled after the council lost most of its funding.

[20 years of plans for Maine’s economy, but where’s the progress?]

However, Johnson said that the forthcoming plan will be “a live document” that leads to quick action, includes a series of measurable growth targets and leaves room for adjustment. The administration will seek public input from around Maine in the coming months and complete the report by late this year.

It will then begin implementing the recommendations “effectively and quickly,” Johnson said during a breakfast hosted by the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday morning. “Once you start to see some traction, people will want to reinvest and keep that work going. And we’ll need to make changes, and say, ‘We tried that. It didn’t work. We need to go over here.’”

The leaders of the initiative will try to identify a number of key industries that have the ability to grow in Maine and suggest ways to support the workers directly and indirectly employed by those fields, said Johnson, a Skowhegan native who led the ConnectME Authority — a state office that works to expand broadband access in Maine — before entering the Mills administration.

Johnson called land-based aquaculture — such as the two salmon farms that are now in various stages of development in Bucksport and Belfast — an example of an industry that can grow but also boost the infrastructure and reputation of Maine’s legacy fishing industry.

The new initiative will consider ways Maine’s education system can equip children from an early age with skills they’ll need in the workforce, according to Johnson. It will also consider how to improve cell phone service around the state and entice people who are lured here for vacation to stay for a career.

“We’ve got a challenge here,” Johnson said. “You can’t drive from here to Portland and not lose a call. That’s not built for commerce.”

[Bucksport salmon farm developer closes deal on part of former mill site]

The development of the strategic plan will be led by a six-member steering committee that includes Mills administration officials, Maine State Economist Amanda Rector and representatives from ConnectMe and the Finance Authority of Maine.

They will also seek guidance from industries and private groups including the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the Maine Development Foundation, according to Lindsay Crete, a spokeswoman for the governor.

The Mills administration hopes that Maine can recognized as a national leader in “creating a diverse and sustainable economy” by 2030, Crete said.

In a vision statement accompanying the initiative, the administration said it “will empower innovators and entrepreneurs, attract young families and new businesses, and revitalize rural Maine so that every person will know unequivocally that living in Maine means not only an unmatched quality of life, but an unmatched opportunity for good-paying jobs in innovative industries across the entire state.”

 



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