More than 99 percent of companies in Maine are small businesses. Small businesses are the backbone of our communities, as more than half of Mainers are employed by small companies — from small manufacturing plants, lumber operations and family farms to coffee shops, breweries, innovative tech startups and home services companies.
That said, there are challenges ahead. How does an especially rural state with an aging workforce ensure that it stays on its “A” game and continue to grow and thrive?
Maine’s libraries are part of the solution.
To be sure, Maine has access to some enviable economic assets. The Maine Technology Institute continues to make great strides in the innovation sector, and the Maine Digital Inclusion Initiative works tirelessly to close the skills gap and give state residents the workforce training necessary to compete in the 21st-century economy. For a state of our size, Maine has a tremendous array of resources for small businesses. However, in order to continue to be successful, we need to find ways to ensure small-business operators and job-seekers are effectively connected with these resources in order to be successful.
More than 250 public libraries, in coastal communities, in the western mountains, Down East and in northern Aroostook County, can serve as a significant conduit for digital skills improvement. They already play a vital role in keeping our small-business economy humming along, especially considering their direct reach into rural communities.
The majority of Maine public libraries have high-speed fiber connections through the Maine School and Library Network, so our libraries provide more than books. They work to foster communities with the digital know-how to compete in today’s economy with computer classes, digital marketing opportunities and other tools. This goes for job-seekers looking to learn new skills — whether to get back into the workforce or find a better opportunity — as well as small-business operators trying to go beyond the phonebook and master online tools to gain greater visibility, reach beyond their current market and ultimately to grow their bottom line.
That’s why the Maine State Library and the Lithgow Library in Augusta recently brought “ Grow with Google” — the tech company’s initiative to help create economic opportunities for Americans through digital skills training — to our state.
On Nov. 7, “Grow with Google” came to the the Lithgow Library for a day of workshops and one-on-one training for small businesses, job-seekers and other individuals who want to build their skills. Though the day of workshops and trainings has come and gone, Google trainers will continue to work with Maine libraries and other nonprofit centers such as chambers of commerce and local job development centers across Maine to make the tools and resources from these trainings available on an ongoing basis.
The American Library Association has opened applications through Libraries Lead with Digital Skills for micro-funding to libraries throughout Maine to provide programming, outreach and education in their communities. Libraries can select one of the “Grow with Google” resources to integrate into a new or existing workshop, class, or event and submit the idea via a simple application.
We have something to be proud of here in Maine, and libraries must continue to provide this type of programming to help Maine build on its small-business success and innovative history, by connecting our people to global resources.
Jamie Ritter is the state librarian for Maine.