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People around the Pine Street State often have differing views about who qualifies as a “Mainer.” By some standards, it’s not even enough to have been born here — you need generational ties to lay claim to the coveted title.
There’s a folskyness and appeal to tradition in that perspective, and pride in our roots as a state and our shared experiences is a good thing. But withholding “Mainer” status from recent arrivals who want to live here and be part of Maine’s future is a cultural mistake, and one that gets in the way of an economic imperative to grow our workforce.
This discussion surfaced during the BDN’s most recent Bangor Daily Brews event, which focused on workforce attraction and collaboration.
One of the event speakers, business owner Andy Geaghan of Geaghan’s Pub and Brewery, shared how his wife was born outside the state, and though she moved to Maine at a young age, was often told “that she wasn’t born here, she’s from away.”
It sounds like we’re not the only ones tired of that refrain.
“Let’s get rid of that stuff,” Geaghan said last week. “And I think more importantly, let’s celebrate people who chose to be here, who are first generation, who have no roots here.”
Nate Wildes, executive director of the organization Live + Work in Maine that promotes career opportunities and quality of life here in the state, echoed that sentiment.
“If you are currently living and working in Maine, you are a Mainer,” Wildes said during the event.
Aubrae Filipiak, the Bangor Region director for Maine Career Connect, works to attract workers and help them integrate into their new communities. She highlighted the power of Maine’s community connections in that transition.
“When you come and you embrace being a part of the community of Bangor, Bangor embraces you right back. It’s easy to get engaged and to become part of something here,” said Filipiak, whose organization is a nonprofit initiative from the Maine State Chamber. “And within six months, I felt like I’ve been here my whole life.”
As Maine’s State Economist Amanda Rector discussed at a previous Bangor Daily Brews event in early November, Maine continues to see more deaths than births. But the population is growing slightly, thanks in part to an increase of in-migration from other states and countries.
The people too often defined as “from away” will continue to be an important piece of Maine’s workforce puzzle. We want them to make their homes here. They cannot, however, be the only piece of that puzzle.
It’s not just about attracting new people, or convincing young Mainers to move back home. As members of the audience pointed out at our recent event, we cannot lose sight of the Mainers already here who want to be part — or more of a part — of growing the state’s workforce but may face some barriers.
Leah Gulliver, a senior workforce development specialist at Eastern Maine Development Corporation, made a critical point about ensuring people already in Maine who face employment challenges, including a criminal history or history of substance use, are part of the conversation.
“There are people here, who want to live here, who want to work here, who have a really difficult time getting a job here,” Gulliver said. “And so I think it’s really important that we keep that framework in the back of our minds here and talk about what kinds of things are holding employers back from taking these people off the sidelines.”
Wildes correctly noted that the work to grow Maine’s workforce cannot afford to be exclusive.
“The math does not add up unless we say yes to everything,” Wildes said. “There is not one demographic or pool of people — from not currently in Maine, to college students that are leaving — if you dial one of them up to 100 percent, none of them solve the problem [by themselves]. There is no silver bullet.”
We agree. This has to be an inclusive and all-hands-on-deck effort — one that engages longtime Mainers as well as people who are ready to become them. Maine’s workforce needs both.