The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Every crisis is composed of danger and opportunity. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended our nation’s economy in a manner not seen since the Great Depression, causing governments to take unprecedented action. But it also presents us with a choice.
Crises like this present society with an opportunity to reshape the way we live, and reprioritize what our government should invest in. Maine is no different, and it is time our state uses the current pandemic as an opportunity to move forward into the 21st century.
Our state is the oldest in the nation and only getting older. Maine lags behind its closest peers in New England with a higher cost of living than New Hampshire and Vermont and median household income below the national average.
Our public and private universities do well attracting young talent, but our state has failed to retain the young skilled workers we need to move our economy forward. In addition, Maine college graduates face some of the highest average indebtedness, the lowest potential earnings and an outdated income tax that taxes Mainers earning $51,700 as much as the state’s most wealthy residents. This combination creates a troubling economic reality for young Mainers and wanting to stay, and pushes many to make the rational decision to seek employment out of state.
Periods of uncertainty require change and for folks to take a sober look at their situation and identify ways to improve. It requires planning and for those in power to show a willingness to implement creative policies rather than resign new ideas to the ash heap of history.
More and more, companies are announcing the extension of teleworking for the indefinite future. Now more than ever, individuals with a sizable income are realizing that they could live anywhere.
People “from away” are looking more closely than ever at homes in our state with hopes of making their next home office in Vacationland, which has some of the finest natural beauty found anywhere in the world; Maine must take steps like increased broadband and a more competitive tax code to help lure these individuals to our home.
As much as we love Maine and would have preferred to stay, both of us were forced to leave Maine to continue to grow within our career fields and afford to pay back our student loans. This is a story all too common in our generation, but it does not have to continue. With common-sense changes and smart investments in housing, digital infrastructure and the tax code, Maine can position itself to retain young Mainers and attract a new generation to invest in and grow our communities.
As Gov. Janet Mills and leaders around the state plan Maine’s next steps to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, they should not dismiss the opportunity of recruiting young professionals back to Maine and individuals who are earning a healthy paycheck that may be interested in moving to one of our rural communities and living life the way it should be.
Lee Jackson serves on the Young Adults Advisory Committee for the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and works in Arlington, Virginia. He previously worked for former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin and served on the Old Town School Board. Adam Fortier-Brown is a former intern for The Cohen Group. He is currently the government relations manager for the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas based in Washington, D.C.