Editorial: Investing in people

The 10-year strategic economic plan released by Governor Janet Mills refreshes worthy, but familiar proposals that have withered and waned over the past 20 years. They include a push for increased spending in research and development, expanding tax credits designed to encourage capital investment and providing relief from college tuition debt, financing to fund the build-out of broadband infrastructure in rural communities and pre-K education programs for all children.

The 10-year plan openly confronts the severe constraints on Maine’s economic vitality from our well-documented demographic predicament. Commendably, the report’s analysis and projections of Maine’s gross domestic product, employment statistics and global economic trends rely on hard data and not partisan ideology or rosy guesswork.

The strategic economic plan sets out to achieve three overarching goals over the next 10 years. First, grow annual average wages by 10 percent, from $45,370 to $49,900 adjusted for inflation and second, increase the value of products sold per Maine worker by 10 percent.

We are particularly intrigued by the third goal, which hopes to reverse the forecast of Maine’s shrinking workforce by attracting 75,000 people to join Maine’s talent pool. Maine does indeed offer accessible, safe and livable communities. But so do Vermont, New Hampshire and western Massachusetts. Can the Mills administration help establish a competitive advantage for Maine so that in our corner of the Northeast we beat our New England sister states in the race to attract 75,000 people?

A recently published study by The Brookings Institute and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation found that just five metropolitan areas account for 90 percent of all U.S. high-tech job growth between 2005 and 2017. They identify the four West Coast cities of San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and San Jose, Calif. The fifth city on the list is our regional New England economic anchor, Boston.

In spite of generous tax incentives and significant R&D spending the data shows that the nation’s 377 other metro areas only accounted for the remaining 10 percent of high-tech job growth. The report highlights the geographic concentration of talent and technology in these five locations is intensifying, which increases the risk of others areas being left further behind.

One action item included in the Governor’s economic plan will help mitigate Maine’s competitive disadvantage in attracting professional people holding in-demand skills and talents. It calls for improving the way the state licenses and awards credentials to trained individuals wishing to move to Maine from other states and other countries. As highlighted in the Governor’s statement, “the current process is onerous” and we would add discriminatory and protectionist as well. Speedy streamlined credentialing will vastly enhance attracting talented people to live and work in Maine.

Governor Mills deserves credit for articulating an economic vision of Maine’s future while pursuing an implementation strategy that compels private sector and public sector partnership and buy-in.

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