When thoughts turn, as they so often do, to economic development here in Maine, state government and legislative leaders inevitably get caught up in schemes designed to attract large industries, capable of employing several hundred workers. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that, even should such a company be convinced to locate in Maine, the resulting employment opportunity and other benefits would be regional at best. To grow its economy, what Maine needs more than anything else is to grow its population.
Here at the Mount Desert Islander, the word “retirement” conjures up encouraging thoughts as so many Mount Desert Island residents and our neighbors in Hancock and Washington counties are retired. Further, we often hear from many of our readers outside of Maine that they are considering eventually retiring to the Pine Tree State. Such folks have been, and continue to be, welcome additions to our Down East communities. They purchase, repair and maintain homes, volunteer their time and talents, and financially support local institutions and causes.
Rather than pour more and more money into economic development enticements, Maine should undertake a deliberate effort to position itself as one of the nation’s most attractive retirement destinations. Over time, such an effort will bring a dispersed population growth that will contribute economically to all corners of the state.
We’ve seen that happen here in our own community. Mount Desert Island’s population increased more than eight percent in the decade from 2000 to 2010. Few of those folks came from Meddybemps or Madawaska. Rather, they made a conscious decision to move here from Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and beyond. The economy of MDI, and that of Hancock County, is much healthier as a result of their collective decision to relocate here.
Many of the characteristics that make our little corner of Maine so appealing exist to an equal extent from York to Eastport to Caribou. Those who make or influence state policy ought to recognize that fact of life and take full advantage of it. If Maine were to make a long-term commitment to attracting folks looking for a more sensible and livable lifestyle, we believe the state could add as many as 100,000 residents in a decade. Consider these enticing aspects of a retirement in Maine:
- Clean air and water, beautiful scenery in places such as Acadia National Park, peace and quiet, and comparatively few traffic jams
- Excellent, accessible healthcare provided by hospitals and personnel that have garnered national recognition for quality
- A four-season climate in which catastrophic weather or events (floods, tornados, droughts, hurricanes, earthquakes) are rare – Yes, we sometimes get plenty of snow, but we know how to handle that.
- Three small but vibrant metropolitan areas, surrounded by hundreds of small, attractive villages where major crime is minimal and residents need not fear for their safety
- Housing costs and real estate and property taxes that are lower than those in most urban areas across the nation – In Maine, there’s no keeping up with the Joneses. Live simply, and your money goes further.
- High quality degree-granting educational institutions, including College of the Atlantic, Bowdoin, Bates and Colby, Maine Maritime Academy, the University of Maine and numerous community college campuses and other colleges, which welcome neighbors to their facilities, sports, music and theater performances, lectures and other activities
- Maine’s modest unfunded pension liabilities for state employees and teachers, as well as the state’s modest bonded debt
- In Maine, one is not judged by his or her wealth, former employment or notoriety, but whether one is a good neighbor.
- Finally, in every community, there is a handyman who can fix anything.
Let’s stop worrying so much about trying to convince corporations – most of which want special benefits that come at the expense of our taxpayers and existing businesses – to set up shop here. There are many of us who already have moved here, or moved back, to spend the rest of our lives in this special place. There’s room for more. Let’s spread the good news that Maine is a great place to live year-round.