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Maine businesses identify entry-level workers, high energy costs as top concerns

Economy Jobs Report
Robert F. Bukaty/AP
/
AP
A help-wanted sign hangs in the front window of the Bar Harbor Tea Room, Saturday, June 11, 2022, in Bar Harbor, Maine. America’s employers shrugged off high inflation and weakening growth to add 372,000 jobs in June, a surprisingly strong gain that will likely spur the Federal Reserve to keep sharply raising interest rates to try to cool the economy and slow price increases. The unemployment rate remained at 3.6% for a fourth straight month, the government said Friday, July 8.

A new report said increasing the number of entry-level and skilled workers, lowering energy costs and addressing a shortage of affordable housing are top priorities for businesses in Maine.

The Maine State Chamber of Commerce, the Maine Development Foundation and Educate Maine surveyed more than 500 businesses and nonprofits for the Making Maine Work report. The resulting report – the third since 2009 – recommends a host of policy changes to improve Maine's economy. It calls for expanded workforce training, continued investment in broadband and to double state investment in research and development. The report also calls for investment in mental health services, including expansion of residential facilities in more communities.

As in the last report in 2018, workforce challenges were among the biggest issues raised by businesses. But while increasing the number of skilled and professional workers were top priorities four years ago, the pandemic and resulting workforce challenges resulted in a slight shift, according to Educate Maine executive director Jason Judd.

"Now the Maine business community identified the availability of entry-level workers as the number one priority for the next governor,” Judd said during a press conference in Hallowell. “In addition, the availability of skilled technical workers ranked number 3 and the availability of professional workers ranked number 6. It's clear that Maine needs more workers in order for our economy to thrive."

One of the report’s recommendations for the next governor and Legislature is increased collaboration on training for five groups of individuals who have lower participation in the workforce: disengaged youth, immigrants and refugees often referred to as “New Mainers,” working parents, older workers and veterans.

High energy costs ranked as the second-highest priority among the surveyed businesses after increasing the availability of entry-level workers.

The coalition calls on Maine to adopt a new, comprehensive energy strategy to lower costs and spur investment. Yellow Light Breen, CEO of the Maine Development Foundation, said Maine has multiple pieces of an energy strategy in place – such as the long-term climate action plan released by the administration of Gov. Janet Mills, which focuses heavily on renewable energy. But Breen said the state needs a broader approach, so the report urges the next governor and lawmakers to create a high-level commission to create a 30-year energy strategy.

“Manufacturing is on the resurgence in the U.S. and it can be on the resurgence in Maine, but those are energy-intensive businesses,” Breen said. “So we need a more comprehensive take on energy that's not just what are the sources of electricity but also how do we move this in a way that balances competitiveness and predictability on cost."

The full report is available here.