Can we reboot Maine’s legacy industries?

For years Maine’s economy was based on natural resources—farming, fishing, forestry—and the derivative businesses like paper-making.  In recent years the state has lost over 20,000 quality foundational jobs.  AFM has said it is unlikely those jobs are coming back.  For example, the internet dramatically reduced the demand for paper, the paper mills closed, and operations were moved elsewhere.

The cost of building and operating a paper mill is enormous, so once a company has shuttered a mill and moved production elsewhere, it is very unlikely to return.  Other states are meeting the demand for paper.  Companies have made other choices and allocated their scarce investment dollars elsewhere.

That said, a number of Mainers took issue with that conclusion and thought that those jobs could come back, so we took another look and it turns out there’s truth on both sides.  Even with the reduction in the use of conventional paper, there are still at least two related areas where there is consistent if not increasing demand:  shipping containers (think Amazon) and toilet tissue (better not to think at all).

In addition, since China has retaliated in the tariff war by refusing to take American waste, there’s now a sudden need to recycle used paper products.  All of which means we have a new machine starting up to recycle cardboard, a new tissue-making plant Downeast, and consideration being given to opening new facilities in Maine for recycling paper into high density products.

Yet, these operations are likely to be relatively high tech and not nearly as numerous as Maine’s former paper mills with the result that there will be far fewer jobs generated and many of them may require considerable training or education.  Maine still needs a comprehensive statewide strategy to attract new foundational jobs and align our workforce to support them.