When we talk about the need to grow “foundational jobs” in Maine, we sometimes get this comment: “those jobs are gone and never coming back.” Although we do regard many of our legacy industries as providing foundational jobs, it’s just as important to understand what the foundational jobs of the future can be for Maine.
There are an amazing number of wonderful things going on in the world: Elon Musk is building electric cars and taking steps to colonize Mars; machine learning is on the verge of revolutionizing most of everything; the Chinese are rebuilding the Silk Road and transforming economies, lives, and countries across Asia; others are working on clean energy, curing cancer, eradicating polio and malaria, preventing pandemics from the flu or Ebola, driverless cars, mass transit, redesigning cities, transforming nutrition, improving drones, creating robots, artificial intelligence, 3D metal printing, machine learning, zero carbon gas energy, quantum computing, bio-identity, gene analysis, and a host of other 21st Century, cutting edge projects.
There is an enormous and exciting world out there of challenges and opportunities. But that world is rapidly leaving Maine behind. It is not simply that our state has lost tens of thousands of foundational jobs — we have no strategy for replacing them.
Maine has unique and wonderful qualities that we should not lose or jeopardize, but we don’t have a plan to connect with those new sectors that would fit with our quality of life and provide the foundational jobs we need to support our economy, service and public sectors.
As things stand, Maine is on a path to become a place where the resident population is in service to tourists and wealthy retirees who buy homes along the coast. We are already dependent on outside help (Maine receives twice as much money from the federal government as it pays in taxes) because we don’t earn enough to pay for our lifestyle and policy choices. And our political fights are over allocating a stagnant or contracting economic pie.
Our number one political question, it seems, is: How much more can we tax one group to pay for another?
To successfully compete for the future, Mainers need to pull together to create a strategic plan for the state. We have to stop fighting amongst ourselves, get past our toxic politics, create a statewide vision, raise our sights, and create a future for our children and grandchildren.
Given the pace and intensity of economic change, it is not only a wonderful opportunity to plan for a prosperous and productive future, but it is also a necessity if we are going to compete successfully against other states and countries trying to do the same thing.
We need a plan.