BATH — Creating a plan for the future of Maine’s economy can’t begin until its present is understood.

What businesses are doing well? What important economic targets is Maine reaching, and on which is it falling short? Where does Maine rank when it comes to education, the environment, and more?

Maine Development Foundation, coupled with the Maine Economic Growth Council, has been working at answering those questions for decades. The two groups just released the 23rd Measures of Growth Report, which details how Maine stacks up in New England, nationally, and internationally in a number of key indicators of economic health.

The report analyzes a number of key factors in economic growth and showcases whether Maine is making progress in areas like international exports, postsecondary educational attainment, research and development, and more.

“Hopefully, it’s a lens that local policy makers, as well as state policy makers, can view their work through up to this point,” said Ryan O’Neale, program director for the MDF.

State Rep. Jennifer DeChant is a member of the MEGC, and hopes that the current legislature uses the report to focus regulations and areas of interest on the state level. “In this legislative session, we’re trying to move towards an economic development strategic plan for the state of Maine,” she said.

Part of the report tries to address things central to Maine’s identity. “What makes Maine Maine? Oftentimes we take that for granted if we’re living here,” said O’Neale. “People really value that Maine brand.”

Products bearing the Maine name are identified with some of the things Maine has that other states don’t, especially its extensive wilderness and pristine natural areas. The report identifies that air and water quality in Maine are among the best in the country, a factor that adds to the state’s economic potential in ways other than tourism.

Another key factor to a modern economy is flexibility. The traditional style of manufacturing in a large plant is falling by the wayside, as many struggling mill towns across the nation can attest. But manufacturing isn’t dead; it has just evolved.

“The demise of manufacturing is premature; it is just evolving to a newly defined innovative manufacturing,” said DeChant. “Seabags is an example of that. When I first started (working) with them, they were considered a company that made women’s purses. Now look at how they are expanding and increasing their profile.” Seabags has evolved over the years and created a successful, recognizable brand that’s still sourced locally.

Maine is also seeing success with international exports, growing at a faster rate than the U.S. as a whole. Capitalizing on European markets could be key to Maine’s future success.
Other key factors like infrastructure are also highlighted in the report. While Maine’s broadband internet access is currently ahead of the curve, transportation infrastructure is falling behind.

The real goal of the report is not just figuring out how to improve the economy, however.

“The council’s overall mission is a high quality of life for Maine people,” said O’Neale. “If you look at the straight economic indicators, Maine is often behind a place like New Jersey. But if you just looked at the economy, we lose a lot of what makes Maine Maine.”

While the report shows Maine is lagging behind in certain areas, it also shows plenty of positive signs for future growth that can lead the legislature and the state towards creating a better quality of life in the future.

For more information on the Measures of Growth Report, or to download a full copy, visit Measures of Growth 2017.

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