As we look forward to the new year, one of the big challenges facing our state is growing our workforce and keeping our economy on a roll.
In 2017, we hit record lows in unemployment and all-time highs in private sector job growth. To meet this demand, our employers need skilled workers.
We are the oldest state. Record numbers of baby boomers are entering a well-deserved retirement. Employers need to replace these skilled workers.
For our state to continue to grow, it must become easier for graduates to stay in Maine, and we must attract talented young people here. Not only will these young people work in our industries, but they will also buy homes, invigorate our communities and have children.
Our wages are rising to record levels, and this will help attract young people. However, Maine must make investments that incentivize population growth, just as we make investments in research and development, infrastructure and other factors that grow our economy.
We can invest in our young people by relieving the burden of student debt for those who want to stay in Maine or choose to relocate here and start their professional careers.
Maine’s recent college graduates have among the highest average student debt in the nation, as well as the highest delinquency rate in the Northeast.
High student loan payments prevent our young people from buying a house or a car or spending their money at local businesses.
We cannot continue to kick this can down the road while our employers have vacant positions that young people could fill.
I will be submitting legislation again this session that will create and fund initiatives that make these strategic investments.
The Legislature did create a program at FAME, but failed to fund it. Such typical, half-hearted measures give them some talking points for their campaign while they again fail to make the tough choices that will make a real difference in the lives of our young people and our communities.
My initiatives will provide businesses a tax credit for every student loan payment they make for employees who choose to stay in Maine. They would also fund a low-interest student loan program through the Finance Authority of Maine to encourage new graduates to work in our great state.
These initiatives will require funding from the Legislature. However, the return on this investment will pay enormous dividends for Maine by encouraging young people to come here and reverse our declining population.
Money talks. A student-debt relief program can make a job offer from a Maine business even more attractive.