Rousselle: Why Young People Aren’t Returning to Maine


I love Maine. I was born there. I spent 18 years of my life there. My entire family lives there. Trading in my Maine driver’s license for the Virginia version was emotionally painful. I miss (nearly) everything about Maine—the food, the people, even the smell of the marsh in my hometown.

That being said, I just don’t see myself moving back there any time soon.

I moved to Alexandria, VA on June 1, 2013—11 days after I graduated from college. The culture shock was immediate. For the first time in my life I was living in a major metro area. There was just so much stuff to do. Museums? Sure, there’s a bunch of free ones. Concerts? That band I like is actually performing down here. Spur-of-the-moment sporting event? Let’s fire up StubHub, see what’s available for one of the four major teams in this town, print tickets and go. Hungry? Seamless will deliver basically anything with the push of a button. None of these exist in Maine, and certainly not on the scale they do here.

It’s not exactly a secret that Maine can be hostile to new things and that the business climate is not as friendly as it could be.

Let’s talk about Uber, for instance. Uber is a ride-sharing service that works through a cell phone app. A person opens the app, places a pin on a map indicating where they are, and hits request. Eventually, a car connected to the Uber system arrives and takes you to whatever address the person has plugged in to the app. Payment is through the app. It is, in the opinion of this writer, the best thing since sliced bread.

So naturally Maine had to fight it before it even entered the market.

While its detractors claim that the app is dangerous and in need of serious regulation, the fact of the matter is that Uber has existed in some concept or another since the advent of cars. Uber is the mobile app equivalent of me paying my brother to drop me off and pick me up in the Old Port so I could safely enjoy a night out. The only major difference is that instead of texting the Uber driver for a ride like I would to my brother, I’m instead connected to the driver through an app. The only “regulation” anyone should need to drive a person from point a to point b for a payment is a driver’s license and the consent of the person being driven. Period.

While it may seem slightly discomforting to essentially enter a stranger’s car for a ride, Uber vets its drivers, and they’re subject to an immediate performance review after each trip. Unlike, say, “regulated” cab drivers in Maine (where a recent harassment case took over a month to resolve), a recent fare issue I had with an Uber driver took all of two minutes to straighten out:

uber rousselle

While hesitancy over an online app may seem like a trivial reason to avoid a place to live, it’s this kind of anti-innovation mentality that makes me hesitate before seriously considering moving back to Maine. I’m not the only one. The vast majority of my close friends have simply left the state after we graduated from high school or college. We’re a pretty visual representation of the brain drain plaguing the state. While we all desperately miss Maine, there’s just nothing really pulling us back.

Maine has to make itself more appealing to young people if it wants to keep them. Until it does, I’m sad to say that I’m just going be yet another young Mainer-in-exile.


  1. Want to attract and keep young people, and still working age, here? Get right to work passed. That will attract businesses. Look at the states down south that have business flocking to them.

  2. My own family made this same journey to Virginia but in 1915 when mom was five and grandma was 35, the 10th generation of our family to be born in Maine. That was were the jobs were. Coming back to retire as the first not to be born in Maine, I am very concern about the future of Maine. It is out of balance with reality and while it is convenient to blame Massachusetts and those from away, the fault lies in the Mainers failure to not only take ownership of this beautiful state but to refuse to even plan for the eventual change that always occurs – whether this is planned for or not. And the most problematic is that the young Mainer has bought into this attitude, as well !

  3. Portland was a city in decay in the mid-1960s. What turned it around was the slightly illicit, but vibrant “head” culture of 20-somethings. Erebus, The Gate, performances by big name groups that were recognized everywhere else (not Maine, though) like Jethro Tull and others were all the creations of young entrepreneurs willing to take risks.

    That same spirit does not exist anywhere in Maine now. Any activity that might require some element of risk because it is out-of-step with the current culture has far too many hurdles to jump.

    I am not advocating legalizing recreational marijuana, but the the crowd that is working for its passage is the crowd that holds the potential for making Maine trendy again for young people. It is not about the marijuana. It is all about the attitude to smash convention and re-make the community into something more vibrant.

    Instead of tax breaks for firms that bring mundane jobs to the state, Maine’s chambers of commerce and other agencies need to be concentrating on bringing back our kids after their college experience. Start-up incubation centers for creative and, maybe, weird ideas would make a good beginning. Catch them when they are on fire with energy and ambition and help them mold their environment.

  4. So you want government to make Maine more appealing . . . concerts, sporting events, more “stuff” to do? You want to be entertained? I agree government needs to make the state more business-friendly. We need more jobs. Entertainment is up to you. If you don’t like it the way it is, perhaps it’s time for the next generation to make it “better”. When you settle down, get married and start a family, I hope your spouse is willing to move to Maine. It’s the safe place you’ll want to be to raise your children. You just don’t know it yet.

  5. Growing up in Maine, our young people hear horror stories about other states – even New Hampshire! – that supposedly don’t care for the poor, don’t protect the environment, don’t pay workers for their labor, don’t educate their kids, etc. Then they have their first experiences in those states and discover that life is pretty good there, and they suddenly need more than the lure of trees and “quality of place” to bring them back to Maine.


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