The Maine State Chamber of Commerce recently held a closed-to-the-public meeting with the Mills Administration to receive an informational presentation on her planned “Office of New Americans (ONA).”
Gov. Janet Mills directed her Office of Policy Innovation and the Future (GOPIF) to develop a plan to establish the ONA via Executive Order on August 3.
The ONA will be tasked with attracting “New Mainers” to address the state’s workforce shortage, and sets a goal of bringing 75,000 people into Maine by 2029.
“For generations, immigrants have brought their skills, education, and ability to Maine to build a better life for themselves and their families, contribute to the vitality of our communities, and become the workforce that our employers in Maine desperately need. This is as true today as it was a century ago,” Gov. Mills said regarding the ONA in August.
“My order will develop a plan for a new office to help us ensure that Maine is fully drawing on the talents and skills of those who want to live and work in and contribute to our great state,” Mills said. “This is a critical step for Maine’s economic future as we address our workforce shortage and support our communities and businesses.”
The goal of 75,000 new workers comes from the state’s 10-year Economic Development Strategy, and includes bringing current unemployed Maine residents and out-of-staters into the workforce.
That said, the Economic Development Strategy emphasizes the importance of “welcoming foreign immigrants” to combat the labor shortage.
Mills’ Executive Order also states that “foreign-born residents are a vital part of our state’s communities and economy,” and references that Maine’s ONA will be part of the Office of New Americans State Network.
Maine will join 18 other states in the ONA State Network, which Mills’ Order says are dedicated offices “for supporting the economic and civil inclusion of international immigrants.”
In an Aug. 3 press release, Quincy Hentzel, President and CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce said, “The state’s economic development plan makes clear we need to aggressively expand our workforce by 2030, and there’s no better way to do that than by harnessing the skills, experience, and education of foreign-born professionals” — making no mention of out-of-state workers or unemployed Mainers.
Shenna Cox, President and CEO of the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, made a similar statement.
“The founding of the Office of New Americans is an important next step in expanding the pathways to success for the many people born abroad who today call Maine home,” Cox said.
The CEO of Catholic Charities of Maine, Steven P. Letourneau, said his organization looks forward to working with the ONA, citing Catholic Charities’ work providing services to “asylum-seeking families” and resettling refugees.
The meeting between the Mills administration and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce was held Nov. 16 at 10 a.m.
When attempting to attend the meeting, one registrant was told by the Maine State Chamber of Commerce Director of Operations Mark Ellis that the meeting was “intended for members only,” and the registration was removed, according to an email obtained by the Maine Wire.
In response to a request for comment on the secret meeting, a spokesperson for the Chamber said: “The Maine State Chamber welcomes informational presentations for Chamber members and appreciated the outreach from the Mills Administration to explain the purpose and potential structure of the proposed Office of New Americans.”
“Workforce development and labor availability have been consistently raised by business leaders and we look forward to addressing those issues through training, population growth, and integrating immigrants into the Maine economy,” the spokesperson told the Maine Wire.