Since day one, my focus in the Legislature has been on economic development: How can we provide communities the tools they need to thrive? Economic growth in all parts of Maine — particularly in rural Maine — requires a sustained commitment by our government, education and business leaders. We must stay at the table, developing a comprehensive economic strategy for the state. And we’ve got to do it this year.

The Legislature’s new Innovation, Development, Economic Activity and Business Committee (IDEA Committee), which I’m honored to chair, offers us the opportunity to tackle economic development in Maine.

Eight years ago, I joined the Committee on Labor, Commerce, Research, and Economic Development, which preceded the IDEA Committee. We did important work, but it involved a lot of diagnosing problems and very little prescribing solutions. To break down barriers to education and employment, I knew we needed to focus more specifically on workforce challenges and rural economic development.

Since our session began in early January, the IDEA Committee has brought together Maine’s education and business leaders. The Chamber of Commerce, the Finance Authority of Maine, Educate Maine, the University of Maine, the Community College System, the Maine Development Foundation and many, many others are at the table.

There may not be a silver bullet, but there is silver buckshot.

First, we must grow Maine’s workforce. We need a campaign similar to the Office of Tourism’s “Visit Maine” campaign, but for workers. We’ve got to bring back our kids (and other people’s kids!) using tuition incentives and student debt forgiveness. We’ve also got to bring people into our workforce who have historically been left behind.

Second, we must grow the skills of Maine’s workforce. By 2025, 60 percent of Maine’s workforce should have a valuable credential, whether it’s a college degree or certificate in the trades. We also need apprenticeships that lead into successful careers. We must fund these programs by taking advantage of federal dollars to invest in training Maine’s workers rather than allowing these funds to go to other states.

Third, Maine must become a leader in affordable, reliable high-speed internet. We must make large private, state and federal investments in internet access over the next five years. Expanding broadband and improving digital literacy will be crucial to success for both growing businesses and accessing job training and education.

To accomplish these goals, the IDEA Committee — working with our partners in business and education — will develop a comprehensive state economic strategy this year.

If you want to weigh in on this process, we are eager to hear from you. Please email ideas to, or call my office at 287-1515. It will take a team effort to create and implement an effective strategy, and we must engage in this process over the long term. While we won’t achieve these goals overnight, it’s high time we work together to give communities across Maine the tools they need to thrive for generations.

Sen. Erin Herbig, a Democrat from Belfast, represents Waldo County in the state Senate.