As Waldo County goes, so goes Maine

By Sen. Erin Herbig | Jan 04, 2020

On Dec. 11, Maine’s 10-year Strategic Economic Development Plan was unveiled at Robbins Lumber in Searsmont. Since the moment I was first elected to the Legislature, I’ve worked on developing Maine’s economy to compete in the 21st century, believing that we must prioritize heritage industries while providing new industries with room to grow. This year, as chairman of the Legislature’s Committee on Innovation, Development, Economic Advancement and Business, I worked with fellow lawmakers and the Mills administration to develop this 10-year economic plan.

Without a plan, you don’t know where you’re going. Over the coming decade, the economic plan will serve as our roadmap to grow and strengthen Maine’s economy. The plan outlines two major priorities: workforce and innovation. First, we must address our workforce shortage. This crisis threatens our entire economy and hinders growth. As people retire, we’ll need 75,000 new workers over the next 10 years. And we’re already feeling the effects of the crisis.

This summer and fall, I chaired the Commission to Study Long-term Care Workforce Issues, working to address Maine’s shortage of direct care workers. In Maine, we have the resources to provide all those who need it with direct care, but we just don’t have the workers. Each week in Maine, 6,000 hours of direct care, which is already funded and approved, go unused because of our workforce shortage. That means families must carry the burden of this shortage, or else people just don’t get the care they urgently need.

To address this crisis, one of the recommendations in the plan is an effort to attract students, workers and young families to Maine. More and more families visit Maine each year, but we need to get more of them to stay for good. We all know that Maine — and Waldo County in particular — is a special place to live, work and raise a family. By communicating that effectively, we can help address our workforce shortage. We also need to make sure that everyone has a role in our economy, including those who have historically been left behind.

When it comes to innovation, the second major priority in the plan, Waldo County is leading the way. Take Robbins Lumber, for example. Traditionally, selling wood chips to paper mills was an important part of their business. But when several of our paper mills closed, those wood chips — 90 tons a day — had nowhere to go. So Robbins Lumber built a $36 million biomass energy facility to not only process the wood chips, but also create renewable energy and stimulate the local forest products economy. It’s no coincidence that the economic plan was unveiled at Robbins Lumber: The business sets an example of innovation for others across the state.

We’re seeing the same thing with diversified farms across Waldo County. I recently visited Toddy Pond Farm in Monroe, which has cows and a creamery, hogs, chickens, sheep, bees, a farm stay, summer camps for kids and Friday night dinners during the growing season. That’s the kind of innovation that will complement our heritage industries to create the economy of the future.

As the economic plan was unveiled, I stood with the Robbins family and felt proud of the exciting things happening in Waldo County. I’ll do everything I can in Augusta to address our workforce shortage; expand access to reliable, high-speed internet; invest in career and technical education; and more. Together, our hard work and innovation will not only drive our vibrant local economy, but serve as a model for the rest of Maine. That’s why I’m proud to serve as your state senator, and why I will continue to work hard to break down barriers to our future success.

Erin Herbig is serving her first term in the Maine Senate, representing Waldo County. She lives in Belfast.

 

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