Guest column

Knocking down barriers to success in rural Maine

By Sen. Erin Herbig | Jan 02, 2019
Sen. Erin Herbig, D-Waldo, with son Charles in the state Senate chambers.

Having grown up in Waldo County, I’m incredibly honored to represent my friends, family and neighbors in the Maine Senate.

As House majority leader, it was my privilege to listen to you, hearing not only your struggles and challenges, but also your hopes for the future. I have always believed that while we face real challenges, they are no match for our adaptability, creativity and determination to knock down the barriers that block success in rural Maine.

Now, as your state senator and chairman of the new Innovation, Development, Economic Advancement and Commerce Committee, I will bring education, business and legislative leaders together to make sure communities have the tools they need to thrive ­–– not just in Waldo County, but across Maine.

Eight years ago, I ran for office because I saw too many young people leaving our communities. I believed that too little technical education, too much student debt, and unreliable high-speed internet access were making it difficult for people to access education and for businesses to grow. As a result, talented young people were moving away, a disturbing trend that did not bode well for the economy my children would inherit.

So when I was first elected to the Maine House, I jumped at the chance to chair the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee. I went on to serve as House majority leader, negotiating policy on the gamut of issues, and to chair the Workforce Development Committee, which sought ways for Maine to compete in a changing economy.

In those roles, I worked on the problems that had kindled my interest in running for office back in 2010. But I increasingly felt that the separate conversations I was having with education, business and legislative leaders were actually intertwined. If only we could bring these leaders together with a renewed focus on tackling the challenges that brought me to the State House in the first place.

That’s why I’m so excited and honored to be chosen to chair a new committee: the Innovation, Development, Economic Advancement and Commerce Committee (aka the IDEA Committee). For the first time, we have a committee focused on economic development.

It will be a joint standing committee –– made up of both senators and representatives –– and will bring together legislators, educators and business people. We will work on improving technical education, attracting and retaining new workers and businesses, relieving student debt, and expanding access to reliable high-speed internet. I’m humbled to lead this effort and hopeful that we will make real progress for rural communities.

As the economy changes, we are faced with crucial questions. What tools do Maine businesses need to remain competitive and continue to grow? What resources do Maine workers need to raise families while working for a good employer in the town that they love? What barriers are blocking success in rural Maine?

Our answers to these questions will shape our communities for generations. I believe our economy must prioritize heritage industries while providing new industries with room to grow. I’ve submitted several bills this session to provide more training for jobs in existing industries –– including health care, plumbing and electricity –– as well as bills to invest in training Mainers to work in emerging industries. I've also submitted several bills to increase access to reliable high-speed internet and to lower transportation costs. By removing these barriers to success, we can ensure that rural communities have the tools they need to thrive in today’s economy.

It will not be easy to confront the challenges before us. But I am more determined than ever to meet these challenges head-on. We have so much going for us here in Maine, and we owe it to our kids and our grandkids to build a better future.

Democrat Erin Herbig is serving her first term as state senator representing Waldo County. She lives in Belfast.


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