Commentary: Hancock and Penobscot counties are adapting to more jobs at higher wages

By Sen. Kimberley Rosen

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, from 2001 through 2011, Hancock and Penobscot counties combined to lose 2,300 jobs. But starting in 2012, when voters gave Republicans control of state government, that situation reversed course, and over the next seven years the two counties added more than 3,100 new jobs.

Today these jobs earn an average of more than $43,000 per year, which is nearly $15,000 more per year and well beyond the rate of inflation over the same period. The two counties have added more than 3,100 new jobs paying on average $15,000 more per year than in 2001.

In 2011, the unemployment rate in Penobscot County was at 9.1 percent and last summer hit a record low of 2.3 percent. Likewise in 2011, the unemployment rate in Hancock County hit an incredible high of 12.7 percent, but last summer dropped to 1.8 percent, the lowest rate ever recorded.

Perhaps no community is a better example of renewal than Bucksport. The huge paper mill along the Penobscot River there made its first paper on Thanksgiving Day 1930, and for decades afterward was the primary employer in the region. Into the 21st century, however, worldwide demand for its primary product — coated paper used in magazines and catalogs — dropped as more and more people got their information and did their shopping online. Life magazine ceased publishing in 2000, for example, and Newsweek in 2012. The mill owners adopted a short-sighted strategy that closed the mill for good in 2014.

Rather than accept the permanent decline of our community as inevitable, Bucksport reinvented itself to meet the challenges of the future. The town has attracted new investments such as a $180-million salmon farm now under construction. Also, Maine Maritime Academy has opened its Center for Professional Mariner Development on the site of the old mill, drawing 2,400 students to town annually. Today, Bucksport’s business district is nearly full and many more businesses operate out of the Buckstown Business Park.

Lincoln also has endured the closure of a paper mill and has begun the process of adapting its economy to a new reality. Last fall, a company that manufactures cross-laminated timber announced plans to build and operate a new manufacturing facility taking advantage of the region’s plentiful timber and modem composite technology to make a new, wood-based alternative to steel for use in construction.

The Lincoln project was made possible by the federal tax reform passed by Congress in 2017 which helped Lincoln earn designation as an Opportunity Zone and establish a fund to assist new businesses.

Times change. Phonographs have been replaced by downloadable music, landlines have given way to cell phones, life happens as much online as it does in brick and mortar buildings. As each evolutionary change comes our way, we adapt and make use of our local resources, not the least of which is our work ethic and determination to find a new and better way to keep our communities prosperous.

In my time in Augusta, I have seen that the best role that state government can play in helping communities to adapt is to enact policies that encourage the growth of businesses and our economy. This approach has enabled the dramatic shift in Maine’s economy since 2012 and the prosperity we enjoy today. These business-friendly policies made it possible for towns like Bucksport and Lincoln to reinvent themselves in a changing world.

Republican Sen. Kimberley Rosen of Bucksport represents District 8 in the Maine State Senate.

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