Investing in Maine’s Most Precious Asset

At the heart of all economic growth and opportunity for Maine is a person with an idea.  And our overall success in growing Maine’s economy will ultimately depend on how effectively our economic development “system” nurtures, networks, supports, and strengthens the people who create and develop those ideas so that they can truly bear fruit for Maine. This was the message that Michael Duguay, the Director of Development  for the City of Augusta and the co-founder of the Kennebec Valley Entrepreneurial Network, shared so simply and so eloquently with over 60 leaders at the Maine Development Foundation’s recent Leadership Unplugged session at Colby College.

Photo of Mike DuguayAs I think about our ability to compete effectively in the ever-globalizing marketplace, I keep coming back to the productivity of our businesses and the productivity of our people – those very people who generate the ideas that add value. The business survey that served as the basis of the Making Maine Work report clearly articulated and prioritized the major barriers to increasing business productivity as being the cost of health insurance, the cost of energy, the individual income tax, and regulatory policy – and this seems to be where we spend the vast majority of our economic development time and energy, which is certainly important.  But the survey also very clearly articulated that the greatest opportunity for growth is a skilled workforce – those hard-working people who generate the ideas and the innovations that enhance productivity, competitiveness and, ultimately, growth and prosperity.

What if we changed the definition of “economic development” to focus, first and foremost and fully, on the development of our most precious asset – our people?  And what if we invested in these assets from cradle to grave, ensuring that each and every one was able to reach their full potential? What if we re-shaped and re-focused our public incentives (roughly a quarter of a billion dollars annually) to spur investment in the education, health and innovative capacity of our people – those very people with ideas – the ideas that are at the heart of all economic growth and opportunity for Maine?  Just Imagine the possibilities for Maine…

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Our Children Are Listening – Encourage them to be Entrepreneurs!

(Guest Blogger – Mike Duguay, Director of Development, City of Augusta)

Our children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and younger members within our community are listening to us!  That’s undoubtedly good news.  Unfortunately, they’re not hearing us say that being an ‘Entrepreneur’ is a worthy life goal or career.  Sadly enough, many of us are still telling our younger members in our community what our parents told us several decades ago; “Pick a safe career.  Don’t take chances”.

Frankly, what is occurring within today’s labor market would show something very different happening then when our parents gave us that career advice.  The fact of the matter is that mid-level corporate professional positions, white-collar jobs as we would call them, have been hit particularly hard in the past several years by the transition to the New Economy.  Jobs that once provided stable employment for decades, such as lawyers, bankers and utility workers have seen large scale reductions in their workforce.  There’s also evidence that with a true global economy and the ability to more easily utilize labor capacity from around the World, this trend will only continue to gain speed.  In addition, once considered as ‘untouchable’ professions such as government employees and school teachers, these have actually been hit the hardest in many jurisdictions throughout the country, with the worse prospects for job growth ahead of us in those professions for the foreseeable future!

Taking all this into account, it has never been a better time in history for someone to be an Entrepreneur.  As eluded to above, it’s just not as ‘Risky’ to be an Entrepreneur at this point in time.  In fact, one could actually argue that it’s actually riskier now more than ever to be entirely reliant upon someone else for a source of income and be in a profession where you’re just one person in a big crowd.

So what should we be saying to our younger people?  How about encouraging them to pursue an Entrepreneurial path in life?  How about having conversations around the dinner table about innovation and enterprise creation?  Why not encourage them to be their own creators of wealth? 

After all, they’re listening to us!



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From Just Imagine to Just do IT! Maine’s Great IT Challenge

Michael Dubyak

Michael Dubyak

On February 9th, MDF launched its 2012 Leadership Unplugged series in grand style!  Over 100 engaged leaders from around Maine gathered at Bowdoin College to hear Michael Dubyak, President and CEO of Wright Express, describe the challenge that he and several other major employers are having in finding qualified Information Technology employees. The challenge is real.  Currently, Maine’s largest and most rapidly growing companies have to outsource hundreds of high-paying IT jobs each year because they simply can’t find qualified Maine workers.  Wright Express and others have had to hire consultants to fill the need or have opened and expanded operations in other states and countries.  Further, Maine’s DOL projects that in the next 10 years, the demand for computer technology and science graduates will outstrip the supply by 1,000 people.  1,000 new jobs that could belong to our kids. Just imagine!

Soooo – what gives? Maine is a world leader in having one-on-one computing in our middle and high schools.  Maine was the first state in the nation to have all of our schools and libraries connected to high speed internet. Maine is home to the 14th best Math and Science High School in the nation. A November 2010 Briefing Paper on STEM Education in Maine shows that jobs in the STEM fields pay 58% more than average.  I have no doubt that Maine’s young people LOVE technology.  I’m guessing they’d like to have a job that pays, in the words of my 17 year-old son, “bank”, and they’d like to at least have the option of living in Maine.

Soooo – what are we going to do?  With his steadfast commitment to Maine and his passion for taking action now – Mike has assembled a team of CEOs, CIOs, and University and Community College officials and has launched a plan to double the number of IT graduates in the next 4 years. This will surely help. But to truly seize the opportunity – we’re going to have to all play a role.  Might you consider offering an internship in your organization? Bringing teachers into your business or visiting schools to let them know of the great jobs that await our young people? Participating in the work of the Reach Center or maybe just finding out the myriad of ways that you can help to inspire excitement in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math by taking a few hours out of your time to go to the 2012 Maine STEM Summit – Maine-Based STEM: Broadening our Engagement March 20th at Colby.  Let’s work together to give the next generation of Mainers an opportunity to soar! I think we can do this. What do you think?

If one man’s passion can begin to turn this challenge into an opportunity – just imagine what all of us working together could do.

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