By Patrick Wright, Director of Gardiner Main Street.
I’ve always been interested in the popular Mainers’ term “From Away”, which conjures up a certain amount of disgust and frustration. I normally hear the term when referring to people who have moved to Maine and are perceived to be a threat to Maine traditions and customs. Being from away myself, I like to tell people that I “got here as fast as I could”, and also pride myself on being a “Mainer by choice”. It’s no secret that Maine’s population is aging and growing very slowly, though according to the US Census Bureau, we added over 3,000 residents each of the last two years, which is up from basically no net growth the year before. The labor market in Maine continues to be very tight, and our economy depends on having a robust workforce. Increasingly, people are becoming more mobile in their jobs, can increasingly work remotely, and are attracted to quality of place.
One of Gardiner Main Street’s transformational strategies is to be a welcoming community. Last year, over 35 million visitors came to Maine as tourists. Their visits are an important part of our economy in any given year, but, like me, many who have moved to the state had their first introduction to the state in the summer-time. My appeal to you this week is to show our visitors that Central Maine is a welcoming and inviting place. When you come across a visitor, make them feel welcome, ask them where they’re from, and share something they might not know about our community. Yes, we know that tourists can be a pain in the neck, too. If they’re not friendly back, don’t let that deter you – we didn’t really want them here anyways! Keep searching, though…Who knows, your kindness might plant a seed to make the next “Mainer by choice” your neighbor.
See you on the street,