Maine’s quality of life is the main attraction

Published in the Bangor Daily News on August 31, 2023

Nancy Smith is the CEO of GrowSmart Maine. Jeff Levine is a board member of GrowSmart Maine.

Recently, BDN columnist Mike Cianchette wrote that the only way to keep “COVID immigrants” in the state is to incentivize big companies to move here through reducing regulations and utility costs. While we agree that regulatory effectiveness and favorable tax and cost structures are important, in reality, what recently drew over 10,000 new residents to Maine is our high quality of life, natural beauty, welcoming people, and great downtowns.

Maine’s recent population growth is essential to sustain our economy and our small towns. However, we know it has also created challenges, such as high costs making it hard for workers to afford a place to live in Maine. For all the challenges created, in addition to the tax dollars and purchasing power new remote workers and their families bring, they also offer perhaps less obvious gifts in the form of volunteerism, creative talents, and financial support for Maine nonprofits – that in turn support our quality of life.

Rather than losing significant portions of their experienced workforce or requiring employees to leave the places they love after a couple years of putting down roots, businesses who employ these new arrivals should be encouraged to work with the many organizations already well placed to support their distributed workforce. We also need to make sure that a variety of housing that people can afford is available to existing residents and new residents alike.

This seems like something we can all agree on, and so many are leading the way.

We at GrowSmart Maine are working to address the housing crisis through our Policy Action 2023 legislative proposals to support development in places where it makes sense in the long term. By this we mean that Maine needs to create housing while still addressing the climate crisis and without creating the next crisis of access to farmland and food.

Maine organizations are leading in other key strategies:

  • Including in all policies that Maine can and should be open to everyone, original Wabanaki Alliance peoples, longtime residents, and new arrivals.
  • Improving transit options to better connect Maine communities to employer hubs such as Boston. Additional transit services are needed, supported with additional federal and state funding. The locally run Moving Maine Network promotes better transit options, both within and beyond Maine.
  • Improving opportunities for commuting and running errands with options like walking, biking, and e-biking. Bicycle Coalition of Maine and many trail organizations in the state promote such options for short trips of all kinds.
  • Protecting farmland as we accommodate more housing. Investments in food chain and value-added processing will both strengthen the economics of our farms and ensure protection of critical farmland. This is true for the other natural resource sectors such as fisheries and forestry. Much of the beauty in Maine is directly tied to the economic powerhouse of our woods, fields, and waters. These “heritage” industries, which are also critical to the hospitality industry, are by no means relics, and deserve continued investment. American Farmland Trust and Maine Farmland Trust work to balance the need for more housing and solar energy generation with the need to preserve our limited agricultural lands.
  • Removing barriers to infill development to support adding housing within existing village, town, and city centers as our policy partner Build Maine actively promotes.
  • Protecting open space for its innate climate value and the access it provides to outdoor healing, with many organizations including The Nature Conservancy in Maine leading the way.
  • Supporting culture and creative arts that provide both personal wellness and opportunities for connection with our neighbors. Organizations such as the Cultural Alliance of Maine support Maine’s creative economy

New residents aren’t coming to Maine for lower taxes or utility costs; they continue to come here because of all the great aspects of Maine valued by people who already live here. Promoting these components of “Maine … the way life should be” has been the mission of GrowSmart Maine since its inception twenty years ago, and is more relevant now than ever.