By Ramona du Houx
State lawmakers will have the chance to meet with major employers, workers and students in Aroostook County to learn more about what it will take to grow good jobs and strong wages in the area.
The County is the second stop on a statewide “jobs tour” led by House Speaker Mark Eves.
“Maine’s comeback story depends on growing good jobs and strong wages for the middle class all across the state,” said Eves of North Berwick, who launched the tour last month and proposed a $5 million initiative to foster workforce development statewide. “The goal of the jobs tour is to talk to employers and workers about how to best to grow good- paying jobs, including the best ways to invest in workforce training and to grow public-private partnerships.”
Eves, House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe and Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon will join a bipartisan group of area lawmakers to visit locations, including Louisiana Pacific Corporation Plant in New Limerick, the St. John Valley Technology Center, McCain Foods and Northern Maine Community College’s Precision Machining and Wind Tech Program. The three-day visit is scheduled from Wed. Feb. 18 to FridayFeb. 20, during the legislative break week.
“This jobs tour by Speaker Eves and House and Senate leaders is a great opportunity to showcase the County,” said Rep. Danny Martin of Sinclair and former Aroostook county administrator. “I don't recall the last time that the entire House Majority Leadership toured the County to speak to employers and workers.”
Aroostook County has been hit hard by the recession, recovering at a slower pace than much of the state with a 7 percent unemployment rate.
Maine’s economy lags behind the nation, with a significant jobs gap and stagnating wages. Maine would have 19,000 more jobs now if we were keeping up with the national recovery. Maine’s wages are 20 percent lower, on average, than wages across the U.S. -- even those states with similar demographics like Vermont and New Hampshire have higher average wages.
“There are Mainers in the County who want to get back to work and employers who want to fill more than one hundred jobs right now, but both groups are having trouble because the current skills of the workforce don’t match the ones businesses need. That skills gap is expected to become wider within the next few years if we don’t act,” said Rep. Bob Saucier. “This jobs tour gives lawmakers a good opportunity to talk to the business community and the community college to see how we can best tackle this problem.”
Eves is proposing a statewide investment of $5 million over five years to create at least 10 public-private partnerships to support job training in high-demand fields. The measure would also fund scholarships for workers and students to gain the skills they need to fill jobs in growing sectors, including high skilled manufacturing, information technology and health care.