Maine’s economy continues to struggle, almost four years after the start of the economic decline, in late 2007.

But even now, many Maine companies are expanding, adding staff, investing in advanced technologies and partnering with government agencies and nonprofit groups to promote economic activity.

That was the message conveyed Friday at the Maine Development Foundation’s 33rd annual meeting, held at the Point Lookout Resort and Conference Center in Northport.

Laurie Lachance, Maine Development Foundation’s president and CEO, told roughly 400 attendees that the goal of the meeting was “to inspire hope.”

“There is lots of pessimism, (but) when things are bad, that’s the time to invest in the future,” said Lachance, whose nonprofit, Augusta-based group works to advance long-term economic growth in Maine.

Lachance later added, “There are still a lot of great things happening in Maine. We can get through this if we work together.”

The one-day meeting drew a diverse crowd that included government officials, university leaders, business executives and small-business owners.

Lachance, who spoke for about an hour, highlighted a number of recent positive economic developments in Maine. She called attention to a host of new or fast-growing companies, like Portland-based water cooler company Blue Reserve, Brunswick-based apparel company Atayne, Fluid Imaging Technologies in Yarmouth and high-tech manufacturing firm Biovation in Boothbay.

Lachance also mentioned growth at large corporations like Pittsfield-based The Cianbro Cos., which expanded in the petrochemical market with the Nov. 2010 acquisition of Starcon International Inc., and Hussey Seating Co. in North Berwick, which bought Clarin Seating of Lake Bluff, Ill., in June.

Lachance discussed other topics. She stressed the need for greater investment in higher education, but reminded the audience that Maine universities consistently rank among the best in the nation. She called health care costs one of the top barriers to private investment in the state while praising cost-cutting efforts like Maine’s new digital health information exchange, HealthInfoNet.

Lachance called attention to a recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce report naming Maine one of the best states in terms of infrastructure, and a report naming Portland one of the best cities for young professionals.

Some attendees found the positive tone refreshing.

“There is so much fuss over what isn’t happening (in the economy), that to be reminded of the strengths inspires hope,” said Cheryl Rust, owner of Le Garage Restaurant in Wiscasset. “It’s like a fire that looks like it’s out, and someone fans it and you see embers.”

Richard Pattenaude, chancellor of the University of Maine System, said a college-educated work force is critical to advancing Maine’s economy. But, he said, in recent years the rate of high school students who attend college has remained flat. He said many young adults leave Maine to attend out-of-state schools and do not return after they graduate.

Pattenaude announced at the meeting the launch of Think.Maine, a public awareness campaign designed to promote higher education. The campaign will kick off Sept. 26 with print, radio and television advertisements, some of which can be viewed at think.maine.edu.

Attendee Peter Vigue, president and CEO of Cianbro, said business leaders must embrace the state’s strengths, such as its strong work force and proximity to major metropolitan areas. He said companies here should promote the “made in Maine” brand, which has equity nationwide.

Vigue also thinks Maine businesses should look north for new opportunities, forming business relationships with firms in places like Quebec and Newfoundland.

“They have the same challenges, the same culture, the same backgrounds and the same last names,” he said.

Jon Hemmerdinger can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

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