We would like to take a moment to address the more than 9 million people who are visiting Maine this summer.

Hi. Are you having a good time? Are you finding enough fun things to do? Great!

We’d like you to stay.

Maybe not all of you, but a few thousand would be nice, especially those of you who could bring your jobs with you. Maine is a fantastic place to be your telecommuting home base.

You’ve visited, so you know what Maine has to offer. It’s even nicer after Labor Day, when you can have those rocky beaches and woodland trails to yourselves.

Some of you probably live in big metropolitan regions, where traffic, strip malls and long commutes are a way of life. As you’ve probably noticed, we kept our downtowns when the people in your state were tearing them down. Our cities and small towns still offer a quality of life and convenience that the outskirts of a big city never could. Here you can go from the heart of a business district to a ski slope in less than two hours, or onto a kayak, canoe or sailboat in minutes.

People say that winter here is too cold, but that’s what we tell tourists so they leave us alone for part of the year. Winter is fun. Really. Give us a try.

Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’d like to address the people who already live here.

COMPETITION FIERCE

We are blowing it. Other states are actively courting telecommuters because they provide an unmatched economic development opportunity.

Instead of trying to use tax breaks to lure to Maine a business that promises to hire 200 people, it would be much better to attract 200 telecommuters who could bring their often high-paying careers here. And you could do it without tax breaks.

Telecommuters come to Maine because they like it here. They would buy homes, pay taxes, send kids to schools and buy goods and services, creating more demand for teachers, doctors, dentists, bankers and people in a wide range of other businesses. Some telecommuters may spin off their own startups and create more jobs.

We already have a number of people who’ve picked Maine as the place they want to live even though they could work anywhere in the world. We have most of what we need to attract more, but we are missing a couple of key pieces to seal the deal.

Information technology allows people to bring their jobs only to places with reliable high-speed Internet. Some pockets of the state have good connectivity, but Maine as a whole is rated as one of the worst places in the country to hook up to the Internet.

A bill that would create a fund to help municipalities create local Internet networks was passed this year by the Legislature (over Gov. LePage’s veto), but it starts with only a token placeholder investment. Getting the process going and applying the funds where they are needed should be a top priority for anyone interested in economic development.

Another area of concern is the cost of housing. A key selling point for states like Montana – which has been an active recruiter of telecommuters – is how little it costs to buy or rent a home there. Maine as a whole is in the middle of the pack of the 50 states in housing affordability, but some parts of the state, like Portland and along the coast, have high housing costs and little availability.

SENIOR HOUSING NEED

There are a number of programs that would help ease this problem. A great first step would be passing the $15 million senior housing bond that will be on the November ballot. Aside from filling a need for people who are struggling to maintain and heat old family homes, it would put those houses on the market and in the hands of younger people looking for places to live.

If this sounds expensive, remember that it’s less than the $16 million Maine gave away in tax credits to out-of-state investors who failed to rescue the Great Northern Paper mills in the Katahdin region. Expanding the ability for telecommuters to move to the state would bring new life to communities that have been hurting.

If we as a state are not committed to attracting more of these workers, we will lose out to states that are taking this seriously. Maine doesn’t have to outbid those other states – we just need to bring our infrastructure up to date.

This is a great opportunity. We should seize it.

And for you visitors, enjoy the rest of your vacation. We hope to see some of you after Labor Day.