SOUTH PORTLAND – Within a decade, Maine companies will need an estimated 1,777 additional workers with associate degrees in information technology and computers, according to a report released Wednesday by Southern Maine Community College.

The trouble is, only 210 Mainers are expected to earn the requisite degrees from 2009 to 2018, leaving as many as 1,567 positions unfilled in one job sector.

The report, “Closing the Gap,” examined 26,000 new high-wage and growth jobs and found that more than 4,000 positions could go unfilled in the next several years if Maine doesn’t adjust its associate degree offerings.

“We need to do much better,” said Ronald Cantor, president of SMCC. “We hope this study will be the beginning of a conversation in Maine about focusing more investment in higher education that is designed to drive economic growth and close these gaps.”

Other jobs that promise to go unfilled through 2018 include precision production, such as machinists (1,055), transportation and shipping (482), construction trades (303), hospitality (280) and science and technology (176), according to the report.

The benefits of filling just 1,000 of the more than 4,000 jobs at risk would be exponential, Cantor said. The economic activity of people in those positions would create an additional 2,100 new jobs in Maine, generate $195 million in annual sales for Maine companies and increase state and local tax revenue by $13 million per year.

The 41-page report was commissioned last year by former SMCC President James Ortiz and produced by Planning Decisions Inc., a public-policy consulting firm in South Portland. The college sought the report as it began to establish a new Midcoast Campus at Brunswick Landing, the former Brunswick Naval Air Station.

Charles Lawton, chief economist at Planning Decisions Inc., concluded in the report that “if Maine does not reallocate education and training resources to address this existing and potentially growing labor supply gap, the state’s economic prosperity will be threatened and the hopes for development of Brunswick Landing as a major industrial and research center will be severely threatened.”

College officials plan to use the report to establish certificate and associate degree programs designed to maximize Maine’s job growth potential and overcome skills gaps that limit the state’s economic prosperity.

“It informs decisions on where we put our limited resources,” said Kaylene Waindle, dean of advancement at SMCC. “We’re going to have to be really strategic.”

The report was released after a public forum Wednesday morning on higher education and economic development. The panel included local business leaders and national education experts such as Frank Chong, U.S. deputy assistant secretary for community colleges.

Lawton and others urged college officials to act quickly to realign programs to focus on viable job markets. They also noted the need for public education in general to make similar efforts, including kindergarten through high school.

Chris Hall, senior vice president of the Portland Regional Chamber, pointed to the more immediate need to put the 24,000 Mainers on unemployment back to work.

“I’m glad SMCC is getting ready to meet the demand for skilled workers in Maine,” Hall said after the forum. “But what are we going to do right now? This work force issue has been with us a long time, but we see an urgency now that wasn’t there 18 months ago. I don’t think an incremental approach is enough right now. We’ve got to make some noise and we’ve got to make things happen.”

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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