SACO — For years now, we have listened to elected officials and so-called experts declare that manufacturing and innovation are dead in Maine.

I would like to make the case that both are, in fact, alive and poised to grow substantially, especially in southern Maine. But in order for growth to happen, we must set a new course.

As a result of the upswing in college enrollment over the past few decades, individuals now often perceive vocational training to be set aside for underachievers or troublemakers. We perpetuate outdated manufacturing workplace stories of long hours, low pay and unsafe working conditions.

These false perceptions discourage potential workers from pursuing vocational training. All too often, we hear that the lack of a skilled work force hinders local companies’ potential. Collectively, we must honor our manufacturing tradition and the innovative spirit of Maine workers by refocusing our education system to better address today’s workplace needs.

Consider looking under the hood of your hybrid car and having to fix its gas-electric engine. Think about the last time you called a plumber, electrician or electronics technician and winced at the hourly rate.

We should be encouraging our youth to pursue careers in these highly skilled vocations. Maine can position itself to have a world-class “fix it and build it” work force.

Did you know that:

The outer protective coating on the rover that landed on Mars was developed and created right here at Fiber Materials in Biddeford?

Based on findings from the aftermath of 9/11, Sterling Rope in Biddeford developed a nonflammable rope and hook mechanism that may have saved first responders’ lives, – and also supplies rock-climbing rope to professionals worldwide?

Yale Cordage of Saco has significantly aided deep-sea research by developing super-strong, neutrally buoyant rope, and also outfits America’s Cup sailboats?

Xuron Corp. in Saco makes more than 100 products – from high-tech cutters to tools that aid fly tying and jewelry makers – which are sold internationally and proudly display a “Made in America” label?

The Biddeford-Saco region is home to a vibrant manufacturing community that contains 73 manufacturing facilities and employs 2,942 workers. The total wages of these companies exceeds $124 million, with an average salary of $49,287.

Biddeford-Saco’s manufacturing sector maintains 18 percent of the area’s total employment, exceeding statewide numbers by 5 percent. These numbers clearly prove that manufacturing is alive and well.

One way the Chamber of Commerce promotes local business is by serving as a resource to candidates for public office. Recently, former Gov. Angus King, the independent candidate for the U.S. Senate, scheduled a visit to North Dam Mill in Biddeford specifically to discuss manufacturing and work force development.

At the meeting, we focused on how innovation, vision, collaboration and determination are revitalizing the mill district. We highlighted how light manufacturing could be a great neighbor to an arts district.

Our discussion centered on what we’re seeing on the ground, where government can help business and where it should get out of the way. Consistently, we found the need for a higher level of certainty and smart decision-making as it relates to regulation.

Finally, we were able to successfully connect Gov. King with this region’s business owners to hear their concerns and share their optimism.

The chamber offers this service to all candidates, and we believe it greatly benefits our members.

The time has come for us to rewrite the story of manufacturing. Manufacturing is sexy and rewarding. It requires highly skilled workers and offers good pay and benefits as well as the opportunity for career advancement.

Many manufacturing jobs are available in the Biddeford-Saco region, as are affordable homes where workers can raise their families. Furthermore, this region has excellent access to higher education such as University of New England and the University College System, which can develop the technical work force required in today’s global economy.

Local financial institutions have money to lend at historically low rates, and Generation Y is the largest population bubble since World War II.

Elected officials must take note that manufacturing is alive, ensure that we protect good jobs in our state and prepare the next generation with the skills they need to compete. Good governing comes from good listening and connection to the business community.

We thank Gov. King for reaching out to us and encourage other candidates to do the same so that together, we can create a prosperous future.