When you ask most people what they would like to see Maine’s Legislature do, most of them respond the same way: Work together to improve our economy. This is my primary focus during our current legislative session. In this column, I would like to update you on our progress.

When John Fitzsimmons, the president of the Maine Community College System, addressed the Legislature recently, he referenced the number of people in the Sanford area who are currently unemployed. He also spoke about Pratt & Whitney in North Berwick, which is geared up to add more than 300 jobs with an average salary of $50,000.

These jobs are the kind of quality jobs we all would like to attract to our region. But in order to qualify for these jobs, folks in the region need to be properly trained for the skilled manufacturing that the jobs entail. This is where our community colleges come in.

York County Community College is now launching the precision machining technology program in Sanford, where upon graduating, students will have been trained in mathematics, physics, engineering technology, manufacturing processes and methods, and more. Knowing that they needed more funds to meet the needs of this program, I put in a bill to increase York County Community College’s funding.

At the same time that I put in this measure, the Legislature created a new committee to address Maine’s workforce and economic future. This committee’s specific focus is to address workforce development needs, such as Pratt & Whitney’s, statewide. I supported folding my measure into a larger workforce development measure sponsored by Senate President Justin Alfond that will include investment in our community college system.

This broad workforce development measure would also create a credit transfer system between the University of Maine system and the community college system, so that no student’s development is needlessly delayed. So that no one who wants to gain the skills they need to succeed in this economy is held back, it would reduce waiting lists for admission. The measure also includes specific proposals ranging from better coordination of existing job training programs to creating new programs that will support workers at varying stages of career development.

Beyond workforce development, we need to think of ways to take advantage of the resources we have here in York County. This includes existing infrastructure such as the old Goodall mill buildings in Sanford, our downtowns and our working waterfronts.

I also believe we need to better utilize our natural resources. I have put in a bill that would study the creation of a fish and wildlife museum at the Massabesic Experimental Forest in Alfred and Lyman. This bill is co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of legislators from different parts of the state. This proposal blends our need to responsibly manage our inland fisheries and wildlife with an opportunity to attract more tourism to interior York County. It isn’t the kind of bill that attracts a lot of attention in the media, but it is an outside-the-box idea that both promotes and protects what we have.

 When it comes to our economy, we need to look at all options, both big and small. I welcome your feedback, and look forward to continuing this work.

— Sen. John Tuttle, D-Sanford, represents Senate District 3 ”“ Alfred, Limington, Lyman, Sanford and Waterboro. His column will appear on the third Monday of each month. He can be reached at [email protected], and holds weekly office hours at his home, 176 Cottage St. in Sanford, every Sunday from 1-3 p.m.

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