We’ve all heard it over and over, often from me. Maine is the oldest state in the nation. We’re getting older by the day. We need more young people. We have to keep our kids in the state by giving them the skills they need. We have to attract more young people to Maine. We can’t grow without getting younger. These so-called wake-up calls have become so common, so insistent, and – let’s be honest – so repetitive as to have become annoying. Enough already. Tell me something I don’t already know.

One important aspect to this story that hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves and one that comes closer to being – as the current buzzword says – an actionable piece of intelligence, is that people aren’t the only thing getting older in Maine. Businesses in Maine are also getting older.

From 2000 through 2006, the share of Maine’s workforce employed by private businesses that were at least 11 years old held virtually steady at about 73 percent. This, of course, also meant that the share of the workforce employed in younger firms also held steady at about 27 percent.

Since that time, however, the share of our workforce working for these “older” companies has risen steadily, reaching a peak of 81.5 percent in the second quarter of 2015.

A more dramatic way of illustrating this trend is to compare actual employment numbers. Between 2000 and the four-quarter total ending in the second quarter of 2015, the number of workers employed in private companies that have been operating at least 11 years increased by over 20,000. The number of workers employed in private companies that have been operating less than 11 years dropped by more than 54,000.

In a word, Maine is increasingly dependent on older workers, and we are increasingly dependent on older businesses. And, I think that the two trends are related. I think that young people both create new businesses and are drawn to areas that have more new businesses.

Generally, these data and the conclusion to which they lead ends with the syllogism: “Therefore, we ought to create more new businesses and cultivate the soil, the ecosystem, in which new businesses will thrive.”

True, but not the entire story. Just as old people may have some words of wisdom to pass on to younger people, so also may they have businesses whose assets are not completely depleted and whose customers (current or potential) may still represent a significant market for a new owner. In short, I think that while older workers must, eventually, leave the workplace by retirement and death, older businesses don’t necessarily face the same grim reality.

Over the next decade, many successful Maine businesses – businesses that have supported workers and owners for decades – face the harsh reality of closing down because the next generation of family owners have other interests, because current employees have neither the inclination nor the skills to carry on and because the growth potential of such firms have never been articulated and broadcast to potential buyers and investors in ways that might have generated positive interest.

This, I believe, is a great loss. Entrepreneurship is not restricted to starting new businesses. It applies equally to revitalizing and finding a successful growth path for existing businesses. We need look no farther than the example of Wright-Express and its decades-long struggle to become the grand success now known as WEX.

I believe that Maine has as much to gain from finding new entrepreneurial spirits to revitalize the best of its existing businesses as it does from new entrepreneurs to start entirely new businesses.

Charles Lawton is chief economist for Planning Decisions, Inc. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]