BANGOR — In November, the Brookings Institution published a report, “Countering the geography of discontent: Strategies for left-behind places,” describing a bleak future for America’s rural economy. “Traditional … manufacturing will never again provide a future of opportunity for the majority of our population, certainly not in less-populated areas,” the authors wrote, noting also that “the rise of the information economy has boosted returns to urban skills.”

The rise of the information economy has also brought the rise of super cities. Eighty percent of the nation’s population lives in 3 percent of the nation’s land mass. High-tech companies, like Amazon, are more likely to locate to areas where highly educated workers are easier to find. However, there are drawbacks to super cities: with more people come higher rents, greater congestion and longer commutes.

Maine has many attractive attributes that other states could only wish for: quality of life, a pleasant climate with four distinct seasons, spectacular scenery, community connectedness, picturesque towns, and low crime and housing prices.

According to the Maine Office of Tourism, just this past summer alone, Maine drew 31.3 million visitors, or 24 times the state’s population. With new leadership in Augusta and the state heading into its third century, Maine’s focus should be on getting them to stay … year round.

Maine’s long-standing policy priority of attracting and enticing businesses (and jobs) with tax incentives should be replaced with a focus on attracting and retaining remote workers. These employees and freelancers either work from home; are split between home and office, making trips to the office once or twice a month; or are digital nomads, working wherever their laptop can pick up a Wi-Fi connection.

According to a Global Workplace Analytics survey, half of the U.S. workforce holds a job that is compatible with at least partial telecommuting. Fifty-five percent of freelancers – creative and marketing professionals – work remotely 100 percent of the time. The most important tool among 44 percent of the respondents was real-time communication with the office or team members.


In Maine, forestry-related and existing manufacturing jobs, along with agricultural and fisheries, will always have a place in our state’s economic future. Yet, in order for Maine to advance economically and carve out a niche in the information economy, the state and its citizens can do six things:

Create a quasi-government agency, similar to the Maine Turnpike Authority, tasked with constructing and managing a last-mile fiber-optic network within five years that connects all Maine businesses and residences to the internet at an upload and download data transfer speed of at least 1 gigabit per second. Already embraced by Maine’s Island Institute, a fiber-optic network is not a luxury item but an infrastructure necessity – a public works project acting as the foundation of Maine’s economic future. With a quasi-government agency in place, Maine can get bonding for the network’s construction.

 Via the University of Maine and/or Maine Community College systems, create a digital literacy and skills program accessible to all Mainers consisting of incremental, online and instructor-led courses leading to industry certification at a nominal fee. Two programs that Maine could replicate are Utah State University’s Remote Work Revolution and Connect Nation’s Digital Works program.

 Equipped with the latest real-time digital connectivity tools provided by the state, encourage each Maine community to set aside public workspace(s) for use by remote workers and teams. In towns with old mill sites, encourage the passage of zoning rules allowing the creation of digitally connected, rentable workspaces.

Through the Legislature, pass an income-tax rate that will be an incentive rather than an impediment to attracting and retaining remote workers year round.

 Develop and create a nationwide social media relocation marketing campaign targeting the remote workers of high-tech companies. Highlight the obvious (access to a gigabit network and lower housing prices throughout Maine) and the subtle (water and greenery, especially appealing to those coming from California).

 Embrace the change that will come.

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