A new report on Maine’s economic strengths and weaknesses found the state lagging behind the nation in several areas including elementary education, working-age population, research and development spending, affordable health care and transportation infrastructure.

The 25th annual Measures of Growth report, a joint project of the Maine Economic Growth Council and Maine Development Foundation, found that Maine excelled in only a few economy-related areas: public safety, air and water quality, and sustainable forest lands.

The report, issued Wednesday, tracks 27 indicators of the state’s economic viability across several broad categories including workforce readiness, business climate, innovation, health and wellness, and environmental quality. Most of its findings won’t surprise anyone who follows Maine’s ongoing economic challenges, but some of the statistics it cites are still alarming.

The report contains six “red flags” indicating areas in which Maine is seriously deficient compared with the U.S. as a whole. They include research and development spending, fourth-grade reading scores, eighth-grade math scores, working-age population, the cost of health care and transportation infrastructure.

It also lists several other key metrics that have worsened in Maine since the previous report was issued in 2018. Those include international exports, broadband connectivity, the cost of doing business, housing affordability and gender income disparity.

“Overall, Maine has made progress on seven indicators, lost ground on seven, and remained the same on 13,” said state Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, who spoke at a news conference Thursday about the report.

One of the more concerning metrics is research and development spending, where Maine lags significantly behind the nation and appears to be moving backwards, according to the report. It said Maine ranks 45th out of the 50 states in R&D spending as a percentage of gross state product and has regressed from annual spending of $757 million in 2009 to just $483 million in 2016.

Maine’s ability to compete with other states in terms of the cost of doing business is also going from bad to worse, according to the report. While a leading index shows the overall cost of doing business in Maine has remained stable since 2012, the state’s U.S. ranking has gone from 10th most expensive in 2015 to eighth most expensive in 2017.

Another disturbing – but not surprising – area in which Maine is deficient and getting worse is in its share of working-age residents. Maine’s working-age population percentage fell to just 61 percent in 2017 from 63.4 percent in 2010, the report said. The U.S. average is 61.8 percent.

Health care spending in Maine as a percentage of all personal expenditures remained stable from 2015 to 2017 at 17.8 percent, but was a full percentage point above the national average of 16.8 percent, the report said.

Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, indicated that the state’s shrinking workforce and high health care costs are both areas of serious concern.

“Health care costs are just too high … it’s threatening Mainers from leading healthy and productive lives,” Gideon said. “Workforce shortages are threatening small businesses.”

The report was not all bad news. It said Maine has made improvements in several economic areas including per-capita personal income, total employment, poverty rate, post-secondary educational attainment, and wellness and disease prevention.

Perhaps the greatest area of improvement reflected in the report was related to entrepreneurship. It said Maine jumped from 37th place on a national index of early-stage entrepreneurship in 2016 to sixth place in 2017, and that Maine had the highest first-year survival rate in the country for startups at 88 percent.

The full report and an executive summary are available online at mdf.org.

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: jcraiganderson

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