A collection of economic development and business groups has expanded an annual campaign to persuade young Mainers living out-of-state to come home and into the labor force.

“Boomerang Weekend,” to be held over the Thanksgiving holiday, is the brainchild of Live and Work in Maine, a business-supported group trying to convince professionals to relocate to the state. Boomerangs refers to the legions of Mainers who departed as young adults for education and professional opportunities elsewhere, and came back to work and raise families.

The holidays, when many are at home with friends and family, is the ideal time to pitch a permanent return and employment in Maine’s growing industries, said Nate Wildes, executive director of Live and Work in Maine.

“People who started in Maine and came back are low-hanging fruit for recruitment,” Wildes said. “They get the quality of life, all we need to do is get them excited in the career opportunities here.”

On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, one of the busiest nights of the year at bars and restaurants, bartenders and servers will have free Live and Work in Maine-branded stickers, T-shirts and other swag, plus information about the state’s job market.

The idea is that while people are catching up with old friends for a night on the town, they’ll also think about their next career move, Wildes said.

Last year, about 30 bars, restaurants and hotels participated and Wildes expects more this year.

His group is sponsoring the annual Turkey Trot four-mile race in Portland on Thanksgiving day and a party at Shipyard Brewery after the race. A blitz of social media ads is planned in the lead-up to the weekend and through the holiday season.

Even though boomerangs are the target, Wildes wants to turn parents, relatives and friends into ambassadors to help convince people to consider moving back for their career.

“A lot of people move back to Maine for a lot of really cool reasons,” Wildes said. “It shouldn’t be an awkward topic – ‘are you moving back to Maine?’ – it should be a broader conversation as to why it is a good idea.”

Recruiting and keeping skilled workers is critical to keep Maine’s economy humming. A chronic labor shortage at every level and record-low 2.9 percent unemployment rate through September means growing industries, such as animal health, need to look outside the state’s borders for skilled workers.

But for many prospective workers, Maine is an unfamiliar and unwelcoming place, according to a 2018 survey commissioned by the state. The people easiest to convince are those from here or with some other connection.

Those people have family connections and love the quality of life, but might not know about the job and business opportunities, said Heather Johnson, commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development. The department helps fund Live and Work in Maine. Johnson is a committed supporter of the boomerang program.

“The early indicators are that people who have some connection to Maine are easiest to get back,” she said. “You’re halfway home, now it is putting the economic opportunities in front of them.”

Enlisting parents, grandparents and siblings to talk about the economic benefits of moving back can be a important method to get that message out, Johnson said. After all, if children and grandchildren are going to get a guilt trip, it might as well come with a job prospect.

“If it is going to happen anyway, I vote we use it to our advantage,” Johnson joked.

There are no accurate statistics about how many Mainers leave the state for school or jobs and return later. Anecdotally, state officials and businesses believe it is a common trajectory for a lot of young Mainers.

Until four months ago, Kyle Pontau, 34, was living in New York City and working for a prominent construction firm. But after six years in the Big Apple, he was itching to move back to Maine. He grew up in Wiscasset and missed his friends and family, but he also missed being able to live in a cool city like Portland and still be near fishing and golfing.

“Ultimately, my friends and family are here, I love the lifestyle here,” he said. “It was always my intention to move back here.”

After a little job search, Pontau lined up work as a project manager with Hebert Construction in Portland and got his chance to move back. The salary is a little lower than what he made in New York, but Pontau said he doesn’t mind.

“Compensation was a little bit less, but that was something I was willing to do to get back to where I want to be,” he said.

“Quality of life is the number one driving factor for me,” he added. “I was willing to take less money for the quality of life.”

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