I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of wargaming. Not war itself mind you, but the concept of preparing for battle by creating scenarios that have not occurred in real life, and then playing out those scenarios using your real-life policies and relationships to see how these policies stand up to the rigor of the moment should they need to be used. It’s a fascinating way to prepare before the stakes are real, and it gives you time to adjust your current policies and plans if they don’t work in the mock scenario.

It’s difficult to do because it does require complete honesty in evaluating their current status and to not sugarcoat it. You have to get down to the actual truth, or the exercise is useless. To do that, you need to agree on a certain set of known facts, and then examine the policies to see if they match what will work.

Over the next two columns, I want to play some Chamber-gaming — essentially using wargaming techniques of fictional scenarios and using real-life polices to solve them, but for chamber issues. For this chambergaming we’ll use some of the actual workforce issues the chamber is trying to solve.

Let’s start with the affordable housing crisis. Our scenario is the following: the communities in our chamber region agree we need enough affordable housing units for every employee needed in the businesses — how do we get there? To start, let’s look at what happened to the available houses by listing the facts we can agree on.

Maine is the oldest state and a wonderful place for retirees- Brunswick has made several top 10 retiree lists and Harpswell is one of the oldest Maine communities. The cost of living is relatively low compared to other parts of the Northeast, and the crime rate is low. Since the cost of living is lower, wages are a bit lower too.

What does that tell us? Maine is a popular, safe place to retire (our area in particular), cost of living is comparatively low, so people from other states can move here with their higher career wages and their money goes a little further. That also means when a house is on the market, those out-of-state relocators have the means to outbid many locals.


Now let’s add a pandemic. Remote work exploded and with Maine’s broadband expansion, and nation-leading tourism sector, many relocators figured ‘if I can work from anywhere, why not the state I love to visit’ and took either month-long vacations or moved here altogether. That’s great — we need the in-migration. But, they’re buying up the available housing or landlords are turning regular rentals into long-term vacation rentals because they can get more money, and are ending leases for current tenants who are workers throughout our region.

Now let’s add the retiring Mainers, who’ve done their 40 years, and are getting out of the workforce, but unlike other retirees who move to locations that are good to retire in, they already live here. If that Mainer retires here at home — which many are prone to do — then their home doesn’t go on the market. Thus, when that company brings on another employee to replace that retiree, that new employee needs a home.

What does that lead to? Businesses with multiple candidates who are hirable, but they can’t move here because they don’t have a home. Maybe the business gets into the housing business — some businesses already have. And in that scenario, a bidding war for a house commences between a business and an individual- who wins? Yeah, the business will.

Now that person in the bidding war who could afford the $350,000 home got outbid by the business and there are no other available homes for $200,000-$350,000. What do they do? They find a fixer-upper for $140,000, and outbid others for it, and put $100K in renovations into it.

Now, what happens to the person who could only afford the $140K home? They have a limited budget, and they keep getting outbid on the rare few they can afford by those who can’t find any in their price range- so what do they do?

That ia a lot to follow, but I hope you see the essential point about affordable housing: we can’t begin to discuss affordable housing until we have enough housing for the demand. Supply is the largest factor, that is a fact. If there is nothing for the $400,000 buyer, then they will outbid the $300,000 buyer. If there is no inventory for the $300,000 buyer they will outbid the $200,000 buyer for their house, and so on.


To get more affordable housing we need more housing at all levels. The answer to affordable housing is more housing- but some don’t like that answer. Some people don’t want more housing units being built, or more people moving to town. The question becomes, if you don’t want more housing, then which businesses are you willing to lose? It’s kind of that simple.

The other critical question for our scenario is how many jobs need to be filled? I did some work on this with the Maine CareerCenter database a few weeks ago and found there are 8,351 open jobs within 25 miles of Brunswick. And the CareerCenter estimates they are only notified of 1 in 3 job postings. Meaning the number can be closer to 25,000 jobs. If even one-third of those job openings needed housing, that means we need 8,000 housing units within 25 miles of Brunswick right now. And that doesn’t count the people retiring weekly and the jobs they will open up over the coming months.

Next week, in part two, we’ll continue this exercise and look at the housing policies in place and what policies we may need to meet that huge demand. We will also take a look at other workforce scenarios and see what other issues and solutions may be on the horizon.

Cory King is the executive director of the Bath-Brunswick Regional Chamber.

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