When I recently left my role leading FocusMaine, a Maine-focused economic development organization, I received one question more than any other from colleagues. “You’re not leaving Maine, are you?” they asked, as if I’d shed my ties to Maine once I crossed the Piscataqua River bridge.

The truth is, I was born in Maine and left for the first time when I was 19. I’ve been back many times since then, for employment, for vacations, to celebrate with family members, to mourn their passing and sometimes just to recharge my own mental and physical batteries.

When I returned to help launch FocusMaine, I knew it was an offer I would not have received had I not developed leadership skills from other career experiences – most of them outside of the state, and all of them readily transferable and highly relevant to my work here in Maine.

As the summer wanes, and we find ourselves saying farewell to family, tourists, to the “summer people” or those “from away,” it is critically important that we expand our concept of “Maine” and the people who bring it to life.

There is little we can do to reverse our declining birth rates or to slow our aging demographics. But there is so much we can do to extend the community of Mainers, to build belonging among those who share a connection to our state, and to take advantage of the diversity of thought, the financial resources and expertise that exists beyond our physical borders.

The concepts of territory and roots are age-old, but the concepts of diversity, inclusion and community are changing and are even more important in the context of economic development.


Just as working remotely has transformed our concept of employment, we now must rethink our concept of borders. Maine no longer is solely a place but is also a vast network of ideas and people who care about the state and have ideas about our future.

This expanded concept of belonging and connection is the building block of a 21st-century economy.

Consider the opportunity presented by the 15.6 million tourists who visited the state last year, the tens of thousands of immigrants and refugees who have settled here, and the young people who have chosen to intern, go to college, or attend summer camp. Fostering their lifelong, strong connection to this state will help fuel Maine’s economy. The same is true of people born in this state who now live in places all around the world. People like me.

Countries around the world – from Mexico to Tonga – benefit from money sent and talent lent by their citizens who now compose a global diaspora. New Zealand, with one of the largest expatriate populations in the world, is an especially notable example. Through its Kea platform, it is cultivating connections to Kiwi life, heritage and business no matter where one lives in the world.

The same could be true of Maine. Beyond using technology to facilitate an open community of belonging, the state could launch a diplomatic corps of ambassadors across the country to raise awareness of opportunities in the state and celebrate uniquely Maine assets. The private sector could join forces to build an alumni association of interns who pass through the state during the summer. Communities could deeply listen to those who visit in the summer and to newly arrived immigrants to ensure their perspectives inform plans for growth and change. Everyone who has a stake in our success could have an opportunity to build our future.

I’ve always considered myself a Mainer at heart, regardless of where I lived. My connection with Maine is emotional and borderless. In my mind, the boundaries of Maine do not begin at the Piscataqua River, or in the middle of Umbagog Lake or along the Crown of Maine. Maine has never been the place where I live. It is the place that I always carry with me.


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