Gov. Janet Mills mingles with the crowd after speaking at the Governor’s International Breakfast in Portland on Monday. Mills highlighted the importance of international connections to Maine’s economy and its people. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Efforts to attract and retain workers are helping Maine’s economy grow, but the state still has work to do to fill the number of new jobs being created, Gov. Janet Mills told business leaders at a breakfast in Portland Monday.

“Thanks to our work over the last five years, our economy is getting stronger, powered by talented people from our state, from other states and from other countries who are making products new and old that are in demand around the world,” Mills said.

“It’s good news but we know that our economic growth is continuing to outpace the number of people who are available to work in Maine,” Mills said. “We need every person who is able to work in Maine to be able to support themselves, to contribute to our economy and to fill the jobs our businesses are creating every day.”

The governor spoke to a conference room full of business and community leaders at the Holiday Inn by the Bay during the Governor’s International Breakfast hosted by the World Affairs Council of Maine and Maine International Trade Center.

The event was focused on the contributions of international businesses and workers to Maine’s economy, and Mills’ 20-minute speech focused on the role that internationally connected companies and immigrant workers have in the state.



A strategic plan her administration developed in 2019 concluded that Maine needed to expand its workforce by 75,000 people by 2030, Mills said.

Over the last three years, she said the state has added about 13,400 people to the workforce despite the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

An updated 10-year economic development strategy released by the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development in April reported those numbers as well, and said that the state is “doing better than expected, but not as well as we need to do.”

The updated plan said labor force participation has recovered from the pandemic, but still remains below its levels in the early 2000s. Maine projects a gap of about 100,000 workers between its labor force goal of 725,000 in 2030 and a projection of about 625,000.

Around the time the plan was released, the Maine Department of Labor also said that the number of non-farm jobs in March was the second-highest on record, at 656,100, after hitting a record high of 656,400 in February.

Gov. Janet Mills shares the stage with David Plumb, president of the World Affairs Council of Maine, while speaking at the Governor’s International Breakfast in Portland on Monday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Rachel Bouvier, an associate professor of economics at the University of Southern Maine, said retirements – Maine is the oldest state in the nation – as well as people not returning to the workforce after the pandemic, have contributed to workforce shortages.


“There have also been rising housing costs and difficulties getting childcare,” Bouvier said in an interview. “All of those things add up to contribute to the issue.”

Businesses are looking for solutions. Some seasonal employers have begun offering housing in an effort to attract workers, Bouvier said. “Anecdotally, we’ve heard a lot about seasonal workers not being able to find housing, and that’s been a real issue,” she said.


Mills said Monday that the state is focused on three things to continue growing the workforce and close the projected gap: promoting ingenuity and innovation to create good-paying jobs, ensuring that every person in Maine has the education and training they need to participate in the workforce, and attracting more working-age people from other states and countries to fill new jobs.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in state and federal investments over the past several years have brought new job training, credentialing, career exploration and other programs as well as improvements in high-speed broadband internet, affordable housing and childcare to attract and retain workers, Mills said.

With the help of federal dollars, the governor said the state has connected more than 70,000 homes and businesses to the internet since 2021. “We’ve reduced the percentage of people with slow or unreliable internet to just 4%,” she said. “And we’re working on that 4%.”


Gov. Janet Mills speaks with conference attendees after speaking at the Governor’s International Breakfast in Portland on Monday. Mills highlighted the importance of international connections to Maine’s economy and its people. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Since 2019, almost $285 million has been authorized to aid in the construction of more homes across Maine, resulting in more than 600 new homes so far and more than 1,000 currently under construction, Mills said.

More than $1 million in federal funding has been used to create more slots at childcare facilities and open new childcare facilities, particularly in rural Maine. And the state gave grants to childcare facilities and monthly stipends to about 7,000 childcare workers.

“I think the governor is taking the right steps in terms of childcare and helping to subsidize childcare or helping to increase the wages in the childcare industry,” Bouvier said. “I think those things will be key in both increasing the workforce participation for women and families with small children.”

She also said on-the-job training and transitional assistance that would allow workers to step into new roles that become available because of retirements will be key in moving the state forward.


With regard to immigrant workers, Mills said her administration is continuing to work with Maine’s federal delegation to advocate for the federal government to allow asylum seekers to get authorized to work more quickly.


And an Office of New Americans is being opened to integrate new Mainers more effectively into the workforce.

“In the coming years we have to build on the progress we’ve made to make sure the Maine of tomorrow offers every possible opportunity to people who want to call this state home,” Mills said.

Monday’s event also featured a panel discussion with James Cabot, president and CEO of Southworth Products; Stefanie Trice Gill, founder and chief recruiter at IntWork; Kate Durkin, apprenticeship administrator for the training center at ReVision Energy; and Georges Budagu Makoko, founder and president of Ladder to the Moon Network and co-founder and publisher of Amjambo Africa.

Those on the panel said that tapping into the immigrant work force – especially in skilled fields – could help Maine a lot.

Trice Gill, whose recruiting agency focuses on matching employers with primarily immigrant and bilingual candidates, said Maine must recognize the value of the credentials immigrants from other countries bring to their new home and provide them with opportunities to use and grow their skills.

Right now, Trice Gill said many immigrants with bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees and even Ph.D.’s from their home countries are advised to spend their first few years in Maine pursuing a GED, associate degree or even a second bachelor’s degree in order to get credentialed in the U.S. Many give up on continuing their careers or get fed up and leave Maine, she said.

“As a state overall, we need to improve how we do this,” Trice Gill said. “There are thousands of underemployed immigrants who want to contribute their skills to the Maine economy, and they’re surviving, not thriving.”

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