Why Maine Needs Millennials

Keith McBride on June 21, 2016 in Demographics, Entrepreneurship, Workforce Development

I teach my kids not to say they “hate” things, and I try to set a good example. As a result, I try not to say it, either.  But, since I don’t think my 4 year-old and 6 year-old read this blog, I’m going to go ahead and break my own rule.

I hate all this millennial bashing.

Do you know what I’m referring to?   Things like this:

Or this:

If you choose to see the worst in millennials, as she chose to do in that video, then it’s easy to dismiss them.   Let other states make that mistake; their folly will be Maine’s gain.

This week, Tom Groening from The Island Institute wrote in the Bangor Daily News about how Millennials are the key to Maine’s future.   And it’s extremely well said.

Everyone knows that Maine’s population is aging.  And economically, that’s a serious problem.  Just last week, Shawn Moody spoke to graduates at Poland High School and told them, “We’re all aging out …  So if you love Maine, stay in Maine.  Build a life in Maine.”

Moody is right about the existing workforce “aging out.”  We need younger workers to fill the future demands of existing businesses just to maintain the status quo.  But the issue is much, much larger than that.  We need millennials to choose and love Maine, not because we want to maintain the status quo, but because we need the economic change that their presence will bring.

First, millennials will change the nature of our workforce and employee stock.  Millennials tend to be independent and value-based.  Or, as Kelly Dorsey, a VP at Androscoggin Bank says in the BDN article, they’re “more entrepreneurial.”  She’s right, and I would go a step further and say that they’re more interested in innovating.  This is critical.  The Maine economy needs innovation (i.e., the ability to produce a better mouse trap, as opposed to just a cheaper one) to grow.  We simply cannot compete or improve overall economic health by trying to produce goods and services cheaper than the rest of the country or the world.  We will lose that fight.

Kelly knows all about millennials and entrepreneurship.  She and her husband, Ian (and other partners) opened Mast Landing Brewing Company in Westbrook in 2015.

These creative, innovative and independent-minded employees are also in high demand.  If they’re here, the employers will take notice.  The change in the state’s employee pool becomes it’s own economic development attraction.

Second, we need them to change the demand for goods and services in the state.  Groening points out, “Because amenities such as recreational opportunities, lively village centers with coffee shops and pubs, low crime rates and relatively affordable housing are important to this cohort, Maine’s coastal communities are well-poised to land or retain millennials.”

To his point, I would say that much of Maine is poised based on this criteria, not just the coastal communities.  However, I take something else from the article:  recreational opportunities, coffee shops, pubs, restaurants, public transportation, affordable housing, etc.  These are all demand curves which millennials will cause to spike.  Quality-of-life industries, low-impact living and small businesses.

This is exactly the direction in which Maine’s economy needs to turn, and it  nicely accompanies, supports and contributes to Maine’s quaint, “The Way Life Should Be” brand.  And an increased millennial population will drive demand for these types of businesses, and make them more viable.

Groening’s BDN article points out why there’s much for millennials to love about Maine.  Work-life balance, for example.  He also points out that there’s room for improvement:  access to high-speed internet and better cellphone service throughout Maine would be a good start.

But we could also start by rejecting the millennial-bashing and stereotypes.