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'Economic Homesteading' - Good or Bad for Maine?
09/20/2013   Reported By: Mal Leary

Members of the Legislature's special committee on Maine's Workforce and Economic Future are being urged to embrace what is called "economic homesteading." That's a term used to describe people who live in Mainae but work in other states. One expert says Maine could do more to attract these young, hip homesteaders, who often have a lot of technical savvy, and who could help bolster the local economy. Mal Leary reports.

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'Economic Homesteading' - Good or Bad for Maine? Listen

Every day there are thousands of Mainers who commute south to jobs in Massachusetts and other states, and thousands more who do their work from home as employees of out-of-state companies. In other words, they telecommute.

John Dorrer is one example. He works for a national think tank called Jobs for the Future that's based in Boston, but Dorrer lives in Maine. This week, he told members of the workforce panel that Maine's future economy depends on attracting young professionals with advanced skills, even if they start out using those skills for outside companies. But Dorrer says right now, little is being done to encourage them to move to Maine.

"What we have done, I think, over the last few years is a very good job of, basically, broadcasting that the sky is falling," Dorrer says. "As I said, it is an aging state, we are losing population, young people are moving out. So if I am a 22 year old and I am living wherever in the state of Maine, and I am hearing this dismal news, I want to be on the next train out of here."

Dorrer says the new economy is providing skilled professionals with unprecedented freedom in deciding where to live and raise their families. And he says they are as important to Maine's economic future as traditional businesses are.

"To attract 500, 1,000 people in that kind of a situation would have a tremendous kind of economic impact," he says. "So just as we are committed to promoting the state from the standpoint of business attraction, I think we have got to be much more aggressive at promoting the state from the standpoint as a place to live."

Dorrer says the state should consider making improvements to communications infrastructure and providing tax incentives, like a tax write off for technology that allows a person to connect to his workplace wherever it is located, or a tax incentive to buy a home and settle in Maine.

Rep. Gay Grant, a Democrat from Gardiner, is intrigued by the idea. "Maine was settled by people twho were given 150 acres to come and farm. So we now got to come up with the same idea in a creative new way."

Rep. Pete Johnson, a Republican from Greenville, sees the potential in attracting residents to rural parts of the state.

"Even up in the woods we have people that do this successfully," he says. "We have people like a Wall Street guy that moved his family with nine kids there. He first went to the Hamptons and didn't like that, so he went to New Hampshire and didn't like that. Now he lives in Greenville."

Sen. Linda Valentino, a Democrat from Saco, co-chairs the committee. She says there's no reason the state couldn't look to recruit people from other countries.

"It's not necessarily taking somebody from Arizona and having them move to Maine - it might be having somebody from Germany coming and live in Maine," she says. "So we need to think more globally, but we also need to be able to get cell phone service in Gardiner on the Turnpike."

Dorrer says more research is necessary to craft state policies with the greatest impact. But, he also cautioned that other states are looking to do the same thing.

"Quite frankly, I think the time for this is short. If we are not in this game in a very bold and dramatic way, very quickly, there are other states that are going to ace us out," Dorrer says.

Committee members say they will be looking to develop legislation for the coming year. They acknowledge that any proposals with a price tag will be difficult to pass.


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