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Workforce development, growth are major goals of Aroostook Partnership in 2019

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — In one of his first public appearances since becoming the new president and CEO of Aroostook Partnership in August, Paul Towle spoke of successes that community and educational partners have achieved in 2018 while highlighting workforce development as their major goal for the coming year.

Towle took the helm of Aroostook Partnership after former president and CEO Bob Dorsey retired this past summer. During the partnership’s annual meeting at Northern Maine Community College on Thursday, Towle reflected on the 2016 Caring for the Crown Report, which had projected that Aroostook County would lose 6,000 people through out-migration during the next 10 years.

Although there has since not been data to show whether that projection is on track, Towle noted that through collaborations with local school and university administrators, business and healthcare leaders, and other community partners, Aroostook Partnership has been successful in making more young students aware of the career opportunities that exist in The County. The efforts have focused on, among other areas, looming shortages of people to fill jobs within healthcare and the potential for growth in the forest industry.

“Our greatest success this year has been in raising awareness,” Towle said. “When business and educational leaders get together, we can then go back to the classrooms and let students know that we have jobs for them here.”

Towle cited the Opportunities Aroostook website, which was formally maintained by the Aroostook Aspirations Initiative and now exists under Aroostook Partnership, for posting an average of 170 jobs and attracting 7,000 visitors monthly. The free website allows employers to post job openings and for job seekers to browse position descriptions and upload their resume and cover letter.

But retaining students who are already from Aroostook County, Towle noted, is only one way in which Aroostook Partnership seeks to grow the local workforce. As part of a marketing campaign that will launch in 2019, the group aims to target older professionals who are from Aroostook County and promote the personal and professional benefits of returning to the region.

“There are a lot of people in their 30s and 40s who leave The County for other opportunities, but many of those people still have family in the region and later decide to come back,” Towle said. “We need to promote benefits that we have, such as the low cost of real estate, the safety, the sense of the community.”

During his presentation, Towle also cited recent efforts through the Northern Maine Growth Initiative to attract families who have been displaced by hurricanes in Puerto Rico as one way that the region can grow its qualified, educated workforce.

Yellow Light Breen, president and CEO of the Maine Development Foundation, and Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, also addressed the crowd at the annual meeting.

In 2018, the MDF published Measures of Growth, a statewide follow-up to similar studies they have conducted since 1993. The newest data from Measures of Growth finds that in 2016 only 40 percent of Maine adults held a post-secondary education degree, which includes both four-year and two-year degrees as well as employer recognized apprenticeships and certifications. That figure sits below the New England average of 47 percent.

The goal of MDF and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce is to see the number of adults with postsecondary education degrees grow to at least 60 percent by 2025. They have partnered with Educate Maine on the Making Maine Work initiative to work with business leaders and educators in efforts to combat the state’s demographic challenges.

Connors stated that the state chamber recognizes the unique challenges the Aroostook County faces compared to other areas of Maine in terms of an aging population and wants Aroostook Partnership to play a role in expanding workforce opportunities.

“What I’ve seen here today — everyone coming together collaboratively and creatively to find solutions — is ahead of what other regions in the state are doing,” Connors said. “As a state, what we all need to do is focus on the positive things we already have while working toward a steady growth of opportunities.”

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