Aroostook Partnerships speaks on demographics in The County

6 years ago

HOULTON, Maine — Bob Dorsey, president of Aroostook Partnerships, spoke at a recent meeting of the Houlton Rotary Club to provide a Community Update on the “Caring For The Crown” Report.

The report was prepared by Ryan Wallace of the Maine Center for Business and Economic Research. It served as a follow up to the “Tarnished Crown” Report of 2003, which was the catalyst for starting the Aroostook Partnership.

Dorsey noted that the County is evolving and the biggest challenge is the labor force. This is evident in fewer people being available to work as well as with an aging demographic. He also noted that labor force participation is down from 58.6 percent to 56.7 percent for individuals ages 16-74.

And, while education and income levels have both improved, they are still below state levels. He did add, though, that there are several jobs available in Aroostook County. The Opportunities Aroostook job posting website currently has 185 jobs posted.

Dorsey cited a recent Portland Press Herald article which stated, “All of Maine will be transformed by the demographic tsunami we have only begun to experience.” The Maine Office of Policy and Management projects that by 2024, Maine’s population will decline by 21,000 in the age 15 and under category. Those aged 16-64 will decline by 71,000 while those 65 and older will increase by 94,000.

Dorsey cautioned, though, that these are only projections and they do not have to become a reality. This is evidenced by comparing projections from the 2003 report to the current one. According to the “Tarnished Crown” Report of 2003, the population of Aroostook County was projected to drop to 58,000. However, the new report adjusts that projection to nearly 63,000 and that additional 5,000 people represents an additional $100 million economic impact.

Some of the key successes and improvements that have taken place since the earlier report is more than $3 billion in investment and over 2,400 jobs that have been created or saved. There has been more than $65 million devoted to significant transportation improvements for both road and rail.

Significant investment in the forest sector has been realized to the tune of more than $200 million and 400 new jobs. There has been manufacturing growth. A successful “Education to Industry” working group has been developed and a “Virtual Job Shadow” program has been purchased for all high schools.

Dorsey also noted that Aroostook has a number of advantages, some of which we occasionally take for granted. They include great schools, low cost housing, a growing job market and a low crime rate. There are a number of great communities in the County with very friendly people creating a sense of community and a focus on families. We have excellent rural healthcare. There are exceptional outdoor recreational opportunities.  

He also noted the excellent broadband available in the Houlton area and congratulated Southern Aroostook Development Corporation on their efforts to entice people here to enjoy this service while avoiding the rat race of large cities. In addition, Houlton’s population has stayed more stable than some of the other communities in Aroostook.

A number of recommendations have arisen from the new “Caring For The Crown” Report. These include the opportunity for greater collaboration among communities and opportunities for shared services or increased collective purchasing. There is also a need for prudent forward-thinking solutions and a need to keep taxes under control so the County continues to be attractive for relocation.

Dorsey concluded his remarks with a quote from economist John Maynard Keynes, “The difficulty lies not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones.”