OK, millennials, here’s the deal.
I’m writing this on the chance that you have come home from away for Thanksgiving weekend. Maybe, while having a cup of coffee at your parents’ home, you look down at the counter. By chance, you see a page — web or paper — belonging to the Bangor Daily News and stumble upon this advice.
If you’re in the inland parts of our state, there is probably a nice white coating of snow. Maybe it brings back nostalgic memories of ice fishing with your grandfather, skiing or snowmobiling with friends, or just an appreciation of the sheer, utter beauty of Maine.
“OK, Boomer” may be the social commentary du jour. But we are far from the first generation to think our elders are possibly behind the times. It’s a common human experience. As you get older, you realize no one has all the answers. Turns out your parents, teachers, and mentors weren’t infallible founts of knowledge; they are all just people trying to do their best in this world. Sometimes they were wrong.
The vanguard of the millennial generation — myself included — are realizing that. We’re in our mid-30s, married, with children. We’re at the point in life where our parents — the boomers — were when they had us. It is a sobering thought.
Younger millennials may have some fun snarking at older generations for being out of touch with the challenges of today. Yes, there are very real problems that need addressing, whether globally, nationally, or here in Maine. As the ascendant part of the population curve, it will fall to us to address them.
One very real challenge is right here in Maine. It is well-known that we are the oldest state in the union. It is clear that skilled, hardworking younger people are in short supply. You can help fix that.
The group “Live + Work in Maine” has given you your own brand: “Boomerang.” It describes those who grew up in Maine, left to find work or education elsewhere in the world, and ultimately decided to return home.
Coming home has some benefits. As long as you are younger than 44, you are “young” for our state, which is a nice perk. There are also a lot of exciting opportunities available. Portland has a growing technology specialization, particularly with animal health. Breweries seem to be popping up daily in all corners of the state. And specialty manufacturers are stepping into leading roles with textiles and prepared food, among countless others.
Meanwhile, the University of Maine and private industry are advancing on exciting developments in forest products. Trees sequester carbon, and responsibly managing the Maine woods can lead to new building materials from timber products. With advancements in our port facilities and partnerships with international shipping companies, we can deliver them all over the world.
But doing all this takes people. Smart people. Hardworking people. And while those characteristics are not lacking in Maine’s present population, it also takes people in the early part of their working lives.
However, we are not a land of milk and honey. There are real challenges you face in deciding to come home. We’re one of the highest taxed states in the nation with household incomes below average. It’s a double-whammy.
Schools can be hit-or-miss. We spend more today on a per-student basis — adjusted for inflation — than we did in 2002 when we older millennials were earning diplomas. Yet, despite spending more of our nation-leading tax burden on schools, our statewide scores are regressing to the national average.
Hopefully, the current crop of elected state leaders is really weighing these concerns. Have a conversation with your folks about politics. Not the chaos of Washington, but rather the agenda of Augusta. Tell them what is keeping you from coming back. Boomers, then call your state legislators and ask them to focus their legislative efforts in January on those issues.
OK, boomerangs? To steal a different phrase from our current governor, it would be great to be able to say “welcome home.”