Metropolitan future for Maine’s economy, but policies for rural past

Greater Portland now accounts for more of half of Maine’s economic output. And 90 percent of the state’s population growth between 2000 and 2010 took place in the state’s metropolitan areas (Greater Portland, Greater Bangor and Greater Lewiston), its two “micropolitan” areas (Augusta-Waterville and Rockland), and in the state’s service-center communities.

Yet Maine’s economic development programs, now and throughout history, largely emphasize the industries that dominated Maine’s past and that took root in the state’s rural areas.

“It’s probably fair to say that economic development policies have generally downplayed the urban areas and particularly Portland, largely because the assumption is they are doing OK and don’t need the help,” said Charlie Colgan, a former state economist and now a public policy professor at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service.

In 1969, the industries that formed the backbone of the rural economy — agriculture, forestry and manufacturing — accounted for one in four Maine jobs. By 2004, that figure had dropped to one in 19, according to a 2007 research paper by Colgan and Richard Barringer, a former conservation commissioner, state planning director and Muskie School professor.

The policies aimed at preserving those industries are still on the books in a new economic era. A Bangor Daily News analysis asked whether the state’s development policies continue to emphasize the state’s past.

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