Repositioning reactions to Maine’s “Brain Drain”

I just had coffee with a friend of mine who asked, “Why is it we are trying to keep young people in the state? I hear this mission all of the time. What is the point? There are very few opportunities for young people here. Yes, we should create more, but don’t we want our young people to leave the state, learn what they need to know, increase their earning potential, and come back to the state?”

I found that I agreed and was surprised that I haven’t spent more time thinking about this approach as a solution to the brain drain issue in this way more already. Many of the younger entrepreneurs I know in the state are from away, or they have left the state, gained some skills in their arena, and come back here to set up shop. The opportunities for young people in this state are relatively few. There is nothing by way of enforcing the offering of a living wage, and the businesses that offer anything by way of a career are also few and far between. Sure, efforts need to be made to train young people, and to alleviate undue burdens caused by student loans, but rather than seeing those leaving as the last word on hope for Maine’s future, what can we do to be the place where young people who have left to get some experience are more than welcome to return and thrive?

While I sometimes find the efforts of Live Work Portland confusing, I find that their effort to draw more people from away to work in the creative economy makes more sense than the reactionary refrains about the travesty of losing young people. Let’s let them find their ways in other states, learn in thriving industries elsewhere, and give them a place to live when they are ready to settle down. Of course we should be working to create conditions in which anyone—not just young people—can thrive here, but we should start looking at the initial departure of young people as an opportunity, not the end of the world. As someone who left the state, learned elements of a trade, and moved to Maine to make it work, I find it hard to imagine being where I am now without having had the opportunity to work elsewhere.

For those concerned about this issue, of course, it needs to be underscored that LePage isn’t in any way helpful to damming the aforementioned drain. They can encourage the passing all of the ALEC written and inspired “pro-business” legislation they want, but it is hard to be a place that young people want to stay in, let alone come back to, when our primary cheerleader is known internationally as a boorish basket-case. Just today a friend from Toronto pointed out the similarities between his purportedly crack-smoking Mayor and our governor. LePage might feel annoying to us, but consider what we look like outside of the State. If the Republicans in this state truly want to be a place that is attractive enough for our young people to try to make a living in—or to come back to when their time comes—they will do something for the state’s reputation by imploring the Governor to sit on his hands and shut his mouth. He is not becoming a liability to the image of our great state, he has long been one.

Alex Steed

About Alex Steed

Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was an insufferable teenager. He has run for the Statehouse and produced a successful web series. He now runs a content firm called Knack Factory with two guys who are a lot more talented than himself.