AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — Could Maine's growing immigrant community help solve the state's workforce problems?
Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, is asking the Maine legislature to support funding for a new, cabinet-level "Office of New Mainers," to lead efforts to recruit and train more immigrants to work for Maine businesses.
There is a growing worry in business and government about the state's aging population and the shortage of young people to fill all the jobs. A number of experts say Maine needs to attract more people to live and work in the state, including people from other countries.
Portland-based retail business Sea Bags is doing just that. The company says 25 percent of its workers are immigrants. President Beth Shissler says some of those workers came to the company on their own, while others were recruited through community groups.
"We want good, competent people who will show up on time and want a career path here," Shissler told NEWS CENTER. "So we find a lot of advantages hiring people new to Maine who want opportunity, and we create that opportunity."
Sen. Katz is sponsoring a bill in the legislature to have state government do more to recruit and train immigrants. Katz says it would provide more English language training, more job skills training and other steps to focus full-time attention on getting more immigrants ready for the workforce.
"If they’re from New Hampshire or Ohio or Burundi or Poland, wherever," Katz told reporters Tuesday, "[w]e want people with the American dream to move here."
That bill will have a public hearing Wednesday morning in Augusta. Katz said it would cost about $2 million for those programs, so he will need to convince the full legislature to provide that funding.
Katz said that as of Tuesday, he had not yet discussed the proposal with staff for Gov. LePage.