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Gov. Mills launches first meeting of 'Economic Recovery Committee'

The group of business leaders and experts is tasked with crafting a long-term solution for Maine's economy following the COVID-19 pandemic.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Governor Janet Mills kicked off the first virtual meeting of her Economic Recovery Committee Friday morning while admitting that Maine's economy is one of the most vulnerable in the country.

She said the reason for that is due in large part to the dependency on the tourism and hospitality industries.

"We will slow down the spread of this virus, but we will also rebuild and strengthen our economy and re-imagine how we do business," Mills said. "The challenge to this committee is to look at the forces that require us to re-imagine how we do everything over the long-term."

The committee, made up of at least 40 business leaders, experts, and stakeholders in the state will not focus on the immediate reopening plan devised by the Maine Dept. of Economic and Community Development. 

RELATED: Governor Mills convenes committee to advise on Maine's economic recovery amid coronavirus, COVID-19

"I’m not asking this committee to come back with specific recommendations on when to open the bars in Portland," Mills said. 

Instead, it will use a two-phased approach.

The first phase is focused on stabilizing and supporting the economy. 

Mills said that means looking at ways to get resources to businesses, seek out federal stimulus, and identify which immediate challenges need to be addressed.

The second phase is intended to look at sustaining and growing the economy long-term.

The committee will do this by building on the existing Ten Year Strategic Economic Development Plan first released by Mills in December. It will also look at barriers and new ways to build Maine's workforce within a new landscape. 

"We get a lot of questions like 'Is this really about public health or is it about the economy?' I continue to say they're impossible to separate," Heather Johnson, Commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development said. "You don't have a strong economy without healthy people and vice versa."

RELATED: Maine tourism groups call for an end to 14-day quarantine rule for out-of-state visitors

The committee is led by Josh Broder, CEO of Tillerson, and Laurie Lachance, President of Thomas College. 

Both Broder and Lachance were enthusiastic about what a path forward will look like while understanding the severity of the situation. 

"One of the biggest challenges we're going to have to face as a group is looking ahead while businesses are in trouble right in front of us," Broder said.

Calls criticizing Mills for not taking a more aggressive approach to reopen Maine's economy continue. Another protest is expected Saturday in Bangor.

RELATED: Hundreds protest in Augusta against Gov. Mills' coronavirus restrictions

Mills said she is hopeful that this step will point Maine in the right direction while ensuring the health and safety of its citizens.

"I believe we will rise from this unprecedented challenge to be a stronger state where everybody has the opportunity to succeed," she said.

The initial findings from the committee are due July 15 with a final report expected in December. 

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At NEWS CENTER Maine, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: www.newscentermaine.com/coronavirus

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