In the age of big data, it’s hard to ignore the numbers. When you look at Maine’s, they can add up to an uncertain future. The state’s median age of 43.5 years is the oldest in the nation. And the proportion of the population who are 65 and older is 17%—second only to Florida, the toasty national roost for so many retirees. These stats point to a trend that’s rippling through Maine’s workforce, and one that some analysts predict could lead to a shortfall of over 100,000 workers or more by 2032.
But though these numbers have inspired such appropriate responses as the formation of the Maine Council on Aging to address them, they do a poor job quantifying the energy and innovation that’s fueling Maine’s current drive for economic success. Sharing the stories of that spirit is part of the mission that gave birth to Live and Work in Maine. Many of them can be found in the young Mainers who are laying the seeds for the state’s future now.
One of the brightest is Isabel Mullin, a recent University of Maine School of Law grad who certainly knows a thing or two about how to make things grow. The Cape Elizabeth native spent most of her formative years visiting her grandparents’ dairy farm in Kittery. “I learned some of my first lessons about hard work and commitment while milking cows at my grandfather’s side,” says Mullin, “and they’re ones that endure to this very day.”
Mullin saw the family work ethic echoed by a father who built homes and a name for himself around greater Portland, and a mother whose Apple Tree School continues to bear early-education fruit for its happy, active students. Her sister, Elsa, has followed the family work plan too, as she pursues her own post-graduate degree. All share the same drive that’s powered work that has earned Mullin two recent awards, despite her desire to keep attention focused on the disadvantaged Mainers she serves.
The 2016 Law Student Ethics Award was awarded to Mullin for her work as a student attorney at Maine Law’s Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic. With classic Mullin-family grit, she persevered to champion a woman whose denial of state health care coverage Mullin fought successfully to overturn. Her second honor was her receipt of the ”Diana DeJesus Student Bar Association Distinguished Service Award” for her work as the SBA president that fellow students regarded as “the true engine of the Class of 2016.”
A woman with Mullin’s resumé could pick most anyplace to live, and she certainly explored that possibility during her undergrad days at Denison University in Ohio. A detour through finance took her closer to home for a year and a half stint with Fidelity Investments in New Hampshire. The constant call of public service, however, eventually drew her to a career in law, and the decision about where to study it. “I was looking at Chicago and some schools in the South,” Mullin shares, “and just kind of added Maine Law to the list.”
An extended visit home shortly afterwards let a Maine summer begin to work its magic. But time spent working for Congresswoman Chellie Pingree sealed the deal on her return. “Maine lawyers really are a special breed,” says Mullin. “A smaller legal community like ours inspires a particular kind of practice. Opposing counsels are more prone to attack each others’ arguments than character. And I saw firsthand in Congresswoman Pingree’s office the kind of meaningful change the law can make in individual lives.”
Mullin continued to work to incite those kind of changes in her work at the State House as a legislative aide. Her support of four state Democratic senators gave her the chance to employ her love of writing in the speeches and other communications she shaped to support their efforts.
Though the farm and family in Kittery and Cape Elizabeth did so much to shape the people who’ve drawn Mullin to begin her professional career here, there’s another part of Maine she returns to regularly for the kind of R&R Vacationland is best known for. “My father built a tiny cabin for us near a tidal river in Jonesport,” she shares, “and a larger vacation cottage in Cape Split that we visit often too. I go there to spend time in the kind of place you’ll only find in Maine—one where your days unwind with the waves and the rhythms of the natural world.”
For the year ahead, Mullin shares her eagerness to dig into her work as a clerk for the Maine Superior Court and the new knowledge it’s bound to inspire for her legal career. Before that, however, she’ll tackle the challenge all aspiring lawyers must meet, as she begins her studies for the state’s bar exam.
When asked about where she may end up after that, Mullin doesn’t wait a beat. “This state has so much to offer,” she shares. “You hear these incredible stories of all kinds of people starting up a business or working in other ways to make life better for themselves and others. But you can’t sit back and wait for those things. They require the passion and drive to make them happen. I certainly have those kind of dreams,” she concludes, “and I plan on making them come true here. I’ll never leave Maine.”
That sentiment, coming from a young woman poised to take on life in the Pine Tree State on her own terms, may be the best reason to look beyond the numbers—to a brighter future for Maine.