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Featured in Portland Press Herald: Live and Work in Maine Aims to Convert Tourists into Employees

Tourists coming into Maine are usually presented with a variety of suggestions for things to do: spend money at the outlets in Kittery and Freeport, buy lobster, chow down at a clam shack, take a boat tour of Casco Bay.

Now, they will get a new suggestion: drop everything and move to Maine.

Those stopping in at the visitors’ center in Kittery are greeted with Live + Work in Maine signs and a kiosk where an iPad is connected to the program’s website. Live + Work in Maine is an initiative to connect those who want to move to Maine with job opportunities in the state. But rather than perform traditional job matching services, Live + Work encourages people to imagine living in Maine and then provides employment possibilities in eight designated regions of the state that might appeal to them. People can explore prospective employers by region, industry and interest.

Like white water rafting, hiking and skiing? Then Maine Lakes & Mountains might be for you. The website lets a viewer pick a job category and look at companies offering jobs and internships in the selected region.

It also lists the attributes of the eight regions, and presents stories and videos of people who decided to move here who talk about how their personal and professional lives have improved.

Installing the kiosk gives the Live and Work in Maine program exposure to many of the 34 million people who visit the state each year. Posters also have been installed at the Portland International Jetport to tout the program.

“It’s planting the seed,” said Ed McKersie, president of Pro Search, a Portland staffing and recruiting firm, who launched the site late last year. “These are people who already have an affinity for Maine.”

To sweeten the pot, the website is encouraging people to consider asking for vacation reimbursement as a signing bonus if they find a job through the Live +Work website.

Sarah Flink, 38, used the exact same term as McKersie – “planting the seed” – to describe how Live + Work in Maine’s signs at the jetport inspired her to ditch her job as a restaurant manager in Manhattan and an apartment in Brooklyn for a decidedly less urban lifestyle in Maine. The long days of work and lengthy commutes on the subway were starting to wear on her, she said.

Flink said she would see the signs every time she flew up to visit her boyfriend.

“I would sort of stare at that and think, ‘that’s a good sign,’ ” she said.

Last summer, Flink quit her full-time job and picked up some waitressing shifts in New York and then started her “workup,” a military term for getting acclimated to a new assignment, spending longer and longer periods in Maine. Finally, she left her Brooklyn apartment in March and made the move.

She said the live part has worked out well and she’s putting together the work part, networking and working on some projects and coordinating events for an organic farming organization.

Flink said the simplicity of the Live + Work in Maine message should be effective for others who are visiting Maine for pleasure but may be receptive to considering a change in their lives.

“It was just such a simple directive and it sat there in the back of my mind,” she said.

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 8.25.02 AMATTRACTING WORKERS

The stepped-up effort to attract workers comes at a critical time for Maine. With its aging workforce and decline of key industries, such as paper-making, Maine is suffering from a declining labor force. The number of people either working or looking for work in Maine has shrunk from nearly 710,000 in mid-2013 to just under 675,000 in March of this year. While that number contains a germ of good news – an unemployment rate of just 3.4 percent – it also reflects a difficult market for growing companies that need to hire workers.

The situation is particularly acute for companies that need skilled workers, such as those with technical skills or college degrees.

McKersie said his site is getting 200 to 300 hits a day and he expects that to climb as the tourist season warms up. He will compile data to assess the effectiveness of the website as the campaign rolls out this summer. In addition to the iPad in Kittery, he said another kiosk offering access to the site will be installed in the next month or so at the turnpike rest stop in Gardiner.

The initiative, which has been financed primarily by McKersie and some sponsorship partners, has drawn the endorsement of the state.

“We see workforce attraction as every bit as important as business attraction,” said George Gervais, the commission of the Department of Economic and Community Development. Gervais’ department includes the Maine Office of Tourism, which devoted the counter space to McKersie’s kiosk.

Gervais said he hears from businesses all the time about the need to reverse the shrinking workforce. The state has other efforts underway to increase the size of the workforce, including tax credits for student loan payments.

Gervais said every little bit will help, given the tight labor situation. A Maine Department of Labor analysis shows that even if all the people born in Maine in the next 16 years stay in Maine, the state will face a shortage of 100,000 workers by 2032 because of retiring baby boomers and Maine’s low birth rate.

“If there’s even a handful of people who are drawn to the state, it’s worked,” said Gervais.

To add some heft to the campaign, several employers have said they would consider reimbursing a visitor for a Maine vacation if the visitor becomes an employee. Winxnet, Wayfair, MaineHealth, Tyler Technologies, Spurwink, BerryDunn and others have said they would consider such a reimbursement a signing bonus of sorts.

Some recent transplants to the state say Maine doesn’t require a hard sell. Although Scott Larsen was drawn to the state before Live + Work was launched, he said the approach should work.

Larsen, who is chief technology officer for Mingle Analytics, a technology company focused on the health care, said all it took was one visit in 2013 to be hooked and move from Denver. Eventually, he was joined by two of his grown children.

And Maine has drawn others, he said. Mingle Analytics’ employees can work remotely – they’re currently scattered over 11 states. But two recent hires chose to move to Maine, drawn by its quality of life, Larsen said.

One of the things attracted Larsen and the others was the state’s open spaces and lack of congestion, he said. Thus, he has mixed feelings about Live + Work’s potential for persuading visitors to stick around.

“Personally, I don’t want more people here,” he said.


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