Picking up where I left off last week, it’s time to finally dive into Sprague’s suggestions to beef up Bangor that he laid out for us at the beginning of February.
Certainly, I applaud his efforts to want to tackle this issue and I believe he raises a good conversation that needs to be had throughout the state.
In fixing the problem, I believe the place to start is by reaching out to people who left Bangor to figure out why and if anything could bring them back. This input from former residents will truly be valuable in pin-pointing the issues of attraction.
In terms of the proposed solutions, there’s no doubt that the state of Maine must begin offering more incentives in order to retain its current population and attract young people. As I left off saying last week, the demographic challenges Maine cities are feeling are ‘fundamentally economic challenges,” so its important that we focus on providing economic incentives for the individual in order to get things booming again.
In doing this, I believe a good place to start would be adjusting the structure of taxes here in Maine to help end the burden on land owners and inspire businesses to want to open up shop here.
I thought Sprague came up with a few creative ideas in his plan to help get this ball rolling.
Specifically, I like the idea of providing businesses with tax relief the first two years of their existence in order to promote entrepreneurship and begin stimulating a pretty malignant economy. Although the state will be missing out on the business taxes for the first few years, revenue will still be pumped into the system through the businesses employees who are still generating income tax, sales tax, and excise taxes.
In terms of real estate, what better way to inspire first-time homebuyers than providing partial property tax rebates and grant programs for home rehab? Today is more of a ‘buyers’ rather than ‘sellers’ market in terms of the best bargain, so this would be a smart avenue for cities in Maine to begin exploring.
Perhaps an income-tax rebating program for new residents, as Sprague mentioned in his report, would make sense as well.
Another key area that Sprague hit on and that I personally believe deserves attention is the idea of providing additional help for young people entrenched in student loan debt. He talked about offering tax credits to help former students dig out of their debt and encourage them to choose Maine even if they didn’t attend school here.
We are already beginning to see these student loan relief programs coming about like the Opportunity Maine program launched in 2008 to provide a tax credit to help cover the payment of some student loans for eligible Maine students who graduate from a Maine community college and then work and pay taxes in Maine.
But due to the state’s failure to effectively market it, only a fraction of college graduates take advantage of the program.
The goal for Maine is quite simple: We need to prevent “brain drain” and keep the best and the brightest in the state. That is why I believe it is absolutely worth investing time and money to revamp this program and create other incentives for college graduates to want to stay here. With no money behind a marketing strategy, and recent efforts to fund one being cut, the program has gone overlooked and underutilized which is truly unfortunate.
But that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to digging out of this demographic rut.
I hope to continue bringing practical solutions to discussion in the coming weeks, but in the mean time, it is definitely worth checking out Ben Sprague’s “38 suggestions” for more of a look at the efforts currently in the works to help rejuvenate an aging Maine. http://bangordailynews.com/?attachment_id=1645424&ref=relatedSidebar