The state’s leading business advocacy organization is endorsing Question 4 on the November ballot, saying the $49 million investment in the University of Maine System is critical to ensuring Maine employers can fill thousands of open jobs.
Joined by two dozen engineering employers at the inaugural University of Southern Maine Engineering Hiring Fair on Thursday, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce as well as Educate Maine urged voters to approve Question 4.
The $49 million bond would fund infrastructure improvements at all University campuses to increase student recruitment, retention and the number of graduates prepared for good-paying careers in sectors where Maine employers most needs skilled workers with four-year or advanced degrees like engineering, nursing and early childhood education. The need-based investment plan is well within the state’s borrowing capacity and was supported by Governor Paul R. LePage and nearly every member of the Maine Legislature.
The announcement from the Chamber and Educate Maine is a follow-up to their recent release of the Making Maine Work report, which revealed that the availability of a professional workforce is second only to the costs of the healthcare among concerns business leaders believe Maine’s next Governor must first address. More than 1,000 Maine employers participated in the survey.
“There is no bigger barrier to the success of our state than the size and skill of the Maine workforce and no organizations are better positioned to help provide employers the professional workforce they need to grow their businesses and our state’s economy than our public higher education systems if they are properly resourced,” said Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. “Just like roads, bridges and wastewater, our public university campuses are critical public infrastructure essential to the state’s economic growth and on Nov. 6, we urge Mainers to make this long-overdue investment in Maine’s future by voting ‘Yes’ on Question 4.”
Ed Cervone, director of the business-led Educate Maine, said that the University of Maine System has led the nation in advancing affordability by keeping tuition flat for all but two of the last eight years, providing historic amounts of financial aid to in-state students with the most need and reducing the debt load of its graduates to 30 percent below the national average. Question 4 will allow the University to continue expanding affordable access to four-year college and the opportunities for financial security it provides to more Maine families, he said.
“Maine businesses expect and need the University of Maine System to lead the state’s workforce development efforts. Our public universities have embraced this challenge and are working more closely than ever with businesses and each other to provide solutions. Now is the time for this critical investment if we want to achieve our vision of a strong and competitive Maine economy,” Cervone explained.
Chancellor Page thanked the business leaders for their support, saying the engineering hiring fair where Thursday’s endorsements were announced is an example of how the University serves students and employers by making career connections that keep graduates in Maine.
In the next decade, Maine will need more than 3,000 new engineers to replace those who will retire and to fill new positions. To meet that student and workforce demand, Chancellor Page said the System needs to increase its engineering enrollment from about 2,000 undergraduates to 3,200. Investments from Question 4 would help double engineering enrollment at USM, expanding lab and research space to support growing interest in USM’s mechanical and computer engineering programs.
The American Council of Engineering Companies of Maine also said Thursday it has endorsed the University bond.
“Question 4 improves the condition and capacity of all of our seven campuses to better support the aspirations of Maine students, meet the needs of Maine businesses and grow the Maine economy,” Chancellor Page said. “Maine employers support this bond because they need public university graduates. The investments included in Question 4 will help provide more of them.”
The State Chamber joins those in Fort Kent, the Bangor region, Lewiston-Auburn metropolitan area and the Portland region as well as many of Maine’s leading employers like Sappi, MEMIC and Pro Search, Inc. in endorsing Question 4. More information about the bond and how it will be invested to strengthen the state’s workforce and grow the Maine economy is available at www.Yes4MainesWorkforce.org.
The University of Maine System has an annual enrollment of 32,000 students and positively impacts the lives of hundreds of thousands of Mainers each year through its educational and cultural offerings as well as outreach and public service to individuals, businesses, organizations and policymakers. The System has an estimated $1.5 billion total statewide economic impact each year, a return of $7.50 for every dollar of State appropriation. Two-thirds of its alumni – more than 120,000 people – live in Maine.