A multicultural center in Bangor is smart economic development strategy. Maine is America’s oldest state. And the people of eastern and northern Maine are even older than the statewide average. There are too few young native-born Mainers to replace our fast-retiring workforce.

General Electric, Bangor’s largest manufacturer with more than 500 employees, is facing a tremendous retirement wave in the next decade. The Maine Multicultural Center can provide a huge benefit by promoting multiculturalism in a way that attracts to the region people with the same work ethic on which it was built. It’s a tremendous strategic opportunity that can help ensure General Electric continues to provide economic support for the Bangor region.

Penobscot Community Health Center employs almost 800 people, and 65 percent of its physicians are at retirement age, or will reach it within five years. “We recruit nationally. Our candidates are looking for evidence of multiculturalism. This is an important part of what attracts and retains our workforce. One piece of the puzzle that’s missing in Bangor is multicultural,” Megan Sanders, vice president of human resources, Lori Dwyer, senior vice president, and Vanessa Sanderson, recruitment coordinator, stated at a May 22 City Council meeting on funding proposals for the center.

Noting the absence of resources to connect potential candidates from diverse backgrounds to each other and the region, Sanderson said, “A multicultural center would bring community integration full circle for PCHC. Expanding PCHC’s ability to attract and retain employees is vital. Encouraging professionals to move north of Portland is critical for long-term success. The multicultural center is part of the long-term success our region needs.”

Ganesha Santhyadka, a physician, said, “When we work with other physicians from different parts of the world, some do not want to stay mainly because of the cultural aspects. I wholeheartedly support this venture.”

Former Bangor Mayor Nelson Durgin said, “A multicultural center here in Bangor will have an effect on this community for years to come. I’ve lived here fifty years. It’s important for the Council to recognize that we have an opportunity here — and make an effort to bring people to Bangor.”

Already, Maine businesses struggle to fill jobs because of a lack of qualified workers. The Maine Multicultural Center is seeking a challenge grant, meaning the city only provides funds once the balance of the center’s budget is raised. We want the success achieved in places like Dayton, Ohio, where a similar program resulted in a $116 million increase in home values, a $115 million boost in consumer spending power and $15 million annual boost state and local tax revenue.

New Americans are good for business. Immigrants are 30 percent more likely to start a business than non-immigrants, and 18 percent of small-business owners in America are immigrants, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. Immigrants have started 25 percent of public U.S. companies that were backed by venture capital, according to the National Venture Capital Association. This list includes Google, eBay, Yahoo!, Sun Microsystems and Intel.

This is why business leaders including Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, General Electric, Penobscot Community Health Center, Home Revivers and the Bangor Mall support this effort, as do educational leaders such as the University of Maine, Eastern Maine Community College, Husson University and John Bapst High School — all of which are dependent on recruitment of students and faculty. Myriad ethnic and religious organizations have joined the Steering Committee as well. The University of Maine at Augusta in Bangor has offered office space for this project.

The Maine Multicultural Center will serve as a coordination point for new Americans, facilitating the immigration process, welcoming them to local heritage communities, introducing them to long-time Mainers, networking with potential employers, and promoting and celebrating existing and new multicultural events — from Asian business leaders to African scientists to Latin American artists.

Young Americans, including young white Americans, prefer living in culturally diverse communities. If Bangor issues a challenge grant for the Maine Multicultural Center, it will entice other investors and will move Bangor into the future by addressing the biggest problem many local businesses face: the rapid loss of our working-age population. The Maine Multicultural Center is good for business and good for Bangor.

Sean Faircloth is a Bangor city councilor, and he completed a term as mayor in November. He also previously represented Bangor in the Maine Senate and founded the Maine Discovery Museum. Nathan Sheranian is the human resource leader for General Electric in Bangor.