The help wanted sign outside El Rayo in Scarborough, May 20, 2016. A new report predicts Maine will only gain 94 jobs through 2026. But that doesn't have to become reality if Maine can become a more welcoming place. Credit: Kathleen Pierce

A report released last week by the Maine Department of Labor paints a bleak picture of the state’s economic future — fewer than 100 net jobs will be added by 2026. Most job gains will come in the the health care sector while losses will be mainly in the service and manufacturing sector.

The main reason for the overall stagnation is that Maine’s workforce is aging and shrinking. This is not a new revelation but reiterates why Maine struggles to attract new businesses.

This prediction, of a net gain of 94 jobs by 2026, does not have to become reality — if state leaders are more accepting of new industries and new residents.

The number of jobs in the solar industry have more than doubled nationally since 2010, for example. A 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Energy found that jobs in the solar industry surpassed the number of jobs at coal and natural gas-fired power plants.

Although Maine has the potential to develop a lot more solar energy — and accompanying jobs — that potential has been stunted by state policies that impede renewable energy. Gov. Paul LePage is a longtime critic of renewable energy, who has repeatedly and erroneously said that solar energy only benefits rich people, at the expense of the elderly and poor.

[Opinion: Maine’s economy will suffer unless we attract more people]

The Maine Public Utilities Commission, which is comprised of three members appointed by LePage, has moved ahead with rules that create a new solar power measuring bureaucracy and spread the cost to all utility ratepayers, including the elderly and poor.

Lawmakers had numerous opportunities to stop solar rule changes but failed to override LePage’s vetoes.

Likewise, LePage has driven wind energy development away from Maine. In 2013, Statoil, a Norwegian company that said it planned to invest $120 million in the state, withdrew its plans after LePage and lawmakers worked to have the utilities commission change the terms of an agreement with the company. LePage said he was doing so to give the University of Maine a better opportunity to participate in wind energy development.

Less than five years later, the utilities commission delayed the university’s project because, it said, the terms of its 2014 project were outdated.

In both cases, industry officials and others warned that changing the terms midway through a project show that Maine is not a trustworthy partner when it comes to contracts and other business agreements.

At the same time, LePage has thrown down the welcome mat for forest products-associated businesses, including offering big subsidies to biomass energy plants, some of which operate only infrequently and employ far fewer people than they pledged.

When it comes to new Mainers, LePage has sometimes been downright insulting. He has blamed immigrants for bringing diseases and the fictional “ziki fly” to Maine. He called asylum seekers, people fleeing violence and persecution in their homelands the “biggest problem in our state,” although Maine is home to very few of them.

He has also insulted black people and fought against LGBT rights in other states.

The Maine Department of Labor report makes clear — as have countless reports before it — that Maine needs to attract new residents to fill jobs and pay taxes to support government services. These newcomers are likely to more diverse than current Maine residents.

Maine will soon have a new governor and a different Legislature. Making sure Maine is a welcoming and attractive place for newcomers must be a priority so that the grim economic projections don’t come true.

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