Downtown Houlton was devoid of traffic on May 6 as much of the community is heeding Governor Janet Mills' order to stay at home. Credit: Courtesy of Marc Scott

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Encouraging people to move to Maine is not new. Several entities have ongoing campaigns to draw businesses and people to the Pine Tree State.

The Aroostook County town of Houlton has had such a campaign for several years. That campaign got a timely pitch with an email blast from the Houlton High School Alumni Association.

“We’re curious … are you working from home during this time?” the email asks. “With all of this unrest the last couple of months, you have probably been nostalgic for the way of life you grew up with. You might not have known, though, that Houlton is an excellent place to work remotely.”

“If there was ever a time to think about coming home, now is an ideal one. … As you know, we’ve been doing physical distancing for years. And, what a beautiful area to isolate, if you need to,” it adds.

To end the pitch, there’s a reminder that “Houlton also has the ideal infrastructure for working remotely with excellent broadband coverage and low power costs.”

A video, produced by the Southern Aroostook Development Corporation, is included in the email. The video features testimonials from three young people who recently moved to the town, located about an hour and a half north of Bangor.

The email was sent to about 2,000 Houlton High alumni on July 11. Several alumni sent queries the day the email was sent, said Nancy Ketch, the president of the alumni association and the town’s community development director.

Several alumni who came to town during the pandemic, for vacation or to visit family, have decided to stay as their jobs can be done remotely, Ketch said. The goal is to turn some of them, along with other Houlton High graduates, into full-time residents.

Jon McLaughlin, the executive director of the Southern Aroostook Development Court, said that the campaign, which will soon include targeted social media ads, won’t bring thousands of newcomers to town. But if it encourages young people with good incomes and kids to move to the town, it will help. He said that homes in Houlton are now selling quickly, some to out-of-state buyers who haven’t even seen the property first hand.

“For once, northern Maine has a geographic advantage,” he said.

Many rural states with a shortage of workers, such as Vermont, Wyoming and South Dakota, have launched efforts to lure new residents. Eastport has an online campaign built around telecommuting. But we didn’t find any that were specifically tied to the changes that have come with the coronavirus.

Nate Wildes, the executive director of Live + Work in Maine, a group that has long been recruiting people to Maine with a focus on matching them to jobs in the state, applauded Houlton’s efforts.

“This is rural Maine’s time to shine,” he said. “There is no better time to market yourself.”

The trends seen in Houlton are reflected in southern Maine as well, Wildes said. Homes are selling quickly, summer rentals are hard to find and some seasonal rentals have been booked for the remainder of this year as people choose to work from Maine rather than returning to their homes in other states.

The newcomers, and long-time Mainers, are “discovering” their communities, Wildes said. They are staying closer to home because of the coronavirus and spending money and time where they live. This discovery is a financial boost to local businesses but will also strengthen communities ties, making residents less likely to leave, he added.

“People frequently say ‘I wish I could live here,’” Ketch said. “Now, more than ever, the answer is ‘Why can’t you?’”

We don’t want to downplay the severity of the coronavirus and its consequences. But many of the shifts that the virus has accelerated will be long lasting. Maine communities are wise to prepare for the challenges, and find the potential opportunities that exist among them.

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...