A "help wanted" sign hangs in a shop window in Portland on Tuesday April 27, 2021. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

This story will be updated.

A lack of entry-level workers and high energy costs led the list of priorities business leaders recommended for the next governor in a report released Thursday, reflecting key issues in the pandemic economy.

The Making Maine Work report, released by the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, Maine Development Foundation and Educate Maine, recommends critical investments for the Maine economy. It outlines economic priorities and gives policy recommendations for the next governor and Legislature.

Maine’s professional workforce was a top issue in the last report in 2018, although this year’s report put a striking focus on the availability of entry-level workers that have been hard to find during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jim MacNeill, owner of the Maine Diner in Wells, has had his ’employment opportunities’ sign up for the past two years with few takers. Credit: Courtesy of the Maine Diner

“Help Wanted” signs seeking line cooks, servers and retail sales workers dot many Maine towns as businesses still labor to recover from losses. The labor shortages have caused some businesses to cut back on hours.

Costs were the second set of priorities, especially the cost of energy. Home heating fuel, gas and electricity prices all have risen sharply over the past year, with little relief in sight for consumers. The report recommended establishing a high-level commission to create an energy investment and affordability plan for the next 30 years.

Affordable housing and health insurance costs also were high on the list of problems to address, according to the survey. A new recommendation is providing resources to help improve workplace diversity, equity and inclusion. 

Health insurance costs also topped the list of priorities in the 2018 report, with almost half of respondents saying they were an issue, but that declined to 43 percent in this survey. Housing was a new concern this year, especially the lack of economical workforce housing, which makes it hard for companies to attract and keep workers.

High-speed internet development also was a top priority in both reports, as was growing Maine-based research and development.

The Making Maine Work reports have been critical to strengthening Maine’s economy, and had an impact in developing the 10-year Maine Economic Development Strategy in 2019, Yellow Light Breen, CEO of the Maine Development Foundation, said.

“We are optimistic about Maine’s future and that Maine is in a strong position to build on the successes of the past several years,” Jason Judd, executive director of Educate Maine, said.

The report surveyed nearly 500 Maine employers in January through March of this year. It is the eighth such report and the third completed in a Maine gubernatorial election.