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April 03, 2017

King Offers Economic Vision to Grow Maine’s Rural Communities

Outlines a set of proposals to revitalize rural areas hard hit by mill closures and job losses & presents legislation to help expand Maine’s workforce, including training younger students to grow the state’s forest economy

MEXICO, ME – Joined by logging industry officials and career and technical educators from across the state, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) today offered an economic vision aimed at helping revitalize and strengthen communities in rural Maine hard hit by mill closures and job losses. In presenting his plan – “You Can Get There From Here: Growing Maine’s Rural Economy” – Senator King also announced that he is offering a proposal for legislation that would help expand and modernize Maine’s workforce.

The proposed bill, the Invest in Rural America Act – which Senator King will solicit feedback on and then introduce in the coming weeks – would create a pair of competitive grant programs designed to expand the work force, modernize training tools, and promote job creation. These grant programs would distribute federal funding to economically distressed communities via locally or regionally-led entities to help them develop and implement workforce training and economic growth strategies.

The proposal also addresses a key recommendation in the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Assessment Team’s report on Maine’s Forest Economy, which identified investments in logger and forest products workforce development as critical to supporting the future of Maine’s rural economy, and highlighted the need to modernize training equipment to ‘prepare the workforce to meet modern demands.’

More specifically, the proposal would:

  • Target assistance to rural and economically distressed areas. Half of the funding would be reserved for rural areas and grant amounts would be determined according to factors including long-term economic growth rates, prevalence of skill mismatches, long-term unemployment and underemployment, poverty and persistent poverty rates, and the number and percent of workers and employers impacted by economic shifts (e.g., trade, technology, policy).
  • Award planning grants to local or regional economic development agencies, local workforce investment boards, Indian tribes, career and technical education centers, community colleges, or consortia of these organizations. Planning grants would last for up to two years and would set the groundwork for implementation grants.
  • Award implementation grants to the same set of grantees eligible for the planning grants, in order to carry out economic and workforce development activities for up to five years. Grantees would be required to provide 50 percent non-federal match (cash or in-kind), with limited exceptions for rural and tribal areas. Allowable uses of grant funds would include support for: career and technical education, broadband access and adoption, support systems (e.g., drug treatment, child care) for members of low-income families seeking employment, business incubators, technical assistance for securing private investment, pre-apprenticeships, registered apprenticeships, assistance for workers impacted by trade, transitional jobs for low-income workers, career pathways, and integrated adult education and occupational training.
  • Monitor results of the grants to ensure that the funding is having a maximally-positive impact.

“Over the past several years, many rural communities watched as once thriving mills have closed their doors, good-paying jobs with benefits have disappeared, and loved ones and neighbors have moved away. It’s been difficult – difficult for local economies, difficult for the state, but especially difficult for those who love and have called these tight-knit communities home,” Senator King said. “So today, I’m putting forward an agenda that I believe lays out the necessary steps to help rebuild rural communities across the state in the coming years, beginning with a proposal to grow our rural workforce. By creating grant programs that give money to those who know how to use it best, we can boost economic growth and help train the next generations of skilled workers, like the forestry students here at Region 9, who will form the backbone of these communities.”

A wide range of stakeholders of forest industry and education stakeholders endorsed Senator King’s Invest in Rural America Act:

Dana Doran, Executive Director of the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, who joined Senator King at the unveiling today, said, “Maine’s rural forest economy has faced unprecedented challenges in recent years but is poised for future growth and success as new markets for wood fiber emerge, but to be ready for that our state must begin preparations immediately. That means training of future workers, efforts to attract investment and development, and a comprehensive approach to revitalizing rural communities where our industry is based must begin now, and this Act represents an important piece of those efforts.”

“The increased technological sophistication and resulting cost of equipment used in Maine's forest products industry has made it almost impossible for the Forestry Career Technical Education (CTE) programs to adequately prepare Maine's young people for employment in an industry so critical to Maine's rural economy. With an aging workforce moving into retirement, the Invest in Rural America Act will give Maine's Forestry CTEs an opportunity to help develop a well trained workforce capable of meeting the future demands of the forest products industry as new products made from wood fiber are developed, in turn, helping to revitalize rural Maine's economy,” said Al Schaeffer, Instructor, Forestry and Wood Harvesting Program, Oxford Hills Technical School.

“We are very thankful for Senator King’s continued leadership in supporting the forest industry,” said Jason Limongelli, Vice President at Irving Woodlands LLC. “Investing in training for forestry equipment operators is an essential part of a healthy industry. The knowledge and skills required to be successful in today’s high tech harvesting operations needs to start with formalized training. We have been working for a number of years with Northern Maine Community College on training skilled operators. These men and women are learning best practices, and are more productive, insuring wood costs remain competitive for mills in the State. Investing in people is a solid long term investment in a sustainable forest sector.”

“Despite the recent challenges, Maine is still a great place for a forest industry and there are opportunities for us in this new forest economy, but it’s critical that we invest in the education of the workers we will need,” added Patrick Strauch, Executive Director of the Maine Forest Products Council.

“We are in the midst of a major recalibration of the forest industry,” said Richard Nass, President of Maine Woodland Owners. “We support Senator King's efforts with the Invest in Rural America Act to ensure that the forest industry has a diverse, modern workforce that can sustain both the emerging sectors as well those traditional ones which remain strong.”

“Logging is a capital intensive business where time is critical. Modern mechanized logging machines are sophisticated and computerized so that all systems work together to maximize operational speeds and fuel efficiency. Many of these machines are worth half a million dollars and it takes a high degree of training to run them safely and efficiently. Yet qualified operators are in short supply, and many are now reaching retirement age. We need the next generation of operators to begin training for the industry now. The new Mechanized Logging Operations Training Program being launched through Maine’s community college system is critical to meeting that need,” said Peter Collins, Forest Industry Manager at Milton Cat.

“Sappi North America commends the efforts of Senator King to provide funding for workforce development in the forest products industry. A healthy forest products industry translates into a healthier Maine. We look forward to this investment in education and growth,” said Olga Karagiannis, spokesperson for Sappi.

To read a one-page summary of the proposal, click HERE.

In “You Can Get There From Here: Growing Maine’s Rural Economy” Senator King also discussed his other legislative efforts to create a stronger, more diverse economy for rural Maine. Senator King has made these efforts the centerpiece of his work in the Senate over the past four years, and in speaking to his agenda today, he outlined his longstanding efforts and emphasized work he will pursue in the future to help support rural Maine communities, including:

  1. Increase Broadband Infrastructure

Access to high-speed internet is an economic necessity for our rural communities. Rural broadband is essential infrastructure that can open access to new markets, support innovation, create greater online learning options, provide access to telemedicine, enable growth in at-home business startups, and allow more seniors to age at home. During his time in office, Senator King has supported the modernization of federal broadband programs – including the FCC’s E-rate program, which supports school and library internet access. He has also fought for amendments in the recently-enacted Every Student Succeeds Act to allow rural students better access to the internet outside of the classroom.

To build upon this work, Senator King plans to:

  • Lead a bipartisan push for funding to support broadband deployment as part of congressional efforts to fund a major investment in infrastructure projects.
  • Support bipartisan efforts to increase funding for rural wireless deployment and connectivity through the FCC Mobility Fund.
  • Promote, through legislation and advocacy to federal agencies, the modernization of programs that support rural broadband and telehealth, and work to streamline regulatory barriers to broadband deployment.
  1. Strengthen Maine’s Forest Economy

Maine’s forest products industry is a significant driver in the Maine economy, even as rapid market changes have also resulted in mill closures that have profoundly impacted Maine’s rural communities. To create and retain jobs and strengthen the future of Maine’s forest economy, Senator King spearheaded the creation of a public-private partnership to grow and diversify Maine’s forest products industry. The resulting effort – an interagency Economic Development Assessment Team (EDAT), led by the Department of Commerce – has committed millions of dollars in federal funding to grow Maine’s forest industry, supported efforts to redevelop closed industrial sites, and worked to strengthen rural communities.

To follow up on the recommendations of the EDAT’s report, Senator King will:

  • Support the growth of existing and new markets for Maine wood fiber, particularly low value soft wood, and fight to include Maine forest products-based biofuel in the Renewable Fuel Standard.
  • Support a wide range of commercialization efforts, including the partnership between UMaine and Oak Ridge National Labs, to promote the development of forest-based feedstocks for additive manufacturing, and emerging wood technologies, such as Cross-Laminated Timber.
  • Work with the EPA and FERC to improve relicensing procedures to ensure that conflicting regulations do not slow down economic development.
  • Encourage investments and technical assistance from the Department of Transportation to improve transportation efficiencies to increase profitability in the forest industry.
  • Support the redevelopment of former mill industrial sites and rural community development efforts to improve local infrastructure.
  1. Grow Maine’s Workforce

With the aging of the Baby Boomer generation, Maine faces particular challenges in replacing retiring workers. Because the state’s economic vitality in the coming years depends upon its ability to produce and attract skilled workers for the jobs of the future, Senator King believes that the federal government should make it easier for people with disabilities to reenter the workforce. He also supports helping other workers who currently are sidelined to get back on the economic ladder, including older workers, people receiving public assistance, and new parents struggling with the cost of childcare. He has also supported federal funding opportunities to support growing companies in Maine’s information technology (IT) industries, like the TechHire program, which has provided $4 million in funding to the state to expand its pool of qualified IT and computer science professionals.

To build upon that work, Senator King will:

  • Introduce legislation to provide grants that support locally-led workforce development, job creation, and economic resilience and diversification in economically-distressed communities.
  • Continue to urge the Social Security Administration to simplify work incentives for Disability Insurance recipients.
  • Push for changes to the federal welfare program, through his EMPOWER Act, and to child care tax policies, through his PACE Act, to encourage more people on the sidelines to reenter the workforce.
  • Support educational, technical assistance, and work-in-place opportunities in rural communities to increase worker participation in the gig economy.
  1. Improve Access to Affordable Healthcare

Health care and hospitals are significant job creators in the rural Maine economy, with hospitals being the largest employer in eight Maine counties. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the Medicare program are essential to delivering care in rural areas. Cuts to Medicare or the elimination of the ACA could leave tens of thousands of Mainers either dependent upon charity care or unable to access care that is in their community. Rural hospitals have clearly indicated that without a base of covered patients they are at risk of reducing services and staff. Senator King has hosted a series of rural hospital and provider roundtables to better understand the impact of an ACA repeal, and he has pushed for several responsible fixes to improve the ACA. He has also been an outspoken advocate for Congress to do more to stem the opioid addiction epidemic by fighting to expand access to Medication Assisted Treatment and pressuring the DEA to crack down on opioid production.

To continue his work in this space, Senator King plans to:

  • Fight against the repeal of the ACA until a viable replacement plan has been proposed.
  • Continue to address the rural opioid crisis by exploring options for the design of creative programs that can provide prevention, treatment, and support services closer to home.
  • Push to expand the range of services that can be offered at Community Health Centers.
  • Work to lower drug prices for seniors by pushing legislation that would allow Medicare to negotiate the price of prescription drugs.
  1. Support Maine Manufacturers

Senator King believes that Maine manufacturers deserve to compete on a level playing field. He has fought back against currency manipulation and supported Maine businesses petitioning for fairer trading practices at the U.S. International Trade Commission. And in a major victory for the hardworking Mainers employed at New Balance factories, Senator King worked with the rest of the Maine delegation to include language in the National Defense Authorization Act that requires the Department of Defense to issue U.S.-made athletic shoes for recruits.

In continuing his fight for Maine manufacturers, Senator King plans to:

  • Work to advance legislation that would make the “Made in USA” standard easier to use without weakening the standard.
  • Push to ensure that the Defense Department follows through on the requirement to buy American-made shoes.
  • Building upon the success of the Berry Amendment footwear provision, promote additional “Buy America” provisions to support domestic manufacturers.
  • Leverage the full arsenal of federal tools available to enforce U.S. law on behalf of Maine’s producers.
  1. Promote Maine-Made Energy

Maine is blessed with an abundance of natural resources, from its woods and rivers to its winds and tides. Despite these gifts, Mainers still pay too much for their power, and Maine should be producing more energy at lower prices from its many local resources. As a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Senator King has made energy policy a top priority and has fought for tax credits to promote the use of energy-efficient biomass heating systems. He has also pushed a proposal to make electric companies provide better options to consumers who contribute clean and efficient energy to the grid.

To continue to fight for cheaper, cleaner energy, Senator King will:

  • Introduce legislation to urge the Department of Energy to more carefully study and limit liquefied natural gas exports that could hurt Maine energy consumers.
  • Champion policies that will incentivize hydro-operators to continue to create clean energy in our state.
  • Work to ensure clean, off-the-grid energy is treated fairly through reasonable rates and policies.
  1. Bolster the Future of Maine Farms

Agriculture in Maine is a diverse and critical element of the state’s economy. Maine farms provide a full market basket of goods, from blueberries, maple syrup, potatoes, and dairy to beer, wine, cheese and meats. Senator King has been a strong advocate for the federal policies that support, not impede, the development of the infrastructure and systems to develop and expand the opportunities to create value-added products as well as efforts to get all products from land- and sea-based farms to market.  In 2013, when the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) draft rules did not clearly reflect the needs of small and mid-sized farms, Senator King joined his colleagues to send a letter to the Food and Drug Administration requesting that the agency hold informational hearings in New England to listen to farmers’ concerns. Those meetings ultimately resulted in adjustments to the final rules that addressed many concerns of Maine farmers.

The 2018 Farm Bill will provide additional opportunities to promote agriculture policies designed to meet the scale and type of Maine farms. To that end, Senator King plans to: 

  • Reintroduce the PRIME Act with Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) in order to increase a state’s ability to provide consumers with locally processed meats.
  • Support farmers market provisions in the Farm Bill that will expand opportunities for seniors and low-income residents to purchase fresh, local foods with SNAP benefits.
  • Push for organic certification options for aquaculture and hydroponic products.
  • Create USDA program set-asides for veteran farmers to assist them in starting agricultural businesses.
  1. Enhance Maine’s Recreational Economy

Maine’s abundant natural resources provide access to a wealth of recreational activities – from hunting to hiking to snowmobiling – for longtime residents and visitors alike. Senator King believes in protecting our natural resources for traditional uses and has supported public access to key parcels in the state. He also hosted public input sessions when the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument was being considered so that the National Park Service could hear directly from Maine constituents about their concerns and hopes.

To continue his support of Maine’s natural resources, Senator King will:

  • Introduce legislation that will incentivize private landowners to allow public access on their property – a time-honored Maine tradition.
  • Continue his support of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which provides funding to support the protection of public land and provide for important recreational programs for students across Maine.
  • Work to ensure that the National Park Service (NPS) remains a good neighbor to Maine’s communities and urge the NPS to address its maintenance backlog.
  1. Help Maine's Seniors Age Independently at Home

Older Mainers overwhelmingly want to age in their own homes. But there can be obstacles to safely aging in place, including the lack of basic accessibility features in our state’s older housing stock and the cumulative cost of necessary home modifications. Senator King has introduced bipartisan legislation that would help make it easier for seniors to access federal home modification resources that can enable them to remain in their homes longer, and he also supports providing a federal tax credit for working family caregivers who financially help their parents, spouses, children with disabilities, or other loved ones.

To build upon that work, Senator King will:

  • Introduce legislation that allows for Medicare reimbursement for preventive health services, such as home modifications or medical equipment that is permanently installed in the home, in order to prevent falls.
  • Support organizations like Meals on Wheels and Area Agencies on Aging that help older Americans live independently in their communities.
  • Build a bipartisan coalition in support of proposals that help seniors age safely and independently in place.


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