MEREDA Conference Focuses on the Dynamic History and Future Potential of Maine’s Economy

On October 15th, the Maine Real Estate & Development Association (MEREDA) hosted its virtual 2020 Fall Conference.  In challenging economic times, the event brought together industry leaders to contemplate Maine’s past while building a vision for Maine’s future.  MEREDA and its members are committed to having conversations that promote responsible development in Maine and to bringing great people together to work for that common goal.

“In planning our Fall Conference, we were inspired by a speech Joshua Chamberlain gave in 1876 that laid out his economic vision for the state,” says Josh Fifield, MEREDA President.  “Maine has a rich economic history; a history of resilience.  That felt like a good starting point for a conversation with our members about the economic challenges that lie ahead for us,” Fifield continues.

The conference included a keynote address from U.S. Senator Angus King, I-Maine.  In a pre-recorded video presentation, King shared insights on Joshua Chamberlain, one of his heroes.  In reviewing Chamberlain’s speech and progressive vision from 1876, Senator King drew out the parallels to our times on matters such as education, diversity of industry, infrastructure, and immigration.  For example, while Chamberlain spoke of the need for infrastructure such as roads to promote Maine’s great resources, today the need is for broadband.  “That’s the key piece of missing infrastructure right now and I believe if we can fill that gap there’s no stopping Maine,” said Senator King.  “I believe Maine has a huge potential because it’s a wonderful place to live, once we get the infrastructure, particularly the broadband, and if we’re sensible enough to maintain our quality of place, which is what brings people here.  If you can do your work from anywhere, why not do it from a beautiful place like Maine,” Senator King concluded.

Following Senator King were presentations by University of Southern Maine President Glenn Cummings; State Historian Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr.; Economist Charles Colgan, and President of FocusMaine, Kimberly Hamilton.  From Dr. Cummings’ presentation on USM’s expansion and the need for strong public universities to move regional economies to the next level, to Mr. Shettleworth’s overview of Mainers who lived and worked in the first 50 years of Maine’s statehood, to Dr. Colgan’s economic overview: “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” to Dr. Hamilton’s outline of three sectors in Maine’s economy that are primed for global growth, the presentations painted a kinetic picture of Maine’s economy, its strengths and its challenges.  Looking ahead, with the virus playing a huge role in how and when Maine’s economy will begin to recover, Dr. Colgan outlined some of the questions this will pose for the real estate industry, such as  “Are we going back to the office?  Are we going back to a different office?  Do we need the same amount of space or more space for a socially distanced world?”

The event concluded with a panel discussion with individuals from four Maine business that have experienced growth during the pandemic economy: Scott Wellman, CFO of Puritan Medical Products; Amber Lambke, founder and CEO of Maine Grains; Seth Webber, principal with BerryDunn; and Briana Warner, CEO of Atlantic Sea Farms.  The panel was moderated by Andrea C. Maker, MEREDA’s Legislative Counsel and an attorney at Pierce Atwood.  Says Maker, “These four very different businesses from different regions of our state demonstrate that dynamic opportunities exist today across Maine.  It was uplifting to hear from each of the panelists…how they have built their businesses based on Maine resources, seized growth opportunities and built resiliency into their plans.”  Each of the panelists spoke about how the combination of natural resources, quality of people, and the quality of life in Maine contribute to the success of their businesses.  While they’ve all benefited from the resilient workforce present in Maine, they stressed the need for programs to retain and attract more people to the state so businesses can continue to grow, expand, and compete nationally and globally.

In describing the success of Atlantic Sea Farms, Warner talked about the importance of “figuring out your strengths and amplifying them.”  The MEREDA Fall Conference highlighted several of Maine’s strengths – such as its natural resources and beauty, its hard-working citizens, its innovative business community, and its commitment to education.  Amplifying these strengths will be key to rebuilding the economy.  While there is much uncertainty in the years ahead, the MEREDA event highlighted that, as Joshua Chamberlain said, “Brighter days are in store for Maine.”  MEREDA and its members are proud to be part of the conversation and the effort to achieve those brighter days.

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