Aroostook Partnership pitches plan to reverse County’s declining population
CARIBOU, Maine — Aroostook Partnership President Bob Dorsey spoke to Caribou city councilors on Monday about The County’s rapidly declining population and his organization’s efforts to bring more people to the region.
He began by discussing the Tarnished Crown report, a 2003 study by Maine Public Service and the Northern Maine Development Commission that came to a grim conclusion: Aroostook’s total population will drop down to 58,000 by 2025.
The Tarnished Crown report also led to creation of the Aroostook Partnership, which aims to reverse this trend and bring more jobs and people to The County.
At the Monday meeting, Dorsey presented councilors with a new report, titled, “Caring for the Crown,” which was prepared by Maine Center for Business and Economic Research President Ryan Wallace.
Like the former study, this report outlines many of the trends concerning The County’s declining population. The report’s authors estimated that since 2010, when the region’s population was 71,721, the census has been going down by about 602 people per year. At that rate, the report estimates that in 10 years The County’s total population will have been reduced by over 6,000 people. To add insult to injury, the study also estimates that roughly 10,000 of the remaining population will reach retirement age within the next decade.
“The projections are pretty dire,” Dorsey said. “We’ve been living in this kind of environment for a long time, and I would submit that as the denominator gets lower, the consequences get more and more severe.”
On a statewide level, the 2003 report cited the Maine Office of Policy and Management’s projection that the statewide population of residents aged 15 and under and 16 to 64, respectively would decrease by 21,000 and 71,000 by 2024. It also projected that, within the same timeframe, the total number of residents in Maine age 65 and up would increase 94,000.
Caribou City Manager Dennis Marker added that, in conducting research for a Public Safety Building project, he was looking at the city’s demographics and discovered that the latest census data for Caribou estimates that the population was about 7,902 in 2016.
“This means we’ve lost about an average of 3 percent of our population per year,” he said. “Ironically, the demographic of 65 and over grew by about 2 percent each year.”
Dorsey told councilors that the Tarnished Crown report’s estimates do not have to become reality, and that the Aroostook Partnership’s efforts should help The County keep an additional 4,837 people by 2025.
These efforts include bringing Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) to Aroostook, investing over $200 million into the forest sector and creating 400 new jobs, in addition to making sizable investments in wind, biomass, and electric energy, he said.
“The bottom line is that we have created jobs,” Dorsey said. “We’ve retained folks and we’ve made a difference. Hopefully we can continue to do that.”
He added that the future will need to include more collaborations, and determining the best way to utilize tax dollars in the region. He also thanked the Caribou councilors for their work.
“Thank you for what you do,” he said. “It’s a hard job, probably a thankless one, but the decisions you make going forward are going to make a difference.”
Mayor David Martin asked if welcoming immigrants to the region could help bring more people, jobs, and money to The County.
“We have quite a few migrant workers here, and they send most of their money back home,” Martin said. “Has your group looked into getting immigrants who would do the same work and live here to keep the money local?”
Dorsey said he recently was made aware that a group of immigrants from the Dominican Republic is currently living in southern Maine and is interested in moving north to The County, adding that NMCC President Tim Crowley “is engaged in this effort” of welcoming immigrants to Aroostook County as well.
“If we can get skilled labor up here,” Dorsey said, “people who want to work, are not looking for handouts, and are willing to do their thing, then I think it’s a viable option.”
Councilors did not take any action after Dorsey’s presentation, but thanked him for his time before moving onto the next agenda item.