Opinion

Investing in people, businesses and good-paying jobs in The County

Most parents want their children to work hard, pay attention in school, graduate and create a life for themselves not too far from home. However, it’s becoming more difficult to make that dream a reality in Aroostook County. There simply aren’t enough quality, good-paying jobs in the region to keep kids here, and that threatens the future of our local communities and economies.

It shouldn’t be impossible for young Mainers to consider a thriving future in Aroostook County — the place that raised them and made them who they are today. It’s why I fought tooth and nail this session to pass bills that will protect, support and create good-paying County jobs both now and in the future.

Maine’s heritage industries from farming and fishing to logging and paper-making have powered our families and communities for generations. These industries have remained a vital part of our economy because they continue to adapt to meet new demands and embrace new opportunities. Creating jobs where folks can earn a living and provide for their families in northern Maine starts there.

This year, I introduced a new tax credit to support quality, good-paying jobs in the forest products industry at places like the Twin Rivers Paper Mill in Madawaska. It’s modeled after our successful efforts to facilitate the construction of the Penobscot McCrum potato processing facility in Washburn. The past year has been extremely challenging for Twin Rivers, a company partly responsible for at least 2000 jobs in northern Aroostook County. However, despite these challenges, the company is poised for growth — it just needs some incentive from the state. 

Recently, Twin Rivers announced the move to producing food packing free of PFAS, or what’s known as “forever chemicals,” to meet the challenges of the 21st Century. The demand for this type of food packaging is only expected to grow. This decision puts Twin Rivers in the position to grow its operations and give the region some level of economic security. I’m really excited about how this tax credit will help Twin Rivers expand their operations and create more good-paying jobs in the St. John Valley.

Our heritage industries, however, are only part of the solution. Aroostook County has so much untapped economic potential, especially when it comes to renewable energy production. The weather conditions and geography are ideal. The only problem is that Aroostook County isn’t connected to the ISO-New England grid. This means that the energy created in our area must go through the Canadian power grid in order for consumers to purchase it through any American power grid, which can be costly and unattractive. 

This year, the Maine Legislature passed my bill, paving the way to remove these obstacles and create good-paying renewable energy jobs. It’s high time that hardworking people in Aroostook County have the same access to quality, good-paying jobs in this emerging sector as the rest of the state, and the economic benefits that come with these projects.

The new law creates the Northern Maine Renewable Energy Development Program, which will remove obstacles that stand in the way of renewable energy development in northern Maine. This includes requiring the PUC to issue requests for proposals to build a connection line to link Aroostook County to the ISO-New England grid. 

Far too often, the people of northern Maine are left behind when it comes to energy costs, access to high-paying jobs and more. This proposal is a win on several fronts: incentive for energy generation facilities in northern Maine, lower energy costs for consumers, and job creation. It also includes important safeguards to protect existing ratepayers. It’s time to connect our region to the ISO New England grid and take a strong step forward for the future of Aroostook County.

As always, please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions, ideas or concerns at 287-1500 or at Troy.Jackson@legislature.maine.gov

Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, is Maine Senate president. He can be reached at either 207-287-1500 (office) or 207-436-0763 (cell), or via email at Troy.Jackson@legislature.maine.gov.

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