I’ve been thinking a lot about a blog post that fellow BDN blogger Matt Gagnon penned a few weeks ago about why he, as a young professional, moved away from Maine to live in DC. He makes great points and I agree with all of them.
But I feel compelled to say it, and perhaps even more so about writing a post about how hard staying fit has been after my move here: I love living in Bangor, Maine. I am really, really excited to be living in Bangor, Maine in 2013. I’m really excited about where this city is going. And I think we can do more to attract my generation to this state.
A few weeks ago marked the day that I had called Maine home longer than I hadn’t. My family moved to Bangor from Philadelphia when I was 14. Bangor was my “ancestral home:” my dad had grown up here and my grandfather had been a public figure in his day. I lived in a major metropolitan area long enough to know what I was missing out on when I left and I spent a lot of my late adolescence lamenting about what I could not do in Bangor rather than appreciating what I could.
The quiet, plodding tempo of Maine life is something I wouldn’t come to appreciate until I was much older, having spent a summer living in Quebec City in college and another summer living in Fort Lauderdale after college. I like living here because I like how patient and unassuming most people are. There isn’t the pressure to spend lots of money to impress friends, or the anxiety of spending 2 hours in traffic to commute, and at heart, I’m as outdoorsy a girl as they come.
Change doesn’t come quickly here, but I’ve seen time and time again, patient optimism rewarded. We have a beautiful convention center, a vibrant economy at the mall and on outer Broadway, (for better or for worse) an impressive casino, an improving downtown scene and a wonderful riverwalk. It’s not the Bangor I moved to 14 years ago.
Maine’s best selling point is that its beautiful. I walk out my door and … adventure. It’s there. Since I took up skiing I don’t even dread the winter. I even might have caught myself this summer at times wishing for ski season again.
So that’s Maine. Let’s talk about Bangor.
I lived away from Bangor for the last five years. At the time, I felt like I was reading an endless parade of good news about what was going on in this city. Emily seemed to have yet another breathless post about something awesome going on in town. Waterfront concerts. The Kahbang! festival. Five Guys. Every time I went back to visit I could see something new coming in.
When I moved back, my perspective shifted and I realized why Bangor’s proponents bang the gong so loudly: It’s isolated up here. Few people come this far north without a reason to do so. We need to keep giving them reasons.
I waited so long to respond to Matt’s post because the honest truth is that I came back to Bangor because I have a great job here. While walking the streets that my great-grandparents courted each other on holds a certain cache, or being able to have my brother and sister over for impromptu dinner parties is important to me, the reason why I live here is because I have a great career here. It’s my dream job, and it’s working with a company that’s really made an earnest effort to find places for bright young people that want to revolutionize this industry.
But I know that’s not reality for everyone. One of my best friends is moving from Bangor to Boston this week because it’s the right thing for his career. Many of my friends who stayed in Maine have struggled to find salaries that can cover their student loan payments.
I don’t think the answer to the economy problem is simple. It’s one of the challenges we’re trying to address in the MaineFocus project. But once you can make your career here, there are a lot of great things about living here. And while I think its great if more of my classmates stick around, economists say what we really need to do is recruit more young people here.
And to that end, as a 28-year-old observer, here’s what I see that we need to do:
- Encourage diversity. This might be an unpopular thing to say, but I’m going to go ahead and say it: I don’t think Maine is as far ahead in issues of diversity and race as we’d like to think. Comparatively to other states, Maine hasn’t had much experience with these issues, and xenophobia is often passed off as naïveté. We need to welcome outsiders, and culturally that has come hard to us.
- Recruit more out of state students. Our best tool for introducing young capable people to the state of Maine is through our universities. UMaine attendance for out-of-state students now costs almost $40K per year, nearly twice what an in-state student pays. I don’t know how this compares to other state universities because I am still busy picking my jaw up off the floor at how much tuition has gone up since I was choosing a college to attend 10 years ago.
- Fortify social networks. We’re never going to have the cultural or restaurant scene that Matt describes in his post like Washington DC. But it doesn’t have to feel so lonely and isolated. To that end I really enjoyed working with the Young Professionals of Lewiston Auburn (YPLAA) on the Y-Not project, which was designed to bring young people together in a scavenger hunt of things around the community. I know that Bangor has Fusion, too. These organizations provide that critical link between young people that are finding their roots into a community, and I’m glad to be a part of them.
I don’t have all the answers. I just want to say that I’m proud to live in Bangor and I think this conversation is critical to our future.