Down East 2013 ©
Like many young Mainers, I left the state to go to college, not sure if I would ever return. I wanted to explore the world, but I also worried that my career choices would be limited if I stayed. Even after I had returned to Maine for good, I continued to fret that I was giving up financial opportunities for the privilege of living in a naturally beautiful state populated by fantastic people — and that some day I would regret my choice.
Was I right to be concerned? Maybe. It’s no secret that many jobs in Maine pay less than the exact same positions in Boston or Seattle. And networking is certainly easier in places where energetic and ambitious people are concentrated in city blocks and not spread across a mid-size, rural state. Every week, I seem to meet Maine natives who worked out of state to build a nest egg or acquire professional credentials before they dared to even contemplate moving back to Maine; in their minds they needed to leave the state for a while before they could actually afford to live here. I understand and respect their thinking. Making a living in Maine (the theme of this special issue) involves real trade-offs, and anyone who tells you differently is selling something.
Living anywhere requires compromises, of course. And on balance I can report that I’m delighted with my decision, despite Maine not being the epicenter of magazine journalism in the United States. Or consider Kate Shaffer. The California woman moved to remote Isle au Haut to take a job cooking at an inn. When that business sold, she decided to start a company of her own, making candy under the banner of Black Dinah Chocolatiers. Several months ago, Shaffer was named one of the ten best chocolatiers in North America by Dessert Professional magazine.
Not all Maine jobs are so sweet; some are downright dirty. But that doesn’t mean that the people who hold them are unhappy. Just ask our cover model, wormdigger David Cronk.
There’s no question that the job market in Maine and elsewhere is grim. Former state economist Charles Colgan predicts Maine won’t reclaim the jobs lost during the Great Recession until 2017. But Mainers do themselves a disservice by repeating the canard that the road to economic opportunity leads south across the Piscataqua River Bridge. I know otherwise from personal experience.