Makenga Tshibwabwa of Portland, originally from Congo, looks over a purse she stitched together at the Old Port Wool and Textile School for Stitching in Westbrook. Photo by Gabe Souza.

‘Give them a chance’ is a resounding theme for those who want more immigrant involvement in Maine’s workforce

by | May 5, 2019

Maine has more jobs than it can fill, and that situation is only predicted to get worse. As a result, attitudes about the role of immigrants in the state’s workforce are shifting. The debate over integrating people from other countries into Maine jobs – once framed as a social justice issue (doing the right thing) – is now centered on how this population can help support economic development (doing a necessary thing).

In response to the employment gap, Maine legislators have crafted bills aimed at easing obstacles that hinder immigrants from entering the workforce. These efforts are being supported by businesses, immigrant advocates, chambers of commerce and some politicians. In general, efforts to increase support for immigrant workers are originating from the Democratic side of the aisle, while some Republicans are wary of support because of budget concerns. However, there has been some Republican support, notably by Roger Katz, a former state Republican senator from Augusta.

“What has changed (about the immigration issue) is that as our workforce challenges have grown – you are hearing an outcry from the business community,” says Roger Katz. “Because we need more workers, the voices in the Maine Legislature have changed from the usual social justice advocates. They are now being joined by chambers of commerce and business men and women from around the state. That’s starting to really shift the attitude.”

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The Maine Trust Project

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Maine Trust Project: Dona Emerson



Dona Emerson picks up hitchhikers. Most people, especially women, have been schooled in the dangers of giving strangers a ride, and Dona was no exception. “My (85-year-old) mother,” she said, “would kill me if she knew how many I’ve picked up.”

And yet, she still does it.

Why? Because Dona Emerson understands the importance of reaching out to people to create connections, and she values the role of trust in that endeavor.

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Maine Trust Project: Deon Lyons



Deon Lyons has cancer. It’s advanced and the outlook is anything but cheery. But he’s not letting that get him down. His attitude is not surprising given one of his favorite words is “opportunity.”

“Opportunity” is a much better way of looking at what life has handed you then, say, “challenging,” which is the word most people would use to describe what he has faced over the course of his life.

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Maine Trust Project: Amanda Huotari



When physical comedian Amanda Huotari was about 10 years old, in her hometown of South Paris, she saw an ordinary man transform himself.

You could argue that this man – the late master mime artist Tony Montanaro – was anything but ordinary. But, alone on the stage, dressed totally in white, without props, there was nothing to suggest what was about to happen.

Before Amanda’s young and amazed eyes, and without uttering a word or sound, he morphed from human-ness to rooster-ness.

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Maine Trust Project: Joseph Reagan



Joe Reagan was just 22, a new graduate of Norwich University (a private military academy in Vermont) and had just completed 10 months of training as a second lieutenant in the Army when he arrived in Afghanistan for his first tour there with the 10th Mountain Division.

As a leader of a platoon of 28 men (women weren’t allowed in combat roles at the time) that scouted locations in advance of the rest of the division, he felt “extremely underqualified” for the role, he says. He was in a place that was unlike anything the Massachusetts native had experienced before.

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Maine Trust Project: Myron M. Beasley



When Myron Beasley moved to Maine 11 years ago to take a position teaching African American studies and American cultural studies at Bates College in Lewiston, he was determined to reach beyond the borders of the Bates campus to make connections with people in his new community.

As someone who has lived in and traveled to many places across the globe – Myron grew up in Israel, was schooled in Europe and the United States, and has done ethnographic field work in Haiti, Brazil, Morocco, and the United States, including here in Maine – he knows how to create community wherever he is.

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Maine Trust Project: Marie Harnois of Jackman



Four years ago – during the “coldest December ever” – Marie Harnois found herself doing something she couldn’t have imagined before: installing hoses to collect sap from sugar maple trees.

If you didn’t count the time as a child when she’d helped a friend’s family with their 30 buckets, Marie had not run a maple sugaring business before, and yet, here she was trying to do just that – and freezing her fingers in the process.

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Maine Trust Project: Joe Black of Bath



Joe Black is a man living his dream. With a light in his eyes, a quick smile and a sense of humor that invites you in, he stocks shelves and engages customers at Renys department store on Front Street in Bath. He’s been doing his dream job for more than 20 years and says it’s the perfect job for him.

“I’m a firm believer that there are different kinds of dreams,” he said. “Some people want to be rock stars. Some people … want to be president. These are big, huge dreams – and big, huge dreams are awesome – but there’s nothing wrong with little dreams.”

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Maine Trust Project: Joe Black of Bath



Finding common ground and engaging in civil conversations about important issues facing our communities, our state, our country and our world can seem elusive, if not sadly impossible.

In our second installment of "The Maine Trust Project", we speak with Mike Douglas of Augusta, for whom trust is about wholeheartedly investing in relationships, believing he'll get out of them what he puts into them.

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Maine Trust Project: Joe Black of Bath



Every day, 83-year-old Mary Betterley and her border terrier Raymond, aka, The Mayor, walk down the hill from their condo in Damariscotta to Main Street. Having lived in town for 40 years, Mary is greeting or greeted all along her way by most of those who are out and about.

Trust, for Mary, is a default position – she trusts unless given a reason not to. This attitude extends even to taking a risk with her life, as she did at age 65, when she found herself placing her toes on the edge of Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge at A.J. Hackett’s Bungy Centre outside Queenstown, New Zealand.

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