What Owners Need to Know About Maine’s Changing Economic and Workforce Situation – Yellow Breen

What Owners Need to Know About Maine's Changing Economic and Workforce Situation - Yellow BreenMDF, The Maine Development Foundation, plays an important role in Maine’s business ecosystem.

Led by Executive Director Yellow Breen, this non-partisan organization is helping to revitalize Maine’s downtowns and elevate our next generation of leaders.

They have their finger on the pulse of the changes that are impacting Maine’s economic and workforce situation, and what needs to happen to improve them.

Rich: Our guest today has a passion for promoting economic and educational opportunity for all Mainers regardless of geography or background. He became CEO of the Maine Development Foundation in August 2015, where he developed strategic direction, integration and partnerships across MDF’s mission and programs. He is a sought after public speaker with a diverse background in business, public policy and law. He spent 12 years as an executive with Bank, or Savings Bank, overseeing strategic planning, marketing, online banking, community development and charitable activities.

Rich: Prior, he was a senior official at the Maine Department of Education, and an advisor to independent governor Angus King. Born and raised in rural central Maine, he’s a product of Maine public schools, and earned undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard University. He’s been an active volunteer in many educational and economic development efforts, including the boards of the Maine Community Foundation and Educate Maine.

Rich: He previously served on the MDF board and chaired Realize Maine, an ongoing initiative to attract, retain and support young professionals. We are very excited to be chatting with Yellow Breen. Yellow, welcome to the show.

Yellow: It’s awesome to be here. Thanks for having me, Rich.

Rich: Our pleasure.

Yury Yellow, could you tell us a little bit about your path to become an executive director of Maine Development Foundation? How did you find yourself there?

Yellow: Oh boy. In around 2014, 2015, I’d been in banking 12 or 13 years, had just an amazing progression of opportunities to constantly evolve and grow as a professional and as a leader, changing my role every couple of years in some major way.

Yellow: But we were going through some transitions. And actually the funny thing is, and I think this is true for a lot of people, a dream job opened up for me. I threw all in on that. My colleagues at my old company supported me to the hilt in going after it, and then I didn’t get it. That was for a different nonprofit foundation here in the state. And so-

Yury Their loss. Their loss.

Yellow: Yeah. Well, so at the end of that process- But you sort of let the genie out of the bottle sometimes, and I sort of knew it. You sort of get this fire for what you could do different or new and it’s kind of hard to go back to the same company or role at that point.

Yury Sure.

Yellow: And I was thinking, well what is it in the state, other than the job I didn’t get and other than maybe being the governor, who has a mandate to travel the entire state with a positive message about Maine’s economic future. And I realized the CEO of MDF had that role and mandate, and they were in transition. Their CEO had just left a month or two before. I knew some board members. I called them up and said, “Hey, I know the organization. I’ve served on the board. I think I’ve got a unique skill set. Why don’t you save time and money on a search process and just hire me?”

Rich: Nice.

Yellow: And luckily they said yeah.

Yury Wow. That is fantastic. As they say, no matter what happens, it happens for a reason. And it led you to where you are.

Yellow: Yeah. And the funny thing is I never visualized myself leading this organization because I’m very different than the people who led it before. Principally before me, Laurie Lachance, the president of Thomas college who is probably the state’s most renowned economist. I’m not an economist. The guy before her was really kind of a great facilitator and convener. I’m not. I have an opinion about most things. But the board said it’s kind of a blank slate to work on issues that affect Maine’s economy. And that was just really, really attractive to me.

Rich: Well, and that kind of gets to the point. What do you feel? Because it sounds like it may have been evolved. What is the role of MDF in the main business ecosystem?

Yellow: Yeah. Well, a lot of people don’t realize that MDF was chartered by the legislature back in the late seventies, so we’ve been around about 40 years. But we were deliberately created outside of the state to be a public-private partnership. And out of my board, 12 out of 14 are drawn from outside, and then two members of the governor’s cabinet. So we keep this tied to the state, but we’re very much a a private sector mentality. And the idea was work on long range strategies that would move Maine’s economy forward in a sustainable way. And that has evolved over the years. I think in the early days, we were really bread and butter sort of economic development agency. We actually hosted the Small Business Development Centers way back at that time. We ran some programs that were similar to things like Finance Authority of Maine or the Maine Venture Fund might be doing today.

Yellow: But somewhere along the way we became a place where you could kind of incubate really collaborative partnerships where the private sector had to work with state government, with philanthropy, with education to make things happen. So we’ve really been a place that has been able to respond to a call. A call from an urgent need from the private sector, a call from an urgent need from charitable foundations that wanted to move an issue forward or a call from government.

Yellow: And I can give you a few examples. But in 2016, by way of example, Maine’s congressional delegation reached out to me and they said, “We had these six paper mill closings in Penobscot and Kennebec Valley. We’re going to try to bring a combined multi-agency strike force to the ground in Maine to bring every possible federal resource to bear to help. Who can coordinate that fact finding and that coordinated process?” They asked MDF to host it and coordinate it. And they asked us to host it and coordinate it because we could bring the amazing research assets of you, Maine, together with four different industry trade associations, together with six very disparate communities, and do it with a sense of neutral ground.

Rich: And so what was the outcome of that? Or if it’s still going on, what’s going on right now in that? Because that sounds very interesting and a challenge that Maine’s probably going to face more than once going forward.

Yellow: Yeah. So it’s still going on. In fact, we and those industry partners and community partners just landed continued funding to keep working together for the next three years. Last fall we put out really a strategic roadmap for the industry to grow it back. It had shrunk from about 10 billion down to about 8 billion and we’ve put out a pretty bold assertion that we can grow it to 12 billion, so that we can grow this thing by about 40%. And the vision is you’ve got to strengthen what’s already here. We’ve got a really strong saw mill sector. Paper is not dead. It’s just printing and writing papers that were dead. But packaging, labeling tissue, a variety of applications that the strong players have migrated into and you see this renewed investment by Sappi. You see this renewed investment by Nine Dragons in Rumford and Old Town.

Yellow: So building on the core strengths and then adding that overlay of what’s that next generation products. And it’s going to be things like bioplastics and biofuels and advanced building materials, some of which are new spins on stuff we’ve been doing, whether it’s low density fiber insulation, whether it’s cross laminated timber, mass timber building structures or really wild stuff that we haven’t even seen yet in terms of what we can make out of these trees.

Rich: That’s fascinating. And this is all part of what you’re doing by bringing these disparate groups together to try and come up with new ideas to reinvigorate those sections of the Maine economy?

Yellow: Yeah.

Rich: Part of what you do.

Yellow: And our role is really to be the grease and the glue. We’re neither the industry experts nor the R&D people, but where the grease and the glue that has created a place where we have an emerging technology subcommittee for this project where if potential investors in Maine who want to bring next wave technology into the forest products industry can actually interact directly with landowners, with paper mills and saw mills.

Yellow: Because a lot of times the new technology will use the byproduct of the saw mills or use the results of the pulping process in new, higher value added ways. So if you’ve got a way where you can bring different partners together where it’s not just government claiming that this is for real, or not just some NGO claiming this is for real, but where you can talk directly to potential business partners in the state. We’re just helping to knit that together.

Rich: Nice.

Yury Well, it sounds very interesting, speaking about the innovation, or kind of like iterative approach to the existing industry, but taking it to the next frontier. Are they any other industries that may benefit from this kind of like forward thinking vision of what you’re trying to do with the with mills?

Yellow: Yeah. Well, there’s actually a group that is trying to do for the marine economy exactly what we have been doing the last three years for the forest economy. So with wild caught, with aquaculture, both offshore and onshore aquaculture, with kelp farming, you name it. So there’s a group that has a proposal pending now to really instigate same kind of approach for that cluster of industries that we’re talking about for forest products. And I think the statewide economic plan that Governor Mills is asking for that we’ve been part of assisting to develop, I think you’re going to see that these kinds of themes of finding that really futuristic opportunity in some very traditional industries is going to be a core part of something like that.

Yury Would it require a somewhat of like a workforce development or an influx of highly trained or qualified individuals to actually help to execute those initiatives?

Yellow: Yeah. Well, number one is making Maine a place you want to put your capital, and there’s so many things that feed into that perception about the business climate. a lot of it is people looking for stability and speed and certainty about the regulatory environment. You don’t don’t want to be mired in permitting for years and years on end, right? So there’s a lot of things that feed into that. But at the, at the end of the day, we’re seeing in Maine, just like across the country, that the availability of workforce is a ceiling on economic growth. If we don’t have the workforce, you can do everything else right, but I can’t come there. So it’s definitely a huge factor.

Yury Well, speaking about doing things right, I mean I’m really curious, why would a growing Maine business be interested in MDF?

Yellow: Yeah. Well, we’re touching a lot of things in kind of the ecosystem. I was thinking of some of those old advertising campaigns like Intel inside or I think there was a composites company that had a motto that was something like, “We make the things that make life better better.” A lot of our work at MDF is legitimately behind the scenes to a direct business. This forest products thing may ultimately result in a business going into the mill in Madison, may result in some really cool redevelopment in Ashland or Lincoln or Millinocket, but our work is behind the scenes in that process, and frankly want to keep it that way. And the same is true in some other areas.

Yellow: So I’ll give you two other big examples of the way we work behind the scenes. One is something called the Maine Downtown Center. So you see these groups all over Maine, whether it’s Our Town Belfast, whether it’s Main Street Skowhegam, there’s a group in Machias, Eastport has been active over the years, you name it. And our center is the group behind the scenes that is the technical assistance and the coaching and the conduit to all the national best practices for these local groups that are in almost 30 communities across Maine. But there’s no reason that a small business person on the street would necessarily know about the Main Downtown Center, but they would know about Rockland Main Street or Our Town Belfast or Main Street Skowhegan. So it works in regional-

Rich: So they can see the results, but they might not realize that you’re the man behind the curtain or that MDF is.

Yellow: Yeah, and these groups are all independent, but we’re helping them be effective and sustainable and to claim that mantle of this national model program that really has a 20 to 1 leverage on investment proven across the country, which is amazing.

Yellow: It’s actually great though. In the last few months, there’s been a couple of articles in the Bangor Daily News about this where a lot of times someone will write an article about, “Hey, this row downtown is really cool and happening and is coming back and is getting re-invigorated,” and they won’t even mention the local main street group, let alone us in terms of the fact that there’s a group of volunteers and often kind of one person gang who’s the staff of that local group, who it’s not happenstance. It’s not just accident. There’s just a lot of elbow grease and constant persistence of a tiny staff and a lot of volunteer leaders that are having a vision for that downtown. And Gardner and Belfast and Biddeford maybe, and now Skowhegan probably three of the biggest examples of this, and it’s just years of persistence and saying what kind of small business can flourish here? How do we support that? How do we get the residents to small business and town government all working together? But you know, those local groups luckily I think are getting a little bit more appreciated. That it’s not just random.

Rich: Right. It’s not happening just by chance. Yeah. People are actually designing this to work.

Yellow: Yep. And we’d love people to know that the Main Downtown Center’s out there, but at the same time, not to the detriment or to steal the limelight from these local groups that are making it happen on the ground in their community.

Rich: Sure. I know that MDF does a lot of research and you’re a source of economic data in the state. Can you tell us a little bit more of the type of research that you’re doing and what some of the trends you’re seeing out there that a business owner might be interested in?

Yellow: Yeah. So one of the things we’re most known for is this annual report called Measures of Growth. And when I came to MDF, a lot of people would come up to me, whether state legislators or others, and they would say, “Se love MDF because you’re nonpartisan.” Now, by law, actually all 501(c)(3) nonprofits are nonpartisan. So I’m like, “Well, what does that even mean?” Obviously it meant something to them or they wouldn’t be making a big point out of it. And I think what they mean is that they trusted us to be driven by the research and not have a preexisting ideological ax to grind.

Yellow: And so in measures of growth, we have, at this point, I think almost 30 indicators and measures of growth. And I think what distinguishes it is we’ve been doing it for over 25 years, so people trust it. They know that it’s coming from a nonpartisan group, the Maine Economic Growth Council, which we support and staff here at MDF. And it’s a balanced scorecard. It includes measures about things like the usual gross gross domestic, product per capita income, productivity R&D, but it also includes metrics about community health and about environmental health. So the social, civic and environmental assets of the state. So it’s really a balanced scorecard, which I think people appreciate and people use that to set a vision of where could the state go? I was talking to Dianne Tilton down in Washington County, and she was one of the founding members of the Economic Growth Council back in the early nineties, and she said, “Don’t take for granted that this exists. That people can go to someplace and get a real read on what’s happening in the Maine economy that is not politically slanted or politically filtered.”

Yury Well, from all the research that you’ve conducted over the years and recent publications, where are we heading?

Rich: Or where should we be heading?

Yury Or where should we be heading?

Yellow: Yeah. I think when you look at the measures of growth, at the end of the day, our per capita wages are lower than the national average and lower than a lot of Southern New England obviously. And when you peel that back, there’s a metric called value added per worker. So you can’t pay yourself more, either as the business owner or to your employees, if you’re not producing more goods and services at some higher value or higher margin that someone wants to buy. And so I look at that value added and I say, “Hmm, what are the things within value added that any of us can control?” Well, one is the skills and talents and training of the people doing the work so they can add more value. So that human capital piece, that talent piece of raising the skill level of the main workforce is huge. And now of course we have just a raw numbers challenge of having enough workers. So quality and quantity of that workforce, huge. And all the things that go into creating a livable, attractive state that people want to be in.

Yellow: And then the second piece is how do you put the right tools in the hands of those workers. Tools in terms of capital and equipment. Tools in terms of innovation and R&D. And Maine has trailed the national metric in terms of investment in R&D. For time in memorial, we’ve made various stutter steps here and there, we’ve done some good things, but not enough and not sustained enough. And the R&D metric is just I think a proxy for all that kind of innovation that goes on process improvement and product development and other things. But if you’re trailing in R&D by that much, it probably gives you a sense that some of that other stuff isn’t happening either.

Rich: Can you give me an example of some of this places where we’re falling behind on R&D? Or what kinds of things like could a typical Maine business be doing? Or is it even possible in the end? It’s too big a job for one business to be focused on this?

Yellow: Yeah. Well, I think some of what we’re seeing in the forest products as part of that. You had some traditional players in pulp and paper who even though the pressure of the digital economy was becoming obvious, they didn’t find Maine an attractive place to invest in terms of keeping their capital equipment fresh, in terms of changing their product mix and in terms of doing the research that would support both of those things. And so we kind of reaped the bitter fruit of that 20 year phenomenon, and it came to a head with these six mill closings.

Yellow: But I look at the opportunities. IDEXX is a huge company. Westbrook, Maine, for those of you who don’t know it. Something like 8,000 employees across the globe. About 3,000 here in Maine. They do something like 80% of all the R&D, and their entire industry is done at that one company based here in Maine. And that’s why they’re able to constantly be innovating in a way that adds those 3,000 jobs to the Maine economy. So I look at stuff like the debate over the placement of land-based aquaculture and I’m like, “Look, if we can do it right and an environmentally sound way, not only do we want that in Maine, you know what I want? I want the people innovating in the technology for land-based aquaculture to them come with it. Not just the jobs of tending the fish tanks, but where is the value added in terms of innovating the constant improvement of this technology? Can we base that here?

Rich: You’ve mentioned a few things that might be holding Maine back that I’m hearing right now. One is workforce, one is this investment in R&D, and the other one is getting possibly outside investment into the state. If you had to prioritize those in terms of which you think would have the biggest impact, how would you do it? Or do you think they’re equal?

Yellow: Hmm. Boy, that’s a tough one. I think the R&D and the investment are actually really tightly related. And the reason for that is even though we tend to read in the newspaper about government appropriations for R&D, university based R&D, actually about 80% of R&D has to come from private company investment. And so in many ways what I like about the R&D story is it’s also a story about making Maine an attractive place for that private investment. We can prime the pump and show that we’re willing to put those matching dollars in, but that alone won’t cut it. So those two things are so closely related.

Yellow: But I think the talent piece is huge. I think the way I think about it is, well, if you talk to Peter DelGreco at Maine & Company – and Maine & Company is the private sector investment attraction arm for Maine that works with state government on getting these companies here – he will say, “Look, we’re never going to be the low cost provider in terms of attracting capital investment. We’re just not. We’re a high cost state in a high cost region in a high cost country. We can try to keep it reasonable.” We have to play with all that stuff that, as he says, is off the balance sheet.

Yellow: And one of those is how nimble and how effective we can be in training the workforce that you need if you’re going to come here. Can we get you the workers you need and can we train them in a highly customized way quickly? I don’t think we’re great at that right now. I think everybody wants to get better at that. And so yeah. Maybe that’s the thing where we can break through and say we’re too small to not be really nimble and collaborative of getting the community college system, the university system and other proprietary training programs to work really tightly together so we can say we can get you that workforce ready within a matter of weeks or months to hit the ground running.

Yury Well, was speaking about leadership and development, I know that you guys have some leadership training programs. Could you tell us a little bit about them?

Yellow: Sure. We have two signature programs: Leadership Maine and the Institute for Civic Leadership. They are both 14-day programs spread across an eight or nine month period as a professional. Leadership Maine really came out of our economic mission originally to say, “Hm, we can’t work on all these issues ourselves. We have to kind of nurture a cohort of leaders who could go off back to their own industries and communities and work on these economic issues.” And so we have a class of about 40 a year, and we formed that group up with some help from the Hurricane Island Outward Bound people. And then we send them on sort of glorified adult field trips across Maine to really get turned on to one of those exciting nodes of innovation and progress in different industries and different regions. And what was the leadership that made that innovation or economic progress possible?

Yellow: Institute for Civic Leadership’s a little different. It really is more focused on your individual skills as a leader. How do you understand the theories and principles and best practices of leadership? Workshop those skills with a couple of dozen classmates. Think about how to lead in really diverse settings out in your business or your community. And so one is kind of an outward-facing journey and one is kind of more of a reflective, internal journey. And I always say as a leader who among us doesn’t need both of those things some point in our career in whichever sequence is most important at a given time?

Yury I’m sorry for jumping in Rich. Are there any requirements to qualify to be a member of one of the cohorts? And are there any prerequisites for successfully graduating the program or you just graduate regardless as long as you stick with the group?

Yellow: Yeah. Don’t wander off.

Yury Stay on plan.

Yellow: Exactly. Well they’re not graded if that’s your question. It’s actually hilarious. Whenever you do these team building exercises with Outward Bound, everyone always- Leaders in any business, even nonprofit, are very competitive and their first question is always, “How do I win with this field exercise? What is the fastest time ever for this field exercise? Were we the best at it?” So it’s hilarious. So people put those bars on themselves, but these are ungraded programs. It’s really about you being present and committed and engaged so that you can take as much away from it as possible. We have in both various kinds of small group work and project-based work. Again, not graded, but you know we really ask you to lean into that.

Yellow: In terms of pre-qualifying in, in a lot of ways we do look for the readiness of the person in terms. We typically don’t have to turn anyone away that we think is really ready to benefit from the program, but we want to make sure. These are typically rising stars who are middle to senior management in large companies, perhaps the executive director or the owner of smaller entities. And we want to make sure it’s a peer group that is that a similar enough place in their professional journey that they can relate to one another and benefit to the insights that they’re sharing. And a lot of it frankly is making sure that we know their sending company or organization is behind them, that the boss and the boss’s boss is bought in. That this is an important experience for this person to benefit from at this point in their trajectory.

Yury When do you begin to selection process for the program?

Yellow: Yeah. We start recruiting this winter and try to form the classes around April, May, and the class year for the programs is September to May.

Yury Awesome. Thank you.

Rich: So this sounds fascinating, both of these leadership programs. But I’m kind of curious about, in your opinion, what’s the goal? What is the objective for these, outside of just growing some people in the state? And how does this fit in with MDF’s mission in general?

Yellow: I think the goal is to build broad-based consensus around some of these topics that we’ve been talking about in the podcast. Because early on in my tenure, the editorial staff at the Bangor Daily said, “Hey, we’re working on some stuff around education and workforce. Can you come talk?” I said, “I can be there in an hour.” And they said, “Look, we think it’s all about the workforce. We have this issue with early childhood. We have this issue with K-12. We have this issue with post-secondary and workforce training. Isn’t it a no-brainer that it’s all about education and workforce skills?” And I said, I think it is a no-brainer, but then we tend to think that pre-K it’s the family’s responsibility or their fault. K-12 we tend to think that it’s the school or the teachers’ fault or responsibility. And post high school, we tend to think it’s on you, the individual. And so sometimes even when we all agree about the importance of an issue, we don’t think of it as a system that we all have something to contribute to the entities and the policies and the institutions that will move us to a new level as a state.” So sometimes people don’t appreciate the importance of the issue. I think R&D is one of those issues where people just imagine really pointy-headed lab techs. And so sometimes we underappreciate what the issue is that we have to work on to move forward, and these programs are aimed to close that gap. And sometimes we know the issue, but we don’t appreciate how to work on it together as a system where family, community, educational institutions and business actually have to work together on it.

Rich: Interesting. All right.

Yury Yellow, what unique challenges do businesses in rural areas of Maine face? And are those challenges systematic as it feels like we’re talking about the systems and staff, or they’re just isolated instances that need to be addressed?

Yellow: Well, frankly, I think the isolation is one of the really tough things, having a small business in rural Maine, because you don’t have a network of peer businesses or maybe even informal business advisers in terms of accountants and insurance agents and other resources who can say, “Hey, try this. I’m seeing this with my other clients.” So I think that isolation can be a part of it. And part of it is for sure the scale. So sometimes when you think about these issues of like, “Hey, we need to do a more aggressive job of recruiting workforce to Maine.” Well why don’t we? Or why doesn’t the private business community just make it happen? Well, part of the reason is because I think 80% of the businesses in Maine are under 50 employees, rural or not. And so they don’t have an HR department, let alone an HR department that can go recruit in Portsmouth, Boston or Hartford. So I think the scale and the isolation makes it harder to, to thrive, harder to get access to best practices and good ideas and makes it harder to grapple with issues like workforce.

Yellow: And the only solutions on things like the workforce side are going to be working together through things like liveandworkinmaine.com. They’ve got this great boomerang project going for next week. They know that a ton of younger people and mid-career professionals come back to Maine still to have Thanksgiving with Mom and Dad or the grandparents. So they’re trying to leverage that with a big PR push. And maybe by the time this airs that will be done. But that common portal of live and work in Maine, where businesses of all sizes can share a common face to the world and can leverage some of the tax incentives and other things that Maine does have. But the, the small size is a huge challenge, especially across rural Maine.

Yury Gotcha.

Rich: What else do you wish Mainers knew about MDF that we haven’t talked about yet today?

Yellow: I haven’t talked as much, even though we’ve talked a lot about workforce, about this project that we’re running right now called Adult Promise. And there’s a group called MaineSpark working on this challenge of workplace skills. Only about 43% of Maine’s workforce has any credential beyond high school. Two-year degree, four-year degree, welding certificate, you name it. We think at least 60% of our workforce needs something like that. And by the way, then everyone always asks, “Are you saying everyone needs a four-year college degree?” I’m like, “Did I stutter?” No, but two-year degrees, four-year degrees, industry credentials? Absolutely, yes. And I tend to think of it this way.

Yellow: I would make the assertion that everyone going into today’s workforce needs four years of training and education beyond high school. It just might be for some people spread over 10 years. A semester here, a certificate there, a year here, and not necessarily four years at a time. So we’re trying to challenge, tackle this. The numbers tell us there’s only about 10,000 kids coming out of Maine high schools every year. You’re not going to solve this problem by just doing a slightly better job with high school kids. It’s the hundreds of thousands of Mainers who are already in the workforce. So that’s this project, Adult Promise. The challenges? Most of these folks are working while trying to go back to school. A lot of them, of course, raising a family while trying to go back to school. And so they face all the challenges of any other college student or any other training participant, but they have even more challenge of life getting in the way.

Yellow: And so this Adult Promise project we’re working on is trying to work with the people in the community, not just at colleges and at adult ed, but you might be interacting with someone at the career center, you might be interacting with someone at the cap agency who helps you with your childcare or your fuel assistance. Everyone who touches these, it might be the HR department at your employer, and we call these folks navigators because the system’s complex. Where do I go to weave together financial aid, the academic program or the vocational program I’m aiming for with also maybe access to supports if I need emergency assistance, if my car breaks dow if I have a sick kid? Everyone’s realizing we’re not going to get there without fundamentally taking what we used to call non-traditional learners and saying, “Guess what?” Those are the prototypical learners that we have to be reaching today, and we’re working on that project.

Rich: The project sounds fascinating. I’m just wondering what does it look like? Have you rolled this out or is it still kind of in process? How do people get involved with it?

Yellow: Yeah. So if you go to mainespark.me, there’s an Adult Promise hub there that’s for both actual adult students and for the people that help them. And so over the last three years, what we’ve been doing is two things. One, identifying these navigators, some of whom know that their role is to support people in their educational aspirations and some of whom that’s like an offshoot of their other job. And we’ve identified about 500 of these folks, excuse me, close to 400 of these folks. We think it will be 500 by next year. And so part of it is giving them better professional development so they know where to make the handoffs for those other support services that adult learners make. So a big part of the effort is out there now and is aimed at those 400 people who are the support network for adult students.

Yellow: And then the other piece is getting this information directly to the students themselves. And finally, we are piloting some of this stuff in specific regions, and I love this story so I have to tell it. One of our little microgrants was to Kennebec Valley Community College to work with these adult students. And the enrollment management guy there said, “I never thought as someone working on enrollment and student support that I would be buying crockpots.” And they had a couple of dozen adult learners, mostly single working moms, and they said, “Look, what are the single biggest barriers for you of really making this work and persisting in this and feeling good about it?” And they said, “It’s knowing whether I can get a healthy meal, healthy dinner on the table for my kids while I’m working and going to class and studying. It’s just a challenge. And so they bought 19 slow cookers and slow cooking cookbooks for these working moms. And you know, it’s one of those little things-

Rich: It solved the problem.

Yellow: That for a few hundred bucks you can really tackle that real direct barrier-

Rich: That’s fascinating.

Yellow: Of what makes it tough for people to keep doing this.

Rich: That’s great.

Yury That was a great story I really love it. Well, speaking about the things that we love, this is the part of the show that I or Rich, we ask this favorite question and the question is what one thing would you change, if you could, to improve the business ecosystem here in Maine?

Yellow: This is going to sound a little abstract, but the one thing I would do if I had a magic wand is I’d have one really clear, comprehensive, consistent economic development plan for the state, and I would stick with it for a decade across the oscillations of politics and elections and budgets and recessions.

Rich: That is one powerful magic wand you have, sir.

Yellow: And I know I’m not alone. And so a [DCD 00:36:07] Commissioner Heather Johnson has been spearheading this process, working with Bruce Wagner from FAME. Bruce is a corporate turnaround specialist and an amazing project manager and planning manager. And I’m sure whatever comes out of this process over the coming weeks, some people like parts of it and not others. And you can’t please everybody, but if at least there’s a kernel there of the right strands that can move Maine forward.

Yellow: Let’s debate that. Let’s fine tune it. And then let’s commit to say Republican, Democrat, Independent, good times, bad times. Yeah, we’ll have to adapt. Yeah, we might have to ease off on the gas pedal at times, but let’s not oscillate and just chase the shiny new thing. And if we can do that, we’re a small team here in Maine. We got to be really cohesive and focused and disciplined if we’re going to get very far.

Rich: Fantastic.

Yury That is a great message.

Rich: Yellow, this has been great. Where can people go if they want to connect with you online or if they want to learn more about what’s up with the MDF?

Yellow: Yeah, absolutely. Our website is mdf.org. Drop me a line at [email protected]. My cell phone is probably out there on the internet. So look, I’m pretty easy to find so I’d love to hear from folks and connect you into our projects or project program managers if there’s something that you can get involved in.

Rich: Awesome. Yellow, I really appreciate you stopping by today. Thanks so much.

Yury It was a great show.

Yellow: Thank you for having me.

Rich: Thank you.

Rich: Good stuff from [Jen 00:37:45] As we expected, you can find a full transcript of our interview with Jen at the website. Just head on over to fastforwardmaine.com/20. That’s right. This is episode 20. We have had double digits times two on this show, which is pretty awesome. And so we’ve come to that point of the show where it’s time for fast takes. [Yury 00:00:38:05], what was your fast take today?

Yury: So my first take is that I was absolutely delighted to find out that there was a strong movement and collaboration among Maine organizations to support female entrepreneurs and contribute to the economic and cultural enrichment of our state by helping the immigrant community in the land of opportunities. Rich, what was your Fast take?

Rich: That’s a good one Yury. My Fast take was loans are available for all size businesses here in Maine, and CEI is a great resource for putting you in contact with these funds to grow your business, especially if you come from a traditionally underserved group. Now we want you to know about a couple of things going on here in the Fast Forward Maine world and that is that we’ve got a couple of upcoming free business growth workshops. We’ve got one coming up in Portland on- What is the date? I don’t have it in front of me.

Yury: It’s 29th of October.

Rich: October 29th, and another one coming up in Brewer, Maine on November 22. We don’t know when you’re listening to this, that’s the beauty of podcast. You might be listening to it today. You might be listening to it from two weeks from now. The point is that we travel around the state and we always bring in some awesome guest speakers and we’re putting on these half-day workshops all over the state.

Rich: And the best way to find out if one’s coming to your neighborhood, it just go to the Fast Forward Maine website. There’s a workshop, a tab right at the top. Click on it and see if we’re going to be coming to your town soon. And if you don’t see we’re coming, we actually have a little request form where you can say, “Hey, I’m having a house party. I want Rich and Yury there.” Not exactly but that we would come to your area. So we want to know if you want us to come and put on a workshop in your backyard, please let us know that as well. And while you’re at the website, don’t forget to click on the subscribe button so you can get all the upcoming episodes of Fast Forward Maine podcast delivered magically and for free to your favorite listening device.

Yury: Thanks for tuning in to another episode of the Fast Forward Maine podcast, brought to you by Machias Savings Bank and Flyte New Media.

Rich: The podcast for growing Maine businesses.