Portland’s Brain Gain

THROUGHOUT the recovery,  Greater Portland area has been driving job and economic growth in Maine.  Advanced statistics released earlier this year by the BEA revealed that of the state’s $51.1 bn GDP, the Portland metro accounted for $27.5 bn (roughly 53%), and the unemployment rate, 4.2%, is a full point below the state’s mark.*  As a result the state’s largest metro area has been attracting young, educated workers, with some 2,003 bachelor degree holders and 104 graduate degree holders moving to the area in 2012–far above Maine’s 2 other metro areas [edit: and despite the fact that Portland saw net migration outflows from 2008 – 2012].  Recently, Lyman Stone analyzed Census data on migration and released a series, In a State of Migration, on metro area migration in the U.S., which shows that the Portland metro is “attracting a pretty robust flow of migrants.”

In his series,  Lyman begins by examining migration at the macro level, noting that, in the U.S., while migration within the U.S. has been declining over the past 20 years, it is still historically high.  The primary reason for migration is employment, followed by family and housing.  While migrants tend to be younger and with higher levels of education, migration rates are distributed across income levels.

As for the Portland metro area, in 2013 net migration increased by 1.33%.  According to Lyman’s analysis, interstate migration accounted for 0.81% and intrastate 0.42%.  As for age distribution, Lyman writes:

Portland, Maine is a different story. It sees roughly balanced migration between in-state and interstate migrants, but extremely lopsided migration when we break it down by age. Almost 10 percent of the 18–19 year old population migrated out of state in 2013, and another 4.5 percent migrated to elsewhere in Maine: yet the metro area overall had positive migration. This is because it manages to attract reasonably high levels of professional-aged migrants, who represent the bulk of the population. In 2013, interstate migration increased the 30–34 year old population by 6 percent, and in-state migration increased it by another 1.5 percent. This is a much bigger group than 18–19 year olds (or even late retirees, who also saw net out-migration from Portland).

One important interpretation of the above is that with the longer term structural challenges Maine faces with its aging population, talent attraction over talent retention is preferred.  Recently, the LePage administration announced a workforce development, and calls have been made repeatedly to increase Maine’s production of talent through its universities.  The problem with these two approaches is that they assume Maine’s unemployment problem is structural, that there is a surplus of jobs over candidates.  More importantly, they ignore the migration patterns noted by Lyman and others; notably that simply increasing talent production will not translate into increasing talent retention.  As talent becomes more skilled, it becomes more mobile.  

*Figures are for September, not-seasonally adjusted, and the data for the Portland metro are preliminary figures.

John Haskell

About John Haskell

John graduated from the University of Southern Maine with a degree in Political Science, and from the University of Maine School of Law. He has worked in both the public and private sectors, and currently, works with a small business services company in the Mid-Coast area.