Get back

Someone once famously said, the only apparent constant is the consistent and unyielding persistence of change.

In political campaigns, the word “change” has long been a favored rhetorical tool for those seeking to oust an incumbent. On the other hand, if those challengers are succesful, they quickly drop the battle cry for “change.”

The New Page mill in Rumford.  (Bangor Daily News photo)
The New Page mill in Rumford. (Bangor Daily News photo)

Change is rarely quantified during political campaigns. Consider: If your house burns down, that will be a change, but not necessarily a change you would choose.

Unfortunately, none of are us are immune to change or able to control its impact.

But it’s important to remember that we can respond to change without panic. We can embrace change and accept it. We can and should always prepare for the next change that waits around the proverbial corner.

I chose this topic as the result of an article I read in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. That story, about 1,100 lost paper mill jobs in Alabama, jarred me and re-ignited a lingering sense of anxiety I carry around with me about Maine’s fragile economy.

The thrust of the story involved the diminishing need for paper in an increasingly digital age.

I spent the sophomore and junior years of my high school career as a student at Rumford High. Still, more than 30 years later, I always enjoy telling people from away that I lived in Peru and traveled daily on a school bus through Mexico to simply attend classes.

It did not take long for me to understand what it was like to live in Rumford, a community that is literally dependent on the financial health of yet another paper milll perched along the shore of the Androscoggin River.

Every year, while driving my family toward our summer excursion to Rangeley Lake, my kids and wife will complain about the smell of the mill as we drive through the neighboring town of Mexico. “That’s the smell of money,” I remind them.

When I was a kid, the mill was the preferred future for many of my classmates. Those were good-paying union jobs with excellent benefits. If you get into the mill, you would be all set. You could earn a good living, raise a family and buy a decent home.

Those days are changing.

It’s no different in my hometown of Biddeford, another Maine community hit hard by the influence of global markets and a decline in what were once traditional manufacturing opportunities.

Historically, Maine’s economy has been driven by the 3 Fs – – – Forestry, Fishing and Farming. All three of those once strong economic engines are facing serious challenges  – – from unstable and rising energy costs and tightening environmental regulations to global competition and advances in technology.

Fortunately, many of Maine’s paper mills are learning to adapt to a world that consumes less paper as the result of rapid advances in digital technology. But that adaptation seems slow and certainly painful.

 Maine is the second leading paper-making state by volume, producing more paper than any state other than Wisconsin, according to the Maine Pulp and Paper Association. Maine’s paper production has consistently increased since 1990, and in recent years Maine has produced more paper than ever before, according to the association’s web site.

But the challenges cannot be ignored or dismissed. My job regularly takes me into rural communities throughout Maine. Too many of our communities are mere shadows of what they once were.

just last week I spoke to a school principal in northern Maine who told me her school district has a 74.3 percent rate of students who qualify for free or reduced hot lunches. In the same breath she proudly tells me that her school district also has one of Maine’s highest graduation rates and that her school district was the first in Maine to raise money for Hurricane Sandy victims.

Just amazing.

There are many other good stories out there, An increasing number of commercial fishermen throughout the Gulf of Maine are becoming partners in collaborative research projects and using new technology to adapt.

But still, I worry. I worry that my fellow voters will not support our state’s technical schools. I worry that too many of us blindly follow change or react to it within a narrow vacuum of our own experience.

I know what it’s like to live in a community that shudders with fear and anxiety when rumors of No. 2 machine shutting down begin to circulate around town.

Can technology and education overcome the painful consequences of change? Yes, but only if we can accept and prepare for change.

Still, it hurts to think about those 1,100 people in Alabama, just like it hurts to drive through portions of Washington County.

Make no mistake: change is something you can believe in.


2 thoughts on “Get back

  1. I really enjoyed this article. I love driving through Rumford. Every summer while in Rangeley we take a jaunt to Rumford. I find the architecture very appealing.


  2. As an owner of a small high precision contract manufacturing company I have personally seen the demise of manufacturing in this town, state and country. Back when Ross Perot was saying ” hear that sucking sound, those are jobs leaving the North America”. I remember the 80’s the deal was manufacturing was dead we are moving into a service sector economy. I thought great, we are all going to get rich shining each others shoes.

    I am still waiting for ( insert any third world ) to ship me my shoe shine kit so I can get my share.


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