Spotlight on diverse economy, inflation, during visit to Maine by Boston Fed president
Trip north is part of larger travel plan aimed at getting to know region’s people, concerns
Being a hub for services and support for local youth is both a priority and challenge at Midcoast Youth Center in Bath, Maine. Executive Director Jamie Dorr said employees work each day to ensure underprivileged students can move past whatever obstacles they face and find future success.
“We are here to help students, but we are also trying to take preventative measures in support of the next generation, so these systemic issues are not pervasive over time,” Dorr said.
Hearing stories from leaders like Dorr is one of the reasons Federal Reserve Bank of Boston President and CEO Susan M. Collins was in Maine on Wednesday. Dorr is part of the Sagadahoc County Working Communities Challenge team, a Boston Fed community development initiative that brings together stakeholders from the private, nonprofit, and public sectors to address the root causes of chronic local problems and concerns. The Sagadahoc County team, which is one of six Maine-based WCC teams, is working to improve economic prospects for youth in the area.
“It’s so important for me to hear about what you are seeing and experiencing,” Collins told participants in a roundtable discussion at the center. “Your work goes hand-in-hand with Fed’s mission of providing economic opportunities for all.”
Bath was the first stop of Collins’ trip to Maine, which she took as part of a commitment to visit cities and states throughout New England during her opening months on the job.
Collins took over as Boston Fed president in July and stepped right into a rotating term as a voting member of the Federal Reserve’s policymaking body, the Federal Open Market Committee. Her preparation as a voter, she’s said, includes gathering on-the-ground information about the economy from a variety of stakeholders and perspectives.
“These visits are about listening and collaboration,” she said. “Working together is the way we ensure a thriving economy that works for everyone.”
Collins discusses Maine’s economic challenges with business and civic leaders
Collins’ stop in Bath was followed by a trip to Augusta for a meeting with Gov. Janet Mills. The pair discussed economic challenges facing Maine business owners and workers, including workforce development and retention, lack of affordable housing, and Maine’s aging workforce.
Those themes were echoed by business leaders who gathered with Collins at L.L. Bean in Freeport for an afternoon conversation, moderated by L.L. Bean CEO Stephen Smith.
The discussion aimed to give Collins a holistic look at Maine’s economy through the eyes of major employers, including Hannaford, WEX, and Maine Grains. Executives from the real estate and hospitality sectors were also there, as was Jeanne Hulit – CEO of Maine Community Bank and a member of the Boston Fed’s Board of Directors – and L.L. Bean Chief Financial Officer Kierston Van Soest, a member of the Bank’s New England Advisory Council.
Just before the discussion, Collins toured L.L. Bean’s Order Fulfillment Center, a 1.2 million square foot warehouse that employs hundreds of Mainers and prepares close to 26,000 packages a day.
Collins: Inflation is “taking a toll on everybody”
Throughout the day, Collins heard about the impacts of the current inflationary environment. Business leaders at the roundtable highlighted high costs of goods and services, labor force challenges, and housing affordability as key economic issues. Collins said the Federal Reserve has the tools and resolve to bring inflation back to its 2% target.
“We are in a current environment where very high inflation is just taking a toll on everybody. It’s hurting individuals and households – especially those who are low- and moderate-income, and it’s hurting our firms and employers,” Collins said. “Getting back to an environment of price stability is really what will both enable us to address that set of challenges, but also to focus on maximum employment that is sustainable.”
“Getting there will require some gradual slowdown and some increase in unemployment. That’s challenging, and it’s important for us to recognize that.”
Collins said Maine’s diverse economic landscape was striking, and added she still has a lot to learn and see from Mainers in the eastern, Downeast, and northern parts of the state.
“I look forward to visiting again soon and seeing more of Maine,” she said.