New Mainers and Economic Vitality

This Sustain Southern Maine Knowledge Sharing Session took place at the Portland Public Library from 2-5 pm on April 29.  It was a provocative and practical discussion on partnering with Maine’s immigrant community to enhance Southern Maine’s economic vitality.

Recent articles and books such as Arrival City have focused on the economic and social benefits a community will reap from encouraging the success of its immigrants. This is in direct contrast to the view held by some that immigrants are a drag on our economy and resources. This panel discussion looked at what our existing immigrant community needs to succeed  – and subsequently enrich our communities – and what is already being done to make it happen.

Panelists and their topics included:

  • Supporting Basics—Language and Computer Literacy: Stephen J. Podgajny, Portland Public Library
  • Building Skills for the Community Economy: Tae Chong, StartSmart Small Business Assistance Program, Coastal Enterprises, Inc.
  • Creating Community Networks: Apollo Karara, founder Maine Association for New Americans and Stefanie Trice Gill, Cross-Cultural Systems Consultant and Member, Maine Health Workforce Forum.
  • Collaborative Organizations: Dr. Jean Michel Kayumba, H.O.P.E. for Congo, and Sally Sutton, Muskie School of Public Service

The panel discussion was followed by facilitated small group discussions on these topics that helped to identify gaps and next steps.

Audio recordings of the panel discussion are available below.  A written summary of the panel discussion and of the discussion groups’ findings can be found here.


Jack Kartez from USM’s Muskie School pf Public Service opened the session and provided an introduction to the topic.  Carol Morris from SSM then gave a brief review of the efforts SSM made to outreach to under served populations.


Tae Chong, from Coastal Enterprises Incorporated, gave a short talk on the demographics of Maine and those of its small but growing immigrant population.


Stephen Podgajny, from the Portland Public Library, spoke about the library’s role in the New Mainer community and how it helps them to feel welcome and get established here.


Apollo Karara and Stefanie Trice Gill, from the Maine Association for New Americans talked about their work to help new Mainers find a place in the workforce with a particular focus on their efforst to match educated immigrants with appropriate jobs in their fields.


Sally Sutton, from the Muskie School’s Cutler Institute spoke about her work with the Maine Health Workforce Forum.  The forum has identified the immigrant community as a good source to help the health care industry in Maine find the educated, younger workers it needs if it can address the issues of certification.  To this end she talked about the Welcome Back program that some other cities have sued to assist educated immigrants.


Dr. Jean Michel Kayumba, a foreign trained medical doctor now licensed in Maine and a member of the Maine Health Workforce Forum, spoke of the opportunities that exist in the New Mainer population to fill professional gaps in Maine’s workforce.  He also spoke to the barriers that exist in matching immigrants skills with these gaps.