Oakland-area business owners, officials speak to Golden about labor, broadband
OAKLAND — A visit to Oakland reaffirmed what U.S. Rep. Jared Golden said were already “appropriate priorities” for him in Washington: rural broadband access and bettering the economic climate for small businesses.
The first-term 2nd District congressman was in town for a “listening tour” Friday afternoon, which included stops in Mount Vernon, Oakland and Gardiner. While in Oakland, Golden met with representatives from three local business entities — Wrabacon, FirstPark and Maine Technology Group — and a handful of area officials. In Gardiner, he visited Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center.
Robert Bartlett, Wrabacon’s president, noted how difficult it is for him to find and keep adequate workers in Maine.
“It never was (a problem), but it really is — it’s tough to hire,” he told Golden during a tour of his Oakland-based company, which manufactures automated equipment. “We’ve actually had to raise our starting pay for no experience from around $15 an hour (to) $18, and we’re still not really getting — you really have to steal somebody if you want someone that’s pretty good.”
One in 5 prospective employees Bartlett encounters is “good,” which he said meant that they regularly showed up to work on time and were able to complete basic tasks. The company now employs 30 people who design automated processes for anything from packaging HIV tests to topping off filled iced tea bottles with a dose of cannabidiol, or CBD.
“Unfortunately, that’s our biggest drawback to expanding, so we’re looking at making a pretty big investment in some automated equipment to eliminate some manual (labor),” Bartlett said.
U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, D-2nd District, is greeted by local business owners Friday at FirstPark during a listening tour in Oakland. Golden was tapped to be on the rural broadband task force last month and talked about getting reliable WiFi to rural areas. Oakland recently received a $15,000 rural broadband grant to evaluate its infrastructure and prepare to expand internet access for businesses on Main Street. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans
Golden said that while he acknowledges the state’s labor shortage, he thinks “there is a limit to what you can legislate” in terms of getting a younger workforce to stay in Maine.