‘From Away’ To Portland: Life as a Young Professional in Maine


As part of PROPEL’s mission to help make Maine a place where both young professionals and small businesses can thrive, we’re excited to bring you a new interview series featuring stories from young professionals living and working in Greater Portland. We hope these interviews will showcase why Maine is an ideal place to Network, Develop and Live, but also address some of the challenges that newcomers experience in addition to the successes and opportunities.

Our first interview spotlights Paul Harris, a Vermonter who moved to Portland in early 2017. Paul is an experienced marketing professional looking for new opportunities to grow his career and experience life as a Mainer. We hope you enjoy our conversation with Paul.

PROPEL: Where are you originally from & what brought you to Maine?

Paul: I’m originally from Vermont. I grew up in a small town named Shaftsbury, located just north of Bennington. For the past seven (or so) years, I’ve lived in in various areas of New Hampshire. Primarily Manchester and Keene.

My fiancée and I moved to Portland, ME in early 2017 searching for change. Our move was driven by a lifestyle choice, not for our careers. For the past five years, we’ve always vacationed in Maine. It was during our 2016 summer vacation when she looked at me and said, “I’m thinking about quitting my job so we can move here.” I said, “Sure, lets do that.” Just like that, the decision was made.

PROPEL:  What are your favorite parts of living & working in Maine so far?

Paul: What’s not to love! On any given weekend, I have New England at my fingertips. My perfect Saturday involves packing a really good lunch and going to the beach with my boogie board and a great book. I could watch the world pass by all day long and live happily.  Portland is rich in culture, arts, food & outdoor activity. It’s always changing and evolving which keeps the city feeling fresh.

On the work side of the coin, I enjoy that Portland is just big enough so you can have many good career options, but just small enough that you can quickly network throughout the city.  Unlike other big job markets in New England (primarily Boston), Portland offers less competition in the labor market, a low unemployment rate and the reasonably easy commutes help workers avoid burnout and help businesses retain good people. You just have to expect that wages aren’t typically at the levels of major suburban areas.

PROPEL: What are the challenges of being new to the area?

Paul: The rising increase of rent continues to concern me, however, this is a national problem faced not just by Mainers. Renters have choice but often lower rent costs come with all the stereotypical problems associated with them - Bad rental companies, crumbling housing conditions, and smaller square footage have forced many families out of Portland and into it’s rural surrounding areas. It’s a struggle for young professionals who still desire the lifestyle of living in Portland but don’t necessarily have the work experience needed to earn a salary that makes it financially feasible. Renters also face a real issue with parking on the peninsula (especially during summer). The massive construction projects of new city buildings will certainly not help the problem. I think it is difficult for Southern Maine to project the message that “We’re open for business, you should come work here!” With the caveat of “Please come prepared to pay $150/mo. for parking.”

However the real challenges we’ve faced are not always unexpected. For me, it’s always the little things. For example, getting used to Portland’s very specific street parking rules, city trash bag regulations, lack of options for internet service providers and the need to finally get an EZ-pass [laughs]! In the scheme of life, these are small hurdles, but it certainly was a major pain in the first months of our move.

PROPEL: Are there any professional/business nuances that differ from Maine and your most recent location?

Paul: Sure. People from Maine seem to care less about the ideology of “professionalism.” The clearest example of this is seen in professional dress code. A lot of corporate cultures I’ve experienced here don’t care if you wear your old flannels and dirty boots to the office. They only care about the quality of your work. The way work should be. While most corporate cultures hold on to the suit and dress pants, Mainers seem to have never really adopted it (excluding certain industries). I remember I once interviewed a developer for a high-level position and he wore a beanie throughout the entire interview! While I would NEVER recommend (or do) this, I did notice that it didn't seem to faze the committee’s hiring decisions in any meaningful way.

Ayuh, that’s Maine in a nutshell.

PROPEL: Is there anything that businesses & organizations like PROPEL in Maine can do to be more accommodating to young professionals that relocate to the area?

Paul: I think the Maine Ambassador Program a great concept - That new young professionals could reach out to members of the program and schedule a non-formal meeting to grab coffee and just chat about life in Maine. Something like this would have helped me in my early months. The meet-up has to be genuine though. You need PROPEL members who are passionate about the city but also willing to speak the truth about the challenges that come with life in the state.

PROPEL: What are these business & organizations doing right?

Paul: What’s right is the recognition that organizations like PROPEL need to exist in the first place. You can’t force younger people to come to Maine, love Portland, or use your services - That desire lies in the hands of the individual. However, the mere fact that you’re available to people who need help building their networks is is very important.

Like most New England states the population is older and at the end of their work careers. It’s a real crisis if businesses don’t start investing in young professionals and paving the road to one day fill the shoes of the people who are 5 to 10 years away from logging in to their email account for the last time.

PROPEL: How long do you see yourself staying in Maine? 

Paul: If Maine accepts me, I’ll accept it. I”m not one for leaving New England and so far the city has shown hospitality to me. Pending any major life events or career decisions, I’d love to be in Maine for a long time. 

PROPEL: Do you frequent networking events? What are your favorite/most impactful ones that you've attended so far?

Paul: PROPEL & the Chamber host great networking events all year long. You just have to keep an eye on their Facebook page or sign-up for their newsletter to see what’s coming up. In my opinion, the most impactful events they host are the In Focus events - They do a great job of bringing young professionals together to network, but also generating awareness,and often raising money for other local non-profit community organizations.

I also love the GreenDrinks events. This networking event works because it doesn't ask much from its attendees. It’s a great way to meet people, strike up conversations without expecting to hear a corporate sales pitch.

PROPEL: What are your areas of expertise within marketing?

Paul: The sales cycle works in four stages. Attract, Convert, Close & Delight. And it’s the first two stages, Attract & Convert, that I’ve specialized in during my career. In today’s modern “buyer journey”, up to 80% to 90% of the purchasing decision happens before you get on the phone with a sales rep. So it’s crucial your products and services have a great appeal online.

I’ve made a career out of selling the value of a company's products by creating engaging content, campaigns, & events. I convert strangers into leads, leads into sales and sales into referrals.

PROPEL: What’s your favorite..

Maine Beer?

Paul: My favorite beer is Lone Pine Brewing, Portland Pale Ale.  Lone Pine is a perfectly funky little brewery with a good vibe.

Portland Bar or Restaurant?

Paul: So difficult to pick. For some cheap eats, I love getting tacos at El Rayo. If I’m doing something a little more fancy, I might opt for Empire or Central Provisions to get some smaller plates to share.  I’m not a picky eater.

My top five picks for bars would be: Tomaso’s Canteen, Maps, Bayside Bowl, Novare Res & Taco Escobarr.

Food Truck?

Paul: I like the food stands rather than the trucks. Mr Tuna & Mark’s Hots Dogs are on the top of my list. Try them both if you have a chance.

Place to enjoy the outdoors?

Paul: I’m a huge fan of summer. I’ll take the 20 min drive south to Old Orchard Beach. I love it. You also can’t beat taking a bicycle & lunch out to Peaks Island.

PROPEL: What advice do you have for other people that are considering, or have just moved to Maine?

Paul: Stay active. Stay restless. Stay hungry. There is plenty of opportunity out here but just like in other cities, nothing comes easy. You’ve really got to build a strong network to thrive in Maine’s business community.

You can connect with and learn more about Paul on his LinkedIn page.