It gets little attention in our state’s public policy debates, but one of the biggest threats to the Maine’s economic future is its stagnant population growth. In the last several years, the state’s 1.3 million population has grown by fewer than 1,000 people each year.

The state’s population is more than 95 percent white, making it one of the nation’s most homogeneous (Hispanics, census data show, have bigger families than other ethnic groups). The state’s median age in 2010 was 42.7, the oldest in the nation. That means Maine’s median age is two years older than Florida’s, and more than five years over the national median age of 37.2.

Younger people start businesses. They bring energy and commitment to the businesses and organizations they join. Their children keep schools full and therefore functioning more efficiently. Younger people, as they settle in a community, buy or build homes and then maintain and improve them, pumping money into the local economy.

It’s a hard truth, but one that must be stated—convincing out-of-staters to settle in Rumford, Milo or Houlton is an uphill battle. But Maine’s coastal communities have seen a population influx over the last two decades—mostly retirees—and they are poised to continue to draw people.

But that trend weakens the farther up the coast one travels. Brunswick, Boothbay, Camden and Belfast have been bolstered by the arrival of financially secure baby boomers, but that impact weakens where U.S. Route 1 turns east in Bucksport, and it diminishes even more in places like Machias, Jonesport, Lubec and Eastport.

As positive as the “graying” of the coast has been, the ageing of Maine’s population remains a problem. The evidence is clear in places like Portland, Brunswick, Rockland and Belfast—people in their 20s and 30s are moving in, typically in or near the downtown, and renting studios, starting small businesses or working from their homes. (Keeping downtowns vibrant—think coffee shops, good restaurants, pubs, art galleries and good Wifi and cell service—is critical for that demographic.)

Can this be replicated in coastal Washington County? This issue of The Working Waterfront includes parts of an answer.

Thinker, writer, journalist and native Mainer Colin Woodard, author of The Lobster Coast and American Nations, talks about how Maine’s confounding inferiority complex and the coast’s weird, almost tribal provincialism hamper its growth in a Q&A interview.

Downeast photographer and writer Leslie Bowman explores what Eastport is doing to buck its sobering population prognosis. Boosting the arts, it turns out, is a big part of the strategy.

And lastly we have a profile of woman in her 20s living on North Haven, the first of what we hope will be a regular feature revealing how this age cohort—so important to keeping a community vital—thinks, works, plays and dreams.

The coast’s beauty—natural and man-made—and its relative inexpensive real estate will inevitably bring people to places like Machias, Lubec and Eastport. But to hasten that influx, community and state leaders must understand the dynamics at work here.