Like that patch of lawn that never quite gets green, Washington County continues to frustrate those who want to see this corner of Maine thrive. And though it has its challenges, it should be able to thrive.

It’s not for lack of trying. Local and statewide leaders have tried to improve its economic fate in many ways, some of which have gained traction. More needs to be done, such as educating the labor force for jobs that will exist in the coming decades, developing social infrastructure that sustains its remote communities and polishing and marketing its natural assets.

As Maine’s economy has evolved in the last 50 years, the trends now holding sway would seem to favor Washington County, given its long coast. Over those five decades, jobs in sectors like manufacturing (from shoes to paper) and food processing (poultry and fish) have declined. With that economic transformation came a population shift. These days, people, jobs and capital have moved to southern and coastal parts of the state. The Greater Portland area is a major economic driver, as are the Midcoast and Mount Desert Island areas.

Washington County is the lone coastal region still waiting for its ship to come in. The good news is that its unspoiled scenic beauty will only grow in value and will increasingly lure retirees and those looking for second homes. The quality of life its small towns can offer also will help attract young entrepreneurs who can build their businesses on the web. But keeping those towns vibrant and connected will remain a challenge.

Tourism also has untapped potential. Washington County leaders must continue to work to land the spill-over from the Bar Harbor area and persuade Maritime Canadians to linger longer as they pass through.

The county’s natural resources still can put money in people’s pockets, as softwood forests are harvested for pulp and fishing—including shellfish and aquaculture—remains a centerpiece of many coastal towns.

One piece of the puzzle that remains elusive is building the county’s labor force into an economic asset.

Drug use has taken a toll. Employers talk about not being able to rely on a new hire showing up in the morning if that first paycheck is used to score pills.

Education must continue to be stressed.

And that work force—in a county where the July unemployment rate was 9.3 percent—must be ready to commit to jobs they can view as rungs on a ladder leading to greater employment opportunity.

A story in this issue of The Working Waterfront reports on a seafood dealer who believes he could grow his business with a steadier, more reliable work force. Tim Sheehan of Gulf of Maine in Pembroke said he could hire a couple of dozen processing workers year-round and provide even more with a decent paycheck as independent contractors if they were willing to dig clams, week-in, week-out. It’s not glamorous work, but he believes clam diggers who stay with it could make a living.

From Sheehan’s perspective, having a steady supply of shellfish and other seafood products means negotiating more lucrative deals with restaurants in Boston.

Understanding the role of a labor force in a regional economy is a chicken-and-egg conundrum; whether the people follow the jobs or the jobs follow the people is never quite clear. But as Washington County boosters strive to improve the region’s economy, they should consider Sheehan’s plight, and what they can do to integrate workers into the year-round economy.