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In New England, a city revival built on creativity

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When Nat May graduated from college, it was not his hometown in southern Maine that beckoned. Instead he left for Asia, with plans to learn Mandarin and become a translator of ancient Chinese texts.

When he returned to the US, Portland was only to be a pit stop, a place to get his bearings before moving to San Francisco or New York City. What he didn't expect to find was his old seaport town showing a vibrant side.

"I was surprised to find that it's actually a good place to live for young people," says Mr. May, the director of SPACE gallery, a contemporary arts venue on a burgeoning arts thoroughfare in downtown Portland. "It's really powerful ... to be connected to the things happening around you."

While New England was one of the slowest-growing regions in the US in the 1990s, Portland stood out as an exception. The city was the only metropolis in the region to make the list of the 20 top receivers of young, single, college-educated adults from 1995 to 2000.

According to the US census, each of the six New England states lost more young, single, college-educated adults than it gained from 1995 to 2000. But Portland has emerged as a model that can reverse that trend. It has gained recognition for everything from distinctiveness - its working waterfront and converted warehouses - to world-class eateries.

"In many respects Portland can be somewhat of a test study in terms of some of the things we can do in this area," says Daryl Fort, director of community development in Gov. John Baldacci's office. "Other [communities] are poised to do the same."

Indeed, urban planners and politicians throughout the region have been hammering out initiatives - from tax incentives to folk festivals - to help attract young professionals.

And it's a particular type of young worker being wooed: those, like May, who make up the "creative workforce," which can include not only artists but also technology workers, entrepreneurs, and even lawyers.


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