They looked to do just that at Eastern Maine Development Corporation's "Transformation of a Region" conference in Bangor Monday morning.
The group celebrated 50 years by bringing together nearly 40 sponsors, business leaders and academic institutions to reflect on the area's economic success recently and brainstorm new ideas to make the area better.
All seven of the area's academic institutions were present at the conference as student retention was a clear focus point moving forward.
"Twenty-five thousand students live in this area," says Michael W. Aube, President and CEO of EMDC. "We are the mecca for education, we're going to build on that as an asset and really make things happen."
Business leaders believe part of the answer in doing that lies in building technological infrastructure, including transportation, tech jobs and expanding broadband, while giving retained students and young professionals a reason to use them.
"You can't just provide WiFi and assume people are going to use it, we have to give them incentives for collaborating," says Dr. Brien Walton, Director of Entrepreneurship at Husson University. "The way to bring people back and have them stay is to create those innovations here."
But with rural Maine providing challenges for new innovative technologies, one futurist at the conference presented on a solution to the region's sprawling landscape.
"If you only have a certain number of people per square mile, it's very expensive to run a fiber optic cable to their house," says Simon J. Anderson, futurist and technology consultant. "But there are some really incredible advancements happening with satellite technology, where we'll be able to cover everyone with internet that is very fast, even in mountainous areas that would traditionally not be served with high speed internet."
Senator Angus King, also weighed in through a video address, echoing the need to build infrastructure and take advantage of the state's forest industry in other ways.
That's an idea Simon agrees with.
"It doesn't necessarily have to be paper," he says. "That might not be the best way forward as we move toward digital technologies and reading our news on our phones and not having actual newspapers, but that doesn't mean that there's not value in that wood."
Various workshops were also held throughout the day to address a number of additional topics that leaders believe will benefit the region's economy and business.
The conference wrapped up around 4:30 p.m. Monday in the Cross Insurance Center.