Northern Maine heats up with forward-looking economic development plan

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Northern Maine’s long-term economic viability has always had a vulnerable side, with the ever-changing logging and paper mill situation, but it took on new importance during the pandemic.

This is why the five-year plan recently released by the Eastern Maine Development Corp. added meaning. EMDC defined the idea as “a vision and goals to support long-term economic prosperity in Penobscot, Piscataquis, Hancock and Waldo counties”.

The region has been hit hard by the pandemic, with what had been stable employment hitting the rocks. At the same time, the four counties had to contend with a steadily declining population. According to the five-year plan, the aging of the population, combined with a decline in participation in the labor market, should continue to decline in the years to come.

The four counties – Hancock, Penobscot, Piscataquis, Waldo – represent 262,750 people, or 20% of the state’s population. Maine is already considered an old state, with a median age of 44.7 years, but the median of the four counties is 47.1. The unemployment rate is also higher, at 5.8%, against 4.7% for the state. The average annual salary is lower, at $ 43,291, compared to $ 48,115 statewide.

There is, however, room for optimism.

“The aging of the population was a key factor, but not a determining factor in determining the need for the project. This is a region of great resilience and recovery, as evidenced by the collective efforts of the former stationery sites of Bucksport, Lincoln, East Millinocket and Millinocket, ”said Lee Umphrey, President and CEO of Eastern Maine Development Corp., which is based in Bangor.

“Plus, as EMDC runs workforce development programs in nine counties, worker readiness and readiness is always on – always warm on the stove. By working with adult education programs, vocational schools, community colleges, private colleges and universities, we keep the pipeline adaptable to meet the needs of companies looking for workers. The challenges are many, but by working together we find solutions, ”he adds.

Earlier this month, Eastern Maine Development Corp. received $ 350,000 to provide technical assistance for climate resilience planning, growth strategies for second stage businesses and access to capital. Funding came from the Northern Frontier Regional Commission grant program.

Umphrey cites the importance of having a game plan for the area, and says there are already two major assets with a major advantage, a developing Moosehead ski area and a business park with substantial capacity.

A Moosehead ski area under construction

Tourism is an important economic driver for the region. Efforts are underway to resuscitate an old ski resort in the Moosehead area.

In April, the Finance Authority of Maine approved up to $ 135 million in bond financing for a ski resort development in the Moosehead Lake area, which it says could create up to 380 jobs in time. full and part time.

Plans are to redevelop the largely dormant ski area into a four-season resort that would include a hotel and restaurant, a zipline system, condos, a 200-drop marina, and an event center.

The developers, Provident Group-Moosehead Lake L3C, will use the money to finance the acquisition, rehabilitation, design, construction and equipment of the Big Moose Township Ski Resort, approximately 6 miles south of the border. northwest of Greenville.

The development team includes Provident Resources Group, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in partnership with Big Lake Development LLC and Treadwell Franklin Inc, based in Yarmouth. The team is led by Perry Williams, who lives in Louisiana and Spruce Head.

Since EMDC’s United States Economic Development Administration’s first revolving loan fund, which served as a catalyst for Project Big Moose, support has grown rapidly at the local, regional and state levels, Umphrey said.

“Part of this effort is to launch an Economic Growth Bond program to ensure meaningful and sustainable development in the community of Greenville. An investor board of directors with local and regional stakeholders, including EMDC, will focus the project on sustaining Maine’s economy by engaging Maine designers, architects and builders, ”Umphrey said. “This will be a game-changer for the Moosehead Lake area in northern Piscataquis County by creating 400 local jobs and boosting recreational tourism while becoming the economic engine in the heart of Maine. “

Maine’s largest business park

Umphrey, who is on the board of the Loring Development Authority, said there had been activity in the Loring industrial and business park. Loring Commerce Center in Limestone is Maine’s largest industrial park, geographically, with 8,700 acres. But, with only 32 tenants, it has plenty of capacity left. Its largest tenant is Defense Finance and Accounting, with 142,000 square feet.

“Loring, with 4,000 acres and tons of square footage of existing buildings, has tremendous capacity for new business and construction,” Umphrey said. “The most important asset is a long airport runway and hangars. The best incentive for new businesses is the location and access to Loring’s resources while being part of a robust and redeveloped site of the future.

Loring Air Force Base closed in 1994. Shortly after the base was closed, the Maine Congressional delegation, led by former US Senator George Mitchell, established two federal principal tenants – Defense Finance and Accounting Service, which leases 142,000 square feet, and a US Department of Labor Employment Center.

“This provides a solid framework to build around,” says Umphrey, who was recently appointed to the board of directors of the Loring Development Authority. “We are working on a business development strategy and a sustainable development plan that seeks to prioritize the most promising and emerging business development opportunities. The direction of Governor Janet Mills is to be bold, build on strengths and make it happen.

Set targets for economic growth

In its five-year plan, Eastern Maine Development Corp. has defined four pillars of future economic development:

Broadband: Extend and increase the accessibility and affordability of broadband capacity, including establishing a broadband committee, conducting a regional needs assessment, and increasing and improving access .

Transport: Improve and expand transport infrastructure and support port and rail development.

Climate resilience: Foster methods of adapting and mitigating the effects of climate change, including supporting businesses in need of change, encouraging climate-friendly development and more.

Workforce and education: Develop, retain and attract talent. This includes increased collaboration between educational institutions and businesses, improving digital literacy for businesses and individuals, and promoting and increasing regional strengths to attract more workers.

In May, EMDC appointed Peter Jamieson as director of economic development for the Katahdin region, replacing Michael Elliott, who resigned in February.

Jamieson, who has been director of the Katahdin Chamber of Commerce for a year and a half, will work on programs and development that catalyze economic growth in the eight cities that make up EMDC’s Katahdin region, working with partners local, state and federal. . The position reports to the EMDC, but is part of a multi-year partnership funded and supported by the Penobscot County Commissioners. The role is overseen by the Katahdin Region Development Council, which has been established for this purpose.

The five-year plan is the result of EMDC’s collaboration with regional stakeholders, municipalities, counties, state departments, and congressional and federal entities. Three months of public meetings, research and planning contributed to the creation of this plan which, according to the organization, will serve as a roadmap for regional economic development.

It’s heavy in collaboration.

“The key to moving forward is to be ready for anything and to always work together. In eastern and northern Maine, it is even more important to collaborate with community stakeholders and like-minded local entities. Establishing public-private partnerships will strengthen the best long-term economic recovery, ”said Umphrey.

He cites the impending influx of federal pandemic relief funds, which “makes this type of effort particularly important.”

Umphrey says EMDC sees its role as “a community partner and a convener” to help businesses, individuals and communities understand and access resources.

A good example of collaboration is in the Katahdin region with the Penobscot County Commissioners who fund an EMDC post for seven years to bring people and resources together under the auspices of the Katahdin Region Development Council, he said.

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