On Wednesday, May 23, Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor selectmen met jointly with members of the JEDC to discuss the regional economic master plan Camoin Associates produced in February.
“Economic development is on everybody's mind," said JEDC co-chair and Boothbay Harbor Selectmen’s Chair Wendy Wolf. "The charge of the committee was really to come up with an economic development plan … The thing that is a challenge for us, now, is now that we have a plan, what do we do with it?"
Wolf reminded the boards, according to he economic report from Camoin Associates, development will come from bringing in small business and bolstering existing businesses. Citing Belfast as an example, Wolf said it is the "cumulative affect that really starts to make people excited about the community and excited about the possibilities."
"Before we get to the plan, let's look at the charter," said Boothbay Selectmen’s Chair Chuck Cunningham.
Cunningham pointed out the charter includes only Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor yet four towns are participating – Southport and Edgecomb additionally. Cunningham said as they move forward, the four towns need to work out what each one wants for economic development and how much each town should be paying toward those ends.
"If we're going to be working together as a collaborative – and we appear to – everybody needs some skin in the game … I'm not talking (they each) pay $25,000 … but based on their level of participation, they should be putting money into the JEDC."
JEDC member and Boothbay Selectman Dale Harmon agreed looking for funding from Southport and Edgecomb is a good idea, but he said calculating a fair amount will involve weighted votes, and ambiguity.
"We'd have more vested interest in this, so we should have a bigger vote at the table," said Harmon, adding, the detail needs attention, but not right away as the JEDC is already at a standstill trying to figure out how to move forward with implementing the master plan.
Boothbay Selectman Steve Lewis shared that after reading the report from Camoin Associates, he thought the firm’s estimate of $150,000 to launch a development director and staff in the first year was an ambitious plan. "I don't know where they think that, year one, we're going to come up with $150,000 … because I don't see the voters of the town of Boothbay ponying up $75,000."
Wolf agreed, saying neither town anticipated the extra spending in their budgets which just passed. However, Wolf pointed out, efforts are underway to tackle some of the issues such as housing, wayfinding and the downtown waterfront. Efforts need to start from somewhere, which means taking on small projects and finding where some issues are stirring passion and excitement, she said.
Lewis asked if the JEDC has considered looking at the Boothbay Harbor Region Chamber of Commerce to be the vehicle for implementing the plan and not necessarily paying for everything involved, but leveraging its position as a functioning nonprofit.
According to Wolf, the JEDC feels that while the Chamber could certainly provide the organization and office space for an economic development staff, it is not the prime entity to run the implementation process. Wolf reasoned, many aspects rely on economic, zoning, ordinance, and town planning expertise as well as grant writing in those veins. The Chamber’s executive director Patricia Royall said she believes all aspects are applicable to the Chamber’s mission.
“We're not just in the hospitality business, we're in building services, trades, all kinds of things … we have office space, we could certainly put someone else in there, bring someone in that was specifically earmarked to do this kind of thing."
Cunningham disagreed with Wolf. He said economic development should “fall under the umbrella” of the Chamber since its purpose is to promote business. Said Cunningham, “You're also trying to deal with the issues that those businesses have. Workforce, housing, retention – everything. You're not just looking at little pieces."
Boothbay JEDC member Steve Malcom said he and Royall have been talking about the possible restructuring of the Chamber to have the capabilities of dealing with economic development.
"The current Chamber model couldn't necessarily survive in this, but we could think about it as a group a hybrid of sorts so that it could be housed under the umbrella of the Chamber," said Malcom.
Cunningham said the towns are a long way from handing off the plan. While the JEDC certainly does not possess the funds to seek out a planner this year, asking someone from the Lincoln County Region Planning Commission to send someone with the skills to fill the role until next budget season might be an option, Harmon said.
Lewis said the best way to determine if the towns will jointly oversee a planner is by putting it in the warrant for the next town meetings. Boothbay Harbor Selectman Denise Griffin agreed with Lewis. She said the most important thing in her mind is infrastructure. Griffin also said, with the median age in the region going up every year, it is becoming difficult to find volunteers, and creating another nonprofit to spearhead the master plan may be ill advised. Lewis agreed and suggested the JEDC consider continuing on in an advisory capacity for a planner, part-time or otherwise.
Boothbay Harbor Town Manager Tom Woodin said he would be hesitant to approach implementing the master plan by hiring someone part time.
"You're going to get part-time results out of a part-time planner," said Woodin. "If you're serious about economic development, jump into the water and pay for it. This recommendation of $150,000 is a lot of money, but if you really want to get results, you've got to pay somebody who's good at what they do. A part-time person isn't going to have the commitment that we really, seriously need."
Harmon added, while results will be the only thing fueling public support for a planner or planning staff, it will be important to give the towns examples of reasonable expectations. "Economic development is a five or 10-year plan, not a one or two-year plan."
Considering budgets and limitations, over the next six months, the towns need to find someone to fill the role of a part-time planner while the JEDC creates the mechanism that will take over the implementation process, Cunningham said. This will help give a feel as to what the towns will need to budget for next year, he said.
Boothbay Harbor Selectman Russ Hoffman remarked there are six goal areas, each with two to four objectives and each of those with three or four tasks. "A total of 63 tasks," said Hoffman. "It's kind of overwhelming … If we could identify one task that we could get done – that may not be enough – but I would like to see one thing get accomplished.”