"What is the role and future of JEDC,” co-chair Wendy Wolf asked at the Joint Economic Development Committee’s July 17 meeting.
Wolf shared that Boothbay Harbor selectmen envision a “smaller and more nimble” committee as the economic master plan implementation moves forward. Ideally, the JEDC would serve more in an advisory capacity to whoever implements it, continued Wolf.
“So, the feeling is the need to change and we are going to have some change in membership,” Wolf said, giving the floor to co-chair Abbe Levin.
"I've spoken with Dan (Bryer) and Wendy and I'm going to be stepping down," said Levin, explaining that in August, she will be taking on a new and large commitment.
Levin said it also feels like a good time to be moving on because she feels the JEDC needs to undergo some serious changes, especially to its structure, as the JEDC has fulfilled its tasks as laid out by the towns.
Boothbay Harbor member Mike Tomko said he went over the JEDC's charter and then the plan. "Everything I read in there talks about professionals, somebody that takes the well-meaning group and does it professionally and does it really well, whether that's BREDCo, whether that's town planners, consultants or whatever."
Tomko still likes the idea of having the JEDC continue as a group because it brings together different people from different towns and increases communication and understanding in the region. "I think that that connection is invaluable. I don't want to lose that."
Boothbay member Steve Malcom updated the committee on the status of the decades old 501 (c) (3) Boothbay Region Economic Development Committee (BREDCo). "Just listening to the conversation, I think we're at a crux right now. If we want to keep a semblance of the JEDC, then I don't think there's a role for BREDCo. Maybe, maybe not. We can debate that."
Malcom, who has been advocating the revival of BREDCo to implement the plan, said the makeup of the organization would be similar to the JEDC in that its members would be from different towns or sectors of the region. However, he said that due to the Right to Know Act, the organization might not have municipal officers as the JEDC does.
"You can't have that in place if you're trying to help a developer come into town and figure out some of the ways to maneuver through ordinances and who to talk to and kind of pave the way for them," said Malcom.
Malcom used Greenville as an example of a region that lost a developer due to the sudden publicity of the process of moving into the region.
Levin said a nonprofit would be important, and through all the research the JEDC has done, she genuinely cannot think of a municipal or quasi-municipal model that has worked.
“Every model that we've looked at, whether it's Moosehead, Katahdin … Lewiston/Auburn – these are all nonprofit bodies," said Levin.
Boothbay member Dale Harmon said that, as a selectman, all he wants out of the process is economic development.
“… But we've spent a lot of municipal money, tax dollars, to get where we are,” said Harmon. “I just don't know how well received it's going to be when we say ‘We're done.’”
Malcom and Levin agreed, saying there cannot be a sudden shift, that there would need to be some sort of continuity between the JEDC era and the BREDCo era. Harmon said his fear is if the JEDC concentrates on BREDCo, action items in the economic plan will fall to the wayside. Boothbay Harbor Region Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Patricia Royall reminded Harmon that while the JEDC is sorting itself out, there are groups already working on many of the issues and none of those groups are waiting to hear the JEDC make a decision.
Harmon said his understanding, considering the JEDC can afford to become temporarily sidetracked by BREDCo, is that it should be in the works as soon as possible. If a nonprofit is needed, it needs to be ready and available as its task becomes clearer or as that need arises, said Harmon.
Levin brought news from the Festival of Lights committee – “Festival of Lights,” in name, is no more. The monthlong event is now “Boothbay Lights.” The change came through feedback from the last two community meetings, where the public expressed confusion, said Levin. The switch was fairly simple, because the web domain already used it, Levin added.
The committee is meeting once per month with the first round of rack cards out just before July 4. Bonnie Stover and Tom Minerich are new members, and some sponsorships have already been secured, said Levin.
The new lamp posts in Boothbay will have Gardens Aglow and Boothbay Lights banners which will likely go up in late October. The committee is also working with Boothbay Region Historical Society to put something about the region's wintry history on the back of the banners to bid guests to the region farewell.
In an effort to start making money for Boothbay Lights, two prizes will be given out during the event, each raffled off on a weekend. The prizes will relate to local lodging and eating, and VIP tickets to Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. Tickets will be sold through PayPal on the Boothbay Lights website and through CMBG, said Levin.
Levin also informed the JEDC that CMBG received the 2018 to 2019 special event grant from the Maine Office of Tourism which will enable $50,000 in marketing outside Maine.
“Really, what I have been telling people for three years up until now, (is) this has been a dress rehearsal. Whatever numbers we've had, with this much money invested in out of state marketing and PR, I would expect that things will be really different in town.”
Levin said CMBG will not be serving dinners in its cafe during this year's event so as to push the expected spike of visitors toward local businesses.
‘Here to help’
A new face was at the meeting. Jerry Lieberman, a summer visitor of the region for over 10 years, expressed interest as an economic development volunteer a year ago to Wolf and Royall. Lieberman has a background in community development and is co-founder of the non-profit think tank, the Evolution Institute. It provides science-backed solutions for better qualities of living around the world.
"I've been collecting ideas from some of my colleagues that have very good backgrounds in economic development,” said Lieberman. “I'm here to help; I'm not looking for any money or any kind of tokens, but I am wanting to participate in any way I can whether I'm physically here in the summer or whether I'm in Norway or some other place."
Lieberman said his organization is doing a global study on housing. He will present the study in Oslo, Norway in September. Lieberman offered to share the study's best practices as the region becomes involved in housing studies and development.