JEDC talks economic roll-out, Festival of Lights

Posted:  Thursday, February 8, 2018 - 10:00am

The Joint Economic Development Committee on Tuesday, Feb. 6 debriefed on the Feb. 1 economic master plan roll-out and on the Festival of Lights.

Regarding the master plan, the committee discussed a modified action plan to be created from the greater document put forth by Camoin Associates and identifying who will be responsible for bringing the information to the public and how.

“I had anticipated there would be some pushback from segments of the community, but I thought it was really upbeat and positive and shows good potential moving forward,” said Edgecomb Selectman Ted Hugger.

Patricia Royall said she felt people new to the master plan were overwhelmed by the information released Feb. 1.

“I think it was overwhelming to an awful lot of people,” said Dawn Gilbert. “But the one thing I did hear negative, was the money for an executive director, and I’ve heard a lot about it. Paying that much money out? I’m telling you, that’s a big item. They just think we’re not ready for that.”

“In my area a lot of people are saying that none of this can happen unless we have that,” JEDC co-chair Abbe Levin said.

Levin said she felt the JEDC needs to approach Camoin Associates on condensing its action plan matrix to make it more accessible to the public and businesses. There are two steps to approaching the public with this information, said Levin – a coordinated message that can be delivered in the same way by anyone from the JEDC or involved parties to the public, and a paragraph summary JEDC members write and edit, to ensure an understanding of the information.

There needs to be a sense of urgency, according to Levin, who cited Down East magazine’s February piece on Maine’s aging population and the difficulty young people have finding work.

Said Levin, “Everybody knows this about Lincoln County, but the projection for 2030 is more grim than it is now … Even the two poorest counties in the state – Somerset and Washington – are doing better with young people than we are … We have to tell people that if we don’t do something about this, and get in sooner than later.”

Boothbay Town Manager Dan Bryer said he feels the JEDC is at the point where it needs to be stepping up and engaging the public.

“We have to do that with the group until people start showing up, and we have to continue doing that until people stop showing up … If you just leave it to the articles, there are going to be questions left unanswered and it’s going to get uglier … We have to engage early and engage often,” Bryer said.

Boothbay Board of Appeals Vice Chairman Steve Malcom said he did not think anyone will support an economic plan without some sort of entity created to guide it.

“If we keep saying ‘the JEDC says we’re not it,’ then it’s hard for any number of these organizations to commit to anything until we figure out this entity,” said Malcom.

Malcom said people and businesses will need to know who will be the director, who will be on the board, as well as other aspects that put a proposal on solid ground.

“Then it gives them something that they can actually get onto like a subcommittee for housing or (whatever) … I think we need to make that one of our stronger priorities,” said Malcom.

Levin asked about a timeline for an entity, and Malcom offered to work on a basic sketch of a timeline and structure by the next meeting.

The Boothbay Festival of Lights was the final topic of the evening as the board discussed plans for the festival’s third year and possible structural changes to the guiding process.

“It makes me really nervous that the general public thinks that we are just planning a festival,” said Levin. “What we’re really doing is preparing our community for tens of thousands of visitors. I think it’s pretty clear that no matter if we do Boothbay Festival of Lights or not – tens of thousands of people are coming to this region for seven weeks when we’re normally not ready for that number of visitors.”

Levin said the effort helps prepare businesses and the towns for far more out-of-region visitors than is typical for November and December.

Levin said, because the festival was a three-year commitment, the fourth year must be “turned loose.” Levin recommended that after next season, the festival have a committee of its own, not a JEDC one.

“We’ll certainly provide reports because it gets funding from this group, but it would be a standalone committee.”

Everyone on the festival committee has pledged at least one more year, but Levin said that in the future, two to three more members would be advisable working with the Boothbay Harbor Region Chamber of Commerce to recruit, and that Green Tree Events, currently managing the festival, should eventually be replaced by the new committee taking direction from Green Tree Events and the Chamber.

“Ideally, by year four, (the budget request) is going to go down significantly because this committee is going to have to figure out how to get this thing sustainable,” said Levin.

Boothbay Harbor Town Manager Tom Woodin said his fear of a committee separate from the JEDC is that without selectmen and planning board members on a committee, convincing two towns becomes much more difficult.

“… (If) one of the towns says ‘No, I don’t think so,’ that’s a real problem really fast,” said Woodin.

Said Bryer, “People have to feel involved. They have to understand that their questions will be answered – I mean, it’s their tax dollars … Right now, they know the Festival of Lights is happening, they know there’s something going on with wayfinding, but we’ve got to bring them in and explain what that means and why.”

The JEDC meets next at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 20 in the upstairs conference room at the Boothbay Region YMCA.