JEDC talks with LCRPC
The Joint Economic Development Committee on March 6 discussed how the committee should move forward on the Festival of Lights and the economic development plan brought to the committee and communities on Feb. 1.
Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission’s (LCRPC) Economic and Community Development Director Mary Ellen Barnes and County Planner Bob Faunce were asked to be part of a discussion on possibly revamping the circa 1997 501 (c) 3 nonprofit, Boothbay Region Economic Development Corporation (BRED) for use with the plan, including help getting grant money.
“We both spent some time over the last week or so looking at how other communities are doing economic development corporations or economic development,” said Barnes. “Just to put it out there, there are some communities – Belfast, Camden and Rockland, for example – who do not have a development corporation. So, they get their success and efforts through a combination of other resources including town staff among other things.”
Faunce gave the example of the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council which grew to envelope the Auburn Business Development Corporation (ABDC) and the Lewiston Development Corporation.
“Those two entities were involved in acquiring land, building (specialty) buildings (and) did a lot of loans,” said Faunce.
Faunce cautioned, politics can “intrude.” He said Auburn’s willingness to fund the ABDC ceded in a change of mayoral power resulting in Lewiston issuing a scaleback of its own. Another caution Faunce gave is to know where the money is coming from in the short term, mid-term and, as best as possible, in the long term.
Barnes gave the examples of Central Maine Growth Council (CMGC) – made of Waterville, Winslow, Fairfield and Oakland – which works with businesses to make them successful. CMGC shares staff with Central Maine Chamber of Commerce and is proportionally funded by the towns. Barnes also cited the Scarborough Economic Development Corporation and the Skowhegan Economic Development Corporation.
Barnes said an economic development director or corporation would ideally attract new businesses and improve zoning, site plan review ordinances and anything that makes it easier for businesses to establish and grow. Barnes said she noticed the plan’s introduction includes a suggestion to create an entity to see the plan through, much like the examples she and Faunce gave from around the state.
Barnes said it is important for this group to continue making progress, and to continue thinking about how to bring the definition of economic development to people in the communities. Faunce suggested looking into some form of staff and a reliable source of funding for it. However, Faunce warned, in an area like the Boothbay region, it will be difficult to find someone to commit to a part-time role as an economic developer.
On the other hand, he said, if the region decided to go the route of BRED, it would be advisable to balance a select board presence from each town to ensure communication to the towns and confidentiality for potential investors.
“We have to make sure that we, the JEDC, are ready to do this and that it’s something that should survive after the JEDC,” said Boothbay planning board member Steve Malcom. “We have to agree on it and once we agree on it and we agree on what the entity should be comprised of, then I think we can move forward. Let’s do something, let’s make it happen.”
Boothbay Selectman Dale Harmon said he believes it should be a private entity, but with selectmen on the board so the towns are aware of progress.
“It seems to me that this is the way to go. I mean, every time we talk about this, this is what seems to float to the surface,” said Harmon. “… I’m with everyone else that sits at this table – we’ve hit a wall and I would like to get either through it, over it, under it, around it, sideways of it, someway beyond it.”
All the towns and regions in Maine rallying from government to business to community members have hit a place of deep desperation, said JEDC co-chair Abbe Levin. “I think we are not 100 percent desperate yet. But guess what? We could be and we could be soon.”
“It’s coming,” said member Dawn Gilbert of Boothbay.
“We lost the hospital,” said Ham Meserve, member from Southport. “Is the school next? The high school? Library?”
Levin expressed interest in seeing results and advice from groups such as Moosehead Region Futures Committee and Our Katahdin, both nonprofits committed to economic flourishing in their regions and communities. Barnes and Faunce said they would look into those areas and would return by the next meeting with a document that gives some organizational outline to their processes.
“I feel like all the work we have done over the past two and a half years has led to this point ... but I don’t think it should be called BRED. I think it should be something new. We are starting new,” Levin said.
The JEDC also talked briefly about the Boothbay Festival of Lights. Levin led the conversation clarifying what the multiple-week series of events means to the region.
“The Festival of Lights is not an event,” said Levin. “It is a marketing promotion. As such when we all got into this business, the ideal situation was going to be that we would turn it over to the Chamber.”
Levin said that transition did not work the way the committee had hoped after changes in the Chamber over the last few years. Levin cited a letter from the Chamber’s executive director Patricia Royall.
“The Chamber feels that events are not really their area of focus in terms of capacity for their staff. It just was overbearing,” Levin said of the letter.
Levin said the Chamber’s recent issues with its building have made it difficult to commit to anything beyond its current responsibilities.
“The (FOL) committee … (has) worked really, really hard to figure out next steps because honestly there was a week where we thought, ‘We’re not going to be able to do this,’” said Levin.
But she said they came out on the other side and did some great work with about 40 hours of overall volunteer work aside from the time spent by Town Managers Tom Woodin and Dan Bryer and Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens’ Kris Folsom.
The proposed budget outlines a recommendation of $9,500 toward Green Tree Events (digital media, development of coordination handbook, production oversight, procurement of sponsorships), $2,500 toward project management (shuttle station, planning and meeting, business training workshops, event calendars), and $7,500 toward marketing collateral (rack cards, banners, social media advertisements, Boothbay Lights pins, event signage). The total is $19,500.
Boothbay Harbor Selectman Mike Tomko asked for a comparison to the 2017 Festival of Lights budget. Levin said last year’s totaled $27,500 and this would be the final year of the committee asking for money from the towns.
The committee voted unanimously to propose the budget, in two amounts of $9,750 to Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor.
The JEDC meets next at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 20 in the upstairs conference room at the Boothbay Region YMCA.