DOVERFOXCROFT, Maine — In the 10 years since it first organized, the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council has obtained more than $5 million in grants for the county and has taken major steps to boost tourism and attract business, according to Erik Stumpfel, council president.
The council’s successes were highlighted Tuesday by Stumpfel, PCEDC Executive Director Thomas Kittredge, community development specialist Ken Woodbury, and Donna Fichtner of the tourism task force during a meeting of Piscataquis County commissioners.
The highlights included the council’s work to bring broadband access to the county; its work with a proposed developer for the Eastern Piscataquis Industrial Park in Milo, a composites manufacturer in the Greenville Industrial Park, and a company wanting to become a supplier of boat interiors to a major yacht company; a one-day conference to discuss new areas of rural economic development; tourism initiatives; and grant writing.
To build on their success, PCEDC officials on Tuesday submitted a proposed 2009 budget of $100,000 for operations, an increase of $15,000 from this year. In addition, the council asked for $15,000 for tourism development and requested a $5,000 supplemental appropriation to support potential tourism-related projects not currently funded in the budget.
“Everything you presented today is a wonderful program; however, county resources are finite,” Commissioner Tom Lizotte, a founding PCEDC member and former president, responded to the request. “What you’re asking for is an increase of $100,000 to $120,000; there is no good year to ask for a 20 percent increase for anything, especially not in the economic situations we find ourselves in now.”’
Last year, the county approved $85,000 for the PCEDC’s operation and appropriated $15,000 for tourism.
Four years ago, the county spent $75,000 for PCEDC, Lizotte said. The next year, the commissioners supported an increase to $100,000, of which $10,000 was for operations and $15,000 for the nature tourism project, he said. The nature tourism funds were startup funds, “not an openended funding forever situation,” he said.
The county funded the tourism project for three years. That money combined with Maine Humanities Council funds resulted in nearly $50,000 for tourism. “‘That’s a pretty substantial contribution,” Lizotte said.
Lizotte said the commissioners do see the “credible value” Woodbury has brought to the county. He said he thought the county would continue its $100,000 donation next year for the council, with the hope the community development work would continue.
The PCEDC is not the only economic development entity the county funds, Lizotte reminded the members. Between the council, Eastern Maine Development Corp., the Moosehead Lake and Piscataquis Chambers, the Piscataquis County Soil and Water Conservation District, and the Heart of Maine Resource and Development, the county spends $122,500 a year.
“I know of no other county in this state, especially not among rural counties, that is already providing $122,500 for economic development, it’s just unheard of,” Lizotte said. He requested the PCEDC to go back and find cuts within to fund the tourism task force.
Brownville Town Manager Sophia Wilson said Tuesday it would be a real shame to cut the funding for the tourism task force which has made great strides. The alternative to having the county fund tourism development, she said, would be to go back and ask the six largest communities that already foot the bill for smaller communities as service centers to fund tourism development. She said Brownville appropriated $10,000 to bring the town up to a level of readiness to be able to connect with the unified regional tourism work.
Wilson recalled that the late Pete Myrick told her: “Sophia, do whatever you can for the town of Brownville, but remember at the end of the day it is all about Piscataquis County.”
The economic development council has pushed for community development, traditional development and tourism development, she said. “It’s the one place where towns can get together and work for the benefit of the region.”