DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — When Thomas Kittredge isn’t meeting with businesses or following up on leads, he grabs his desk telephone and starts calling up industries elsewhere in the state and country to sell the benefits of operating in Piscataquis County.
It’s a hard sell lately because of the poor economy, but that doesn’t deter the motivated young man who serves as the executive director of the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council.
“We’ve tried to be aggressive and tried to be visible,” Kittredge said Thursday of the council that is celebrating a decade of progress.
It was 10 years ago when more than 150 people representing small businesses, social service agencies, chambers of commerce, large industries and local communities crowded into Foxcroft Academy’s music room to find out how they could help revitalize Piscataquis County’s economy. That meeting became the official kickoff of the development of the council.
Over those years, the council has worked hard to pull the county together, attract businesses, retain jobs, develop and promote the region’s unique culture and heritage, and promote and grow tourism. Its successes have been many.
“It definitely made a difference, we wouldn’t be there if it hadn’t been for them,” Doug Fletcher, American Pride president, said Friday of the council. He said former Executive Director Mark Scarano wrote a grant that provided them funds to expand its operation to Guilford a few years ago. “We consider it a very big part of what we do.”
Fletcher said the move to Guilford was a good one for the company and it provided 40 jobs to the region. The company manufactures wooden flooring, miniature baseball bats, drumsticks and other items.
“We’re just as excited about things today as we were when we bought the company because we recognize there’s a lot of potential out there [in Piscataquis County].” Fletcher said. “The good news that we’re hearing is that some of these outfits that moved their business off to China — the honeymoon seems to be waning a little bit.”
Fletcher said his company has actually recaptured some business that it lost to its foreign competitor. He said that business doesn’t amount to millions of dollars but it’s enough to keep company officials encouraged.
Aside from helping businesses such as American Pride, the council also pushed for the creation of the Penquis Higher Education Center where many residents have since expanded their education or received retraining after the loss of their jobs.
The council also has been successful in obtaining more than $4.8 million in grants that have helped promote the county’s history and its culture; provide funds for downtown revitalization, industrial park development, tourism, municipal water and sewer upgrades; the creation of a wood composites business incubator’ the availability of broadband services; and for business development.
Much more work is needed to help improve the county, according to Kittredge. Transportation is a problem and while there are vacant industrial buildings, a ready-to-move-in speculative building would increase the chances of drawing a new business to the region, he said, as examples.
“We need to improve our infrastructure, and we ought to be more creative and more persistent,” Kittredge said. He said the state is divided and that northern Maine is being left behind. “We’re not moving together towards a brighter economic future, we’re getting left behind, we’re getting ignored and neglected.”
Kittredge said he would like to see the county have a better road system, rail opportunities and to become a bigger leader in renewable energy.
“We’ve done a lot of stuff, but there’s a lot more work to be done,” Kittredge said.