FORT KENT, Maine — Getting a pulse on the economy of the region is crucial to helping the area sustain and expand its current infrastructure, and a recent visit to Aroostook County by the Finance Authority of Maine helped board members, business officials and state and local leaders better understand the economy of Maine’s largest county.
Last week, the FAME board of directors held its monthly meeting in Fort Kent after a two-day tour of Aroostook County businesses.
FAME is a quasi-independent state agency offering business assistance programs that range from traditional loan insurance programs to tax credits for investments that individuals make in growth-oriented, manufacturing or export-related firms.
Prior to their meeting at the Maine Winter Sports Center’s 10th Mountain Lodge, the FAME board and staff, as well as area legislators and business leaders, toured various Aroostook County businesses to learn more about the local economy. The group stopped at Louisiana Pacific in New Limerick and McCain Frozen Foods in Easton. They also hosted a panel discussion on area economic issues at the Long Lake Sporting Club in Sinclair.
“We had about seven board members and approximately the same number of FAME staffers, as well as various business leaders and legislators throughout the two-day trip,” Bill Norbert, the government affairs and communications manager for FAME, said Tuesday afternoon. “We are committed to holding board meetings in different parts of the state, and we wanted to visit Aroostook County to get a feel of the area’s strengths and needs.”
During their meeting in Fort Kent after the tour, the board approved loans and loan insurance to assist Prime Tanning Co. Inc. of Hartland, a leather producer that recently ceased operations at its Berwick facility and is in the process of transitioning production to its finishing operations in Hartland. The board also approved loans and loan insurance for Apothecary by Design LLC, a Portland-based start-up company that will operate as a specialized retail pharmacy.
Officials from FAME said the actions will help create and preserve a total of 277 Maine jobs.
Norbert said the board and everyone on the tour was “very interested and impressed” by the businesses they saw in The County and what they heard at the economic issues forum.
Both the New Limerick plant and the Easton plant are significant presences in Aroostook County. The New Limerick plant was established in 1982 as an oriented-strand board, or OSB, mill. The plant recently converted to laminated strand lumber, or LSL, production.
The expansion and conversion to an LSL mill represents an investment of more than $140 million. The production of LSL — which is marketed under the name Solid Start LSL — is intended to diversify the corporation’s product line while meeting demands for alternative engineered products for home construction.
The plant is one of the few producers of LSL in North America.
McCain Foods is the largest producer of french fries in the world and a major processor of other frozen foods. The company operates a state-of-the art potato processing facility in Easton and has undergone major expansions twice in recent years.
While Norbert said he could not speculate on any future decisions by the board, he said FAME has already invested a great deal of money in Aroostook County.
“I suspect that will continue to be the case well into the future,” he said.