BANGOR, Maine — A coalition of elected and development officials from Penobscot, Piscataquis and Hancock counties is poised to become the first in the state to provide work force and economic development strategies under one roof — an approach members believe could help lure industry and jobs to the area.
Until recently, Eastern Maine Development Corp. has handled economic development for the region, while the Tri-County Workforce Investment Board has handled work force development through a contract with an outside agency.
Beginning on July 1, both functions will be handled by EMDC at the request of the Chief Local Elected Officials, or CLEO, panel for the three counties.
“This is a very positive thing for work force development in the tri-county region because we will be the first in Maine to begin to put economic development strategies with work force development strategies,” EMDC President Mike Aube said Thursday during a news conference.
“It’s absolutely critical in these economic times that we think in terms of the options for people who are dislocated, for younger people who choose and hope to stay in Maine,” Aube said.
“What will they have for jobs? What is the nature of their employment? What career path can they achieve?” he said. By combining economic and labor strategies “in fact, we will be building on some great assets in this region.”
State Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman agreed.
“It is truly an exciting opportunity,” she said. “Ultimately, the people who benefit will be the people in the tri-county area. That’s what we really need to be doing — focusing on how to improve opportunities for people in our communities and how to help businesses thrive.”
Joanna Russell, executive director of the Tri-County Workforce Investment Board, said the initiative has proved successful elsewhere in the nation, including rural areas such as northeastern Mississippi.
“The local development corporation combined all the area’s economic development and [Workforce Investment Act] resources to market the site and work force training to Toyota,” Russell said of the Mississippi program.
“Toyota, once convinced that they’d have the work force to conduct the business that they needed to, decided to move into the area and significantly changed the economic conditions,” she said.
Penobscot County Commissioner Tom Davis, chairman of the CLEO board for the participating counties, applauded the move. “This is a chance to take care of labor in the tri-county area, to put the dollars where they need to go,” he said, referring to work force training.
Davis said he and fellow County Commissioners Tom Lizotte of Piscataquis County and Percy “Joe” Brown of Hancock County had “been bothered because we haven’t really been sure that’s where the money went in the ratio it should’ve gone.”