CARIBOU, Maine — The lead agency for the Aroostook County Empowerment Zone is hoping that a cache of money set aside for the Aroostook EZ in the fiscal year 2010 agriculture appropriations spending bill will be fully approved for projects in the region.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins announced earlier this week that the Senate Appropriations Committee had approved $4.39 million in agriculture funding for projects in Maine. Collins is a member of the committee.
The funds are included in the fiscal year 2010 agriculture appropriations spending bill. In that bill, $499,000 has been set aside for the Aroostook EZ to use to decrease out-migration. That would be accomplished by providing additional training and economic opportunities.
The allocation of funds is not yet final, as Collins said the bill now must be considered by the full Senate.
Northern Maine Development Commission in Caribou serves as the lead agency for the Aroostook County EZ. The EZ program was created by the federal government in the early 1990s to help distressed communities by providing opportunities for growth and revitalization.
Communities designated as part of such a zone can apply for grants and low-interest loans and can receive a wealth of federal tax benefits along with technical assistance provided through USDA Rural Development.
Collins said the funding in the spending bill, if approved, would provide the Aroostook EZ with additional grant funding for applicants. The Northern Maine Development Commission also would receive funds for economic development projects.
Michael Eisensmith, director of the economic development division at NMDC, said Friday that, if received, some of the federal funding would be used for research and program development around agriculture, forestry and tourism. The money also would be used to attract and retain businesses within the targeted sectors.
The director said that officials met with Collins’ staffers before the start of the current congressional session to discuss funding for the Empowerment Zone.
According to Eisensmith, the potential funding will enhance the impact that the Aroostook EZ already has had on the region.
“The Empowerment Zone already has had a broad impact on this area,” he said Friday. “Businesses, such as Louisiana Pacific in New Limerick, have expanded, and additional money has been made available to help area industries.”
The University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service, Potato Integrated Pest Management Late Blight program, could receive $450,000 if the bill passes. The money would fuel a program that assists Maine potato growers.
Kevin Kelley, a spokesman for Collins, said Friday that a final decision on the bill is expected before the August break.