Commissioners review economic development options

Posted Sept. 22, 2010, at 12:02 a.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 11:37 a.m.

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Members of the grass-roots Piscataquis County Economic Development Council urged county commissioners Tuesday to continue to support their efforts.

The commissioners are considering two options for economic development services next year: continue to pay the council to develop a strategy, hire an economic development director and oversee the position, or contract with Eastern Maine Development Corp. and have the council continue to do just the strategy work.

Earlier this month, the commissioners heard a $75,000 proposal from EMDC to provide economic development services and this week they were updated about the council’s $80,000 proposal. The commissioners agreed Tuesday to study the options, with a decision expected next month.

To help fund its $128,150 budget next year, the council is seeking $80,000 from the county, which is a $20,000 reduction from this year. The council expects $8,000 from a corporate campaign, and it has secured a $39,650 grant. Those funds will allow the council to fund two nearly full-time positions very similar to past years and to contract with a management firm for payroll and accounting services. The latter move will free up the council’s time so it can focus more on groundwork and use more of the expertise of the 45-member committee, council member Jeff Gahagan said Tuesday.

The history of the council includes some great successes, according to council member James Macomber. From November 2007 to December 2009, 33 of the 41 grants the council applied for were funded, bringing $5,765,398 to the county, he said Tuesday. At the same time, the council has developed partnerships, helped potential and existing businesses and developed leadership opportunities, he said. Over those same years, the county paid the council $297,500.

“That’s a pretty good return on your investment,” Macomber said.

Despite the fact the economic development executive director’s position has been vacant since June, Sophia Wilson, council president, said the council has brought in about $2.3 million this year.

Commissioner Tom Lizotte said Tuesday that no matter what option is selected, the council would be intimately involved in the creation of the strategies and the work plan.

That prompted a quick response from Wilson.

“I question how you’re going to get economic development to be a top priority, to bring all the town managers together and industry leaders together to carve out two hours every month that they devote to this, for an organization that is going to [have just an advisory role],” she said. “The county commission has no control over whether or not PCEDC continues to exist if the funding is not there.”

Dover-Foxcroft resident George Barton endorsed Wilson’s comments.

“Since I’ve moved to this community from away, I’ve found the PCEDC was one of the most important things that attracted me into community service and volunteer work,” Barton said. “The very nature of the fact that it is a grass-roots, volunteer organization that hires and controls professional assistants focused on economic development was what motivated me to become actively involved.”

“We’re really thinking about what is the best design for economic development in Piscataquis County,” council member Sue Mackey Andrews said. “We really do feel that the people who live here, who work here, who know the area, who benefit from the area are the best people to direct a dialogue and the direction for our area.”

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