MACHIAS, Maine — Christine Laurel of Cutler has been hired as the new executive director of the Washington County Development Authority, and one of her first tasks is to determine the group’s role.
WCDA was formed a decade ago primarily to purchase decommissioned federal military facilities in the county. Over the years, WCDA has operated as an economic tool, lending money to startup companies and established businesses to expand, but in recent years it has struggled with its definition.
Laurel presented a proposed plan of action Tuesday afternoon for the WCDA board to review that more clearly outlines the board’s goals.
“I need your feedback,” Laurel said. “Am I way off base? Am I right on?” Each board member was asked to review the 10-page plan and e-mail their assessments to Laurel.
This process will help her build a WCDA website, she said. Laurel also has created a logo for WCDA, which is a photograph of Cutler Harbor.
In her proposed plan, Laurel outlined the legislation that created WCDA and then provided pertinent data about the county, including its population, economic standing and a health assessment.
Areas of action to focus on, Laurel said, include encouraging the manufacture of cutting-edge technology for farming and energy, supporting local agencies and nonprofits that support the county’s social needs, working with local chambers of commerce to offer both financial and technical assistance, and creating a more visible presence in the county.
WCDA Chairman Jim Parker of Milbridge said it was vital for the group to continue its focus on small businesses, which are the backbone of Washington County.
“There are a whole lot of small businesses in Washington County that are doing quite well. I think we should focus on helping them,” he said.
Parker cautioned the board that WCDA should not become competitive with other economic development agencies in the county, but rather clearly define its own role.
“Let us support only those efforts that would provide jobs,” Parker said. “We should be working to help private businesses that pay taxes.”
He praised Laurel’s plan, adding, “Now we can start organizing our thoughts and provide a direction.”
In a telephone conference call from Augusta, Bill Osborne of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, said that hiring Laurel, even part time, is a positive move and a step in the right direction for WCDA.
“She has raised some very good points as to how WCDA moves forward,” Osborne said.
A stumbling block, the board members agreed Tuesday, is that the Maine Attorney General’s Office has ruled that WCDA cannot lend money, even as a pass-through agency.
Parker asked Osborne to check into how WCDA could amend current state law so the authority could borrow and lend money.