What will it take to improve Washington County’s economy, and what will our elected officials do to make that happen? These questions are on the minds of residents all over our county, and people all over the rest of Maine are asking them too. As House members who work together closely on economic development and other issues, we thought we would attempt to address these questions.
There are five factors that influence economic development, and all of them must be favorable for improvements to be made: local attitude, leadership, infrastructure, work force and resources.
Local attitude is one of the most important factors. For example, is the population open to change or fearful of it? Is there a history of battles between environmental and development interests or productive collaboration? Is there a culture that resents wealth and success or one that embraces it?
Leadership is another key. Are business and community leaders open to reasonable to risk? Are local leaders willing in invest time and thought into how to approach development, and are they willing to seed efforts that may take many years to produce results? Are there people in place throughout the community who can make things happen?
The presence of infrastructure also must be considered. What does your community (or county) have in the way of available land, buildings, organizations, institutions and professional networks? What is available for transportation infrastructure? All of these are important, as they support the physical needs of businesses as well as their talent.
The work force always is an important element to development efforts. Where is the available work force, and what are its skills? Is there access to worker training and educational institutions with which to partner? Do area high schools have active vocational education programs, and are these programs relevant to the local economy?
Finally, resources are needed. Local or regional staff is most important. It doesn’t do any good to have a company interested in opening in your area if there’s no one there to answer their call, help them with questions and guide them along the way. It’s also important to build loan funds for nontraditional financing and have other “pre-loan” money available for research and planning assistance.
Washington County has much of this in place, and it’s starting to have a positive effect. Perhaps you see much of what’s needed in your own community or region, but there is always the need to improve. Some improvements need state legislation, and some do not.
Your legislators cannot force people to welcome development or force businesses to move or expand here. What they can do is help ensure the infrastructure, services and resources are in place to help local communities succeed on their own terms.
Dianne Tilton, R-Harrington, represents District 33 in the Maine House of Representatives. David Burns, R-Whiting, represents District 32. Both districts are part of Washington County.