Report assesses potential of Camden

Posted Jan. 08, 2011, at 12:47 a.m.

CAMDEN, Maine — Building a parking garage, applying for grant funding, working with other midcoast towns and acquiring land are all bullet-point recommendations made in a recently released report aimed at ensuring Camden’s future.

Without these changes, the town’s economy will stagnate, it asserts. The draft version of the report will be presented to the public at 5:30 p.m. Monday in the Select Board chambers on Washington Street.

“Available forecasts for the Camden economy show slow future growth in the near term. Only 100 jobs are anticipated to be created between 2008 and 2015,” states the report that was funded by the Gateway 1 Corridor Action Plan. “Many of those jobs are recovered jobs lost in the 2007-09 recession.”

This is if the town does nothing, said Peter Gross, chairman of Camden’s economic development advisory committee.

“That’s why it’s more important for us to do something and be active so we grow by more than what [the report] is predicting,” Gross said Friday.

The report doesn’t dwell on the Knox Mill, a building that was occupied by MBNA but left largely empty when the company moved out around 2005 — taking jobs with it. For Gross, the loss of MBNA put Camden in this situation and more business needs to be attracted to get the city out of it.

“Camden has retracted over the last 10 years since MBNA left in terms of jobs and businesses. We need to strengthen our business community, which strengthens our overall community. We took quite a hit when MBNA left. We need to rebuild from that point. We’re growing from the past few years, but it’d be nice for us to get back to the point we were,” Gross said.

The number of new jobs will be an indicator of success for the plan if it is implemented, Gross said.

The plan, titled Economic Development Analysis and Action Plan is a 50-page look at the town as it is and as it might be. As it is, the report states, Camden is wealthier, older, better educated and more expensive to live in than other midcoast towns.

Camden should try to woo software, new media and technology businesses into town, the report states. “These types of jobs have great synergies with what Camden has to offer, including higher rates of pay, higher education levels and the general quality of life offered by the community,” it states.

Gross said this is an important point for Camden, as is the list of 42 available spots to put businesses like these in the town.

“This study is aimed at giving us the information we need to go forward with what kind of properties are available in the town and what kind of businesses they would support,” Gross said. “The main goal was to create an easily updatable database.”

According to Charles Colgan, associate director of the Maine Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Southern Maine, Camden is in the perfect position to take on more technology jobs, especially software businesses.

“You can do software development anywhere in the world, all you need is Internet access, so many people want to do it in places like Camden with lots of recreational activities, scenic amenities and cultural activities,” Colgan said. “I think they have an opportunity to bring younger people into the community — which is a big concern.”

Colgan said technology jobs would lure the younger folk.

Another major part of the report focuses on the frequently clogged Main Street. It is one sticking point in the Route 1 corridor, especially in the summer, and parking is inadequate, the report states.

“Accessibility related to traffic congestion and parking can have an adverse impact on the visitor experience. A bad experience can cause a visitor to avoid a destination or series of destinations altogether,” the report states.

The report, which says Camden needs at least 80 more parking spots to meet the demand, asks the town to consider building a parking garage or installing a system where people can log on to the Internet with a mobile device and have a real-time look at available parking spaces in the city.

A public meeting will be held 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Washington Street Conference Room in Camden to discuss the plan.

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