This week the voters of Bangor overwhelmingly approved the issuance of bonds to build a new auditorium and civic center. This vote was about more than a building. It was a vote of confidence in Bangor and the region’s economic future.
Last year, business leaders and officials from the private and public sectors came together and began listing and mapping the region’s assets. Under the Mobilize Eastern Maine umbrella, they identified an area that is a city planner and developer’s dream! We have a great asset in the continuous stretch of land that includes the Bangor International Airport, a 27-hole golf course, a racetrack, civic center, auditorium, Maine’s only gaming facility (racino) and a beautiful waterfront wrapped by an interstate highway and the navigable Penobscot River.
The Mobilize Maine leadership decided that this asset must be advanced in order to move its goals forward. That’s when the Maine Center began to take shape as a facility that would rival any in northern New England and many in small metropolitan regions across the United States. Soon, the Maine Center concept — an entertainment, athletic, community and business conference and convention center — was identified as a strategic initiative for the region by Mobilize Maine. Together with Bangor’s City Council they began to work toward building a new arena.
In the last few weeks people on both sides of the arena vote did a tremendous service to the community and the region. Wednesday’s election spurred healthy debate within the community as to what Bangor’s role should be as a regional leader. In the end, the voters have said good planning, well-thought-out ideas, reasonable costs and a vision that builds on our assets will enable Bangor and the surrounding region to enjoy economic growth and diversified vitality. The approval of the arena project will elevate Bangor and the region as the place to “live, work and raise a family” in Maine.
The Maine brand has tremendous value. How we use it in our economic development efforts is very important. The Mobilize Eastern Maine process includes a variety of institutions such as the Bangor Region Development Alliance, the Action Committee of 50, Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce, Target Development Corp., the Greater Bangor Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Tri- County Workforce and Eastern Maine Development Corp. All of these organizations must collaborate and build a model that springboards the successful vote of confidence of our regional economy into the development of the many other assets we possess.
The arena vote is not the end of this strategic initiative. It’s merely a step along the path. We have identified the starting point, and now we must work together to advance the opportunities born from it.
Private and public sectors must immediately begin to develop a collaborate effort to market “our region” as a place to invest for the future. We must use the new arena facilities not just to bring in entertainment but to entice and encourage entrepreneurs who thrive on culture and music for their energy and innovation.
We need to ensure that the students from University of Maine, Husson University, Eastern Maine Community College, College of the Atlantic, Maine Maritime Academy and Unity College see the Bangor region as a place to grow their careers and businesses and to raise their families.
We need to build upon our bioscience businesses and health care facilities and showcase this new center as a vehicle to attract new scientists, researchers and medical personal that desire a critical mass of like-minded folks.
We need to demonstrate that demand for air service is growing with a population that has the need for business travel. We need to tell the story of how the Bangor region’s mountains, the lakes and streams of Katahdin and our beautiful coast can increase a more affluent customer base.
We need to show the young people in the region that we support them.
Perhaps the most important message of this week’s vote came from the area’s young people in their hard work in support of the arena project. In saying “Arena Yes!” we sent a strong message to young professionals such as the members of Fusion:Bangor who worked so hard to gather a positive vote. We said, ‘We have confidence in you. We support your efforts to make this region an attractive place to live. We share your goal and intend to use this time to improve the economic opportunity for each of you.’ Further, it also gives many of us another opportunity to say to our college graduate children and grandchildren that there is opportunity in the Bangor region. Come on home!
Michael W. Aube is president of Eastern Maine Development Corp. in Bangor. He is a past commissioner of Maine’s Department of Economic and Community Development and former state director of Maine USDA Rural Development.