May 27, 2018
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What Bangor can learn from Facebook

By Benjamin Sprague, Special to the BDN

One of my classmates in college was Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook. I never knew Mark personally, but I have always been an admirer of the way he took bold and creative steps to drive forward new concepts and ideas. The City of Bangor needs similar fresh thinking to address the complex economic issues we face using the community assets we have. I believe there are four initiatives we can undertake now to create new opportunities, attract new businesses, create new jobs and ultimately attract new families to Bangor.

First, I would like to create a recruitment committee made up of at least one representative from the City Council, School Board and health care community that would be “on call” to meet with prospective businesses, families and individuals who are considering a move to Bangor. For example, a city councilor could help the hospitals recruit doctors by talking about the downtown area, symphony, concert series, arena and proximity to Bar Harbor and Baxter State Park, among other things. A school board member could help our economic development team draw businesses to Bangor by talking to business owners about the high-quality school system for their kids.

Cooperation between the different spheres of influence in our city and a personal touch would go a long way and show that Bangor is a welcoming city in which people work together and support one another.

Next, Greater Bangor is blessed with several high-quality institutions of higher learning. We need to integrate college students into the community so they do not just associate with being at Husson, for example, but also with being in Bangor.

I would like to organize a large-scale internship program to help our young people connect with those who may eventually hire them full time and vice versa. In his book “Getting a Job,” sociologist Mark Granovetter found that 56 percent of people find their jobs through a personal connection.

Increased interaction between businesses and schools would also shed light on what job skills local businesses need their potential employees to have and hopefully our schools would rise to meet those needs. We could also expand this program to attract interested students from universities that are “away” but who would like to live in or return to Bangor at some point.

“Brain drain” is an oversimplified term that implies our young people are leaving just because they cannot find good jobs. Jobs are only part of the equation; the other is lifestyle concerns.

I have friends who have left good jobs in Bangor to move to Portland or Boston because the social aspect of living in Bangor for someone in their 20s or 30s still leaves a lot to be desired.

So, third, Bangor needs to continue to build on its momentum in the downtown and waterfront areas. We can do this by proactively supporting the creative economy.

I would like a full review of our downtown and waterfront tax codes. We need to create incentives for people to live in these artistically minded areas and to encourage landlords to provide more high-quality housing.

Communities with a strong arts scenes typically are safe, more close-knit and in the long run more economically stable. Moreover, I believe one of the best ways to boost property values in Bangor is to have a stronger arts community, because doing so will make Bangor a more desirable place to live for younger people and their families.

Finally, on the subject of tax codes, we need to have a proactive instead of reactive discussion about tax rates in Bangor. There is a chicken-or-egg question about whether businesses choose not to come to Bangor because tax rates are so high or if tax rates are so high because we cannot attract enough businesses to cover our municipal expenses.

It does not make sense to make major investments such as the one we are making with the arena unless other businesses can relocate to Bangor and the people who work for them can actually live in the city. We need a long-term strategy and not just a mill rate discussion and I would like to begin a review of our tax codes now.

Bangor has a rich history about which it can be proud, an increasingly vibrant presence and, most importantly, an exciting future. The task of insuring that the future is economically prosperous for all our residents will require a great deal of planning, cooperation and creativity. These are not the only steps we need to take, but I think doing so would be a great start and I cannot wait to begin.

Benjamin Sprague was recently elected to the Bangor City Council.

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