PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — In just the past year, Tim Lavin, president and chief executive officer of Balance BPO in Presque Isle, said that he has watched the downtown undergo a wonderful transition.
All along Main Street, where he has his business, more stores have opened up shop or renovated. The sidewalks are cleaner, the food and merchandise are more varied, and more people are out shopping.
“We have made tremendous steps forward as a business community,” he said Thursday afternoon. “In the downtown area, the change is really striking.”
It was a change that did not go unnoticed by state officials. On Tuesday, the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development named the city of Presque Isle its latest “Certified Business-Friendly Community.”
Communities in the program can use the business-friendly designation in their marketing efforts, will be recognized on the Department of Economic and Community Development’s website, will get an “Open for Business” road sign and will be a “key part of Maine’s business attraction strategy,” according to the department.
Certification is good for two years. To be certified, multiple areas of criteria are considered, including customer service, business involvement and collaboration, input from the public, and licensing and permitting.
“I applaud every effort taken by Presque Isle to make doing business there easier and more efficient for job creators,” Gov. Paul LePage said in a statement released with the announcement this week.
A team of public and private economic development experts reviews each application to determine eligibility. Presque Isle first applied for certification in 2012 but was turned down. It is now the only certified community in Aroostook County.
Some business-friendly initiatives the review committee highlighted to get certified included the city’s focus on revitalizing its downtown through the “Get Down to Business in Downtown Presque Isle” campaign.
Lavin opened Balance BPO, a software and process development company, in the city in 2010. He said that the downtown has been revitalized by shops such as Star City Coffee, Cafe Sorpreso, the Braden Theater, Bou’s Brew Pub, The Whole Potato and Amatos, which have helped the area become a gathering spot by offering an eclectic variety of food, shops and entertainment.
“Just a few years ago, there were empty storefronts with dirty windows,” he said. “On a recent warm night here, the sidewalks were crowded, and people were out.”
He also added that in other parts of the city, businesses such as The Crow’s Nest and The Cubby Thrift Store have sprung up to help the economy.
Other business-friendly initiatives the review committee highlighted included the city’s steps to stabilize and reduce its tax rate and its authorization of a planning committee to guide and encourage community and economic development.
City Manager Jim Bennett said Thursday afternoon that he was happy to have the designation, although he acknowledged that he felt the city was deserving of it in 2012. He said that one of the reasons Presque Isle was turned down last year was because the review committee felt the city had to do more collaborative work with counterparts. Bennett said he felt that not everyone understands that it is more difficult to find and work with comparably sized municipalities in northern Maine than it might be in southern Maine.
“But we also knew that we could have done a better job of sharing some of the things that we left out on the application, so this time, we did that,” he said. “We included information about the economic summit we held and we also held the line on taxes.”
Bennett said that a lot of hard work by a number of people contributed to the city receiving the designation.
Theresa Fowler, executive director of the Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce, said Thursday afternoon that she is very excited about the designation, which she believes speaks well of the future of economic development and the city. She added that the designation reflected all aspects of the city, including the skills and training offered through the University of Maine at Presque Isle and Northern Maine Community College.
“Besides the growing downtown, there are businesses springing up all over the city,” she said. “That is a reflection of the work done by a variety of people, and this is a wonderful recognition that will be great for business attraction.”