The 15 years that my wife, Cyndi, and I have spent in the Bangor region have been some of the best of our lives. As I approach retirement and a move to warmer climates, it seems fitting to share my perspectives on the most significant shifts I have seen in the regional business landscape in my time here.
I see three such transformational shifts — each with its own champion as a catalyst — and each should bear positive fruit for decades to come.
The first of these is the renaissance of downtown Bangor. When we arrived in 1998, social activity and parallel business activity largely orbited around the Bangor Mall. The downtown was somewhat desolate, and quality dining experiences there were limited.
Now, downtown Bangor is experiencing a social and business revival. The state-of-the art Cross Insurance Center, Hollywood Casino, new hotels and the musically restored Darling’s waterfront concert venue are cornerstones of this renaissance.
Today, the biggest challenge for dinner downtown is selecting among the many fine and eclectic restaurants available.
In my opinion, there was a single catalyst that ignited this slow but forward-burning restoration. Now known as the American Folk Festival, it demonstrated that people would come downtown, often by the tens of thousands, if provided contemporary opportunities for entertainment.
I think the Bangor region owes a debt of gratitude to one individual who lit that fuse with tireless energy. Former Bangor City Council Chairman John Rohman’s vision for thousands of people enjoying food and music on a restored Bangor waterfront set the stage for what the downtown is today.
The second significant business change is the renaissance of Maine’s trades workers. When my wife and I arrived in 1998, the common message we heard was that skilled construction workers and craftsmen had gone the way of the manufacturing industry, and people seeking jobs had to turn to the service or financial sector to find worthwhile employment.
Today, the architectural artistry found in the Cross Center and Hollywood Casino models the skills of Maine’s workers. Immediately across the river in Brewer, a precision manufacturing facility has the capacity to produce extraordinary products for an international market.
The common thread between these separate and distinct facilities is Cianbro. The Bangor region owes a debt of gratitude to CEO Peter Vigue, whose belief in the quality of Maine’s workers has put Cianbro on an international stage.
The third significant shift in the business landscape is in the arena of my profession — health care. When I arrived in 1998, health care was already a major industry, and my employer, Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, had significant influence north and east of Augusta.
The transformational shifts in this sector may be far less physically obvious to many in the community. In truth, Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems has become a dominant yet benevolent force across Maine and New England. Additionally, Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems has achieved a high profile across the nation as a pioneer in redesigning the health delivery business model to one that focuses first on improving the health and lives of our patients, rather than focusing on the old model of capturing volume for the sake of competitive growth.
Again, there is a single individual at the heart of this change. Since her arrival in 2006, Michelle Hood has mobilized her vision for a better, more humane health care system. Her leadership has produced a string of national contracts, grants and awards.
Her collaborative style has brought luminary leaders from systems like Dartmouth and Geisinger to Bangor, and Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems works closely with others such as Mayo Clinic, UCLA and InterMountain. Her engaging, trustful and intelligent style has built alignment with previous competitors — locally, St. Joseph Healthcare, and, from a statewide perspective, Maine Health of Portland.
As Cyndi and I depart Bangor, please join us in thanking John, Peter and Michelle for their transformational leadership and vision. Their impact on the Bangor region is clear.
Jerry Whalen has served Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems as vice president of strategy and business development since 1998. His retirement on March 28 will complete 46 years in health care.