Bangor, Lincoln leaders join forces to attract young people to region

Posted March 11, 2014, at 9:30 a.m.
Ben Sprague in November.
Ben Sprague in November.
William Lawrence in 2012.
William Lawrence in 2012.

LINCOLN, Maine — Ben Sprague has 38 ideas on how to draw young people to Bangor and William Lawrence has 13 for luring them to Lincoln, but they don’t want to turn it into a competition.

So the Bangor City Council chairman and the Lincoln town manager will get together with some Northern Penobscot Tech students next month to hear the students’ ideas about what would keep them in northern Maine. The effort could springboard joint Bangor-Lincoln marketing and economic development efforts, they said Monday.

“I think at this point it is more brainstorming ideas that both communities can do separately,” Sprague said Monday. “But certainly a strong Lincoln region is good for Bangor and a strong Bangor region is good for Lincoln.”

“We connected. He reached out and said he would like to help,” said Lawrence, who readily admitted being influenced in composing his list by Sprague’s. “It is awesome that we are on the same page and wavelength on this.

“His initiatives are more in depth and lengthy than mine but I like the ideas he had,” Lawrence added. “He is concerned about the region, not just the City of Bangor.”

“We have to get past this idea that all these towns are competing against each other,” Sprague said. “When businesses come to northern Maine, do I want them to be in Bangor? Absolutely. But I also know that if they locate somewhere in this region, it is good for everybody, including Bangor.”

It is the first time in many years that Bangor and Lincoln leaders have worked together on a common issue outside of state legislation, said Lincoln Town Council Chairman Steve Clay, a councilor for all but a year since 1998. Both municipalities are considered service hubs, with Lincoln’s registering 5,085 residents and Bangor 33,020 in the 2010 census.

With the list he released Feb. 2, Sprague urged the city to create a “how-to” guide for starting a business; expand the number and size of outdoor art projects, similar to the murals and downtown arts efforts that have been popping up; reach out to people who left Bangor and figure out why and what, if anything, might bring them back.

Some of the more involved projects, he said, would involve launching a branding campaign to promote the city; forming a fresh, cohesive 10-year plan for the waterfront, Main Street and downtown; and providing local property-tax rebates for first-time homebuyers.

Lawrence’s list proposed obtaining feedback from youth organizations on what it would take to keep them home, expanding the use of social media and exploring recruitment of residents and businesses beyond Maine, promoting a culture of opportunity by hosting “how to start a business” workshops through Penquis Cap and Northern Penobscot Tech-Region III of Lincoln, and working with Region III on workforce development.

The Lincoln council was due to meet Monday night at Region III to discuss with students their ideas for the students’ “Why live, work and visit Lincoln” series of marketing videos. Lawrence also proposed expansion of the exercise trail systems to be built near Mattanawcook Academy, the town’s snowmobile and ATV trails, and the town’s art, music and food festivals to include job fairs, festivals, road races, tournaments and shows.

Sprague has cited a 2013 report by state Economist Amanda Rector that projects that Bangor will have a population of 32,978 in 2020 — down slightly from 2010′s count of 33,020. The city has been leaking residents slowly but steadily in recent decades. In 1990, the population of Bangor was about 34,680.

Rector projects that just four counties in southern Maine — Androscoggin, Cumberland, Knox and York — will see population increases between 2010 and 2015. University of Southern Maine economist Charles Colgan has said that Maine needs to to attract at least 3,000 new, young residents each year for the next 20 years to sustain a workforce.

According to the 2010 census, Lincoln’s median age is 40.3 years, about three years younger than Maine’s median age, 43.5 years. The census shows that of Lincoln’s 5,085 residents, 3,911 were age 18 and older. The largest single segment, 1,092, was 50-64 years old. The number of people ages 20-34 was 770. There were 244 people ages 20-24.

Lawrence and Sprague have made some progress toward implementing their ideas. City staff are working on plans for property tax rebates, home-rehabilitation loans for first-time buyers and have had extensive conversations about marketing videos, Sprague said.

Lawrence said town officials are researching business startup and education grant programs to help a group of Region III students, cabinet- and furniture-makers who have said they would remain in Lincoln if they could find or create sustaining jobs. Town officials are continuing to design the academy trail system and are planning a jobs fair for April 23-24 at Mattanawcook Academy that has drawn 15 employers so far, Lawrence said.

Sprague said he liked Lawrence’s enthusiasm.

“I think it is unlikely that solutions to these problems come from the state or [federal] levels. If they are going to come it will be from groups like chambers of commerces and young professionals organizations and local governments,” Sprague said. “I was impressed that there are people in Lincoln thinking along the same lines as people in Bangor. If we don’t tackle these trends head on it will severely undermine any economic growth we hope to achieve.”

 

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