FORT KENT, Maine — The 2014 World Acadian Congress wraps up this weekend, but organizers are determined the economic and cultural impacts will continue long after the festivals and parties are over.
While it’s too early for actual numbers of people attending the two-week congress or how much money they spent, many are already calling it a huge success for the host territory Acadia of the Lands and Forest that includes northern Maine, southeastern New Brunswick and Temiscouata, Quebec.
Organizers had predicted the region would see 50,000 visitors, and they were confident last week that they had reached that number.
“When the final numbers come in, they will be close to or exceed what we anticipated,” George Dumond, president of the 2014 World Acadian Congress regional coordinating committee, said Friday at the World Acadian Congress’ economic summit in Edmundston, New Brunswick. “We have done it, and everyone involved feels it’s been an overwhelming success.”
Dumond is quick to say those crowds did not reach that size in any one location at any one time. Rather, that number is cumlative over two weeks.
“You have to remember this congress was not like any other,” he said. “It was spread over a huge region and not confined to a small town.”
Anecdotal accounts of lodging establishments booked to capacity, long lines at restaurants and double the normal crowds at events such as the Madawaska Acadian Festival and the Fort Kent Ploye Festival prove the crowds were there, Dumond said.
An outside firm has been hired to accurately compute and analyze the final attendance numbers and economic impact, Dumond said, adding that he is not sure when those figures will be available.
In the meantime, organizers intend to keep the momentum going.
A group of 40 individuals representing Maine, New Brunswick and Quebec on Friday signed an economic declaration forming a community economic development partnership.
“We envision achieving a spirit of collaboration in the entire territory in order to contribute to the economic development and to the creation of employment opportunities for our children and grandchildren in a strong and thriving economy,” Emilien Nadeau, 2014 World Acadian Congress president, said. “In this respect, I am very pleased to see that the declaration adopted at the end of this summit expresses the desire of our men and women to engage themselves in pursuing this vision.”
Dumond is part of that group and said discussions have already begun on where the region goes from here.
“The declaration is really a memorandum of understanding between the regions to carry the torch forward,” he said. “When the congress is done, it’s done, [and] this core group will pursue ongoing efforts to work together to bring down barriers that have been brought up over the years.”
Members of the group represent sectors including education, communication, tourism, economic development and international relations.
“We can’t get everything done all at once, obviously,” Dumond said. “But our goal is to tackle some of the things we know can work immediately.”
In the long term, Dumond said, that will require looking at federal tariff and trade laws. But he added that in the short term, there is plenty that can be done.
“We used to be able to get on a snowmobile and if you were registered in Maine, you could ride over the border on trails in New Brunswick and Quebec,” he said. “At some point that ended, and we need to look at why and work to change it.”
There also are opportunities in higher education, Dumond said.
The Edmundston campus of the University of Moncton has a program for off-road truck driving certification.
Northern Maine Community College in Presque Isle has a certification for on-road truckers, and Dumond said there is no reason the two institutions could not engage in student exchanges.
Throughout the year around the region, there are community festivals and celebrations that Dumond said could be linked and advertised regionally through some sort of bilingual publication.
“These are all things we are exploring right now,” he said.
Funds left over from organizing the 2014 World Acadian Congress have already been earmarked for the economic development partnership, Dumond said.
“This group is going to be involved in every aspect of post-congress development,” Lise Pelletier, director of the Acadian Archives in Fort Kent, said. “There are so many ways we can work together to share ideas and work toward unified goals for Acadia of the Lands and Forests.”
From day one, she said, leaving a meaningful and lasting economic legacy was a major goal of the congress.
“Those of us in this group have pledged two years,” Pelletier said. “We recognize the challenges we face, and we see the potential here, and we are ready to roll up our sleeves and do what we do best for this region.”