MILLINOCKET, Maine — John Raymond isn’t going to stand idly by, hoping that business grows in the Katahdin region.
The co-creator of one of the largest economic development projects in recent Katahdin region history and former Town Council member has a new project. Raymond has formed a seven-member Economic Task Force Group to help improve the town and regional economy, officials said Monday.
“We want to bring in anything that would provide good-paying jobs and benefits,” Raymond said Monday. “Our goal is to try to assist in bringing back to the area good-paying manufacturing jobs in the wood products business or any business that might be interested in our area.”
The group consists of Katahdin Timberlands LLC President Marcia A. McKeague, Maine Forest Products Council Executive Director Patrick Strauch, former Town Manager Peggy Daigle, Town Manager John Davis and Town Council members Richard Angotti Jr. and Jimmy Busque, Raymond said.
The Town Council agreed informally during its meeting on Thursday to support the creation of the group. Raymond said he wants to hold the first group meeting within two weeks. No date has been set.
Raymond has assembled a good group for the task force, Daigle said.
“He is focused and sees things through to the end and is committed,” Daigle said. “He is able to gather the people that can get these things done.”
Raymond and several other volunteers helped create a 16.5-mile multiuse recreational trail that runs from the Northern Timber Cruisers clubhouse just outside town to the Seboeis area. The five-year project, which began in 2007, was a massive undertaking. Paid for with an estimated $500,000 worth of in-kind donations and grants, it features 170 culverts, 450 signs, a bridge over the Penobscot River and a spur into downtown Millinocket.
Raymond and other volunteers also recently began working on another trail that would make that trail a conduit between the state’s two largest ATV networks.
The task force’s first task: To organize an informational packet for businesses looking to locate in the area. The packet will list sources for area transportation, property available for development, grants, workforce data, raw material availability “and anything else that the committee thinks should be in the packet,” Raymond said in a letter to the council.
Millinocket’s town manager from 2013 to 2015, Daigle said she thinks the group’s formation is overdue. East Millinocket, Medway and Millinocket lack well-defined economic development strategies and at least 75 percent of their efforts concern managing their government services through what has become about a decade of heavy budget cuts caused by the area’s shrunken population and economy and state aid reductions, she said.
“I think it [the task force] is something that should have happened, but all the towns now are just focused on surviving so there is no time to do the things you ought to be doing, which is economic development,” Daigle said Monday.
“I don’t see this group being the replacement for towns having staff [dedicated to economic development], and they will have to decide that issue down the road, but I think we can provide some sense of structure and direction for what the town would like to see happen,” she said.
The task force is the first initiative of its kind supported by local government in the Katahdin region since the Millinocket Area Growth and Investment Council closed in 2008.
Raymond stressed that the group will be as happy to help businesses find homes in East Millinocket and Medway as in Millinocket.
“If it helps the region, we are for it,” Raymond said.
Raymond said the group will need to meet before it decides whether to support or oppose a proposed 150,000-acre national park. He said he wants the task force to illustrate that the Katahdin region still has a great deal of economic potential.
“I believe that a lot of the people in the area believe that we are dead in the water,” he said. “We are far from being dead.”