Media Archive

Piscataquis County, Dexter may join forces to spur development

Article from The Piscataquis Observer, Vol. 165, No. 43, October 22, 2003

By Ben Bragdon
Staff Writer

Communities across Piscataquis County are coming together to apply for a new state designation that would make available to local economic development officials a unique package of resources and incentives designed to help facilitate business growth. And now, with a competitive selection process looming. Dexter has joined discussions with Piscataquis County to determine the viability of applying jointly for the designation.

The Piscataquis Properties Corporation (PPC), a collection of town managers, selectmen and other interested parties from 11 Piscataquis County communities is currently working on an application for one of the four remaining designations under the state's Pine Tree Development Zone program. When completed, each zone will consist of up to 20 non-contiguous parcels totaling no more than 5,000 acres, and will have at its disposal a variety of tax exemptions and marketing tools to attract new and expanding businesses.

Communities in and around Piscataquis County have been hit hard in recent times by bad economic news, particularly in the manufacturing sector, and local officials say a Pine Tree Zone designation would go a long way in making the region more attractive to new industry.

But competition for the remaining designations looks to be intense, with communities around Maine partioning off to form their own prospective zones. Though the rules for the applications have not yet been finalized, applications will be judged on some combination of the region's economic needs and its ability to market the zone with a unified voice.

Dexter, so much like its Piscataquis County neighbors in geography, history and sensibility, is also interested in being part of a Pine Tree application. Town Manager Bob Simpson said last week that Dexter was working with Eastern Maine Development Corp. (EMDC) to pick out potential sites for inclusion in a Pine Tree Zone, and that the town was looking into the possibility of partnering with the PPC on the application."Its the only fit right now," Simpson said. "This corridor Newport, Dexter, Corinna - falls into a tri-county area that has just devastated us over the last few years, so certainly we need to fall into one of those zones. But quite honestly at this point if we don't go with Piscataquis County, I don't see it happening."

PPC president Jane Jones, also Milo's town manager, said her group is concerned with putting together the most compelling application possible. A partnership between Piscataquis County and Dexter seems to be a reasonable fit, she says, and the ongoing discussions will reveal whether it is beneficial to both sides.

"It makes sense for sections of the state who are struggling economically to form partnerships," she said. "It doesn't mean it will happen. It's just something that only makes sense to see whether or not it would make a more powerful application."

Mark Scarano of the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council said he has been working closely with the EMDC to coordinate the site selection process for the Piscataquis County-area Pine Tree Zone application.

"I want to see Dexter as part of our Pine Tree Zone application," he said. "The PCEDC is looking forward to learning about Dexter's sites, and working with Dexter to bring job-creating business to the region."

Dexter and Piscataquis County do not have a history of working together on such projects, so stumbling blocks could arise as the discussions move forward. Jones said some of the hesitation among the two groups stems simply from unfamiliarity.

"For so long we have learned through the (PCEDC) we have developed a real network and a real group of partnerships, and what we envision for Piscataquis County is a unified vision now," she said. "There isn't the Milo vision for the county, and the Dover vision for economic development for the county, and the Greenville, and the Monson and the Sangerville..."

"We have more or less worked better to form one organization that speaks with one voice for the entire county. Dexter does not have that history of working with us. Whenever you take two groups that have not had a lot of time to work together you sometimes have outlooks that don't mesh."

Portions of the application could be separated to resolve differences of opinion or philosophy between Piscataquis County and Dexter. For example, separate tax increment t financing (TIP) policies, which determine the kind and percentage of taxes reimbursed to new and expanding businesses, could be put in place depending on the location of the site.

Jones cautioned that the rules govt erning the Pine Tree Zones have been changed again and again since the law was passed last year. Further changes could alter the approach for parties in both Piscataquis County and Dexter, she said.

"It's been morphing every single day," said Jones.

The two parties will continue to work together over the next few weeks to sort out the issues surrounding the Pine Tree Zone application. Among the sites being considered are Pine Crest Business Park and Pleasant River Lumber in Dover-Foxcroft, and the industrial parks in Greenville. Sites would be spread throughout Piscataquis County, from Milo and Brownville to Dover-Foxcroft and Guilford to Greenville.

The PPC was originally formed to build speculative buildings basically new buildings ready to house incoming businesses &Mac247; on three sites in Piscataquis County, and the group found it impossible to fund the projects in a way that was palatable to all the county's communities. After the legislature passed a law giving Piscataquis County authorization to borrow money through bonding initiatives, the PPC focused anew on shepherding projects that hope to spread development fairly and efficiently throughout the county.

Jones said that the projects that the PPC and the PCEDC have worked on together over the past year may merge to create a forceful means with which to create a more attractive local business climate. "It makes a very interesting concept and a very strong economic tool to think that perhaps you could put together a very lucrative and attractive package for a new business involving speculative buildings, county bonding, and/or Pine Tree Zones," she said.

"What we are looking to do, whether it be with county bonding or the speculative building program or Pine Tree Zones, is to make the county as a whole and these sites in particular as attractive as possible for
either expansion of an existing business or attraction of new business."

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.