Media Archive

Relief of economic blight in eastern Piscataquis in sight

Article from The Piscataquis Observer, Vol. 164, No. 48, November 27, 2002

By Jessica Lee
Staff Writer

The game plan for attracting business to Piscataquis County is in the works.

Now all that's needed are team players. Last week, a group of about a dozen like-minded residents and town officials of Milo and Brownville sat around a table to begin discussing the role that economic development will play in the area's future, and specifically,the receipt of a $10,000 planning grant. The two communities have received the grant from the state Department of Economic and Community Development. The money, combined with $5,000 raised by the two towns, will go toward creation of a marketing plan and labor analysis study. Ultimately, the towns will identify a parcel of land, suitable for commercial or industrial development. The Nov. 20 informational meeting, held at the Milo Town Office, gave residents and business owners in the community a chance to hear about the grant, as well as contribute ideas.

The goal is to maintain current employment opportunities and initiate job creation, whether by growing local companies or attracting new business to the region, while stemming the out-migration of population.

The meeting was called by Milo Town Manager Jane Jones and Brownville Town Manager Sophie Wilson.

Mark Scarano, executive director of the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council, explained the grant process, and emphasized that local knowledge is key to solving the economic ills of the communities. "We are facing a mass out-migration, and it's beginning to hurt the communities," he said.

It's a vicious cycle: as the communities have lost jobs, specifically with the closing of Dexter Shoe and the railroad, many residents have left the area in search of gainful employment. This has caused property values in the area to plummet. In addition, as people leave, local businesses that remain are seeing fewer customers, making it difficult to stay open.

The cycle also affects social service agencies, as evidence with the recent closure of Millinocket Regional Hospital's health care clinic in Brownville, and those taxpayers who remain in the community, who are asked to pick up a greater percentage of the tab for municipal and school operations.

Residents at the Nov. 20 meeting began to discuss this problem, and formulate a plan of action.

A first step toward solving this crisis, Scarano said, is the creation of a local group of interested parties, who can meet regularly to discuss local issues. He urged residents to establish such a localized economic development group to work in concert with efforts of PCEDC and Eastern Maine Development Corp. of Bangor.

"If we get enough creative people together," Scarano said, "we may be able to take the steps to improve the region's economic health."

Greenville, for example, has created the Moosehead Development Council, which meets regularly over breakfast to discuss that area's specific problems and needs. Scarano said that group has begun to look at the lack of affordable housing in the area.

The eastern Piscataquis group would look to promote the community's strengths÷such as quality of life and a dedicated workforce÷and identify weaknesses.

The $10,000 Community Development Block Grant is overseen by a steering committee of six, including the town managers in both communities, and will require three dedicated groups of volunteers.

In the development of a marketing plan, a committee of volunteers will identify industries that best fit into the local economy, Scarano said, by looking at the skills of the people living here, demographic trends and historical employment data.

For example, with many former employees of Dexter Shoe now looking for jobs, he said, a suitable industry may be another shoemaker or business that requires labor with fine manual dexterity skills.

The second part of the plan will require a site study. A second committee is needed to review parcels in both
towns to identify suitable sites for development, and a possible business/industrial park. There is money in the grant to hire an engineering firm, Scarano said.

A third group will examine the legal issues surrounding the grant's implementation and the ongoing collaboration between the two towns.

The first meeting of the marketing plan committee will be 6:30 p.m. Nov. 27 in the Brownville Town Office. For more information, call Jones at 943-2202, Wilson at 965-2561 or Scarano at 564-3638.

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