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Kathy Gagnon

Dare I Hope?
By Kathy Gagnon
Jun 6, 2006 - 4:23:00 PM

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Last night I attended a second Economic Development Workshop held with the Millinocket Town Council. After the last one I attended, I approached this one a bit apprehensive, but I was pleasantly surprised. This meeting was attended by more citizens with lots of ideas and comments. The atmosphere was much more relaxed and friendly, with pretty much everyone there participating. I left feeling, if I dare say it, hopeful.

That is until I read today’s Bangor Daily News’ version of the meeting…

Had I not seen the reporter there myself, I would have surely wondered if he had attended the same meeting that I had. Reading the article, I found several inaccuracies and found it to be disheartening in comparison to the hopeful feelings I had on leaving the meeting.

Points discussed were as follows:

Moving the town’s information booth to a downtown location.

Looking into acquiring the former bank next door to the Municipal Building for the Historical Society’s town museum. The obstacle to doing this is the building is owned by an out-of-state person who appears to prefer to allow the building to sit vacant.

The reasons why this building would make a great home for the town museum are numerous, and it would enable the Historical Society to have the room needed to display all of the interesting and wonderful items they currently have, and to preserve them properly under the right conditions. Add to that the ease in accessibility for all and the visibility it would provide. It would add a lot to our downtown.

The downtown area is the heart of the town and needs to have the empty buildings filled and dressed up. Re-routing the traffic through the Main Street was discussed, but we first must provide something worth redirecting to. At issue there is the problem with building owners who are unwilling to offer affordable rent to interested business owners. One might think that, rather than having the buildings setting vacant, these property owners would be willing to work with potential businesses in order to fill the buildings.

Addressing this, it was suggested that the town look into developing a program that would subsidize the rent to help enable businesses to locate in these buildings.

I believe revitalizing the downtown would go a long ways in revitalizing the town as a whole.

An electric co-op was discussed as a means to assist those interested in starting a business with the high cost of electricity. This would be a very positive step for a lot of people wanting to start a business, but concerned about costs to do so.

Annexation was brought up and supported by many in attendance as something the town needs to do. This issue has been brought up numerous times, but the idea always seems to end up being brushed under the rug. One of the reasons why other towns are seeing growth that Millinocket is not is that they have available land for interested businesses to acquire and build on.

Millinocket does not.

An economic developer for the town was another suggestion that was met with much support from the citizens. It is clear that Millinocket has not seen any growth in economic development in the past several years. On the contrary, the town is continuing to fade and downsize. We have patiently helped to fund the Millinocket Area Growth and Investment Council (MAGIC) for 6 years now; maybe it is time to try another approach, such as hiring our own economic developer. I realize that economic development does not happen over night, but after 6 years we are no longer talking overnight, and yet we have seen no progress. It is time for the town of Millinocket to try a different approach and to take matters into their own hands by hiring someone whose sole job would be to create economic development in the town, while working with the Town Manager. I believe we would see some progress by doing so. Other towns have.

Citizens suggested we bring the Wooden Canoe Festival back to Millinocket where it initially began. Also suggested was developing some other type of annual festival for the town. Both of these suggestions received a positive response from citizens.

Turning the old pool into a skate park was discussed, with some being for it and others having concerns about things such as liability for the town.

In order to help with the problems of having to travel to shop, citizens suggested finding a business to fill the Ames building. Councilor McLean explained that large companies such as Wal Mart required a larger population base than what Millinocket has. While that may be true, the town can still try to find business interested in filling that space. Considering the fact that any business that located there would most likely have a customer base that would include East Millinocket and Medway, I believe we should be able to convince a business to locate there.

While the Bangor Daily’s account of the meeting stated that many of the ideas were “too general, already thought of and worked on, or pie-in-the-sky ideas”, I beg to differ. I found the ideas to be valuable, worth trying, and possibilities. The fact that so many citizens participated was very encouraging, as was the council’s willingness to listen.

At the conclusion of this meeting, many citizens willingly volunteered to sign up for committees to work on some of the proposals. This is how progress happens.

Let’s hope that the positive ideas and spirit of this meeting will move forward and actually take the next step to see them through.

I will be looking forward to the next meeting with high hopes that we can and will revitalize our town and, in doing so, provide opportunities for those who have had to leave in order to find jobs to be able to return to their hometown and their families.

We can do this.

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