In researching towns in the state that are seeing successful economic development, one major factor that stood out in all of them was citizen participation. In every town that I researched, the people were the greatest asset making the difference in successful economic development.
The majority of communities seeing revitalization and growth got there by working together. They all used a combination of town officials, citizen groups, and an economic development director.
Over the past five years, Millinocket has funded $185,000 for economic development to Millinocket Area Growth & Investment Council (MAGIC). That averages out to $37,000 per year. Even with the understanding that economic development and revitalization take time, I have seen many other towns spend less time and money while seeing more growth. Whether it is on a part time basis or full time, I think Millinocket needs a qualified economic director working for us.
Millinocket has tied its own hands by investing only in MAGIC. By doing so, we have failed to allow the type of citizen involvement that is needed. Instead, we have been paying and hoping to see positive results from a group that is wholly self-appointed, and also claims the majority vote on our town council. With the exception of a limited group of stakeholders, the citizens of Millinocket have been excluded from active participation in the revitalization of our town. Millinocket citizens have never been asked or surveyed as to what they would like to see happen for revitalization in our town. The results are obvious. If we are ever going to see successful revitalization here, we need to empower the citizens and allow them to have their own voice in deciding the destiny of our town.
Successful revitalization requires a merging of social and economic goals. It all goes back to the major factor in what makes a town - the people. People are what makes each town unique and gives it its character. People being involved in their town’s economic development is what allows them to retain their unique beauty and character that commercialized towns have lost. We have a beautiful town that needs change and it needs to grow, but I think we can do this and still hold on to all the things about Millinocket that we know and love.
It is up to us, as citizens, to end the negativity and work together to form a vision of what we want to see for the community’s future. As long as we continue to focus on the "us against them" negativity coming from both sides of the MAGIC issues, we will not see anything positive happen. It is not about MAGIC, it is about citizens turning the negative atmosphere into something positive and working with our town officials to rebuild our town.
Based on the feedback that I have received about a proposed Millinocket Citizen’s Committee, the first meeting will be held after the holidays when more people say they can and will participate. I look forward to the citizens of Millinocket finding some common ground where we can commit to working together in a positive and productive way. We are all in this together.