At an economic development workshop that I attended, the question was asked, “What is the definition of economic development?” Town councilor and Millinocket Area Growth and Investment Council’s (MAGIC's) Executive Director, Bruce McLean could not give a clear answer to the question. His reply was that it meant many things and could not be clearly or specifically defined. Since then, I have spent time researching what the most common definition of economic development is.
What I found is that economic development, in general, refers to a deliberate effort to improve the economy of a specified area. It is a process of creating new employment opportunities and higher household incomes which, in turn, lead to additional community wealth by expanding the tax base and resulting in improvements to local quality of life.
The process for each community is different as each community is unique in their challenges, needs, and opportunities. Because of this, it is the community itself that needs to determine what is suitable for their process of economic development. Residents need to decide what is suitable for their community and what is compatible with the town’s resources and with the existing businesses.
Other factors to be considered should be quality jobs with adequate living wages, workforce skills, affordable housing, and equal opportunities. Establishing actual economic development in Millinocket would provide jobs, an expanded tax base, and businesses to offer and provide the everyday needs that many of us have to travel to either Lincoln or Bangor to find. Millinocket needs to increase the variety of goods and services available in the town. By doing so, we can also increase the levels of choice and price available for these goods and services.
Tourism has always played a role in this area, and always will. But, it will not fill all the needs for the residents.
Already, some communities that have turned recreation into their main economic base have seen that once they allow this to happen, changes occur so rapidly that their communities wind up being completely transformed and the town’s sense of past and their traditional hometown values are lost.
A result of large numbers of visitors to an area is that road, water, and sewage systems are taxed beyond the ability of the full time residents to pay for the upkeep. Residents foot the bill for things while getting further and further in debt as wealthy recreationists bid up the price of land and housing. A few stakeholders get rich while most residents paying higher taxes find it increasingly harder to do with the low paying jobs these businesses provide. Many residents find they can no longer afford to live in their hometowns and must sell their homes and move on.
In 2004, 1,400 residents voted to cut MAGIC funding when they decided against the wishes of the residents to accept funds from the Wilderness Society. In spite of this strong message from residents, MAGIC accepted the funds and allowed the involvement of this group in our area. This year, Medway is funding MAGIC in the amount of $20,000, East Millinocket is funding them $30,000 which is a decrease in $10,000 from last year. Millinocket has already funded $30,000 and the voters will decide whether to give them an additional $30,000 for a total of $60,000.
What I would like to know is what has Millinocket received for the $30,000 they have already been given this year, and why should we pay another $30,000?
MAGIC’s Director, Bruce McLean states that the future of MAGIC will be in serious jeopardy if Millinocket does not give them the additional $30,000. If the funding from the Millinocket taxpayers is so necessary to the continuation of MAGIC, why is Millinocket not seeing any sort of positive economic development for their efforts and our tax money? Why, also, is Millinocket paying more than the other two towns together? What does Millinocket have to show for these funds?