Opinion

A distinct impression

I’m getting a very distinct impression that Maine’s small rural communities aren’t economically viable. At least that seems to be my view from way up here in Aroostook County.

I was recently asked to write what seemed a relatively modest grant application to remove and replace a fuel storage tank for a small gas station in a local town. I admit to having been out of the grant writing business for some years now, deeming it financially unfeasible since the Lepage administration started messing around with the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD).

There’s a lot of need up here, but there isn’t the access to matching funds or the money required to pay someone to navigate the hoops and hurdles required to get the cash into Aroostook County. That is, unless you have the tax resources available to work as a paid employee in a community and economic development office, which most tiny towns in The County haven’t got. So they have to rely on the Northern Maine Development Commission (NMDC). I consider them something of a joke. They used to be my main competition and gradually helped edge me out of the freelance grant writing business. They have paid staff and there’s just me here alone.  I haven’t worked in an office since 1995 because I don’t take orders willingly or graciously.

I don’t care to be a freelance grant writer anyway. As the Scots would say, “There’s nae money in it.” Still, I managed to get some $28-29 million up here over the years and have been rather impoverished ever since. But this is not about me. It’s about small rural communities in northernmost Maine.

Regarding the grant I was asked to write, it appears to be doomed, because all the requirements that would have been separated into phases in the past are lumped together into one sloppy mess with an unrealistic time schedule required to fulfill them. It’s a sure recipe for failure.

We have a governor who appears to be hostile to small towns and their inhabitants, who happen in large measure to be on the poorer side of the economic spectrum. Lepage’s undeclared War Against the Poor has been largely effective in demonizing the impoverished, along with “Mexicans, the indigent, black so-called drug dealers and those who prey on young white women.”  

Lepage basically shook up the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) and made parts of it work for the southern half of Maine. Oh, there are exceptions, but it only appears to work in communities that have the paid staff on hand to negotiate the hurdles. DECD’s “Business Friendly Communities” are a case in point, where towns with the staffing or the resources available can get that designation and receive extra points on Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) applications.  

Business Friendly Communities are an elitist strategy, creating a hierarchy of municipalities who get special consideration for having taken the time and spending the cash needed to negotiate barriers.

That leaves a lot of northern Aroostook municipalities effectively ineligible for consideration; the hierarchical stratification of towns based on their economic status. But as they say, membership hath privilege.

Except for a five-year sojourn in Portland, all I’ve known is the economic life of small northern Maine communities. It helps to have been born and raised here and to know the better values of rural life. However, I can’t help but feel that rural Maine, particularly rural northern northern Maine, is a dangling appendage to the state that risks getting cut off completely. I sometimes curse Messrs Ashburton and Webster for arbitrarily paring us away from Canada when we could have been part of it. They seem to have it economically better than we do up here particularly when it comes to health care. At least they have a system.

The same goes for economics. Our so-called system seems to base itself on the whims of a mercurial governor, a dysfunctional economic development model, and second rate political apparatchiks; the first-raters having fled south. True, there are economic exceptions to what I say, and they are stellar examples of ‘by the bootstrap’ Aroostook County types.

Really, I shouldn’t complain. They say there are halcyon days a-coming now that we have Mr. Trump and the Russians in charge. Seems everything points to a Russian economic model anyway.

Do svedaniya, as they say.

Dave Wylie’s life and work experience runs the gamut from newspaper editor to carpenter to grant writer to boat builder with lots of other work wedged in-between. Wylie currently is president of a management company that oversees an elderly housing complex and president of the local historical society. He resides in Madawaska.

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