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Officials to unveil ‘Grand Plan Madawaska’ next week

MADAWASKA, Maine — Town officials next week will officially launch Grand Plan Madawaska, a new strategic planning document that attempts to chart a course for economic and community development over the next 10 years.

“I’m excited about it,” said Sheila Jans of Madawaska one of the consultants who created the plan that will be unveiled on Tuesday, Dec. 12, at a public event at the Inn of Acadia.

The full proposal, a final copy of which is not yet available, includes more than 44 actions organized around four major goals for the next decade or so, Jans said.

Shelia Jans

“It’s packed,” said Jans, referring to all the ideas and action items.

She collaborated on the plan with Jim Haguewood, a consultant based in Washington state.

The four major areas to focus on in “building a really great place to live,” according to Jans, are a strong culture and place; vibrant and attractive community; diverse and thriving local economy; and effective local government

Having the implementation details from the plan is important, she said, and so was the research that went into the document.

More than 450 people contributed to the plan, she said. This included convening focus groups, one-on-one interviews, social media platforms and public surveys. That process began in March and the final draft of the Grand Plan Madawaska will be reviewed one more time time by the board of selectmen prior to its unveiling on Dec. 12.

“The impact was really vast,” said Jans. “We spoke with residents, workers who commute to Madawaska and to former residents.”

That feedback was combined with information from business owners and civic leaders to try and suss out what was most important to people in the area and then all the information was used to construct a framework for the future.

“Grand Plan Madawaska was born out of a simple recognition by our municipal leaders that future prosperity for the Town of Madawaska and the local region may never be realized absent any intervening measures,” Town Manager Gary Picard said.

“I feel that the Grand Plan Madawaska will be a terrific foundation to new development for the community of Madawaska and a gateway to collaboration amongst other communities throughout our region and our partnering City of Edmundston, New Brunswick,” said Suzie Paradis, Madawaska Economic & Community Development Director.

A year ago Jans’ concept paper, “Charting a Course for a Vision and Strategy for Madawaska,” was presented at a gathering of Madawaska’s business and community leaders. That was a first step toward this new plan.

“That was a foundational document,” Jans said. “It helped guide us.”

This year’s community engagement work for Grand Plan revealed several key elements important to those who live and work in Madawaska. These include culture and place, the local economy, youth and population, infrastructure, quality of life, collaboration with other communities and mindset.

“We always have to be paying attention to these things,” when considering what steps to take next, Jans said.

“People were so desirous to share their thousand passions for this place,” Jans said.

Residents were not just complaining either, they were sharing positive feedback and looking to the future, said Jans.

“People want more for their community,” sad Jans. “The town needs to keep listening.”

Engagement with residents was framed around better understanding the community’s current situation, what matters most to people, a future vision for the town and things that could be done to get there.

“The people here have a strong sense of culture and place,” Jans commented. This has been a common thread and a priority for many and is reflected in things such as the Acadian Festival and development of outdoor recreation opportunities.

Building on that priority and those values will be key, Jans said.

She added that the need to attract and retain younger residents, to be “age friendly” also is a factor to future success.

“We want to be a place of opportunity,” Jans said.

Making Madawaska a destination is important too, as is continued investment in downtown revitalization.

“That is definitely a long term investment,” she said. “That has already started.”

A strong and stable economy is important for any community. Building a diverse local economy that creates an environment for entrepreneurship while supporting strong anchor businesses such as farming, forestry and healthcare, will be a key focus of the new plan.

“Town government must lead, but everyone has a role,” Jans said. “There will need to be public/private partnerships.”

Local governance and leadership are key to whether or not the plan can be successfully implemented.

“People want an efficient and effective government,” Jans said. That includes being fiscally responsible, transparent, responsive, business friendly and willing to collaborate.

Collaboration with Edmundston and other Canadian partners figures highly in their plan, said Jans.

“Madawaska can take the lead on these,” she added.

An increasing leadership role for Madawaska on collaborations and projects of various kinds is part of the plan, Jans said.

According to the proposal, 80 percent of people surveyed said Madawaska could lead multi-partner collaborative efforts.

Selectmen commissioned the Grand Plan following Jan’s concept paper last year. From March through November, she led efforts to compile data and input as the plan developed.

Following an initial planning phase and the community engagement process, a first draft was presented in October to Town Manager Gary Picard and selectmen.

The Grand Plan is similar in some ways to a traditional Comprehensive Plan, but is much broader in scope and less focused on accumulation and analysis of data. It is document that will be reviewed regularly, Jans said, with adjustment being made along the way.

“It’s a living document,” Jans said. “It is a starting point.”

Madawaska’s last comprehensive plan was completed in 2000. The Grand Plan is not a  substitute for a comprehensive plan, though, which is required by the state.

“To be effective, town government will have to commit with hearts and minds,” Jans said. “The residents need to be behind it as well.”

Picard said, “The plan is really just the beginning of what is going to be hard work that will require a sustained commitment of time and resources by the municipality, our businesses, and our citizens.”

Jans expects an implementation group or similar committee to be formed to set the plan into action. From there, various subgroups will likely be formed.

These groups are where town officials and residents can put their passions and interests into action, helping to create the details of turning the plan into an on-the-ground reality, Jans said.

Jans said she sees the Dec. 12 launch of the Grand Plan as a chance to “mobilize and galvanize people.”

At the gathering, Jans will review the key points of the Grand Plan and hopes to get ideas and feedback from those attending.

“We have had great community input from the start,” Jans said, adding that she expects that to continue.

Tuesday’s Grand Plan launch will begin with a social gather at 5:30 p.m., and Jans’ presentation at 6:15 at the Inn of Acadia.

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