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Aroostook Partnership director reflects on 2017, looks to 2018

CARIBOU, Maine — The year 2017 was a productive one for Aroostook County economic development efforts, said Aroostook Partnership President Robert Dorsey, and efforts in 2018 will continue toward growing The County’s workforce.

In a report to the Partnership, Dorsey stated during 2017, a new Harbor Freight business opened at the Aroostook Centre Mall, a new Tractor Supply opened in Madawaska, Smith and Wesson expanded in Houlton, the ‘Maine Malt House’ business expanded in Mapleton, new business TRP Truck Parts opened at Loring, the new $3.1 million Acme Monaco expansion opened in the Presque Isle Industrial Park, the forest products sector flourished with both Louisiana Pacific and Huber having a great year, and the potato and broccoli crop quality was excellent.  

Overall, he reported, there was over $160 million in business investment and 243 new jobs created throughout The County, bringing the AP’s five-year totals to over $900 million in investment and 914 new jobs created.

“In fact, 2017 saw growth across virtually every sector of our economy from healthcare and agriculture to forestry and manufacturing,” Dorsey said in his report. “Small business growth was particularly strong as NMDC’s Small Business Development Center director was nationally recognized for exceeding goals in assisting new business starts.  And at Loring, several businesses are interested in that location, but they will require an anchor business such as aviation to provide the business base to justify their development.”

The County interacted extensively with the rest of Maine in 2017, as AP’s Aroostook Day at the Legislature last January brought together 25 legislators and more than 60 total attendees. The group discussed the economic benefits of forestry and mining as well as the need for welfare policy revision to enable and incentivize the unemployed to re-enter the labor force.  

“In February, in coordination with the Maine Development Foundation, we hosted two busloads of legislators for a County tour and economic, demographic and collaboration discussions to give them a better appreciation for Aroostook’s economy and challenges,” Dorsey said.

AP teamed with the Aroostook County Tourism Board to produce a tourism map and a revised County Tourism Guide.  And in September, AP hosted a business luncheon with the leaders of the new national monument to discuss how to work together to bring more attention to The County and the monument as that project develops.

In energy, Emera modernized infrastructure and the two ReEnergy biomass power plants benefited from a power purchase agreement the legislature approved to allow the sale of electricity to the state.  Multiple wind projects and the transmission interconnect responded to the Massachusetts clean energy request for proposal, and should hear if they were selected in 2018.

“Unfortunately, ReEnergy notified the system administrator that they may have to shut down in the fall of 2018 if they are unable to get new contracts.  This could greatly impact our forest sector economy as well as the County’s power reliability,” said Dorsey.

“Regarding energy challenges, the Aroostook Energy Association was formed to work with AP and Emera Maine to pursue solutions to enable policies and practices that can maximize the greatest energy stability for County businesses.  The Maine Public Utilities Commission will visit Aroostook in January to hear business concerns and suggested ideas to keep the ReEnergy plants operational and approaches for policy revision consideration,” he added.

Dorsey explained that 14 years ago, the “Tarnished Crown” report analyzed The County’s economy and population trends and concluded that the private sector needed to participate in economic development.  That report was the motivation for forming the Partnership.

“This year,” he said, “AP contracted to have this economic analysis updated and the final report, entitled ‘Caring for the Crown,’ captured progress and challenges projected for The County over the next 10 years. The projections are alarming and a top priority for 2018 will be to determine a strategy and actions to increase engagement to turn around these projections.

Dorsey said AP’s top priority remains growing The County’s future workforce. Major employers seek additional qualified workers, and AP is working with high schools, local colleges and major employers to increase awareness of the existing and projected employment opportunities and promote internships, apprenticeships and company tours throughout Aroostook.  

“We’ll continue to collaborate with our Chambers of Commerce and agencies like SADC, ACAP, AAI, Junior Achievement, Jobs for Maine Grads, and our career and technical education schools to promote retention efforts.  And in 2018,” Dorsey said, “we intend to reach out to groups such as Empower Aroostook, Momentum Aroostook and young professionals to assist in attraction efforts using social media and our Opportunities Aroostook website.”

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