BUCKSPORT — If Wednesday night’s meeting here was any indication, the town’s “Model Business Attraction Project” may need substantial remodeling before the local business community will support it.
About 30 people gathered at the town office to hear a presentation on the fledgling project, the ultimate goal of which is to help revitalize the downtown. It wasn’t long into the program presented by the town’s hired marketing consultants before attendees raised objections sparking spirited debate.
Chris Hall of Stafford Business Advisors described the project, an outgrowth of both the town’s committee-driven economic growth plan, and of a subcommittee’s focus on downtown development. Using a $17,500 Quality Main Street grant, the town hired Stafford, a Portland-based marketing and consulting firm, to help attract more business.
The consultants’ research identified several types of businesses they consider underrepresented in Bucksport: apparel, deli/bakery, travel agency, bookstores, office supplies, electronics, gifts and cards, and furniture and appliances.
Restaurant owner George MacLeod asked why there was such a focus on attracting retail stores, particularly when Bucksport historically has been more a manufacturing town than a retail center.
“Most of the services [expected] of a town this size are already in place,” said Hall. “What stands out in our minds as missing is retail.”
Using numerous comparisons and statistics, Stafford’s research concluded that Belfast’s downtown revitalization provides a workable model for Bucksport to follow, since it serves a comparably-sized potential market area of about 15,000 customers, and has suffered similar economic challenges until fairly recently.
Several people in the crowd objected to the comparison, citing differences such as Bucksport’s milltown image, and the role of MBNA in boosting Belfast’s economy.
“This is a blue-collar town, essentially, not a town of a lot of little shops,” MacLeod said of Bucks- port.
As for the MBNA reference, Hall said Bucksport has something Belfast lacks — the long-term presence of the Champion Inter- national paper mill, which pays significantly more than $8 per hour.
Differing visions weren’t the only cause for concern at the meeting. According to Economic Development Committee member Jack Corrigan, many local business owners are upset that the town would seek to fill niches they feel are already filled.
“If you choose to seek people to take up the slack on Main Street … for things that already exist, then I say that’s blatantly wrong. I detect a high level of resentment that people would actually seek to replace them,” said Corrigan.
The meeting’s organizers replied that a primary purpose of the forum was to address such issues. “We want to make sure everyone knows there’s a level playing field here, for existing businesses, as well as outsiders,” said Bucksport Economic Development Director Jeffrey Kobrock.
Several people were adamant that the types of businesses Stafford suggests attracting, such as a bakery, have already been attempted in town many times without success. Many said the problem has been more a failure of the community to support local enterprises, than any fault of the businesses’ owners.