April 05, 2020

Report: Calais economic growth slow> Councilors plan to meet with King to discuss funding, development options

CALAIS — Armed with a $19,000 economic strategy report, members of the Calais City Council plan to meet with the governor to talk about several issues including funding programs called for in the report.

Last year, the city hired a firm to analyze the city’s economic needs and to identify future areas of development. The report, titled “Calais Economic Strategy,” revealed that the area was experiencing slow economic and population growth and a decline in retail sales.

The report also identified something Calais residents already knew — its economic base depends upon the Georgia-Pacific mills in Baileyville, and many of its employment opportunities involve seasonal work, with a part-time work force looking for full-time employment.

To stimulate diversity, the report suggested several strategies that could make the city more competitive. They included hiring a full-time economic development specialist and acquiring state funding through the Department of Economic and Community Development to fund the position. The report suggested that the specialist work on tourism and new business opportunities.

The report recommended that the city develop a master plan for northeastern Washington County. The plan would address the enhancement of regional transportation alternatives, highway improvements, development of a commercial airport, the location of a replacement bridge to Canada, promotion of the new $15 million Eastport port facility, regional tourism promotion and regional commercial and business development.

The establishment of a committee, the report said, would help attract additional funding from the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development to augment the marketing plans of the Eastport Port Authority.

“The port of Eastport plans to spend a significant amount of money for direct mail advertising in maritime business and trade journals, and to attend trade shows. An additional $50,000 in business development marketing funds annually over the next three years targeted for port marketing could significantly enhance marketing opportunities,” the report said.

The study also calls for the development of a regional transportation plan to include improvements to Routes 1 and 9 and creation of a rail transportation strategy.

In addition to improvements to the city’s infrastructure, the report also recommends the development of a tourism plan that would include reinstitution of a regional marketing program and the development of a regional Web site.

“The region should apply for tourism planning and marketing funds to allow the Washington County tourism industry to market the Calais region as a tourism destination and to re-establish a Maine and New Brunswick joint marketing effort for the Quoddy region,” the report said.

Dennis Brown, mayor pro tempore, said he would review the 60-page study and promised it would not merely collect dust. Brown cautioned that the report presented to the councilors last week was a draft that would be fine-tuned.

“Since the state is boasting surplus funds, my approach to Gov. Angus King Jr. would be to put something aside to fund not just Calais, but Washington County for those economic development positions. … If it has to be a $50,000 budget a year for an executive director and assistance [then] we need something in place. Again it comes down to the resources and we need to point that out to the governor,” Brown said.

Although the study cost $19,000, Calais’ share was only $4,000. The rest of the funds were provided by the state. “It is smart money for $4,000,” Brown said.

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