As another year comes to an end in Aroostook County, the future looks extremely bright. Since the announcement in the summer 1991 that Loring Air Force Base would cease military operations in September 1994 there have been many hardships for the area. Scores of military and civilian personnel left the area, business closed, the potato industry suffered setbacks, Canadian retail trade declined considerable, and there was a general feeling that life would never quite be the same in Aroostook County.
Many things have changed for the area, but in many ways, the closure of Loring has made our lives richer and the Loring Commerce Centre (as Loring is now called) is providing a strong and diversified economic boost for the area — with good jobs and a sense of security that was never present during the military years. If a safe, caring, educationally exceptional community is important, then living in northern Maine is pretty close to the perfect environment to live and work, not the “end of the earth,” as it is sometimes perceived to be by many.
It’s pretty difficult to battle the on-going national media reports that Aroostook County is still a struggling, devastated “wasteland.” Although the area has not fully recovered from Loring’s closure in some respects, unemployment is significantly lower than it has been in the last decade and new business start-ups and expansions are occurring on a steady basis. Three and a half years after closure, tenant commitments through redevelopment efforts at Loring has replaced over 100 percent of the direct civilian jobs lost, many through businesses that would not have located here had Loring not closed. When visiting the area, employers have been impressed with the Loring facilities and fallen in love with the area’s communities, but the deal has been sealed with the lasting impression of the spirit and commitment of the people who live and work in Aroostook County and is most certainly what will lead us to future prosperity.
If one needs real numbers to measure success, then consider the accomplishments of the Loring Development Authority over the past year:
Commencement of the Loring Job Corps Center of Innovation in January 1997, housing 390 students, employing approximately 140 people and occupying over 250,000 square feet of facility space.
Expansion-relocation of Championship Sports Flooring operations, a premier hardwood sports flooring manufacturer, ultimately employing 35 people and occupying 107,000 square feet of facility space.
Decision of Sitel Corp., the global leader in outsourced telephone-based customer service, to expand their call center operations in a 48,000 square foot facility at Loring, initially employing 350 people with the potential to grow to 500 employees.
Host site of an outdoor concert venue by the alternative rock band Phish in August 1997, which attracted more than 65,000 concert goers, garnered about $100,000 of gross revenue to the LDA, employed over 1,000 people during the event and injected between $20 million and $30 million in the local, regional and state economies.
Establishment of the Maine Army National Guard vehicle refurbishment center, ultimately employing 40 people and occupying 63,000 square feet of facility space.
Opening of two additional amenity-based tenants: the Loring Fitness Center and Beauty Unlimited.
Execution of lease extensions with all of the LDA’s amenity-based tenants: Limestore Country Club, Malabeam Lake Campground and Recreation Area, Wee Care Day Care Center, Evergreen Lanes Bowling Center and the Haven Inn.
Long-term lease extension for MacDonald Enterprises, a value-added wood product manufacturer, securing ten existing jobs with potential for additional job creation and occupying 18,000 square feet of facility space.
Leased a small facility to a French manufacturer for storage and office purposes in hopes of ultimately starting up a state-of-the-art flax scotching mill operation.
Execution of precedent setting Economic Development Conveyance documents with the Air Force resulting in the transfer of the Loring property to the LDA.
Designation of Loring’s airfield as a private airport.
Development of land use and zoning controls for the center.
The LDA will continue to aggressively market the facility in 1998, secure the successful start-up of its largest private sector tenant (Sitel Corp.) and ensure the continued success of Loring’s existing companies. In addition, the LDA is very confident that in 1998, it will bring closure to negotiations with at least one large private sector business interested in located at Loring, as well as a number of smaller entities. As any seasoned sports team knows, you don’t rest on your laurels when you’re a few runs ahead and the development team at Loring is poised to maintain its “league-leading batting average.”
History will prove that 1997 was the turning point in Loring’s successful development, and due in large part to continued moral and financial support from the state of Maine and federal government, the LDA saw the creation of over 500 new jobs for the area and the absorption of nearly 400,000 square feet of facility space. Comparatively speaking, Loring is one of the most successful base closure sites in the nation and with every accomplishment it realizes, the common perception that development cannot occur in rural locations is dissolving. Northern Maine and the Loring Commerce Centre is not only a large contributor to Maine’s economy, it is a valuable asset to the entire state. As Governor King states in his business attraction advertisements, “Maine is on the Move,” and the Loring Commerce Centre is moving right along with it!
Brian N. Hamel of Presque Isle is the president and chief executive officer of the Loring Development Authority of Maine.