April 05, 2020

Consultant lauds town’s progress, hears concerns

HOULTON – Houlton, Brian Hamel said Tuesday evening, is moving forward – the municipality has revamped its image, produced some attractive incentives to lure businesses to town, and created a presentation package that gives outsiders a positive snapshot of the town.

But while town councilors told the economic development consultant they were proud of their progress, some acknowledged they were growing increasingly anxious to see job creation in the near future.

Hamel, developer of the former Loring Air Force Base in Limestone, was hired as a consultant for the town 15 months ago. He receives $4,000 a month from the municipality.

Hamel came before the board Tuesday evening to update councilors again on his progress.

During the session, Hamel praised the board for such economic strides as designating tax increment financing districts, convincing outsiders that Houlton is “open for business,” and stepping up its public relations campaign. Hamel said he had talked with about 50 companies about the town, some of which had expressed legitimate interest in looking into what Houlton has to offer. He added that representatives from some prospective businesses had visited the community, as had a series of other economic leaders.

To enhance its magnetism to prospective businesses, Hamel encouraged the town to upgrade its Web site, characterizing it as Houlton’s “first impression to the outside world.”

He added that he and Town Manager Douglas Hazlett already had talked about how to upgrade the site.

Although rural areas must work “extra hard” at economic development, Hamel said, he was optimistic about Houlton’s future.

“I know we have a lot of prospects on the table, and one of them is going to stick to the wall and bring businesses and jobs here,” Hamel said.

While Councilor Gerald Adams said that he felt the town had made economic progress, he questioned whether Hamel was duplicating the services of another economic development entity, the Southern Aroostook Development Corp.

SADC strives to boost the economic base of the region and has worked with the town for more than six years.

“I still see a bunch of things SADC has done for years, and I think you are duplicating them,” Adams said. “They haven’t worked … The bottom line is we haven’t seen one new job since the time you have been hired … I would like to see jobs created.”

Chairman Paul Romanelli also stressed that he and other taxpayers wanted to see job creation and new businesses in town.

“The taxpayers deserve to see results,” he said. “As we work on all prospects, I would like to see some results, whether it is one or two or three years down the road.”

Houlton resident Michael Carpenter addressed councilors and echoed Adams’ opinion that Hamel was duplicating SADC services. Carpenter also was troubled that Hamel also is serving as an economic consultant for the town of Madison. He pointed to several invoices Hamel submitted to the town that showed his monthly expenses for travel and telephone calls. Some of those expenses, especially for telephone calls, were minimal, and Carpenter said that he expected “more for my tax dollars.”

“I think that maybe we would be better served by giving some of this money you pay for a consultant to SADC,” he told councilors.

Hamel did not respond to Carpenter’s comments, but said earlier in the meeting that he worked closely with SADC and did not replicate its services. He stressed that he had contacts that SADC did not and added that he had brought economic leaders to the town who had not come to Houlton before.

Councilor Phil Bernaiche threw his support behind Hamel.

“The town of Houlton needs to be patient,” he said. “I think Hamel will produce for us – not immediately. It takes time.”

Councilor Walter Goodrich agreed, saying he was impressed with what Hamel had done thus far and the “name recognition and credibility” he brought to the table.

Romanelli said he had faith in Hamel but reiterated that he would focus on results.

“To push Brian along and expect some results at one point, there is not a darn thing wrong with that,” he said Tuesday.

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