Live and Work in Northern Maine By Dennis McCartney
By Dennis McCartney
Economic Development Coordinator for Limestone, Maine
My wife Susan and I moved here in June to be closer to our son and his family. He’s been a teacher at MSSM for about 12 years and recently added a baby daughter to his fold. That was the final straw that convinced us to move here. We would have missed seeing our only grandchildren grow up if we hadn’t moved to the area. We’ve been coming up in the winters for holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter so we’ve become quite accustomed to winter life in Northern Maine. However, nothing had prepared us for the beauty of the region in the summer. We talk everyday about how wonderful the cooler less humid weather is here and what a nice quiet, slower pace of life we have discovered here.
I really hadn’t planned on working outside of my home office where I develop and manage web sites for businesses. We moved into a great apartment overlooking Limestone Pond and while I was doing a bit of research on the town came across an ad for a person to work for the town Chamber of Commerce and the Limestone Development Foundation. It was listed as a part time job requiring 20-24 hrs per week. After a lifetime starting, owning and managing my own companies I thought that I might be able to help the town so I met with the powers that be and became the part time Economic Development Coordinator.I’m tasked with encouraging people to come and live in Limestone and getting businesses to locate here and helping new businesses get started.
What I have found is a region full of friendly hard working honest people that would like to see the area grow so that their kids don’t have to leave the area after high school to find good jobs.
I’ve studied the history of Limestone and found that following the closure of the Air Force Base at Loring some valiant, genuine efforts were made to help the town in 1997, 2007 and again in 2012 but little progress has been made and the number of businesses in town continued to decline. My analysis of the situation led me to the inescapable conclusion that what the town and region needed was jobs. Jobs will generate all kinds of good things for the town. Jobs will lead to an increase of consumer oriented businesses locating here and an increase in residential property values. In order to generate jobs and cause companies to come here however, companies need skilled workers. We have a wealth of educational institutions in place now with the Loring Job Corps, Northern Maine Community College and the campuses of University of Maine in Presque Isle and Fort Kent. Next step was to learn how to pay for it. Maine has a plethora of resources both public and private that can help. The USDA/Rural Development (RD)is a place to help residents repair and improve their homes and even has a program that allows people that are receiving Section 8 housing support to use that support to pay the mortgage on a home. This is one answer to the challenging question of “how do we get people out of Section 8 Housing” and into a normal home. RD also has funding for businesses to expand and grow. For companies, organizations like Finance Authority of Maine (FAME) and Coastal Enterprises Inc (CEI) are standing by waiting to help start up or expand businesses and the Fed is here in the form of a very active and effective Small Business Administration (SBA) office in the area.
Then there are the private foundations that offer funding for a long list of worthy causes from education to
civic improvements. These are foundations that support only Maine.
That brings us to the next piece. Jobs and job creation. Companies want to locate here. Companies know the area to be populated with people that possess a hard working job ethic, that real estate prices are reasonable, and that it’s a safe, beautiful area to live.
That’s where the title of the article came from. Working in concert with the United Veterans of Maine and a new nonprofit group known as the Center for Advancement of Rural Living (CARL) we are mounting a campaign called Live and Work in Northern Maine. We recognize that towns like Limestone and the entire region will benefit if the right people are here to work at jobs that come to the area. As you read this jobs are being created at our greatest asset in Limestone, The Loring Commerce Centre. Formerly the US Air Force Base, the Centre is now the largest Industrial Park in Maine and the only one with a 12,700ft long runway capable of handling the largest planes in the world. That runway and control tower have been reopened and planes are landing there now. $750,000 has been authorized for this year and another $750K has been authorized for next year for needed repairs and updates to these systems but the basics are in place and working.
Loring Commerce Centre is currently home to 27 businesses and the Job Corps. One of the companies, Loring Industries, is working with the Maine Military Authority(MMA) to complete the city bus refurbishment contract with the city of Boston. That’s why those of you in the Caribou/Limestone region see these large gray articulated city buses on the roads in the region. The buses you see are undergoing a 300 mile road test required to be sure all is well before the buses are handed back over to Boston. The word is that the city is so pleased with the work that it plans to send other city vehicles to Loring for refurb. Success breeds success and other cities will take notice of the stellar work done by the combination of Loring Industries and the MMA so Loring Industries is hiring locals and also Job Corps grads to staff up for the future business. Loring Industries has also purchased and refurbished the former Loring Inn. While not open to the general public, the building is available so that high level professionals like doctors, engineers, managers and others can be housed for a longer term while they relocate to the region. Another private company has already shipped 35 trailer loads of aircraft parts and equipment to Loring so that it can open an aircraft Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) Company at Loring. Locating here will allow that company to work on those large planes that can now land at Loring. The company is awaiting FAA certification so that it can begin operations. That company has also acquired a building that was formerly the Officers Quarters at Loring to house the workers it will have to bring to the region.
Back to our “Live and Work In Northern Maine” campaign. The first goal is to convince veterans that served at Loring to return to the region. We have learned that a large number of our veterans would like to return to the region they grew to love and will do so if there are jobs here. We need them and their skills to help us in this campaign to repopulate Northern Maine. We are currently building a website called LiveandWorkinNorthernMaine.com and will be aiming that website at the social media sites that our veterans follow as a way to keep in touch with each other. We have learned that a strong sense of brotherhood is shared among our veterans and we want to reach them to encourage them to return to region. The state of Maine has done some great things to make it attractive to come here and we’ll detail that information on our site. One example is that Maine no longer taxes a veterans pension. Here’s one of the Federal benefits a veteran brings with him to Northern Maine: Veterans qualify for a VA Home loan that allows qualified buyers the opportunity to purchase a home with no down payment. Here in Northern Maine, one can buy a lot of house for not a lot of money so we’re an attractive place to locate!
We predict that in the near future other businesses will notice that Northern Maine is a great place to do business.. Being successful takes all the ingredients we listed here: Jobs, Education, Life Style, Financing and most of all, people. Our goal is to repopulate the region. Wish us well in that endeavor and visit our website soon!