By Jon McLaughlin
Special to the Pioneer Times
Economic development is a phrase that means different things to different people. To some it means the creation of a new business that brings with it increased employment, to others it can mean an expansion to an existing business, while others will say that it is just about anything that builds on the momentum of an area as an increasing region of economic improvement. This writer would say that the latter definition is a true measure of the economy in this region.
While the nation struggles with the definition of whether we are or are not in a recession, if we do or do not have a bear market, if our banking system is going to collapse and is our housing market ever going to rebound, we in southern Aroostook are somewhat sheltered from these issues. Yes there are some industries struggling, some select businesses that are in the doldrums and others that have seen some slowdowns in this area, but for the most part we are a bit sheltered here. We do not see extreme booms or extreme downs and, that in part is what is helping us weather recent economic issues. Our economy can be likened to the old adage of how you see the glass- is it half full or half empty.
A local new car dealer is putting the finishing touches on a major expansion and is bucking the national and even state trend of seeing a major down turn in sales. A new sweets and baked goods shop has opened up on North Street and there is a proposed new candy shop scheduled to open in Market Square.
An office supply store recently was shuttered on Main Street, but the vacant space has already created a lot of interest among some entrepreneurial people in town as a possible site for new shops.
While some companies that sell and market nationally have slowed down some, companies that are more localized are doing OK. There are still homes being built locally and in the surrounding towns. Contractors remain busy, just try to find one to do some work for you. Sales of existing homes are still moving, although pricing may not be quite as firm as it was a couple of years ago. In fact, there is another major national real estate firm that has recently shown its presence in Houlton.
Several parcels of land on North Street have been in play throughout the summer and while there is nothing of substance to report on these projects, it shows that the town was very forward thinking when it created the North Street TIF zone about two years ago. These parcels will continue to be looked at by developers, as this is the area of commercial and retail growth for the town.
The former Houlton International building at the airport, whose sale by SDC, was so hotly contested this spring, is being cleaned up and fixed up even as we speak and is being leased to several area businesses and will be home to a new business that plans to make an announcement to the Houlton Town Council sometime in October. All of these businesses create new jobs and bring the buildings back onto the town’s tax rolls.
Speaking of tax rolls, this past year saw the valuation of properties in town increase by over $8,000,000 which was a very welcome surprise as it was instrumental in allowing town management to maintain the mil rate at the same rate as previous, a bit of a help in off setting home heating oil prices this year.
Smith & Wesson at the Houlton Industrial Park has expanded tremendously in-house this past year with over $3,000,000 in new equipment that has allowed them to take on much more work that was previously done at their headquarters in Springfield, MA. It is anticipated that additional work will be coming to the Houlton facility that could raise their employment to 160 within the next 18 months.
Other positive developments in the area include:
• Wal-Mart is in the process of undergoing a $350,000 renovation;
• The Houlton Regional Hospital rehabbed office space to accommodate additional obstetric and gynecological services as Dr. Mosenfelder has added a new Ob/Gyn to the practice;
• There finally will be a much-needed Veterans’ Clinic opening shortly at Houlton Regional Hospital;
• Three new daycare facilities have been approved in town; and
• Beal’s Aircraft at the Houlton International Airport is constructing a new hangar/repair facility building and has expanded Homeland Security’s aircraft hangar space to accommodate GSA needs.
Last week we read in this paper, that the Bangor Street project is on schedule, which is good news as the town has been waiting on this project for several years. Even this is economic development as the major transportation routes in and out of a community reflect on the perceived business climate within a town. In addition to the road reconstruction, several improvements to infrastructure in this section of Bangor Street are taking place such as new water lines and sewer lines, extension of sewer lines further out Bangor Street and the addition of new storm water run off drains.
While we all know of businesses that are struggling or have recently gone out of business, I would say overall that the community is doing quite well and that “our glass is half full.” We must all strive to take the small incremental steps necessary to get it first to three quarter’s full and then to over flowing. Working together we will accomplish this.
Jon McLaughlin is the Executive Director of the Southern Aroostook Development Corporation in Houlton and can be reached at 521-0157 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Jon McLaughlin