Planning initiative kicks off in Caribou

12 years ago

Planning initiative kicks off in Caribou

By Shawn Cote

Special to the Aroostook Republican

    CARIBOU — The Mobilize Maine/GROWashington-Aroostook strategic planning initiative continued its kickoff recently with a lunch and presentation at the Caribou Inn and Convention Center, following an opening event in Machias.

    Presenters Michael Eisensmith and Ryan Pelletier of the Northern Maine Development Commission, the agency leading a cooperative effort to sustain and grow wealth in Aroostook and Washington counties, led off the June 29 event with an overview of the project which described the objectives of the initiative, plans for achieving those objectives, and a timeframe for completion.

    The Mobilize Maine drive is an asset-based approach to economic development announced by then-Gov. John Baldacci in 2009.

    Eisensmith, director of regional planning at NMDC, described the Mobilize Maine/GROWashington-Aroostook initiative as a process of identifying the economic needs and assets of the two counties with an eye toward building on those assets and determining a road moving forward. It is, he said, a bottom-up approach to economic development in the regions.

    Pelletier, director of the Workforce Investment Board and a lead team member, said the process will involve outreach to groups, organizations and individuals who would serve on workgroups — “a cross-section of different people representing different sectors and components of the plan” — with the goal of implementing strategies for job creation, modern infrastructure, and healthy, affordable communities. Those combined components would include workforce development, modernizing communications and electric utility infrastructure, and renewable energy and related training.

    Funded by an $800,000 planning grant from the Housing and Urban Development Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities, the lead project team will work with consortium members and partners to pull together the data necessary to establish what Eisensmith refers to as the underpinning of the planning process.

    According to the project’s Work Plan Narrative, the multi-year initiative has four fundamental objectives:

• Development of a sustainable growth plan for the Washington and Aroostook region, including implementation steps for state and local government, recommendations for private sector stakeholders, and establishing a solid foundation for the new Economic Development District.

• Large-scale public education to increase visibility and awareness of regional issues related to the economy, environment, and quality of life.

• Region-wide civic engagement in the planning process with special attention to populations not traditionally involved in the planning processes.

• Institutional capacity and relationship building throughout the region, linking technology and information to community decision making for current and future planning processes.

    Approximately 50 individuals attended the presentation. Among the attendees was Barbara Hayslett, district representation for Congressman Mike Michaud (D-Maine).

    “The Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant is federally funded in a unique partnership of HUD (Housing and Urban Development), DOT (Department of Transportation) and the EPA (Environmental Projection Agency),” said Hayslett. “I attended the event so I could report to Congressman Michaud about the rollout and objectives of the grant. He will be following the work of the consortium members and others involved in the process as they come together to create a regional plan intended to ensure that Maine’s most northeastern counties have a comprehensive plan to increase their sustainability.”

    Attendees wishing to participate in Regional Plan Component workgroups were given forms to complete.

    Pelletier said he was pleased with how the event went but sensed a lack of energy and enthusiasm from the attendees. “Looking back,” he said, “I think we should have incorporated more of the Mobilize Maine process [in the presentation],” adding that while the Caribou presentation addressed how the plan would be used to determine where to invest, it didn’t really explain how those investments would be made.

    The expected completion date for the planning process is June 2013. More information on the project is available at