Economic summit details Caribou development goals

CARIBOU, Maine — The City of Caribou recently conducted a city council workshop and economic development summit, which aimed to provide input to the City Council about economic development initiatives and activities that are being spearheaded by citizen-based organizations.

“The summit gave us the opportunity to introduce the various development entities and organizations and to discuss the issues that confront all of us: job creation and retention, workforce development, marketing, coordination and communication, industry and agriculture, and development opportunities. As economic development work continues within our community it has become obvious that it is time to identify our resources and to coordinate our efforts,” said Ken Murchison, Caribou zoning administrator.

Many residents and business owners attended, including members of the Caribou City Council, Caribou Economic Growth Council, Business Investment Group (BIG), The Glass is Half Full, The Caribou Downtown Team and Northern Maine Development Commission and Aroostook Partnership. 

The summit began with a meet and greet mixer, welcoming remarks from Mayor David Martin and a brief primer on economics from City Manager Dennis Marker.

“Economic development affects each individual resident and business owner differently,” said Marker. “We want to identify the available resources and opportunities to strengthen and build a sustainable economy to help improve the lives of each individual living or working in Caribou, visiting the region and for future generations.”

Roundtable discussions covered sector opportunities (resource-based economy), riverfront redevelopment, local entrepreneurs, outside partners, and reinvestment and beautification. Murchison collected notes to capture the ideas discussed and has them available for anyone interested.

Attendees suggested holding similar meetings with just business owners and realtors. Those groups can help the city understand how to lower or eliminate hurdles to business development and expansion. Realtors can share knowledge about current market conditions, pitfalls, and strategies.

Christina Kane-Gibson, Caribou marketing and events coordinator, said she has been working closely with several downtown business owners so the city can become a Main Street Associate Community working on downtown revitalization. Currently, only 10 communities in Maine hold this honor. The designation is based on operational, rather than economic, performance.

“This approach recognizes that a healthy and viable downtown is crucial to the economic health and civic pride of an entire community,” said Kane-Gibson.

“There is a lot of excitement about the ideas shared tonight,” said Murchison. “It may take a little time, but we want to keep pushing forward and take advantage of this energy.”

Gary Akin, chair of the Caribou Economic Growth Council (CEGC), stated that the mission of the CEGC is to provide economic development assistance to businesses specifically interested in growing in Caribou by providing a point of contact for resources, information, business counseling services, gap financing, business planning, and business support.  The CEGC has available loan funds for gap financing through the CEGC Reserve Fund, Rural Development Intermediary Relending Program, and Regional Economic Development Revolving Loan Fund.

John Swanberg of the Business Investment group (BIG) described the organization’s goal of providing equity financing to existing business and new businesses attracted to Caribou in order to stimulate development within the city. BIG is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.

David Corriveau told the audience about the grassroots effort of The Glass is Half Full’s positive approach to eliminate negative perceptions of an unfriendly business environment. The group seeks to encourage conversation and new ideas, encouraging growth through innovation and stressing strengths instead of focusing on weaknesses.

Bob Clark of the Northern Maine Development Commission (NMDC) described his organization as a US Department of Commerce Economic Development District. One of about 500 across the nation. NMDC’s service area is Aroostook and Washington counties comprising about 100,000 people, about 100 communities and about 12,000 square miles. NMDC has a long-standing relationship with the City of Caribou and looks forward to working with them on this initiative.

The Aroostook Partnership, represented by Trey Stewart, is a public-private partnership of about 100 businesses and includes the four higher education institutions in Aroostook County and the Northern Maine Development Commission. The partnership has helped to stem the tide of demographic out-migration and has helped to bring over $900 million of economic development to The County.

Organizers plan future economic summits in Caribou.

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