Across the country, communities are struggling with the lingering effects of the pandemic on their local economies. With all of the bad news we hear daily, it is good to take stock of the positive in one’s community. A 2019 article by Ron Starner in the Site Selection magazine outlines seven traits of highly effective small towns.
It is heartening to note that Presque Isle passes muster based on these benchmarks.
The first trait is to have greater awareness of local entrepreneurship and support it. Our downtown merchants have long adopted the “shop local” mantra and strongly advocate for the same during the annual Main Street Mania shopping promotion held in November. All of us can do a better job of this, knowing how it can positively affect our local economy.
Secondly, an effective small town works with schools to encourage entrepreneurship as an alternate career path. The small business center at Northern Maine Development Commission exists to help small businesses succeed. A program housed at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, New Ventures Maine, offers guidance and classes to empower individuals to gain financial security and successfully start new businesses. In addition, the city of Presque Isle has a micro-loan program for businesses.
The third trait involves training young people in skills that employers are currently seeking. The Presque Isle area is extremely fortunate in this regard as not only do we have Loring Job Corps within a few minutes’ drive, but both Northern Maine Community College and the University of Maine at Presque Isle are constantly upgrading and refining their curriculum to meet current needs with programs such as wind power technology at NMCC and cybersecurity at UMPI.
According to Starner, a highly effective small town focuses on its niche industries. Agriculture and lumber have long been the primary industries in northern Maine. Central Aroostook has a good grasp on these with wood pellet manufacturing, trusses, pallets, engineered wood products (Huber), international agricultural specialties like Spudnik and many more.
Another trait is the refining of a community’s central value proposition. This includes productivity, profitability, image, experience and convenience. The city of Presque Isle has worked diligently over the last few years to maintain a balanced budget while actually reducing the mil rate. In addition, the city has invested heavily in the new Chapman Road campus of the community center adding a splash pad, building a public market pavilion, constructing a new community playground, and improving the baseball and soccer fields as well as opening a new, energy efficient community center that better meets the needs of our residents. These types of amenities will also draw young families to our area helping to stem the outmigration of young adults.
Number six on the list is to recognize the important role art and museums play in attracting people. Presque Isle is well positioned for this with the Community Players, Wintergreen Arts Center, and six — yes, six — museums. The six museums include the James School (a restored one-room schoolhouse), the 1875 Vera Estey House Museum (a Victorian house museum), the Maysville Museum (a museum in a restored one-room schoolhouse focusing on the history of Presque Isle), the Micmac Nation museum (showcasing the history and artifacts of the Micmac Nation in our area), Northern Maine Museum of Science at UMPI (natural history collections), and Presque Isle Air Museum (preserving the history of Presque Isle Army Air Field and Air Force Base).
Last but not least, an effective small town must constantly evaluate its total portfolio of offerings as a business destination. The city’s Economic Development Department is hard at work updating policies and working to revitalize downtown. In addition, Presque Isle Industrial Council (PIIC) was created over 60 years ago to establish economic development programs to attract new businesses and industry to the city for the 450 acres of land formerly serving as our military base. The buildings within the industrial park are almost 100% leased with new spec buildings being designed to attract new businesses to the area.
All in all, the city of Presque Isle deserves a high five and passing grade on its efforts to meet the seven traits of highly effective small towns. Good news indeed for all residents.
Kimberly R. Smith is the resource development and public information officer for the city of Presque Isle. She can be reached at 760-2722 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.