Economic Development panel discusses growth opportunities for Presque Isle

2 years ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — A panel of community development organizations and city leaders met on Monday, Oct. 24, with around 50 local business owners and Rotary Club members to discuss the business opportunities coming out of the pandemic.

Paul Towle, president and CEO of Aroostook Partnership, moderated the panel discussion held Monday, Oct. 24. Panelists were Aroostook Chamber of Commerce executive director LaNiece Sirois, Aroostook County Tourism developer Jacob Pelkey, Presque Isle Downtown Revitalization Committee chairperson Christy Daggett and Presque Isle Economic and Community Development director Galen Weibley.

The panel discussed economic growth, demographic trends, community engagement and attraction, industry changes and misconceptions and adaptations of COVID-19, according to Presque Isle Rotary Club president Chantal Pelletier. The panel was used to showcase the work key economic developers are doing in Presque Isle.

“Our hope is there’s so many good organizations and work being done by people right within the community that a lot of community members don’t even realize, and especially coming out of that COVID realm, a lot of work is going unnoticed,” Pelletier said.

Towle asked the panelists to explain their organizations’ roles in addressing the issues of shrinking population, poverty rates, housing, how inflation is affecting development, and promoting and organizing upcoming events to target markets in Bangor and out of state.

This year, construction and labor costs were up 50 percent, resulting in a 7 percent decline in permits, according to Weibley. He highlighted recent winterization loans meant to decrease the cost of heating, while Pelkey said that the cost of driving to Aroostook has increased,  3 percent of the visitors are flying into Presque Isle International Airport.

“Economic development is on everybody’s mind and coming out of COVID how are we going to navigate that and what is our best practice we can implement,” Sirois said.

As part of adapting to the pandemic, the organizations that increased their web and social media presences were the Chamber of Commerce and Aroostook Tourism, which switched from print marketing to online in addition to paid promotion on Facebook. The Downtown Committee focused on the outdoor concert series and events to create a more vibrant downtown and is involved with Presque Isle’s Economic and Community Development work.

There has been an increase in visitation to Aroostook County from southern Maine since the pandemic restrictions have been lifted, according to Pelkey. LaNiece said that with the Canadian border open again there are more opportunities to share regional maps through Aroostook Tourism.

“The city has made it a top priority to promote a four seasons approach to publicizing activities in Presque Isle. We really want to captivate and show folks you can live, work and play here,” Weibley said.

Weibley talked about community development block grants that are federal funds coming to Maine with the city acting as the intermediary to help spur business opportunities for low- or moderate-level income people. He also highlighted entrepreneurship by mentioning Ignite Presque Isle and New Ventures Maine, which both help startup businesses in the city.

Around 50 local business representatives and Presque Isle Rotary Club members attended an economic development panel discussion on Oct. 24 at Northern Maine Community College. (Paul Bagnall | The Star-Herald)

The 65 and older population has overtaken the younger population and bringing in more families and offering better educational opportunities through Northern Maine Community College could help counteract it, Weibley said. 

Weibley asked the businesses how many are still looking for workers and half the room raised their hands.

Some misconceptions addressed at the panel is that Presque Isle has three economic developers with Weibley, Scott Wardwell and Tom Powers. Daggett addressed the perceived lack of diversity by highlighting the French-speaking population and the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, while Pelkey said that in 2021 there were 286,000 visitors to Aroostook who spent $141 million.

Toward the end of the panel was a small discussion led by Weibley about concerns for how the medical cannabis industry is unregulated, including little testing for mold or diseases, while Daggett highlighted how it was too easy to get a medical card.

“I would definitely say [Presque Isle] has rebounded from the pandemic era very well,” said Thompson Financial Group branch strategist Jamie Guerrette. “Definitely attracting tourists and getting new people to see what’s here has been very successful.”

In April 2023, the Presque Isle Rotary will celebrate its 100-year anniversary and use events, like the panel discussion, to engage the community leading up to it.