2014 was an extremely busy year for the Aroostook Partnership for Progress in a number of areas including "Education to Industry" initiatives, growing the forest economy, manufacturing, and advancing diversified agriculture through the great efforts of our exceptional working groups. In addition, APP hosted its third Alternative Energy and Biomass Fair, the Export/Trade Seminar during the World Acadian Congress and supported multiple prospective economic development projects such as rail car manufacturing at Loring and the Maine Malt House at Buck Farms.
APP's work is driven by the Mobilize Northern Maine asset-based strategic planning process, which identified forestry, manufacturing, agriculture and renewable energy as primary areas for economic growth in Aroostook County. Focus on those four sectors, we believe, is steadily growing our economy toward meeting our 2017 goals of increasing our 18- to -44-year-old workforce, medium income levels and creating 1000s of new jobs.
Filling those emerging jobs will require skilled workers, which is where our "Education to Industry" efforts are focused. The most significant achievement this year was the launching of the Opportunities Aroostook job/resume posting website and companion social media presence. It is the goal of Opportunities Aroostook to help retain and attract people to fill our emerging jobs as well as build awareness throughout Aroostook that there are jobs and more opportunities emerging in the near future. It also exposes students and those seeking employment of the skills needed to obtain those jobs. "Education to Industry" efforts significantly expanded the Junior Achievement (JA) program as 66 classes were taught to students in the region, up from 35 in 2013. The JA effort reached 846 students or nearly double from the year earlier. Outreach continued to educators as well. The second APP "Education to Industry" Summit held in August at the University of Maine Presque Isle was attended by 65 people, including a large number of educators, to hear about how internships and job shadowing opportunities are successfully working to engage youngsters and fill key employer positions.
No sector saw greater growth this year than forestry. The Ashland region experienced more than 100 new jobs thanks to a new JD Irving and Ecoshel mills and the reopening of ReEnergy biomass energy plant. The APP Forestry Working Group created a guiding document, which now forms the basis for the goals and action plan efforts that the newly formed Northern Forest Products Industry Cluster will develop in 2015.
Although Diversified Agriculture is more difficult to quantify in terms of progress, there has been tremendous improvement made in expanding networking opportunities, discussing opportunities for growth, and in generating collaboration and coordination between northern and southern Maine. As a member of the Maine Food Strategy Steering Committee, I've been able to address the Economic Development Council of Maine on the potential for Aroostook County to supply much of New England with local food and help focus statewide efforts to spearhead additional economic growth. On a County level, Naturally Potatoes in Mars Hill engaged in a $7.5 million expansion effort that will lead to 15 new jobs and two new food co-ops are now in operation in Houlton and Fort Kent. We are also working with entrepreneurs who are looking at new ventures such as in the growing craft beer market, malting efforts, beef expansion, and transporting Aroostook farm products to southern Maine.
APP is also tracking investment in the region. In 2014, more than $184-million was invested in new construction, expansions, maintenance and renovations in Aroostook County. That investment resulted in more than 165 jobs.
I would like to personally thank all the folks who serve on our numerous working groups. Each person gives of their time without compensation, all with the notion that they are working to build a better tomorrow in for our County. In addition, I would like to especially thank the > 20 APP investors - it's their donations, time and commitment to The County that makes the Partnership a model that is admired statewide and beyond.
We've seen a lot of progress in 2014, but I'm even more excited about our future. There is truly the potential for >1000 new jobs and >$100-millon of increased economic activity with a new industry at Loring, mining activity at Bald Mountain, increased manufacturing activity, and more profitably small and medium sized farm activities over the next four years. However, maximizing the potential of these significant opportunities will require a tremendous amount of effort and focus by our working groups and our legislators to mitigate the challenges we see in workforce development, regulation stabilization and statewide long-term planning. Challenges however are not new to The County and with focus and perseverance; we have the potential for extraordinary growth!
Robert D. Dorsey