Work continues to grow the forest-based economy of northern Maine
CARIBOU - The Aroostook Partnership for Progress (APP) is looking to expand its current forestry-working group into a leadership committee for an industry cluster in an effort to continue to grow the forest-based economy of northern Maine.
Meeting Wednesday, Oct. 29, in Caribou, the working group, made up of state officials, economic developers, bankers, industry experts and congressional staff, discussed forming the Northern Forest Products Industry Cluster (NFPIC) to explore economic opportunities and address challenges, like workforce development and energy.
"Industry clusters are groups of similar and related firms and support services in a defined geographic area that share common markets, technologies, worker skill needs and which are often linked by buyer-seller relationships," said APP President Bob Dorsey. "This is a bottom up approach lead by the private sector."
Dorsey added the cluster would result in a better understanding of the value chain; it will identify and strengthen the distinctive competitive position the region has and will enhance innovation and knowledge sharing.
Northern Maine Development Commission (NMDC) has received federal funding to help establish the cluster and has set up a timeline of support work, which calls for identifying the cluster participants and setting up a structure and governance. Following those steps comes the most important tasks, led by the cluster members themselves, of identifying common opportunities and issues to address, developing short and long-term priorities, concrete actions and creating measurable benchmarks before June 2015.
"The forest products industry accounts for over 6,800 jobs in Aroostook County and impacts many different businesses from hospitals and retail stores to paper and wood products manufacturing," said NMDC Executive Director Bob Clark. "It has such a high concentration of employment compared to other regions that it offers the greatest opportunity to create economic wealth for the region."
"This process is driven by cluster participants," added Dorsey. "They are the key to focusing the forest sector efforts and identifying which areas of the value chain they wish to strengthen to increase our products regional and global competitiveness."
Discussion at the working group meeting focused on which businesses and organizations to ask to join the cluster and how to articulate why it is in someone's self-interest to participate.
"You need to tell a positive story," said Don Tardie, retired Maine Woods Company mill manager. "It is important to let the businesses know how clusters have been successful in other parts of the country and why a Northern Forest Products Industry Cluster would be beneficial to them."
Industry clusters have been very successful in other regions of the United States. Working group members suggested bringing a representative of one of those clusters to the region to discuss the advantages of the concept.