After nearly seven years in this position, I will be retiring as the Aroostook Partnership President this August. During this period, we’ve observed much progress, approximately $1B in capital investment and nearly 1000 new jobs created throughout the County with many other jobs saved as well. I thought I’d take the opportunity to review some of the major progress during that time frame. But before highlighting our progress, it is extremely important to note that our progress could not have happened were it not for our County businesses, the Partnership’s investors, the seven working group volunteers, APP and LEAD working together and the tremendous networking and cooperation resulting from participation with regional leaders throughout the County.
In 2012, APP spearheaded the effort that enabled compressed natural gas (CNG) energy to come to the County which enabled huge savings for healthcare and manufacturing. We advanced two major renewable energy efforts involving biomass and wind by holding our first of three biomass fairs, developing a three-part WAGM biomass program, and supporting First Wind’s $378M Oakfield wind project. APP also supported the Bald Mountain mining initiative which could bring $45M/year to the County’s economy.
In 2013, APP finished the Mobilize Northern Maine strategic planning process that prioritized our economic development efforts on Renewable Energy, Forestry, Diversified Agriculture, and Manufacturing. In reviewing our demographic data, we recognized we had a shrinking 18-44-year-old population and that a top priority going forward would be to determine ways to improve retention and attraction efforts to secure our future workforce. We then conducted a survey and found over 1800 jobs that were anticipated in the next five years, then outlined the WAGM 22-segment ‘Advancing Aroostook’ series depicting growth, education and upcoming opportunities in the County. We also created the Education to Industry working group and conducted the first of two Educational Summits that year at UMPI. In energy, 2013 saw four CNG conversions started and UMFK convert their campus to Biomass heating. Lastly, APP created the Forestry Tiger Team to focus on that key County economic sector.
In 2014, we held an Aroostook Day at the Legislature with Leaders Encouraging Aroostook Development (LEAD), held the second Educational Summit highlighting the need and benefits of internships, helped expand the County’s Junior Achievement program and created the OPPORTUNITIES AROOSTOOK website to promote job awareness in the County. We saw over 300 new jobs created due to the construction of the $32M Irving mill, the $10M Echoshel plant, the reopening of the ReEnergy Biomass power plant in Ashland, and the $8.5M expansion of Naturally Potatoes in Mars Hill.
2015 was a good year investment wise as Twin Rivers conducted a $25M plant upgrade, Smith & Wesson completed a $17M CNC plant upgrade, and NMDC secured three grants for $2.5M that enabled ACME MONACO in Presque Isle to expand. SunEdison completed their $378M Oakfield wind project, there were 185 new jobs created in the County, and the Portland Press Herald reported that Aroostook County had seen the ‘sharpest rise in personal income at 4.4% of all the Counties in Maine’. Two significant developments also occurred in 2015. One was APP setting up the Northern Forest Products Industry Cluster which included landowners, mills, contractors, banks, education and statewide forest agencies and the second was the merger of APP and LEAD to form the new Aroostook Partnership (AP).
In 2016, AP started the Business/Teacher social program to increase teacher awareness of businesses and projected jobs in the County and we purchased the tremendous job description tool Virtual Job Shadow for all 16 high schools that saved over $6000 by doing a collective purchase. The Forest Cluster helped secure a $13.4M two-year power purchase agreement for ReEnergy that enabled them to remain open and we briefed the national level Economic Development Assistance Team on the needs for Maine and Aroostook’s forest industry to grow. AP also supported Emera’s $1B ‘Maine Renewable Energy Interconnect’ project to assist the County’s wind development and that project remains a viable option for the future.
In 2017, AP expanded Business/Education socials to include our colleges/professors, we distributed jobs posters to all high schools, and the Education to Industry working group started bus tours to increase high school student exposure to County jobs. Emera conducted substantial infrastructure investment but with that came increases in transmission costs. The Aroostook Energy Association was formed from concerns on rising energy cost trends. AP supported the Mining Bill which finally passed allowing mining to occur in Maine, augmented the new County tourism map, held the National Monument business luncheon, and commissioned an updated County economic analysis entitled the ‘Caring for the Crown Report’.
This year, AP has briefed numerous towns and organizations on the ‘Caring…’ report and strongly promoted increased collaboration and consolidation considerations across the County to maintain our cost of living and promote the advantages of living here. This year has seen a major focus on electrical transmission costs with ReEnergy petitioning Emera to eliminate those costs so that ReEnergy could remain operational. Emera granted that request until 2020. This is important for Aroostook as it will save jobs, support the entire forest industry value chain and allow biomass waste to be sold versus building and maintaining expensive waste sites.
In closing, I’d like to thank the AP investors, Bob Clark and the NMDC staff for their tremendous support and to especially thank Kris Doody, Larry Shaw, Chris Anderson, and Jason House who have served as AP Board Chairs and to Jon Gulliver who has been my ‘right hand man’ throughout this process. I’d also like to express how proud I am of the Aroostook Partnership; how grateful I am to the members on AP’s board of directors and how privileged I am to have been able to serve as this organization’s President.
Aroostook has many challenges ahead, but it also has incredible people that care deeply for its future and I’m positive that their and AP’s efforts will continue to make a big difference going forward. I wish them and you all the best in those continuing efforts.