Oct. 05--In 2009, when FairPoint Communications wanted to entice the Maine Public Utilities Commission to approve its acquisition of Verizon's landline business in Maine, it sweetened the deal with a promise to invest in Maine's economic development.
The telecommunications company won its approval and invested in excess of $500,000 over several years to commission ViTAL Economy, a Maryland-based consulting firm, to assist one Maine region to develop a new kind of economic development strategy -- one based on leveraging a region's "unique, indigenous" assets to grow its economy.
The nascent effort was dubbed Mobilize Maine, and northern Maine was chosen as the guinea pig.
More than four years later that initiative has blossomed into a statewide effort to develop an economic development strategy for all of Maine.
Last week, Mobilize Maine received official word that it will be awarded $575,000 from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to bring that goal to reality, according to Mark Ouellette, Mobilize Maine's statewide executive director. It is the second such grant the group has received, bringing its total amount of federal EDA funding to $1.15 million.
Maine is one of only a dozen or so states attempting to create a statewide model for economic development planning, and it's being noticed for its efforts, according to Brian Kelsey, director of economic development for the National Association of Development Organizations in Washington, D.C.
"I'm really encouraged about what's going on in Maine," said Kelsey, who is also a former EDA official.
Maine's strategy differs from less effective models because it depends on identifying the core assets that could be leveraged, rather than defined by what the state lacks, he said.
Beginning in 2009, the Northern Maine Development Commission, which administers Mobilize Northern Maine, worked to create a comprehensive picture of northern Maine's strengths and weaknesses. It decided to target renewable energy and information technology for further attention. Focus on the former recently led to an additional $275,000 federal grant to encourage biomass heating appliance manufacturing in the region.
Once FairPoint's investment was exhausted, NMDC and other stakeholders realized the value of what had been started and sought additional funding to continue the asset-based economic development effort in order to spread the effort to the rest of the state.