2004 Annual  Report Executive Summary

Aroostook County EZ 

Through the continued work of the Northern Maine Empowerment Council and the staff at Northern Maine Development Commission, progress continues toward achieving the Goals and Strategies outlined in the Aroostook County Empowerment Zone (ACEZ) Strategic Plan. Our Congressional delegation was successful in obtaining a $500,000 earmark in the current year’s appropriations that supported much of this progress. While we are appreciative of their efforts, we know that relying on possible annual congressional earmarks to achieve a long-term strategic process contradicts the very goal of sustainable economic development for the region. We must once again point out that a direct appropriation of at least $2 million per year is needed for this program to maintain steady success.

NMDC, along with the Aroostook Municipal Association and Aroostook County Government, organized a summit on delivery of public services in the region. This meeting, which was promoted as “Regionalism and the County – Connecting Services”, brought together a diverse group of participants from local, county, state and federal sources to local and regional service organizations. The focus was to celebrate the existing collaborations/partnerships between communities in providing services and to explore what additional alliances might be possible. The summit was an unqualified success with more than 150 participants attending and very positive responses to both the content and structure of the event. Several requests were made to have follow-up meetings to continue the discussion of specific community collaborations. Furthermore, there were at least five applications for grant funding from the Governor’s “Efficient Delivery of Regional Services” program that were a direct result of dialogue begun at the summit.

Northern Maine Development Commission (NMDC) staff provided substantial community outreach to assist both the creation and retention of jobs through training for sound, fundamental business practices and product/service marketing. Twenty different training events were offered ranging from customer service to marketing to business plan development and more than 300 individual clients were assisted by our small business counselors. The Business Finance Department administers NMDC’s loan programs funded by the Economic Development Administration (EDA), the Small Business Administration (SBA), the Finance Authority of Maine (FAME), Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development (USDA-RD). These loan funds now total almost $9,000,000.00.

The Business Finance Department provides loan funds to leverage other private and public funding for new and existing businesses in our service district. The Department also provides business counseling and loan packaging for existing and new businesses, and community programs designed to assist business development in local communities as well as technical assistance for a variety of public and private loan programs as such as micro businesses. The staff will take the time to work with a business and pre-review the financial package so that a presentation to a primary lender is complete and accurate before the business makes its request for funding. Use of these loan funds has resulted in jobs created and retained of 6,475 with a dollar per job amount of $4,175.

To further stimulate the visibility and accessibility of job opportunities in Aroostook County, NMDC has taken the initiative of creating a new “jobs” website. The Northern Maine Jobs website will provide the common connection for businesses to recruit new workers and for job seekers to look into the regional job market. There will be advanced search and notification capabilities for job seekers that will, after they register, alert them to job opportunities in the categories that they have selected. This effort provides yet another component for allowing both residents and non-residents of the area to understand what is available in the job market and to entice individuals to come and live in our area.

Finally, NMDC continues to update and improve our website (www.nmdc.org) and the Aroostook County Empowerment Zone website (www.aroostookez.org) that greatly improves the visibility and accessibility of program information. Our homepage now displays all of the programs and departments of the organization and more intuitively leads visitors to their areas of interest. Program information, related staffing and the Annual Report are all available and presented in a format that is much more easily understood. The links, both with internal context-sensitive text and through a separate page, are again, much more easily accessed for an improved flow of information to the viewer. A project to allow web-based mapping/GIS capability for Northern Maine Development Commission programs is currently in progress and we anticipate its use on the ACEZ website when completed.

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