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Benchmark Summary Report


Aroostook County Empowerment Zone

Lead Entity: Northern Maine Development Commission, Inc.

Demographics
State: Maine
Counties (Census Tracts): Aroostook County (9504, 9506, 9513, 9517, 9525, 9501, 9516, 9519, 9526)
Community Population: 28, 674
Poverty Rate: 13%
Net land Area: 770.3 square miles

Background: 

The Aroostook County Empowerment Zone was designated as a new Zone under the Program's outmigration option and has experienced a significant decrease in population since 1960.  Closure of the Loring Air Force Base and changes in the potato industry have weakened the region’s and the county’s economy.  The EZ encompasses three non-contiguous areas in the northeast, east-central, and southeast portions of Aroostook County. 

The Aroostook County Empowerment Zone represents a collaborative, three-year effort led by Northern Maine Development Commission (NMDC).  In 1999, a MOA was signed between USDA's Rural Development and Aroostook County, designating the selected areas as a Champion Community.  A September 2001 meeting of participating organizations and original 1998 planning participants resulted in revisions to the original Champion Community strategic plan.  New goals and strategies were approved during this meeting, resulting in the current strategic plan submitted for a Round III designation under the outmigration option. 

Community Overview:

Aroostook County is Maine’s largest county, with roughly two-thirds of its area consisting of industrial forest which supports lumber and paper industries.  The 1998 Champion Community includes three self-contained areas approximately one hour's commute from one another.  The three areas communicate and collaborate in strategic planning and resource sharing.  

There are a number of challenges faced by residents of the Zone.  In particular, the sparsely-populated, isolated and far-northern communities face transportation problems, which are exacerbated by severe winter weather conditions.  Seasonal labor demands follow from these climatic conditions, resulting in nearly 75 percent of workers who do not have full-time jobs.  Heavy reliance on forestry and agriculture has meant steady economic decline in the regions for the past several years.  Unemployment  in Aroostook County has been consistently higher than most of the counties in Maine.  Recently-recognized Native American communities are in need of guidance and assistance in community development.  Children in particular feel the effects of economic and social stress in the isolated communities of the proposed EZ.  Great concern is expressed for the elderly population in the region, which is large and projected to increase dramatically in the next 25 years. 

Strategic Plan Highlights:  

Goal 1: Support business success.  
Goal 2:  Educate and train the workforce.
Goal 3:  Improve health and social services.
Goal 4: Balance development with environmental protection.

Partnerships:

The EZ Board is comprised of representatives appointed by the governing bodies of the participating communities.  Northern Maine Development Commission, Inc. provides administrative services to the EZ Board.  NMDC works closely with existing economic development corporations, public utilities, chambers of commerce, municipal and regional development offices, and local, state, and federal agencies.  NMDC and the EZ Board partner with local and regional organizations including health and social service providers, educational institutions, Native American tribes, senior and youth service providers, and housing collaboratives.

Leveraging:

Thirty-nine benchmarked projects in their strategic plan have received $27 million in funding since Champion Community designation in 1998.

Community Involvement:

Community involvement in the planning and development of the Aroostook County Champion Community and the proposed Empowerment Zone has been strong throughout the past three years.  Public meetings in the three sub-regions served to develop individual vision statements, which were later combined into one common strategic vision for change.  Citizen surveys in 1998 and 2001 attempted to reach out to “underserved” populations in the sub-regions, to gather data on priority issues.

A Citizen Survey web page will be continually monitored to receive input.  NMDC will solicit the general public’s participation in Strategic Plan implementation and revision through annual citizen forums.

Contact: Robert P. Clark
Address: 11 West Presque Isle Road
Caribou, ME 04736
Telephone: (207) 498-8736
Fax: (207) 493-3108
Email: rclark@nmdc.org
Website: www.nmdc.org

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