Partnership Year in Review 2015
2015 was an interesting year for the Aroostook Partnership and for Aroostook County’s economy with progress and growth noted in several areas despite a relatively flat economic environment in Maine. Overall, there was greater than $358M invested in major projects across the County with 185 new jobs created in the process. This equates to approximately $675M in major investment and approximately 600 new jobs created since the Partnership started tracking growth in 2012. The greatest growth this year came in the Energy and Manufacturing sectors. The Forestry sector had a challenging year due to multiple economic factors outside of their control but is still a major and extremely important component of Aroostook’s overall economy. And 2015 was a milestone year in that two important economic organizations in the County (LEAD & APP) merged together to form a ONE TEAM “Aroostook Partnership” to enhance collaboration throughout a wide range of economic development activities.
The top priority for the Partnership remains growing tomorrow’s workforce. This year saw significant progress in the Opportunities Aroostook website with job postings rising as high as the 160 mark and Facebook “likes” totaling >1200 nationwide. In the spirit of cooperation, the Aroostook Aspirations Initiative landed a grant to create an “Internship Hub” and will combine that critical piece to the website to make for a more comprehensive and collaborative approach for retention and attraction efforts. Internship opportunities continued to grow around the County and the Junior Achievement program continued to expose Junior High and High School students to business principals. Also, the County teams swept the statewide “Titan Challenge” business competition by winning 1st, 2nd, & 3rd place.
The greatest sector overall growth occurred in Manufacturing with >$45M invested in plant improvement and new capital equipment. Twin Rivers in Madawaska finished ~$25M in plant upgrades, Smith & Wesson in Houlton installed $17M in new CNC machines which returned jobs lost previously, Porvair in Caribou completed a $2M expansion that created ~20 new jobs and NMDC secured three grants worth $2.5M to allow for the expansion of ACME Monaco.
In the Energy sector, SunEdison completed the $268M Oakfield wind project and EDP Renewables made progress on their proposed $600M #9 Mountain wind project. Emera Maine completed two major projects including the Route 161 transmission line upgrade and the completion of the new $7M transformer at their Presque Isle location. The County also saw some major growth in solar as an alternative energy source with a new company “County Energy Solutions” being created in Fort Fairfield and several major solar farms started or completed.
In the Forestry sector, the Partnership led the formation of the very successful Northern Forest Products Industry Cluster that created a robust action plan, supported the creation of a Community College Mechanical Harvest Training Program, influenced more effective Department of Transportation rules, supported the production of a new logger recruitment video and supported the state’s effort that won a $20M TIGER rail improvement grant that will help the entire industry.
Regarding Diversified Agriculture, Pineland Farms in Mars Hill completed their expansion and started processing cheese, which lead to ~40 new jobs versus the 15 that were projected. The two Food Coops in Ft Kent & Houlton continued to grow and Buck Farms new “Maine Malt House” business was extremely successful in selling their malt to numerous Maine microbreweries. The County also saw continued growth in hops and barley production as the demand for those grains continues to grow.
The efforts of the Partnership could not have happened without the tremendous care and dedication on the part of the Board of Directors or without the time and energy committed by our cluster/ working groups. And of course, none of our efforts could have occurred without our investors and their commitment to economic growth in Aroostook County. The Partnership is truly a unique model that continues to be admired both statewide and nationally.