2016 was a busy year for the Aroostook Partnership. We completed the merger of LEAD and APP, expanded the Board of Directors and Executive Committee responsibilities, and made great progress on how we’ll organize to lead economic development efforts going forward. Our top three priorities this year were to 1) promote County job awareness and expand business/education collaboration, 2) lead the Forest Cluster efforts to grow this key segment of our economy and 3) expand our manufacturing growth potential. We continued two very successful former LEAD signature events in hosting live political debates with WAGM that were aired statewide and in holding the impressive ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’, which was won by the Buck family (Maine Malt House).
From a County growth perspective, we saw moderate growth with about $77M of investment and approximately 75 new jobs created. That brings our 5 year totals to about $750M of total investment and 714 new jobs created. Generally, our forestry and manufacturing sectors observed the most success and there were also new capabilities added in healthcare and agriculture. We saw new restaurants open and a number of positive developments emerge that could set the stage for some significant future employment.
The Partnership’s top priority remains growing tomorrow’s workforce. This year AP purchased the ‘Virtual Job Shadow’ program for 17 County High Schools to help students better understand career choices. In collaboration with our Superintendents, AP spent $9000 on this effort saving $6000 by doing a block purchase – a great example of how ‘working together’ can be more cost effective. AP sponsored three ‘Business/Teacher’ socials across the County where we had employers meet with guidance counselors and teachers to describe the number of forecast jobs, education requirements and qualities they were looking for in future employees. These ‘socials’ were very successful and we plan to continue these sessions in 2017 to build awareness of businesses and employment opportunities in hopes this information will be passed on to students. We also started a ‘Did You Know’ email series to over 800 educators on business employment facts to emphasize that there ARE jobs here!
In Forestry and Manufacturing, Louisiana Pacific (LP) and Huber had excellent years and LP recently announced they’ll hire another 20 employees to return to full time operations. Similarly, the Irving mill announced they were expanding and looking to hire another 20 employees. Twin Rivers paper company is investing another $12M to upgrade a machine and have moved their research efforts from Quebec to the University of Maine. AP’s Forest Cluster had a great year and supported the passing of two key pieces of legislation getting the State to purchase Biomass power from ReEnergy and eliminating the off-road diesel tax for loggers to help them lower costs in these challenging times. Smith & Wesson in Houlton is planning to transfer their hand cuff production allowing room to install more CNC machines to grow their main plant production. Porvair in Caribou continues to grow having built their new ‘clean room’, hire more personnel, and more than double their previous business base. ACME Monaco recently signed their new lease agreement and has started their $2.3M upgrade that should conclude in 2017.
Our Energy sector was not so fortunate. A couple of the major wind projects (#9 Mtn. & King Pine) were counting on the ~$1B Emera/CMP ‘Maine Renewable Energy Interconnect’ project to be awarded. When that didn’t occur, those projects are now back to looking for future contracts before proceeding. On the ‘good news’ front, the companies maintain that the projects are still viable and believe they’ll materialize in the future.
In Agriculture, Pineland Farms in Mars Hill has been very successful, continued to hire more employees and started another expansion effort. Smith Farms experienced new competition from a firm in New York but continue to be successful and had great success with their new solar system. Other good news was that the Maine Malt House company in Mapleton was so successful that they are expanding their production facility to quadruple their product development to satisfy the heavy demand for malt that is ‘made in Maine’.
The efforts of the Partnership happened because of the time, talent and energy from our members, the dedication of the Board of Directors, our tireless executive committee and the outstanding members in our working groups. The Partnership is an amazing model that shows the real desire to advance Aroostook.