Auburn council wants more economic development

AUBURN — City councilors on Saturday called for more focus on industrial and retail development, possibly by creating development and arts agencies to help promote the city.

"I can guarantee you, the system is broken," Mayor Jonathan LaBonte said. "I know from people I talk to at the federal level and the state level how ineffective we are on a number of fronts."

The discussion at Central Maine Community College was part of the city's pre-budget goal-setting day, moderated by strategic planning consultant Carole Martin of Rockland.

Martin asked City Manager Clinton Deschene, Assistant City Manager Howard Kroll and councilors to talk about their vision for Auburn in 10 years and how to start working toward that vision within the next year. After a lunch break, she brought them back to discuss how to reach those goals, focusing especially on making their meetings and workshops run more effectively.

Councilors sketched out an optimistic vision for the city in 2023, calling for an open and inviting city with plenty of safe, walkable routes through comfortable neighborhoods. The city would be run by a stable, respectable municipal government.

"I'm looking for the experience, that feeling of Auburn," Councilor Tizz Crowley said. "We've all had places we've traveled to that we've loved. When you think about it, it's not the greatest view of the ocean or the most unique castle or the greatest food. It's the feeling that place gave you."

To get there, councilors said they wanted to focus on three goals: optimizing economic development within the city, promoting community safety and doing a better job of communicating what the city has to offer.

LaBonte said he wanted to pry the job of promoting economic development away from regional groups such as the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council, the Auburn Business Development Corp. and the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments.

He pointed to the southern part of the city as one place that has too many agencies involved — including the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport, the Auburn Business Development Corp., the growth council, AVCOG and the neighboring town of Poland.

"Nothing about that is efficient or effective," LaBonte said. "Do we really need that number of agencies with their own independent staff?"

He called for replacing those groups with a single entity that would be controlled by the City Council.

"A port authority or a redevelopment authority would have all of those things bundled up into one," LaBonte said.

Deschene said he recognized that Lewiston and Auburn's fates are tied together, but Auburn must establish its own identity.

"I think, Lewiston, we have to work more with them," the city manager said. "But we need a sibling rivalry, which can be very healthy. There can be a great sibling rivalry, and I think right now it's not used. There can be a sense of maliciousness to it that neither of us talks about. Neither knows exactly what's making the other one mad."

Councilor Robert Hayes agreed that Auburn should focus on its own economic development, but he added a word of caution.

"We still need a regional context, a Lewiston-Auburn context and an Auburn-only context," he said. "There is a need for a collective group."

Crowley said her main concern was community safety, specifically relating to traffic, automobile speed and sidewalks.

"I want to have a habitable downtown, and part of that is making it safe to walk," Crowley said. "If it's not safe because the sidewalks are not safe, that's what I'd like to see addressed."

The second part of the meeting was a discussion of how to make the council's meetings and workshops more effective. One suggestion was to have councilors focus on their jobs as a group, as opposed to their individual desires.

"Council meetings are a meeting of the corporate body amongst itself," LaBonte said. "I think that because of the way we sit, facing an audience and TV cameras, there is an immediate turn to a TV show, and you are there to perform for an audience. A council report or committee report changes from an opportunity to check in to more of a chance to give a speech."

Instead of giving long-winded reports on potentially mundane topics at council meetings, councilors will try to write their reports and submit them to the city manager before their regular meetings. They can be released to the public and accepted into the record, and councilors can discuss important matters at the regular meetings.

staylor@sunjournal.com

Jose Leiva/Sun Journal

Auburn City Councilor-at-Large Joshua Shea, left, makes a point during a goal-setting session at Central Maine Community College on Saturday.

What do you think of this story?

Login to post comments

In order to make comments, you must create a subscription.

In order to comment on SunJournal.com, you must hold a valid subscription allowing access to this website. You must use your real name and include the town in which you live in your SunJournal.com profile. To subscribe or link your existing subscription click here.

Login or create an account here.

Our policy prohibits comments that are:

  • Defamatory, abusive, obscene, racist, or otherwise hateful
  • Excessively foul and/or vulgar
  • Inappropriately sexual
  • Baseless personal attacks or otherwise threatening
  • Contain illegal material, or material that infringes on the rights of others
  • Commercial postings attempting to sell a product/item
If you violate this policy, your comment will be removed and your account may be banned from posting comments.

Advertisement

Comments

David Pinkham's picture

Economic Growth

1. Focus upon education. Get some numbers. What percentage of students who enter first grade in Auburn actually graduate from EL twelve years later? Yes people move in an out, but there are only twelve grades; we're not talking about a number approaching infinity! Get the same level of information from the local institutions of higher learning: LAC, CMCC, Kaplan, the hospitals, etc. Put together completion statistics, including placement information and debt load. Are these institutions serving the local community or are they contributing to the problem? An educated workforce is a great incentive for businesses planning an expansion here. The potential for a good job is a great incentive for a student to continue education. But a four year degree in political science is not much good at GE, Tambrands, Pioneer, or Gates. Create and foster realistic expectations. The idea of an educational complex is a great one. Middle School, High School, Higher Ed opportunities in one central location. We don't necessarily need more brick and mortar to get people educated, opportunities abound in the digital domain. What is required is more face to face advising, (incidently where CMCC shines and USM pales in comparison). Eighty percent of my tax dollars go to education, but once my kids get past 12th grade, we're taxed an additional fee for a degree that's really necessary to get a good paying job. Give me back my money so I can fund the education they need or build a system that serves that need. Pick one.

2. Makes no sense to clean up downtown and widen the sidewalks when there is nothing to do down there. You have bars for young folks right smack in the middle of elderly housing???!! Reminds me of the parking garage that Lewiston built in anticipation of everyone getting tiny gas-sippers. You couldn't get an ambulance into it. Think it through. Try walking from the Hilton to the Roak Block at 10PM. Try parking in the garage by the cop shop and walking over to Platz. Put the new education facility downtown. Not only would it create some life down there, but it would promote some intergenerational dynamics. Young folks could teach mature people how to use computers and mobile devices. Older folks would have someplace to go to share life experience, teach and learn, and demonstrate that the ultimate goal is not about accumulating material possessions.

Bob Stone's picture

Economic Development

I have come to the conclusion that we try to hard to be something we'll never be. What is wrong with a Lewiston-Auburn that is a small, American, town. Tree lined streets, with people that get up in the morning and go to work. Residents that take pride in their neighborhood. Residents that insert their trash in trash cans.

Instead of striving to be 'service center cities', how about striving to have safe streets with long term residents who are productive citizens? We have built a "Great Society" of takers, many of whom have decided not to respect their neighbors. Lisbon Street in Lewiston is being developed by dreaded capitalists like Eric Agren, Jules Patry, Paul Landry, Mr. Poulin, Tammy Grieshaber and others that are putting their cash into it. Several blocks away, it is like the south side of Chicago, a very dangerous place to even drive through.

One census track in Auburn has has one of the lowest precentages of fathers living with kids in the nation. Is that what we want to be noted for? Spending all of this taxpayer money for "economic development" would be better spent by reverting Lewiston and Auburn to "a nice place to live". Business would flock to us.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

Why does all this sound scarey to me??????

Many years ago I did go someplace, I loved the feeling it gave me, and seeing the writing on the wall were I was, I headed north.
They say you can never go home, I for one, don't want to. I have visited back to where I used to live, the place I was raised, went to school and basically spent the first half of my life. What I see when I go back there, quite honestly makes me sick.
It's almost like every single small and large business, every fast food establishment, every big box store known to mankind,moved in. New and used auto dealerships as far as the eye can see. When I say used car, what I really mean is "pre-owned", pre-titled, pre-purchased, "new-to-you", and I'm sure they have come up with a half dozen other ways to sell a used car. You may have a Toyota dealership, then a half mile down the road, a "pre-owned" Toyota dealership, next to that will be the "pre-purchased" Toyota dealership. Every one of these places sells the same vehicles but depending on the particular name, the prices are different. Then of coarse, in between these dealerships you have to have six or seven fast food places. Now you multiply that by every auto manufacturer ever heard of and you have just the beginning of the mess. I can't even recognize my old town, I literally can't get from point "A" to point "B". It's that over done.
I have relatives who have lived there all their lives, they don't leave much, and literally can't see what I see. To me it's "Economic Development" on strong steroids. It goes beyond good taste. There are literally businesses built on top of each other. What ever small space there is, everyone and their brother wants to build on it, and they do. What you end up with is disgusting.
I'm not against development, but keep it within reason. I don't feel like having to find a new place, that gives me a feeling I love.......

Michael Hobbs's picture

Funny thing is no matter what

Funny thing is no matter what identity you may seek you will always be referred to as Lewiston-Auburn, it's that simple. Unless you up and move your entire city away from Lewiston that will always be how it is. Best part is for years and years there has always been tension between Lewiston and Auburn, by doing this you would only be putting more of a rift between the two. Breaking away from a regional marketing you are just going to be little city of Auburn, Maine with a little over 22 thousand people, regional just with the "Twin Cities" you are talking about 60+ thousand residents and a metro of 100 thousand residents. Tell me what numbers look better when you are trying to bring businesses to your city? As far as having too many agencies, feel free to drop the one over with the airport because half of the funding comes from the city that you apparently so desperately want to break yourselves from. The mayor and city councilors are going down a slippery road.

Michael Hobbs's picture

Funny thing is no matter what

Funny thing is no matter what identity you may seek you will always be referred to as Lewiston-Auburn, it's that simple. Unless you up and move your entire city away from Lewiston that will always be how it is. Best part is for years and years there has always been tension between Lewiston and Auburn, by doing this you would only be putting more of a rift between the two. Breaking away from a regional marketing you are just going to be little city of Auburn, Maine with a little over 22 thousand people, regional just with the "Twin Cities" you are talking about 60+ thousand residents and a metro of 100 thousand residents. Tell me what numbers look better when you are trying to bring businesses to your city? As far as having too many agencies, feel free to drop the one over with the airport because half of the funding comes from the city that you apparently so desperately want to break yourselves from. The mayor and city councilors are going down a slippery road.

Advertisement

Stay informed — Get the news delivered for free in your inbox.

I'm interested in ...