Selectmen hear presentation on economic development study results

RUMFORD — The Board of Selectmen listened Thursday evening to the latest findings in an ongoing economic development study by Western Maine Economic Development Council Director Glen Holmes and River Valley Growth Council member Jim Rinaldo.

Matthew Daigle/Sun Journal

Envision Rumford member Jim Rinaldo reports to residents Thursday night the latest results of an economic development study he and Western Maine Economic Development Council Director Glen Holmes conducted.

During a Feb. 7 meeting, the board asked the councils to help determine what businesses the area lacks and what ones could be sustainable.

The board also authorized Town Manager Carlo Puiia to pay for the study from the economic development budget, using up to $5,000. Holmes said Thursday that he and Rinaldo used less than $1,200 of it.

Holmes said he and Rinaldo began with a “windshield inventory.”

“We literally drove down every single road in Rumford, wrote down every single business that was out there and put the information into a computer,” he said. “We contracted with Matthew Eddy and he used a program to help us analyze the data we got.”

Holmes and Rinaldo's study revealed that the town has 2,238 jobs at more than 135 establishments. The data also pointed out that the top five business groupings were service industries, retail, accommodation, health care and construction.

Holmes said the “elephant in the room” is that Rumford has one manufacturer with more than 500 jobs.

“That's 20 percent of your workforce in one place,” he said. “If something were to happen to that manufacturer, it would be catastrophic. That's why we're trying to figure how we can get other businesses to come in and lift some of that weight," he said.

“The question of the day is the following: How do we absorb a decreasing number of manufacturing opportunities into the local economy, and what industries do we need to attract?” he said.

Holmes pointed out that a 2009 analysis by the Greater Franklin Development Corp. that included Rumford concluded there are four types of industries that would fit within Rumford's community: call centers, accommodations, which includes hotels and recreation projects, manufacturing and energy.

“The study basically says that those four things are the things that the people in the Rumford area would be good at, based on their current skill sets,” Holmes said. “I can tell you that three of the four things on that list are currently being worked on, whether it's me or Mr. Rinaldo.”

Rinaldo specifically focused his efforts on bringing accommodations to Rumford.

“We've been working a lot on bike trails, kayaking and boating in the river,” Rinaldo said. “As most of you know, we've been working extensively on trying to bring zip lines to town. A lot of people may say, 'What good are these kinds of things?'

“I recently looked at the Wiscasset zip line company, Monkey C Monkey Do, and saw that in the first few years, they had 100,000 people go through their zip lines. I checked Wiscassat's traffic count and found that they had 18,000 cars per day," he said. "Our traffic count is about 60 percent of what theirs is. Taking that formula, in three years, if we had zip lines up and running, we're looking at 60,000 extra people coming through our town and checking out our zip lines."

Rinaldo said, “Of course, our idea is that they don't just come to ride on the zip  lines and leave later that day. We want to put package deals together so that they end up staying for a couple of days, staying in our hotels, checking out or restaurants and stores.”

Rinaldo said he is still trying to bring a hotel to Rumford.

“We've been trying for quite some time and, while it hasn't come to fruition yet, it doesn't mean we're going to stop,” he said. “We need to get recreation here.”

Following the presentation, Holmes said the next step for the town would be to “put together a work plan to put these findings into action.

“We need to figure out what companies we should be calling, what training we should be looking to provide to prepare our residents for certain companies and identify our local partners,” he said.

“I'd like to hold local community meetings, so when I come back to provide new information, I can receive input on what we're doing and what the community wants," he said.

“This is about the community being able to say, 'No, we're not interested in doing this,'” Holmes said. “This is perspective planning instead of reactive planning. We can't afford to invite a business and then have major pushback from the community.”

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Brad Gallant's picture

Another step

Another step in the right direction would be for someone to write a HUD grant on behalf of the Town to remove dilapidated buildings. From Hancock Street to Falmouth Street there are dozens of buildings in which we could use the grant to tear down and, if enough were taken down, we could actually create business district that would be used, dog-walking-park, community playground, etc. Most, if not all, of which could be funded through grant money.

Phil Blampied's picture


One of the urgent tasks for the town is to fight blight. You are right on in terms of how the land could be re-used. The town actually has a fund to remove dilapidated buildings. The town actually owns several unsalvageable, unsafe buildings, but has not applied its available funds to remove the dilapidated buildings that of which it, itself, is actually the owner.

So the money is there, the ownership needed is there. All that's required is a leadership competent enough to do what needs to be done. We lack that.

As far as HUD grants, I am the only one who has been writing and winning HUD grants, also known as CDBG grants, for the town. I wrote and won grants with a dollar value of $550,000 for housing rehabilitation. My fee for both grants, total $550k, was $600. I did the first grant, $250k for free, I charged $8 an hour for the second grant to make a point because I was tired of seeing everyone at the feeding trough and charged that barely minimum wage rate just to make the point that perhaps town government shouldn't be seen as a place where people go to cash in.

In any case, the CDBG program is more for rehab, not demolition. There have been some programs that have come and gone within the federal universe for removal of blighted buildings. A competent leadership could have identified and gone for those, but there is no one within the current bunch capable of that. If you push them to go in that direction, the next thing they'll do is call MMA and get some consultant from Portland who will charge the town $15,000 to do the application, as they did with the hotel study, the TIF districts and all other tasks that require an ability to type more than 10 words per minute. They spend the New York City level money, then they get the results and do nothing with it.

If the town isn't to be hollowed out and die, we urgently need new leadership.

Richard Greene's picture

Kudos to Mr. Rinaldo and Mr. Homes for their hard work.

Sounds like a thorough study to give the town a solid inventory of what's here for business and a clear direction to give us our best shot as developing successful business.

Phil Blampied's picture

Easy first economic development step

The town has an entire business park development lying unused. The current board and town manager have, by their actions, deliberately made choices that cause this potential source of new business and new jobs to lie unused and useless.

Very easy first step: list the lots in the park with local real estate agents. Cost to town: nothing unless the lots are sold. Why hasn't this been done? What possible agenda could there be in keeping these lots off the market?

It's the least that can be done, but true, just listing the lots in this market will probably not bring quick results.

Here's how to bring quick results: GIVE the lots to any developer who promises to put a commercial or industrial building on the lot with a certain time (6 months? A year?) Guarantee the deal by requiring a $1000 bond which the developer loses unless they follow through as promised.

The lots, even though given away, would immediately start generating cash for the town because they would go back on the tax rolls. The developer would become an unpaid sales agent for economic development in town because he/she would begin trying to find a tenant for the new building.

This is such an obvious thing to do. Why hasn't it been done? One selectperson explained to me: "well, you can't just give a lot to one person and not another."
This is the level of thinking of the current board, as has emerged in many bad decisions recently. We need new faces on this board come June. Urgently.


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