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.
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.”