AUBURN — Mayor Jason Levesque wants people outside Auburn to know what the city has to offer. He also wants people to know that Auburn is really close to Portland.
“It’s one of the reasons that I ran,” Levesque said Wednesday, after spending a few hours at his office at Auburn Hall, where he goes a few days a week. “We have an amazing set of assets that people outside Auburn don’t know about.”
During the first City Council meeting of the new year, Levesque plans to make good on a few promises he made about a month ago during his inauguration.
On Jan. 8, he plans to announce the formation of an economic-advisory committee that will work to create a branding campaign for the city, which he said will “continue the work” Auburn has already been doing to raise its profile in southern Maine.
He said the committee will include the “best and brightest” from the private sector, as well as business people who he described as having a “vested interest” in Auburn, but do not necessarily live in the city. That could mean real estate agents or marketing professionals. Levesque, owner of Argo Marketing in Lewiston, said when he brings business colleagues to Lewiston-Auburn from elsewhere in the state or country, most of them are surprised by what Auburn has.
During his inaugural address, he told the audience multiple times that he wants Auburn to be recognized “throughout the Northeast.”
On Wednesday, he quickly rattled off a few reasons why.
The list, he said, includes a ski mountain, three golf courses, an indoor turf facility, an ice arena with two rinks, shopping, restaurants, a downtown “and more land and agricultural conservation than the entire city of Portland has land.”
“If you throw in that our housing costs are 30 percent less than Cumberland County, I think you have a pretty good motivation” for people to move here, he said.
The economic advisory committee is also something Levesque wants to move quickly. He would like the committee to have a plan in place in 90 days, heading into spring.
He also said he is hoping the committee can formulate something that the City Council, city staff and the businesses and residents of Auburn can “all get behind.”
City Manager Peter Crichton said Wednesday that he has talked with Levesque about bolstering Auburn’s brand since the election.
Levesque beat challenger Adam Lee by six votes on Nov. 7, and a recount on Nov. 21 confirmed a 12-vote victory. On Dec. 3, he was handed the reigns by outgoing three-term Mayor Jonathan LaBonte.
Crichton said he agrees that the city needs to find “more ways to get the message out” that Auburn is a great place to live. Both he and Levesque said Wednesday that population growth and economic development work hand-in-hand.
Prior to being hired in Auburn late last year, Crichton spent 18 years as the county manager for Cumberland County, which makes him familiar with the dynamic or Auburn’s reputation – or lack of one – in southern Maine.
“I think there’s something about New Englanders,” he said. “We don’t toot our horn enough.”
Lately, he said, the city has begun producing an online “Auburn Connections” newsletter, with updates from his office as well as other departments. He also gave a nod to Liz Allen, the city’s communications manager, for work she has tackled in getting good news stories to the public.
He said he believes Auburn has some positive momentum going with separate studies moving ahead to look at the agricultural zone and sports tourism, as well as the announcement of a new junior hockey club at Norway Savings Bank Arena.
“One of my goals is to make Auburn one of the best small cities in America,” he said.
At the end of January, Levesque also plans to roll out a task force to come up with a unified strategic plan, or work plan, for officials to follow over the next five years.
He said over the years, the city has accumulated a number of plans and studies, and that it needs to take an inventory and look at the results so far.
“Are we falling short or are we not?” he said. “Let’s combine everything and make that the guiding document for city staff as well as this City Council and future councils to execute.”
Levesque said he would like the task force to consist of city staff and private individuals, much like the economic advisory committee.
On Wednesday, Levesque came back to the proximity involved in pitching Auburn as a greater Portland suburb.
When the branding campaign comes together, he said, he is hoping to get input from real estate agents about what people are seeking in southern Maine.
“Auburn should be the northernmost suburb of Portland, and there’s nothing wrong with being that,” he said. “It’s about shrinking the psychological space between Portland and Auburn.”
Jason Levesque watches the mayoral election recount at Auburn Hall in November. Following his inauguration, Levesque is moving ahead with plans for a city branding campaign.
Outgoing Mayor Jonathan LaBonte, right, presented his successor, Jason Levesque, with an oversized gavel prior to Levesque being sworn into office during Auburn’s inaugural ceremony Dec. 3. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)