BRIDGTON — The formation of a young professionals group will lay the foundation for future growth in Bridgton, according to the town’s community and economic development director, Alan Manoian.
“We need to create and develop a place where young people say ‘I don’t need to leave this town,’” Manoian said.
To do this, Manoian gathered a large group together last month, ages 18 to 40, from Bridgton and the surrounding area to discuss the formation of a young professionals group. About 40 people, including current town officials and other town and business leaders, showed up for the first meeting.
“This will be at the very core of our economic strategy,” Manoian said. Bridgton is the last area in the state to form a young professionals group, he noted. Other groups such as in the Norway-Paris area have been ongoing.
Manoian, who has served as director for about a year, said there is a real need to convince young people to be the next leaders of the town, to develop ways to keep young people in town and attract sustainable jobs to the area.
“We need to start grooming young people to be our future leaders,” Manoian said recently. “It’s about job creation, the emerging industries, the green industries. The bottom line is the need is evident. We need an abundant and young labor market,” he said.
Manoian said the surprising fact is Bridgton’s commuting labor force is not coming so much from the Route 302 south area but from the Norway-South Paris area.
“Folks think our economic line is 302 south. This is not the case,” Manoian said. “Our labor force is between Norway and South Paris, the Oxford Hills and the Lewiston area. That’s what we’re cultivating,” he said.
But while young people are commuting to Bridgton to work, many young residents are leaving for higher paying jobs in cities such as Portland.
“We lose our young people from here. It’s our deficiency when all is said and done. You need young skilled professional people,” he said.
Local young people have jumped on board with the idea.
“Our goal is to improve the town of Bridgton. We want our local businesses to succeed and be able to be open year round so residents can shop (here) year round,” said 28-year-old Sarah Lowell DeKubber, a cosmetologist and owner of Running With Scissors hair salon in downtown Bridgton.
A lifelong resident, she left the area briefly, but returned to work in Bridgton.
“I had a good opportunity in the Old Port, but I knew I wanted to come back here,” said DeKubber of her job apprenticing at a salon in Portland.
DeKubber is one of dozens of young professionals who have become involved in Manoian’s vision.
Justin McIver, 27, co-owner of DM Electric and owner of Maine Eco Homes, graduated from Fryeburg Academy, continued to Colby College for four years where he earned a business degree before being offered a job in Nashua, N.H.
“I was torn between going there and coming back here,” he said. Although he could have gone to the city and made more money, he said he chose to work with his father’s electrical company.
“I would not have come back it it weren’t for my father,” McIver acknowledged. “That’s the gap. That’s what really missing, more jobs.”
McIver said sustainable growth is the key to bringing young people and the right jobs back to Bridgton.
“It’s hard,” he said. “It is a challenge. I have friends off in college now who say I want to go back (to Bridgton) but they’re making too much money away.”
So what is the answer?
Manoian said the town must shape and create the type of place Bridgton needs and to do that, young people have to begin to take their place in the community.
“We hope to see young people run for selectmen and Planning Board to start truly planning for the future,” he said.
“’Don’t wait for the older generation. It’s your time now,’” Manoian said he told the young people at the meeting.
“Young professionals are the future leaders. We want to attract young skilled and educated laborers. We’re looking to bring new prosperity to Bridgton,” McIver said. “We have to get the high tech industries here. We have to get the jobs here. We hope to promote starting new businesses.”
Manoian said he sees the formation of the young professionals group as a crossroads in Bridgton.
“People are getting fired up,” McIver said.” I believe it’s the hottest place around.”