LEWISTON – George Robertson’s economic vision is one of street musicians on every corner in Lewiston-Auburn, trendy nightclubs with lines out the door and ethnic restaurants.

To plan for the future, Robertson says, “we have to look at the community through the eyes of a 20-year-old.”

His presentation, “Future Trending for Economic Development,” kicked off the Western Maine Economic Summit held Thursday at Lewiston-Auburn College.

The event, hosted by the Androscoggin Valley of Council of Governments, focused on economic development and workforce issues.

“The purpose of (my speech) is to make you feel uncomfortable, to make you rethink your assumptions and take a new look at tomorrow,” said Robertson, of the Schenectady (New York) Economic Development Corp.

Schenectady, like Lewiston-Auburn, he said, was once a manufacturing center forced in recent years to reinvent in its economy. Attracting young, creative people is one of the best ways to grow a community, Robertson said in a speech that was more pep talk than seminar.

Much of his presentation focused on the high-speed pace of the 21st-century economy. In addition to luring stimulating and diverse people to Lewiston-Auburn, he urged city leaders to stay atop the latest in technological infrastructuring. In a “global economy,” he said, businesses require snappy computer and telephone connections.

“You have to ask yourself, ‘Is my workforce and infrastructure world class.'”

Improving the area aesthetically would also be important, he said.

“If you look tired you’re going to die,” Robertson said.

Colorful storefronts, greenways, parks and seamless streets and sidewalks are essential to attracting youth to a community, he said.

Robertson’s presentation was the first of four talks at the economic summit that included a keynote address by Gov. John Baldacci.

“What I’m excited about is the fact that people are working together,” Baldacci said, during a 15-minute speech preceding dinner.

Approaching 100 days on the job, the governor asked local business, nonprofit and government leaders to send out a message, repeated many times since his inaugural address: “Maine is open for business.”

Baldacci expressed excitement about the recent state budget agreement, and he rallied support for a $60 million bond issue that will go before voters in June.

The issue includes $20 million for a biomedical research fund and $17 million for other research and development initiatives, among other proposals.

“You have got to have the money in research and development,” Baldacci said, for the private and public sectors “collaborating to create the new opportunities.”

This push is one of the keys, Baldacci said, to the type of future that Robertson talked about. Giving young people the options and incentives to stay in Maine is a priority, Baldacci said.

“We don’t have all the money in the world,” he said, “but we have the values, principles, the family, the community,” unlike any other state.

Thursday’s event also featured AVCOG’s annual spring award ceremony. Central Maine Technical College, the State Department of Economic and Community Development and Advanced MicroSystems were winners of the President’s Award for their partnerships in a Internet incubator project for area businesses.

The Environmental Achievement award went to the city of Lewiston’s Public Works Department.


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