Maine’s second largest community, Lewiston-Auburn, has grown in prominence to become one of the state’s most important economic centers and transportation hubs. Despite an economic slowdown that has gripped the country, a number of vibrant projects have been completed or are slated to begin soon, including two new hotels (a proposed Marriott Courtyard and Residence Inn), expansions at a number of local companies, a thriving restaurant scene that rivals most Maine communities in quality and variety, and Lufthansa’s aircraft restoration project at the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport featured in a recent front-page Wall Street Journal article describing a vintage 1950s-era Lockheed Super Constellation Starliner.

Lewiston-Auburn has come a long way from its days as a struggling textile and shoe community. When the nationally renowned Brookings Institution announced its anticipated “Charting Maine’s Future” report at various regional meetings, it called Lewiston-Auburn “one of the most striking placesin the United States” for its redevelopment activity.

As a community, Lewiston-Auburn led the state in economic development expansions and investments multiple times over the past decade, according to the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development. Among major recent development projects include the state’s first ethanol fuel terminal operated by Safe Handling Inc.; a 900,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Food Distribution Center; a $24 million campus expansion at Bates College; a multi-million dollar ongoing renovation project at the Bates Mill Complex; and a spate of restaurants and retail stores, including Kohl’s, Lowe’s, and Best Buy. The Auburn Industrial Park saw its first project with developer Gendron & Gendron, which completed a 100,000-square-foot distribution center for Bisson Transportation in 2008.

Two new cultural venues have also sprung to life in downtown Lewiston, including Museum L-A, focused on labor and industry, and Gallery 5, an art gallery celebrating local, regional, and statewide artists.

Besides attracting millions of dollars in new investment, L-A has also attracted national praise, including the Boston Globe, which reported on the area’s creative and cultural renaissance. Inc. magazine has ranked L-A among the top small metro areas in the country for doing business, while KPMG International has recognized L-A’s alluring business climate, with a ranking as the 5th-best area in New England and Atlantic Canada in a cost competitiveness study. The study, gauging the cost of starting and maintaining a business, concluded land costs were the fourth lowest of 86 cities studied.

Lewiston was also recently designated a 2007 All-America City by the National Civic League. Lewiston is the first Maine city in 40 years to earn the distinction of All-America City, last obtained by Auburn in 1967.

Over the past 30 years, L-A has steadily created a diversified economy, transitioning from textile and traditional manufacturing to robust sectors such as health care, high-precision manufacturing, distribution/logistics, financial services, and business services. The area’s health care industry is among the largest in the state, as more people in L-A are employed in a health care-related field than in any other field.

Many large and successful manufacturers also operate in the Twin Cities, including Tambrands (a Proctor and Gamble company), GE, Elmet Technologies, Panolam, Formed Fiber Technologies, and LePage Bakeries. Together with Portland and South Portland, L-A was recently ranked the strongest manufacturing area in New England, according to Business Facilities magazine, an economic development trade publication.

The area’s central location is a major selling point, as nearly half the state’s population is located within 30 miles of L-A. Lewiston-Auburn’s strategic location is enhanced by two turnpike exits with direct access to I-95, a municipal airport, and a double-stack rail-to-truck intermodal facility operated by St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad.

Part of Auburn was also designated a Foreign Trade Zone by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Auburn’s Foreign Trade Zone designation benefits qualifying companies that conduct international trade by eliminating, reducing, or deferring the payment of tariffs on products or raw materials.

One sign of the area’s renaissance is in retail growth, including a cavalcade of restaurants. More than a dozen new eateries have opened in recent months, with choices ranging from trendy cuisine at places like Fish Bones American Grill, Fuel, and Gritty’s Brew Pub, to big-box options at Longhorn Steakhouse, Ruby Tuesday’s, and TGI Fridays.

The area’s four colleges have experienced robust growth as well. L-A College has completed a new 14,000-square-foot, $2.5 million learning center. The facility houses research and grant-writing efforts for College for ME Androscoggin, an effort to encourage Androscoggin County residents to pursue college degrees and lifelong learning opportunities.

Bates College recently opened a $30 million dining hall focused on eco-friendly efficiency and design, as well as a new dorm and walking path. Andover College, the freshman among L-A institutions of higher learning, has already expanded across the street from its Lisbon Street location to occupy a second campus building. Central Maine Community College is completing a new residence hall for more than 150 students. The first on-campus housing project since 1975, the 27,000-square-foot building on CMCC’s campus will house a function room on the fourth floor overlooking Lake Auburn.

The Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council and the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce, along with a number of business service providers, are housed in a new Business Service Center at 415 Lisbon Street. The $2.5 million project involved the renovation of a historic building on the National Register of Historic Places. The site boasts a state-of-the-art community conference room for seminars, meetings and presentations.

A number of arts venues are alive and well in L-A. The Public Theatre is in the midst of a capital campaign that has allowed reconstruction of the lobby and ticketing area, concessions and rest rooms. Renovations have continued at the magnificent Franco American Heritage Center which recently acquired a Steinway Concert Grande Piano, which resonates and lingers beautifully in the plush-seated former church.

The Maple Room is a unique, 80-seat concert venue that showcases some of the world’s hottest singer/songwriters including Peter Mulvey, Livingston Taylor, Peter Mayer, Kelly Joe Phelps, The California Guitar Trio, and Sara Cox. She Doesn’t Like Guthrie’s is a hip new café that features live folk, blues, and indie-rock bands several nights a week.

It’s not simply economics that now redefine L-A, but quality of life. In a comprehensive listing of communities and how they stack up in terms of various quality of life amenities, Lewiston-Auburn was ranked the 31st healthiest community in the country. That assessment was made by the editors of Business Development Outlook, an economic development trade publication, which ranked metro areas in a number of categories including housing, climate, health care, transportation, education and other criteria.

One example of the area’s gems: the Androscoggin River. In March 2007, the Androscoggin Land Trust purchased 14.3 acres from the city of Lewiston for the new Androscoggin River Preserve. The preserve is located off Route 202 and is accessible from Tall Pines Drive. Wide trails shaded by mature pine and hemlock lead to two sand beaches and scenic views of the river, Deer Rips Dam, and Auburn farmland.

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