JAY — When communities try to recreate the past after the loss of a longtime, major employer, it doesn’t work, Frank O’Hara told local chamber of commerce members Tuesday.
O’Hara, of Hallowell, specializes in strategic planning and is vice president of Planning Decisions Inc. He was a guest speaker at a special meeting of the Jay, Livermore, Livermore Falls Chamber of Commerce hosted at Verso Paper’s Androscoggin Mill.
“We sometimes think things don’t change but they do,” he said, as he told a story about his son who came back home for a visit and said nothing changed.
It had, O’Hara said, but most of it was behind the scenes.
The area has lost major employers in the last decade and recently lost Wausau Paper, which permanently closed its Otis Mill. More than 200 jobs were lost there.
There needs to be job replacement and creation of jobs that beat the rate of job losses, he said.
“The key is to work on the growth rate,” O’Hara said.
“You need to think about where the money is going to be spent in five years,” he said. You need to understand where the new markets will be going up and position yourself to catch the wind, he said.
You need to try to think ahead of where the economy is going to figure out where you are going, O’Hara said.
You need to think about who are the entrepreneurs going to be in five years, he said.
“You can have great plans but you to have places that attract those people to live here,” he said.
O’Hara told success stories of the redevelopment of Bucksport, Rockland and Gardiner, all old towns that diversified and reoriented into attractive and sought after places to live and operate businesses.
Though they had some advantages of location of waterfront, interstate and donor support over this area, he said, there are things you have that they don’t have.
“You have the Androscoggin River, Norlands, festivals, lakes, Verso Paper and Route 4 that goes up through the communities to tourist attractions such as the mountains, and ski areas,” he said. “You have a lot of tools, organizations and civic spirit. You also have inexpensive housing and commercial space … You have a lot of things to build on.”
He also suggested to think regionally, and not just the tri-town area.
There are not enough resources to be fighting each other over businesses, he said.
O’Hara also recommended the chamber have representation on Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments’ Mobilize Maine project and to replicate that process internally within the chamber.
Think about widening the net, O’Hara said, to include young people, high school students and entrepreneurs.
Find ways to attract people to the area and keep those who are here, here, he said.
“You have to pay attention to the businesses that are here,” he said, and find out what it would take for them to hire five more people.
He suggested chamber members take turns filling vacant store windows with posters advertising businesses in the area and what the towns have to offer.
“You celebrate your past but you look to the future,” he said. “You need something that when you cross that bridge that says ‘I want to stop here.'”

Frank O’Hara, who specializes in strategic planning, spoke at a special meeting Tuesday of the Jay, Livermore, Livermore Falls Chamber of Commerce held at Verso Paper in Jay. 

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