OXFORD — Business is good in Oxford. Real good.

While surrounding towns in Oxford Hills are still struggling to climb out of the hole left from the Great Recession of 2008, Oxford has seen an uptick in economic development for a few years now.

“When we went into the recession, a lot of towns had to raise mill rates or cut services,” Oxford Town Manager Michael Chammings said. “We pretty much kept our tax rate flat and kept the same services.”

Oxford Hills Chamber of Commerce Executive Director John Williams agreed that the economy for most of Oxford Hills is still struggling, especially for small businesses.

“But it doesn’t mean we’re not forward-looking from the perspective that we’re out there actively engaged in talking with potential companies that might have an interest in coming to this area,” he said.

Forward-thinking is what landed Oxford its casino in 2012, Chammings said. It has, for the most part, been the center of economic growth for the town.


“Obviously, it helped us economically,” Chammings said. “I consider it the ‘anchor store in a mall’ kind of deal. We knew we were going to have accelerated growth. We didn’t expect it to be a boom growth, which is good because we can handle it.”

He said the casino is in a Tax Increment Financing district, which is a tax shelter. The casino taxes pay for the town’s infrastructure, mainly the sewer and water systems. This includes the $24 million wastewater treatment facility and the expanded sewer lines being installed along Route 26.

“The sewer and water on (Route) 26 are what’s allowing for these other businesses to come in,” Chammings said. He pointed out that the Hampton Inn has an opening date that coincides with the Oxford wastewater treatment facility’s launch, anticipated for next spring. This saves the hotel millions of dollars by not having to build its own treatment facility, he said.

Williams believes the casino serves as the catalyst for growth in the area. He said there’s talk of a Best Western hotel coming into town.

“I think there’s no question there’s going to continue to be development up there in and around the casino and certainly Oxford is gong to benefit tremendously from that,” he said.

Chammings and Williams point to the opening of Applebee’s — and now Aroma Joe’s — in Oxford as a direct result of the casino. The coffee shop and drive-thru should be open this month, Williams said. And there’s more lining up.


“We’ve got more restaurant activity associated with the casino,” Williams said, declining to name any franchises that may want to come to the area. “There’s another restaurant that’s interested in coming in that will be adjacent to the Hampton Inn hotel at the top of the hill.”

He said there’s also been some discussion of what he calls a convention center being built up in that area, but not necessarily next to the casino. Williams said this facility could be host to corporate meetings, concerts and a meeting place for large groups of people, which he said is desperately needed in the area.

“Which is great because you’re seeing some of the secondary jobs and businesses come in to be in the service center of Oxford,” Chammings said.

And Williams said the economic boon for Oxford has a positive ripple effect on Oxford Hills.

“When you see these new restaurants coming in and these coffee shops and that type of thing, it enables people to stay” instead of driving to Lewiston or Auburn for dinner, Williams said. “It enables people to take advantage of what we have here. And that is a benefit, no question, to the small-business environment we have here.”

Chammings cited a couple of other businesses in town that have been successful and didn’t move to Oxford because of the casino.


“Places like MGA (Cast Stone) and Grover Gun Drilling, they could care less about the casino,” he said. “It’s not relative to their business, but we do have a good business environment in Oxford. Our mill rate is low and steady” and “lower than any town that abuts us in the service centers by far.”

MGA Cast Stone opened its doors in Oxford in 2010, moving 30 miles north from New Gloucester. The family-run business specializes in precast architectural elements that decorate a variety of buildings, along with full wall panels, sills and lintels in windows and the like.

According to CEO Greg Hamann, an owner of the company, it made economic sense to move the business to Oxford.

Oxford was struggling economically even before the recession hit, Chammings said, after Robinson Mill shuttered in 2004 and then in 2008, Burlington Homes closed its doors, with roughly 1,000 people losing their jobs. 

“We came because it was an area that was economically hit hard, and it was affordable for us to bring our business here,” Hamann said.

When MGA Cast Stone arrived in Oxford, the company had six employees. Within the first 16 months of operations, the number of employees had grown to 26. Now, that number hovers around 50.


“We’ve grown quickly,” Hamann said. “It’s been a good area for us. There’s a good workforce to pull from. It’s been advantageous because it’s also a Pine Tree Zone for the state of Maine. It’s allowed us to have some tax benefits of free capital to go back into the business to be able to continue to grow the business.”

He said the town has been excellent to work with and has supported the business along the way.

Hamann said that besides the casino, MGA Cast Stone is one of the fastest-growing businesses in the area. He said his company receives about 10 job applications a day and they pay slightly above the industry average.

“We want to retain good employees,” he said. “But it’s a competitive marketplace.”

In addition to making architectural elements for buildings such as Martin’s Point Health Care in Portland, MaineGeneral hospital in Augusta, Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., and Park Plaza Hotel in Boston, MGA has cast a larger net in other services and products it now offers, including recycled glass and concrete.

“As we’ve expanded, we’ve had opportunities to pursue other … channels as part of the growth to diversify ourselves,” Hamann said.


He pointed MGA’s choice to expand their market up and down the East Coast and as far west as Ohio and Michigan. This helps because these areas have longer construction seasons than the Northeast.

“It’s how you stay in business,” Hamann said, laughing.

The town manager credits the Board of Selectmen for being progressive and looking to the future, along with a well-organized Planning Board, Code Enforcement Department and Economic Planning Committee.

Chammings and selectmen worked a long time developing the TIF zone and other tax shelters to help encourage people to do business in Oxford.

“We haven’t been designated by the state as business friendly, because we haven’t turned it in, but we were business friendly before they started business friendly,” Chammings said. It’s coming to fruitition “six, seven years later. … That’s why we get a lot of people coming in.”

He noted that Tractor Supply Co. and Aaron’s rental business set up shop in town because of the environment.

As he looks to the future, Chammings said he is confident economic growth will continue in Oxford.

“You’re going to see continued people buying the property on (Route) 26,” he said. “The sewer system, it’s hard to explain how important it is to economic development, but it’s part of the infrastructure — if you don’t have (it), then quite frankly, a lot of the businesses won’t be there.”

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