A Brief Introductory Message to LA Maine

LEWISTON — In his first week on the job, the new president of the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council said he wants to get to know the business community here, take stock of its assets and see growth, starting from within.

“Traditionally, economic development was attracting new business; building business parks and attracting new business,” said John Holden, 50. “But as important — if not even more important — is focus on helping expand and retain your current businesses.”

He’s taking over from longtime President Lucien Gosselin and Holden is aware that eyes in Lewiston and Auburn are on him. Over the next six months, he’ll work with the council on a new, long-term economic development strategy for the Twin Cities.

“Job growth will be one key, measurable outcome of the strategy, as will creating wealth — it’s not a bad thing,” he said.

Holden most recently spent two years as Rockland’s community economic development director.

Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Holden took part in a summer internship in college building trails at Baxter State Park, his first introduction to Maine in the 1980s. He eventually went to graduate school at the University of Maine to study resource economics and policy, staying on to work for what’s now UMaine’s School of Economics.

One of his first projects, Holden said, was an analysis of the potential impact of a casino in Calais, long before the state had casinos.

In another job as managing director of business retention and expansion for the Ohio State University Extension, he said he learned the importance of supporting what you already have.

“The majority of job growth anyplace comes from existing businesses,” Holden said. “If you grow them, you will retain them — they’re not thinking of going somewhere else.”

Locally, that means meeting lots of companies and hearing what people need to expand or reach new markets in order to connect them with programs and efforts that might help.

“I’ve got to learn the community,” Holden said. “You don’t become a sales force but you become an adjunct ambassador and you can only do that by knowing the business community.”

The process of starting to define the new economic development strategy will start in the next few weeks. He hopes to have community meetings in March or April and have something to show both city councils this summer. He envisions working with community and arts groups.

Holden is married and lives in Belfast. He has a daughter who attends the University of Maine. He plans to move to this area in the next six to nine months.

“I’m hoping to help craft this strategy, implement it and be here for the long haul,” he said.

LAEGC is a “great example” of two communities working together, and the area has a lot of infrastructure and assets going for it, Holden said.

“It’s a very diverse, rich economic base, from distribution to manufacturing to small business and retail,” Holden said. “LA is one marketplace with no slash and no dash; it’s one marketplace, one economy.” 

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