I served as executive director of the Lewiston Auburn Economic Growth Council at the time the cities of Lewiston and Auburn, the Lewiston Development Corp. and the Auburn Business Development Corp. chose to join forces in an effort to diversify and strengthen the tax base and to create new and better job opportunities for the area’s young and underemployed. Support for the plan was overwhelming. The two city councils and the boards of directors of the two development companies fully supported the concept, recognizing the value of job retention and creation for all citizens of the two cities and the opportunity to market our communities as a single economic district.

A few years before the Growth Council was formed, studies indicated that nearly 60 percent of the Auburn and Lewiston work force were employed in the leather and textile industry. Now, partly because of the Growth Council’s effort, less than 10 percent of the work force are employed in those industries.

Now, 35 years later, I read with great concern that Auburn’s city manager is not budgeting the city’s 2016 share of the Growth Council budget, some $160,000 — less than .02 percent the city’s total budget. At the time the Council was created, the thought was that both cities would benefit when a job was created or retained and that people who live in Auburn and work in Lewiston, and vice versa, benefit from those new and retained jobs. If the Auburn City Manager was able to count the number of workers traveling back and forth across the four bridges that link our cities, he would probably find that a similar number traveling from Lewiston to Auburn and likewise from Auburn to Lewiston.

If Auburn chooses not to fund its portion of the Growth Council, then the mayor and council must present an alternative to the Growth Council and the cost of that alternative.

It is not like the city manager can look at a staff member and say, “You are our economic development person. You will be the person who will create a marketing program for the city; the person who will help troubled companies in an effort to retain the jobs that company has. You will deal with investors, developers, commercial and industrial realtors, and lead the city when dealing with important issues such as higher education at UMLA and CMCC; and projects like the Great Falls Hydro facility, the Auburn Lewiston Airport Industrial Park, access roads from industrial areas of both cities to the Maine Turnpike; and all issues dealt with by the Growth Council.”

In effect, the city manager is betting that Auburn, on its own, can do a better job than the Growth Council and that, in and of itself, is of great concern to me. As a graduate of the Certified Industrial Development Course at the University of Oklahoma, I not only learned a great deal from the instructors, but also from economic development professionals from all parts of the United States. City employees with little or no training and with little or no business experience will not keep Auburn competitive when dealing with expanding companies.

Finally, there apparently are issues that have resulted in Auburn considering such a drastic move.

I am concerned that my city is jumping over dollar bills in an effort to save quarters. All four entities have representation on the Growth Council board. If they cannot correct those problems, they should be replaced.

It is estimated that 22 percent of Maine’s young people leave the state seeking new and better job opportunities. I am astonished that the Auburn City Manager cannot justify spending .02 percent of its budget in an effort to keep our best and brightest people here.

John Turner of Auburn is a former executive director of the Lewiston Auburn Economic Growth Council.


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