In 2017, the Center launched a new program to help Northern Forest towns regain the vibrancy that makes communities attractive places to live, work and raise a family. Our targeted approach builds on the Center’s 20 years of regional leadership and investment in the region’s forest economy to build economic and community vitality.
Addressing steady population loss—especially of residents between 25 and 45 years old—is a fundamental challenge for the region. This age group brings energy to start new businesses and participate in civic leadership, and their children bring schools to life. Attracting and retaining younger people requires investments in community that satisfy their personal, family and professional needs, including affordable access to high-speed internet, good schools and hospitals, social opportunities, outdoor recreation, and quality housing.
Community economic development is long-term work, and needs often exceed what local organizations and volunteers can accomplish alone. Center staff use their skills and experience in community development, the forest economy, and other arenas to increase the power of small towns to get things done and move closer to their goals.
The strength of our local partnerships comes from combining residents’ local knowledge, history, and vision with the Center’s regional perspective, skills and resources. Working together creates energy, momentum, and tangible community results.
The Center is currently focusing in three targeted areas to test different approaches to revitalization.
In Lancaster, NH, a 3,500-person town on the Connecticut River in northern New Hampshire, we’ve been working with an advisory group to identify projects where Center staff and expertise can add to local resources to deliver results. Over the past year, the Center has:
- Invested in local energy savings: Helped create and secure funding for a new community energy program to conduct energy audits and offer home improvement support. Advanced Automated Wood Heat: Secured funding to help install a commercial wood-pellet boiler to heat the local movie theater.
- Invested in business development: Provided in-person and online training for local business owners to help them improve their internet marketing presence.
- Promoted local recreation: Created a new brochure to promote Lancaster’s easy access to hiking, swimming, biking, fishing and other outdoor activities for visitors and local audiences.
- Provided coordinated technical assistance: We are currently helping develop a plan for improvements to public infrastructure, supporting stronger business coordination and communication, and creating partnerships with non-profits to advance other priority projects in the community.
Adding our organizational skills to Lancaster’s own, sharing ideas, and leveraging new resources into the community have secured clear benefits that help make the town more vibrant and more attractive to potential new residents.
Read about Lancaster’s broader effort to revive its Main Street and attract young residents.
The Center is working in Bethel, Rumford, South Paris and Norway, Maine—communities ranging in population from 2,200 to 5,800 residents each—to build new opportunities in the forest economy and enhance community well-being. Over the past year, the Center has:
- Advanced high-speed internet expansion: Secured a $78,000 grant from the Connect ME Authority, to support broadband expansion across 27 communities in western Maine.
- Promoted a new Community Forest: Launched an effort to establish a new Community Forest in Bethel and are facilitating a citizen planning committee that is deciding how the property will be used and managed.
- Invested in wood products: Provided technical assistance to wood product manufacturers and partnered with companies related to wood pellet heat to create quality jobs, source local wood and retain dollars in the community.
- Provided regional coordination: Convened and facilitated Maine West, a collaborative composed of diverse non-profit partners implementing projects to secure economic, education, health and conservation benefits.
Maine West is focused on several aspects of overall community well-being. The collaborative launched the Second Nature Adventure Challenge to introduce residents to the outdoors and promote health, quality of life, and exercise; implemented a state-sponsored broadband planning process to thoughtfully expand coverage in the region; and convened multiple school district administrators to explore opportunities to strengthen links between schools, businesses, and communities, with the goal of helping students aspire to education excellence.
The work of the Maine West collaborative is strengthened by robust community engagement across the various projects and long-term support by the Betterment Fund.
In 2017, the Center began investing deeply in Millinocket, a former mill town in central Maine. The closure of its paper mill in 2008 brought population and economic decline to the town, but the last two years have put Millinocket on the upswing. Thanks to significant private investment in recreation amenities and area businesses, new ownership of the former mill site, a new national monument, and increasing leadership by a new generation of entrepreneurs and other residents, there is increasing promise for the “Magic City.”
To help Millinocket make the most of its new opportunities, the Center has:
- Expanded internet access: Provided seed funding and secured wider financial support to install a WiFi hotspot on Penobscot Avenue, Millinocket’s main street, to provide internet access to visitors and residents in an area not covered by all cellular carriers.
- Invested in tourism-related businesses: Provided digital marketing training for 20 small tourism-related businesses in the Katahdin region, helping to connect them to visitors relying on cell phones and other mobile devices for information.
- Advanced Automated Wood Heat: Created an incentive program to help home and business owners convert to high-efficiency wood pellet stoves or whole-home wood boilers so they can use locally sourced wood pellet heat instead of oil. A dozen more Katahdin area families are now comfortably heating with wood.
- Improved the quality of downtown housing: Launched the Millinocket Housing Initiative to increase the quality of housing to support community revitalization. The Center purchased and is renovating homes in the downtown core. Our goal is to improve local housing options, revitalize neighborhoods, and motivate other owners to invest in their properties—to benefit people living and working in the community.
The Center’s revitalization work builds on our deep investments in wood heat, wood products manufacturing and destination development across the region. Through initiatives in Lancaster, western Maine, and Millinocket, we’re testing integrated approaches to community economic revitalization and forest stewardship.
The Center is helping to accelerate projects, investing in activities with tangible results, raising awareness of local recreational assets, and contributing to long-term community strategies. We look forward to sharing what we learn with other Northern Forest communities in the coming years as we work together to revitalize this region.