FREEPORT — A local business group moved a step closer last week to completing its proposed plan for the town’s economic future with a meeting that brought together residents and small business owners.
The Aug. 16 meeting discussed the future of the town’s economy and promoted a range of ideas, from expansive outdoor recreation and transportation projects to manufacturing and business development on the Route 1 south corridor.
About 30 people attended the meeting at the Hilton Garden Inn, which was one of the final steps in the Freeport Economic Development Corp.’s “Vision 2025” plan.
Attendees were separated into small groups for discussion and then brought back to the larger group to address three ideas initiated by the FEDC: Enhancements to the downtown Village area for small businesses, economic diversification, and outdoor recreation.
“For an August night, I was happy with the turnout,” said Jim Damicis, a consultant from New York- and Scarborough-based Camoin Associates, which was hired by the FEDC to help develop the plan. “My goal was to make sure everyone stayed on task and was hitting the right ideas, and they did.”
The small groups tossed around ideas about promoting small businesses, such as changing Freeport’s reputation as an outlet town, creating buy-local campaigns, and developing better signs for local businesses.
They also discussed outdoor recreation, with one of the major focuses on the town trails. People at the meeting expressed support for linking all the town trails, creating maps of the trails, and consolidating them into one brochure.
Much of the discussions hinged on the role of town’s largest employer and major tourist attraction, L.L. Bean.
The company has about 2,000 people working in Freeport, with a workforce of about 4,000 in Maine. In the past, the company has played an active role in economic development, but it plans to be less involved in the FEDC’s process.
John Oliver, public relations director at L.L. Bean, said the company is supportive of the plan, but has “maxed out” retail plans in Freeport and doesn’t plan to make any significant changes in relation to Vision 2025.
“We have no plans to grow or shrink here in Freeport,” Oliver said. “The community has maintained a vital and attractive retail district and we have an interest to see that the community takes a balanced approached (to economic development).”
The company participated more directly in the FEDC’s previous plan, “Vision 2010,” because it focused more on retail development downtown, Oliver said.
The FEDC’s plan works in coordination with the Comprehensive Plan, but is a more of a structured to-do list, said Sande Updegraph, FEDC executive director.
The FEDC held meetings last year and also conducted interviews with key stakeholders in the town, Updegraph said. It hopes to consolidate those ideas, and ideas from another public hearing in September, into a single plan that will be finished by mid-October.
Town Councilor Rich DeGrandpre said the plan will help the council better shape the Comprehensive Plan.
“It’s another tool we use for planning and it helps us make better decisions that reflect the whole community, not just the business community,” he said. “The biggest thing is that we need to work on a list of things we can do and realistically accomplish, not things we can’t.”