Harpswell economic development plan sharpens focus

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HARPSWELL — Now well into the new year, the planning firm hired by the town to write an economic development plan is starting to hone in on specific ideas to make Harpswell’s economy more vibrant and sustainable.

Frank O’Hara, vice president of the firm Planning Decisions, said the Economic Development Strategy Committee chose three areas at its Tuesday night meeting where the town might focus: the “buy local” movement, the fishing and aquaculture industries, and the tourism industry.

The town will hold a community forum in conjunction with Planning Decisions on Monday, Feb. 11 at 6:30 p.m.

O’Hara said the purpose of the meeting is to get public feedback on the three focus areas. He said his team will then recommend actions the town and community can take to develop those sectors.

“What we need now is take the 100 ideas (from the beginning of the project) and focus on a few,” O’Hara said.

When discussing the idea of Harpswell having its own “buy local” movement, committee member John Halpin suggest they change the wording.

“I like the idea of ‘support local’ than ‘buy local.’ It presents a more holistic look,” Halpin said. “It would be better way to create this Harpswell brand. It’s a little more encompassing. It’s not saying ‘we don’t want you down here because we want you to buy something; we want you down here because we want you down here.'”

“I like that too. It could be more encompassing to the service industry,” Selectman Alison Hawkes said in response.

To cultivate tourism in Harpswell, members of the committee mentioned the possibility of creating smartphone or tablet apps, websites, kiosks, maps and brochures.

“I get my business from the world because it’s on the Internet,” said Eric Smith, a member who owns several cottages. “But when (my guests) get here, they don’t know how to get around. We put brochures in the cottages, but most of the time there are still at least half of (the guests) who ask me ‘ what can we do around here?'”

O’Hara said the fishing and aquaculture industries also were major points of discussion for the committee members.

He said using education to get young people interested in those industries could do much for the town. More specifically, O’Hara said children as young as 8 and 14 can get limited lobstering licenses, which means lobstermen could potentially provide mentorships that keep future generations interested in the industry.

“It’s an opportunity people don’t seem to be aware of,” O’Hara said.

O’Hara said he thinks work on Harpswell’s economic development plan is on schedule. After the Feb. 11 public meeting, he said his firm will then review all of the data it has collected since September 2012 – including interviews and feedback from meetings – and collate the input into a report.

The firm also will lay out a strategy for how the town can improve its economy, possibly in the three sectors discussed Tuesday.

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or dmartin@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.