Portland unveils programs to engage, grow businesses
PORTLAND — The city is making a renewed push to engage businesses with a series of initiatives aimed at economic development and job growth, and a new director of planning and urban development.
Mayor Michael Brennan unveiled the projects in a press conference on May 16. They include loan programs aimed at expanding local businesses, increased communication between businesses and city officials, and streamlined review and permitting processes.
The new initiatives are all rooted in the city's economic development plan, which has the support of a variety of business and economic advocacy organizations including the Community Chamber, the Portland Downtown District, and the Creative Portland Corp., Economic Development Director Greg Mitchell said.
"For the first time in a very long time, we are now working jointly on economic development initiatives across all the different partners," Mitchell said.
Increasingly, the city's economic development strategy revolves around bolstering existing businesses.
"Business retention should be the heart of what we're trying to do," Brennan said after the announcement. Doing so has a potentially more immediate benefit than emphasizing attraction of new businesses, he said.
Brennan said he will visit a pair of local businesses each month talk with the owners.
The Business Visitation Program, launched in the month before Brennan's press conference, has already taken him to the medical care provider Intermed and pharmacy Apothecary by Design. Both businesses are at 84 Marginal Way.
The visitation program is designed to ensure that the city receives regular feedback from area businesses that can then be used in shaping economic development strategies, city officials said.
During the visit to Apothecary by Design, the company's owners talked with city officials about their plans for future growth and ways to collaborate with the city, and about improvements they would like to see in the Bayside neighborhood. Those include a pedestrian crosswalk across Marginal Way at Trader Joe's, co-owner Mark McAuliffe said.
One of the potential resources the two sides discussed was a new grant program for job creation.
The Business Assistance Program for Job Creation, called BAP by city officials, offers grants of up to $20,000 for businesses to invest in improvements like building renovation or equipment purchases that will result in new jobs. Officials announced Tuesday morning that they are now accepting applications for the grants.
"This provides additional sources of capital," as Apothecary by Design begins a nearly $650,000 expansion into a second Bayside location, McAuliffe said.
Officials said BAP is targeted at helping low- and middle-income Portland residents. Participating businesses must match each dollar of the loan with their own investment, and create at least one job for every $10,000 they receive.
The grants will be prioritized, with preference to employers that offer job training, are located near public transportation or public housing, and plan to create more than one new "quality" job per $10,000.
BAP grants will also be available to entrepreneurs, who form the flip side to the city's focus on already-established businesses.
Rather than luring larger companies from away, the city should be trying to attract entrepreneurs to move to Maine, Brennan said: "The economy of the future is really going to be a knowledge-based, skill-based economy."
Brennan also announced that the city has hired a consultant, Jared Clark of the Government Consulting Group, to review city permitting and application procedures in hopes of streamlining them.
“Our residents and businesses need to be served efficiently and timely to support their investment in Portland. City leaders and staff welcome the opportunity to learn about new approaches to delivering these development services,” Brennan said.
On Monday, the City Council confirmed Jeffrey Levine as the next Planning and Urban Development director. Levine's appointment will free Mitchell, who has been serving as the interim planning director, to concentrate on his job as director of economic development.
Levine most recently was director of planning and community development in Brookline, Mass., where he guided a $32 million project to transition a former church into a mixed-income housing development and helped to create the Hubway bike-share program. He previously served as director of transportation and long-range planning in Somerville, Mass.
Levine told the council Monday night that he was attracted to Portland by the "exciting" things happening in the city.
“I’ve been impressed by the quality of citizens I’ve met and by the quality of city staff,” he said.
Levine will begin working on a part-time basis in early July and will take over the position full time on Sept. 4.