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Yarmouth council turns attention to economic development

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Yarmouth council turns attention to economic development

YARMOUTH — Economic development could get a push at the next Town Council meeting.

On Monday, July 8, the council is expected to approve forming a committee to study the town's economic needs and devise ways to spur job opportunities and growth.

During last month's meeting, the council reviewed a draft resolution to form a committee, and gave the proposal strong support during a non-binding discussion. Chairman Steve Woods said it was a step in the right direction.

"I think it's the start of an important discussion for Yarmouth, to take economic development seriously, given the loss of Wyman (Power Station)," he said. "Now that we're going to have a great exit interchange at Exit 15 and Exit 17, what are we going to do to maximize business and economic development here?"

For more than a year, the council has discussed whether to form an economic development advisory board or fund the creation of a nonprofit group to work independently. An exploratory committee could help sort those questions out, Town Manager Nat Tupper said.

The proposed eight-member committee would be comprised of two members from the Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce. Carolyn Schuster, executive of the chamber, said she's excited by the possibilities, but it's too soon to predict what direction the initiative will take.

In the meantime, Schuster has been getting a sense of how other communities handle economic development. She said she has already spoken to groups like the Maine Development Foundation, Main Street Bath and Brunswick Downtown Association to "get an idea of what they have done. Is it working for them? How are we similar? Are we different? Can we learn any lessons from them?"

Schuster cautioned that economic development can be a slow process over 10 or 15 years, "but you've always got to take that first step."

Yarmouth, with 8,300 residents, has a lot of potential for businesses, primarily because of its accessibility from Interstate 295, the Maine Turnpike, U.S. Route 1, Route 88 and Middle Road, Schuster said.

"If there's a traffic jam somewhere," she said, "you can always get here somehow."

Also, Yarmouth's coast, river, parks, community spirit and its attractive and walkable Main Street give the town all the ingredients to take off economically.

So why hasn't it?

"I guess we're going to find that out," she said. "We're going to talk about what that might be and then we can address it."

To staff the committee, the Town Council would recruit three residents and two town councilors. Two more committee members would be chosen by the Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce. One member would be named by the Greater Portland Council of Governments – a volunteer organization to which Yarmouth belongs. The Council of Governments receives money from the U.S. Economic Development Agency to support economic development among its member towns.

 The committee's meetings would be posted and open to the public.

Councilor Pat Thompson said she was optimistic that a committee could deliver "something strategic and very necessary for this town to bring in some revenue and bring in some growth."

The council chose to hold its next meeting on Monday, July 8 to avoid conflicts with the upcoming Yarmouth Clam Festival, which will be held July 19-21.

Ben McCanna can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or bmccanna@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @BenMcCanna.