SCARBOROUGH — Harvey Rosenfeld, who will retire March 1 as executive director of the Scarborough Economic Development Corp., made a confession last week.
“I have done this for 24 years,” Rosenfeld said. “Quite a bit longer than I thought it would be.”
Officially, he will retire about two months shy of reaching 24 years at SEDCO. But as only the second executive director of the quasi-governmental development agency that was founded in 1985, Rosenfeld, 67, is uniquely responsible for making Scarborough a regional center of business and commerce.
“When I got here, we were just starting with evolution from rural community to suburb,” Rosenfeld said.
As he leaves, Scarborough remains a town without a true center, but one where the distinctive sections have been touched by Rosenfeld’s efforts to attract businesses to new and existing sites.
Along Route 1 near the South Portland city line, the former Humpty Dumpty potato chip plant and former Konica photo processing plant are now office complexes developed by Hardypond Construction Co. owner Bob Gaudreau.
Maine Health, the parent company of Maine Medical Center, now has campuses at what was once a Kmart near the Interstate 295 Connector, and below the Oak Hill intersection of Route 1 and Gorham and Black Point roads at the former Orion Center.
West of U.S. Route 1, the Payne Road corridor from Gorham Road to Haigis Parkway includes retailers such as Sam’s Club and Cabela’s, although additional development along Haigis Parkway has stalled in the last half-decade.
Activity has slowed, and Rosenfeld said the time has come to stand aside and let new blood and new ideas continue the job.
“It’s not that you do less work, you just get less results,” he said.
Town Manager Tom Hall said the downturn has provided time for Rosenfeld and town planning staff to review and revise zoning, and better position the town to take advantage of improved economic times.
Working with the town long-range planning committee, zoning changes at Pine Point, the land owned by Scarborough Downs, and a triangular area bordered by the Maine Turpike and Holmes and Two Rod roads have or could become realities. Changes along Haigis Parkway may stir activity in and outside the Gateway Square area once expected to be the new home for Fairchild Semiconductor.
Hall said knowing SEDCO existed in Scarborough spurred his interest to become town manager more than a half decade ago.
“There is no question economic development is one of my areas of interest. I was excited to see a sustained, 25-year commitment,” he said.
SEDCO’s structure as a nonprofit allows confidential discussions with developers and business owners. The degree of separation from town government allowed him to work for solutions mutually attractive to government and business, Rosenfeld said.
By Rosenfeld’s recollection, Scarborough had about 400 businesses and a population of about 8,000 in its 54 square miles when he started at SEDCO in 1989. Now, the number of businesses has almost quadrupled to 1,500 and the population has more than doubled.
It is a balance that helps keep property tax rates comparatively low, while allowing residents to hold good jobs in town, he said.
Gaudreau said he was stunned to learn Rosenfeld, who lives in Cape Elizabeth, will retire.
“There are an awful lot of strong businesses that would not be in town if not for Harvey,” he said.
Almost a decade ago, Gaudreau decided to renovate the former potato chip plant into Nonesuch River Plaza. It was a protracted process that Gaudreau said would have steered him away from future projects in town, if not for the assistance provided by Rosenfeld and SEDCO.
In 2009, he took an interest in the empty Konica plant just south of Nonesuch River Plaza, and credited Rosenfeld for again helping him through another difficult approval process.
“You need a Harvey to shepherd you and coddle you,” Gaudreau said. “He is very astute and would never throw you a bone in the wrong direction.”
The redevelopment projects, including the former Kmart, helped create an area for health-care companies to provide good-paying jobs and prevent Scarborough from becoming a bedroom community for Portland, Rosenfeld said.
“Bob Gaudreau has more guts than anyone else I met,” he added.
And over the years, Rosenfeld has met people in varied walks of life. Before joining SEDCO, he worked in state and local governments, including as Saco city administrator.
“When this job opened up, I jumped at it. The town seemed like it was going places. I guess I haven’t looked back,” he said.
Yet his career in government, policy and development was almost accidental, he said.
“I came to Maine to build boats,” said the Boston native, who also lived in Vermont and Newburyport, Mass., before moving to Rockport about 40 years ago.
He crafted wooden sailboats for Penobscot Boat Builders, which he found rewarding, but precarious.
“You never knew if you were going to have another boat to build,” Rosenfeld recalled.
Stuart Axelrod, chairman of the SEDCO board of directors, said Rosenfeld’s extensive experience in business and government, wide range of contacts, and sense of which businesses and companies would be a good fit in town were essential to properly steward Scarborough’s growth.
Rosenfeld is quick to praise the long-term vision and established tenure of town policies and staff, but Axelrod said there is more to it than that.
“It has always been a team, but Harvey has been an icon for business development,” he said.
Axelrod said a search committee of SEDCO board members, town officials, Town Council Chairman Ron Ahlquist and Councilor Judith Roy are reviewing resumes to replace Rosenfeld. It could be a long search.
“We are going to replace Harvey, not with Harvey, but with someone who has the same skill sets and core values as Harvey,” he said.
Rosenfeld leaves Scarborough transformed, but said the truest ingredient of economic growth has not been achieved in the town or in Maine. He estimated 99 percent of business growth comes from companies within Maine relocating, instead of companies moving in from out of state.
“We have sold ‘Vacationland’ really well,” he said, “(but) have not sold ‘you can do high-tech in Maine,’ especially in the Portland area.”