South Portland study reveals rise in poverty rate

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Preliminary findings from an Economic Development Committee study show the city’s poverty rate has doubled since 2000.

The study conducted by Karl Seidman, a consultant from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, also finds that South Portland’s median income is 8 percent lower than Cumberland County’s.

Committee member Peter Stocks released the information this week, but declined to provide any specific statistics before a public forum next month.

Seidman’s research shows that the city has “lost a significant number of jobs in the retail, manufacturing, food service, accommodation and construction sectors since 2004,” Stocks said Wednesday. “While (Scarborough and Westbrook) have been successful in creating new jobs, South Portland job creation has stagnated.”

Uncovering these trends is part of the EDC’s larger goal of building a comprehensive economic plan for the city, something that has not been undertaken since 1979, Stocks said.

Unlike the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which is more macro-focused, he said, the economic development plan is more narrow in scope and focused specifically “on how can we attract new businesses and expand South Portland, (and) how can be broaden the tax base.” 

The committee will host a public workshop at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 1, at the South Portland Community Center to discuss Seidman’s data and the public input collected from an online survey issued by the EDC earlier this summer

So far, nearly 400 citizens have taken the survey, Stocks said. The goal is to get input from at least 500.

The survey asks respondents to prioritize economic development goals. Options for answers include, “Reduce income disparities among South Portland residents,” and “Limit the new economic development to allow more residential development and open space.”

The survey also asks residents to pinpoint areas of the city where they would prefer economic development take place, such as along the waterfront, along the Broadway corridor, or near the Maine Mall. 

The objective is to discern and nurture the city’s economic assets. For its comprehensive report, the EDC’s areas of focus will include looking at commercial rent in the city; the potential for multiple neighborhood-oriented commercial areas, similar to Willard Square or Knightville, and the proximity to downtown Portland.

“We want this to be an independent review from the citizens,” and initially separate from the City Council process, Stocks said. 

“Our goal is to create a long-term economic development plan that will assist in job creation, provide stable and positive economic growth and increase our tax base,” Stocks said. 

Once survey results are digested, and input has been sought from the public, the committee will formalize the findings into a draft to be presented to the City Council sometime in late October. 

“We’re trying to have a really clear road for economic development prior to Christmas and the holidays,” Stocks said. 

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA

South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.