Yarmouth-based GrowSmart nears fundraising goal, minus its founder

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YARMOUTH — After a flurry of donations, and despite the resignation this week of its founder and president, GrowSmart Maine is confident it will meet a short-term fundraising goal of $60,000 and be able to remain in operation.

Communication Director Christian McNeil on Tuesday morning said the non-profit, which sponsored the 2006 Brookings Institution report, “Charting Maine’s Future,” has received a little over $50,000 in two weeks since it issued an emergency appeal for help.

“Now we know we can continue,” McNeil said. “People have really rallied and helped us. There have been big donations and pledges, and 60 or so new people have come forward to offer their support.”

He called the support a “huge morale boost” and said there are a significant number of people in Maine “who value what we are doing.”

McNeil said the company expects to receive significant grants this summer, but in the meantime, the $60,000 was needed to meet current financial needs. The organization has reduced staff from 12 to six, cut work days to three a week, cancelled two sequels to the Brookings report, and scaled back a model town project in Standish.

Another major change is the departure of GrowSmart founder and President Alan Caron. Caron founded the company in 2002, and in an e-mail Monday said he leaving GrowSmart “to pursue the next chapter in my work, and my life, and to allow GrowSmart to find new energy and new leadership, as it carries on the critical work of building a more sustainable future for Maine.

“This is certainly not a perfect time for me to leave the organization,” Caron said, “but we rarely find a perfect time for departures.”

Caron has started his own consulting business called The Eco-Strategies Group, which will promote sustainable development to grow Maine’s economy. He will also be married this summer.

“Alan has a really busy summer ahead of him,” McNeil said. “But he will volunteer his efforts throughout the summer and will help with the transition.”  

McNeil said the board of directors will find an interim president within the next few weeks, but in the meantime, the organization will be operated by the staff, the board of directors and board Chairwoman Bonita Pothier.

Even with the recent financial crisis and Caron’s departure, the organization has experienced positive legislative victories, McNeil said. Projects moving forward include new incentives for transit-oriented development and the creation of a Communities for Maine’s Future program, which would fund downtown improvements to generate more business growth and tourism.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net.