Specht: Sometimes you have to take a step back

Specht

During Memorial Day Weekend, my wife and I took a trip to Aroostook County, know as “The County.” This northern part of Maine is where Tina grew up, and where we met during my stint in the Air Force. We stayed in Presque Isle, Maine, a rather remote community so far north that you can drive east to go to Canada — which we did.

As someone who has opined about economic development, I could not help but make comparisons to my own hometown of Minden. Here are a few facts about Presque Isle that I noted as interesting:

Presque Isle has a population of 9,317, compared to Minden’s population of 12,808.

Presque Isle is located approximately 21.7 miles from what used to be Loring Air Force Base. Minden is 29.2 miles from Barksdale Air Force Base. Loring was home to B-52s prior to closing in 1994.

Presque Isle has a mall containing a JC Penney retail store. It also has a Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, McDonalds, Arby’s, Bonanza, Burger King, Ruby Tuesday, Pizza Hut, Tim Horton’s, Taco Bell/KFC, and a host of other restaurants and retailers.

Presque Isle has four new auto dealers.

Presque Isle has a two-screen movie theater.

Presque Isle has an airport with passenger service to Boston, Mass.

Presque Isle has a 4-year university, The University of Maine at Presque Isle.

For a town of 9,317, this list certainly looks impressive. However, things aren’t always what they seem. Since the closing of the Air Force base, Presque Isle has suffered, along with most of northern Aroostook County. Population declines, which led to drops in tax revenues and the subsequent reductions and consolidations of schools and other entities are all taking place.

To an outsider like me, I still see many positives. In addition, Presque Isle’s challenges shows that communities all over the United States are dealing with similar issues as Minden.

Even with all it has to offer, Presque Isle just isn’t Minden. There is just something about my hometown that I love. I know others feel the same.
Presque Isle’s remote location does provides some advantages over Minden. After all, their closest “city,” Bangor, is a 3-plus hour drive — and has a mere 33,000 residents.

That being said, Minden can look at its own needs and conclude:

Major retailers will come to a town our size if certain demographic criteria are met.

Higher education is an economic engine, regardless of the size of the community.

Our economic development outcomes are not solely tied to our population.

As we continued to work on our very real problems and challenges, all the while attempting to lure new business and industry here, let us not lose hope. Minden has many advantages to similarly sized communities.

Sometimes you have to take a step away to appreciate what you have right in front of you. It took a trip to “The County” to make me see that.

David Specht is president of Specht Newspapers, Inc. He may be reached via email at dspecht@press-herald.com.

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