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Small Maine Town Hopes Boosted Broadband Will Stimulate Economic Development

Millinocket, Maine, is working with the ConnectME Authority, a state agency whose mission is to facilitate the universal availability of broadband access to all Mainers to attract businesses to the area.

by Nick Sambides Jr., Bangor Daily News, Maine / March 16, 2016

(TNS) -- High-speed Internet service would be a major attraction for businesses that can effectively be located anywhere in the world because they work on the information superhighway.

That’s a major reason why Millinocket officials are, for the first time in several years, pursuing economic development grants — specifically, grants to bring that service to town.

Town Manager John Davis and Town Council members speaking during their meeting Thursday said that they are working with the ConnectME Authority, a state agency whose mission is to facilitate the universal availability of broadband access to all Mainers.

Millinocket officials hope to work with leaders in Medway and East Millinocket to secure grants or other funding for the connectivity costs, Davis said.

Town officials also hope to apply for grants from a national program called Cool & Connected, a pilot effort sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Sustainable Communities.

The EPA advertises the program as employing “experts who will help community members develop strategies and an action plan for using planned or existing broadband service to promote smart, sustainable community development.”

Councilor Paul Sannicandro warned that the competition for the EPA grant is likely to be fierce. Councilors lauded him for his efforts chairing a three-member council goals committee whose work has included exploring the town’s development potential.

“I can think of no one better qualified” to handle the grantwork and to represent the council in those efforts, Councilor Michael Madore said.

Howland, Lincoln and Millinocket are among the few town governments in northern Penobscot County doing community development and economic development to offset job losses, high unemployment, rising costs and shrinking populations.

The goal of all the divergent efforts, which include a list of economic and community development goals, several grants to apply for and several groups meeting to discuss the issue, is the same — the revitalization of a community beset by the impact of brutal job losses, officials said.

“We are moving forward,” council Chairman Richard Angotti Jr. said after the council meeting.

Millinocket’s progress, officials said, is happening simultaneously along several tracks:

— Town officials hope to apply for grants being offered by the MacKenzie family of East Millinocket, which is establishing a foundation that would provide grants for education and economic development efforts, Davis said.

East Millinocket native and Florida resident Gloria MacKenzie came forward with the winning $590.5 million Powerball ticket on June 5, 2013, collecting a lump sum of $370.9 million that totaled $278 million after taxes. She donated about $2 million from her Powerball winnings a year later to fund the replacement of the Schenck High School roof, among other repairs.

  • At least four community groups, including one consisting of Millinocket, East Millinocket and Medway residents, have been meeting — some for more than a year — to pursue economic and community development projects.
  • Council members are interviewing marketing firms to help put together an economic development package and advertisements lauding Millinocket as a place to do business and recreate. The selection process likely will take a few more weeks, councilors said.
  • The goals committee is finalizing a list of objectives they hope to have ready for councilors to review at the council’s March 24 meeting. Councilor Jesse Dumais urged residents to attend the committee’s workshop, which he said is set for 4:30 p.m. Thursday, March 17, at the council chambers.

“It’s important to me that the business community also has skin in the game,” Dumais said after the meeting.

The list so far contains more than 100 of the town’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, plus recommendations from individual councilors. Anyone who wishes to catch up on past workshops or council meetings can see them at townhallstreams.com.

©2016 the Bangor Daily News (Bangor, Maine) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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