Conversations with Communities

During the last half of August, we had the opportunity to talk face-to-face with 27 of the 42 municipalities in the Sustain Southern Maine study area. And as always, talking with people face-to-face guarantees a few surprises.

First, we were surprised – happily so – that almost three-quarters of the towns were willing and able to come out and meet with us in the final dog days of summer.

Second, we were intrigued by the responses of those who did attend. Our message was simple:

  1. We are looking for locations in communities in Southern Maine that actively want to encourage growth and economic prosperity by attracting new residents, new businesses, and, perhaps, new infrastructure.
  2. We want these locations to include places that are rural, suburban and urban.
  3. The communities must want growth.
  4. We have resources to help eight communities develop ideas and plans to help them attract the kind of growth that works for them.

Their response? First, more than half of those we talked to – 14 communities – said, yes, we definitely are interested in this concept. Another group said this sounds interesting…but we’d like to see what happens in the other towns first. We’ll sit this one out. And almost all of those who were NOT interested voiced the exact same reason: My town does not want to grow.

This prompted an interesting dialogue. The towns that didn’t want to grow were mostly small, rural communities with small governments and little infrastructure. And they like it that way. The towns that did want to grow typically have already seen significant growth in the last decades. Some have also seen firsthand what can happen when growth happens willy nilly.  Now, they want some say about where it goes – and even more, they want the opportunity to bring in some tax dollars to support it.

The end story? These two points of view mesh perfectly. While growth has certainly slowed in Southern Maine, even now it has not stopped. Looking ahead, we know it will continue to increase, especially in this part of the state – because this is where the jobs will be. So, if those towns that choose to welcome growth do a good job, it means that less of that new growth will spill over into those towns that would like to – as much as possible – stay the same.

It was a good conversation.

Our next steps? Winnow down those 14 communities to eight and roll up our sleeves to find out what kind of growth they could attract. Watch for regular updates.

By Carol Morris, Sustain Southern Maine Team Member