Following 2020 challenges, PCEDC looks to new year
It was a highly unusual first year for Piscataquis County Economic Development Council Executive Director John Shea, who came aboard after moving from out of state in March at the start of the coronavirus pandemic and navigating his new position along with the new health and safety guidelines.
Shea said he is looking forward to the new year, including the unveiling of an economic development strategy for the region, during remarks at the PCEDC annual meeting on Jan. 11 over Zoom.
Shea said he still has not had the opportunity to meet many of those involved with the PCEDC in person due to COVID-19, which led to the cancellation of the council’s quarterly meetings, but he looks forward “to a year that right now will hopefully be better than 2020 was.”
“This has been an unusual year, to say the least, for the PCEDC and you folks,” Shea said. He said despite the challenges, the PCEDC still worked to provide an approximate six-time return on investment made in the council and facilitated the awarding of about $540,000 in CDBG funds.
Shea said the council also assisted sites through the EPA brownfields program, provided help to businesses and individuals with COVID-19 relief programs, brought resources to the region with Helping Hands with Heart and partnered with other groups on grant opportunities to support various initiatives and technology support.
“We have a mix of ongoing initiatives and some new ones I’m excited about,” Shea said. He said the PCEDC is continuing with the EPA brownfields program, including a new application for about $300,000 in cleanup.
The council will have an EPA revolving loan fund, will continue to work on CDBG grant applications with towns, businesses and organizations and work with Helping Hands with Heart. “The PCEDC will be a resource for businesses on federal, state and other assistance, leveraging resources and capabilities as a community partner,” Shea said.
Shea said in the history of the CDBG program about $20 million has come into Piscatsquis County, and four of these community development projects are on-going. “It was (former PCEDC Executive Director) Chris Winstead’s work that helped get us those four grants,” Shea said.
“Perhaps the one thing I’m most excited about is the economic development strategy for Piscataquis County over the next 12 months,” Shea said.
He said more information will be unveiled but “the economic development strategy is a living document and it’s going to be regularly reviewed and revised.”
A capacity grant through the Northern Border Regional Commission will help with technology assistance, financing and workforce issues, Shea said. He said the PCEDC is also working on increasing GIS capacity and a broadband plan.
Going back to the economic development strategy, Shea said the PCEDC is seeking resources for the document to help bring together all stakeholders for a shared vision. He said stakeholders are government entities, businesses, economic development organizations, community groups and elected representatives.
Shea said that even though visitors cannot stop in at his office amidst the pandemic, “I welcome your calls and emails and insights to what we’re doing.”
PCEDC Board President Denise Buzzelli concluded the business portion of the meeting — the session included the presentation of the 2020 Warren “Pete” Myrick Award to retired Guilford Town Manager Tom Goulette — by stressing the importance of collaboration. She said the council wants to find “new and more relevant ways to support local businesses.”
“We are all in this together and we are hoping for a really good 2021,” Buzzelli said.