2014-01-31 / Front Page

Final version of study is ready

Arundel selectmen will review marketing and branding firm’s findings
By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer

ARUNDEL — Members of the Economic Development Committee presented to the board of selectmen Monday night a final version of The Chesapeake Group’s townwide market and branding study.

The study, designed to highlight town assets so as to better attract new business, began almost one year ago.

The Chesapeake Group (TCG), a Maryland based firm, was hired for approximately $25,000 to thoroughly assess every facet of the town.

The goal, wrote Howard Kohn in the initial proposal letter, is “placing Arundel within the context of the larger economy and trends; assessments of site-specific opportunities, generally within the context of larger geographic areas; economic revitalization, including ‘Main Streets’ and mixed-use development plans; community development strategies; defining opportunities for emerging research and development related to agricultural production, natural resources and technology application shifting; and tourism development.”

Said Town Manager Todd Shea in April, “TCG is helping us find an identity that sets us apart from our surrounding communities, and to do that while utilizing our resources and not exploiting them.”

The end result is a thorough examination of assets and disadvantages – socially, fiscally, topographically – as well as a wider look at the context of Arundel: how do its surrounding towns affect it and in what ways.

For example, weaknesses discerned by TCG include Arundel’s lack of involvement in the tourism industry, the dominance of surrounding communities, and the lack of dollar exportation, meaning people do not generally shop or eat out in Arundel.

More abstract weaknesses include an absence of a sense of community and the perception that the town is not being par- ticularly business friendly.

Assets and strengths the study found include rural character and quality of life; its continuing agricultural history, an educated albeit aging population, and the relative affluence of its residents, along with the affordability of land, housing and property values.

A surprise gleaned from the report, said Economic Development Committee member John Bell, is that “Arundel has a bit higher income than some surrounding towns, and taxes are a little less than other surrounding towns.”

A major aspect of the report’s findings that committee members voiced their concern about was a heavy emphasis on agriculture.

“The emergence of Kate’s (Homemade Butter) along with the existing agricultural activity in Arundel and York County ... a full range of ag products could play a key role in defining Arundel as an agri-tourism and education mecca within Southern Maine,” read a portion of the report. “With capital, there is an opportunity to expand ag production of certain products through hydroponics and aquaculture that would include flowering plants and fresh marketable fruit and vegetable products.”

Said Bell, “One of the real failings of the report was its focus on agriculture.”

Thomas Danylik, chairman of the board of selectmen, responded, “One of our fears was the emphasis on agriculture. I’m not sure we only want to brand ourselves as an agricultural community. That seems like we’re putting all our eggs in one basket.”

“I thought the focus of this was to develop strategies to bring businesses into our communities,” Danylik said.

The branding portion of the study has been put on hold for the time being, said Economic Development Committee Chairman Ira Camp. Camp said the questions that need to be asked now are: “How do we implement the study? Are we happy with it? What do we think is most appropriate for the town?”

Said committee member Linda Zuke, “We want to get the word out there (to residents) and say, ‘Hey, we want to know what you think.’”

Camp said the study highlighted just how much tax revenue the town will need to bring in from business/commercial sources “to move the needle over” – approximately $56 million. “It will require a couple of big things. Little shops won’t make a big difference,” Camp said.

Committee member Sam Hull likened the “big things” to the recently proposed theme park in Sanford. “That’s the sort of project we’re talking about,” Hull said.

Said Bell: “Where we go from here is the million-dollar question. Now, we need to sift through and determine what might be realistically workable and what might be pie-in-the-sky. And trying to encourage agriculture might be a losing fight.”

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