03/10/17 Moosehead region stakeholders plan to boost economy, reverse declining population

By Stuart Hedstrom, Special to the BDN Posted March 10, 2017, at 8:05 p.m. GREENVILLE, Maine — Faced with a declining and aging population and a stagnant economy, many stakeholders in the Moosehead Lake region are taking action to reverse these trends. Making changes to secure a better future over the next decade-plus was the subject of the Moosehead Lake Regional Master Plan Future Think Tank held Thursday and Friday at the Bartley Facility. Think tank facilitator David Beurle, CEO of the international consulting firm Future iQ, said at the beginning of Friday’s session that the region “is spiraling toward obscurity if you don’t do anything different than what you are doing. There’s a lot at stake with what happens now.” Based on work done by more than 100 participants during Thursday’s session, Beurle presented a plausible scenario for what the region that includes the towns of Greenville, Monson and Rockwood could look like in 2030, with the goal to have a more diversified economy and a greater number of permanent and semi-permanent residents in 13 years. The future scenario features a 20-25 percent increase in the population, with 1,000 more residents — many aged 25-44 — as well as more diversity in schools, the workforce and community. All of this is based on attracting 400,000 yearly day and overnight visitors, up from 200,000 currently. Beurle said other components of the vision would be to maintain the natural and cultural characteristics of the region, have Moosehead Lake become “America’s Crown Jewel” as part of an ongoing branding initiative, and protect the unique environment of the area. “Ultimately we need to provide you with a plan you can measure,” said Jim Haguewood of Future iQ. The consulting firm is being paid with grant money. “What we are promoting to you is an asset-based approach to your economy,” he said. “There is a certain lifestyle that’s based upon experiences. We want to identify specifically what makes us unique.” Haguewood asked the approximately 75 Friday attendees — 80 percent of whom indicated they live within 25 miles of the lake — for some of the top assets across the seasons, such as being the first eco-tourism location based on Henry David Thoreau’s travels in the early 19th century, hospitality, foliage, September’s International Seaplane Fly-In and more. “How can these assets be leveraged to meet our preferred future?” he asked. “The big idea is we have a diversified product by season — that’s big idea No. 1.” Once think tank attendees identified various needs on different maps of the region, Beurle said, “Today is clearly not the end of everything,” as data from the think tank will be compiled and distributed and a regional master plan is being readied for release next month. Haguewood mentioned surveys being conducted by the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council concerning expansion of broadband internet access to the area, which he said ties into the preferred future. “Where do we see gaps, what do we currently have and what needs to be done?” he asked. Key goals outlined by stakeholders include a fully operational Squaw Mountain Ski Resort and improvements to housing and infrastructure. “Think about what would be the cascade of activity to get to where you want to be in 2030,” Beurle said. “It’s going to be very important to know where to start and how fast to move.” He asked those present to serve as ambassadors of the preferred future concept with fellow residents. He also said that the cost of the initiative was not really discussed over the day and a half. “We know that’s a real issue and it will be part of the conversation going forward,” he said. .