The year 2010 is beginning with a flourish of significant developments and would-be developments along the Midcoast, all of them worthy of full attention. While 2009 was our year of fiscal contraction, so too will be 2010, though that collective “all is going down the drain” sentiment is slowly being replaced by “OK, what’s emerging?”

Yes, the state of Maine still must cut $438 million more, resulting in even less revenue sharing with schools and municipalities, and affecting taxpayers, and in turn, local employment. Yes, the Midcoast real estate market still bumps along, though this past autumn, 117 homes sold in Knox County, up from the 89 sold in the same period in 2008, and their median price increased 10 percent, from $162,500 to $178,000. But that was not the case elsewhere in the state, where homes sold, but at cheaper rates. It seems people want to live in this area, and are willing to pay to stay.

Within the ongoing discussion of our regional economy, in the context of the national and global economy, there are the traditionalists, who would like to see the tried and true signifiers, such as the real estate market, new housing starts, new car purchases and consumer spending, all return to formerly robust figures. Then there are the alternative economists, who maintain that nothing will ultimately improve unless we shift from relying on growth as we know it to a different model based on different curve patterns.

There’s lots of room in that model for innovation, and maybe we are on the way. When the federal government initiates a three-year, 38-state study to increase the number of hoop houses (plastic tunnels used year-round to grow produce) it may seem gimmicky, or it may be just one more example of how we are incorporating more locally grown food into the local economy, and in doing so, potentially creating agricultural jobs here in the Midcoast, not the San Joaquin Valley.

Interesting economic stories to also watch this coming year will be the merger of the local Pen Bay Healthcare with MaineHealth, the Portland-based nonprofit that now owns Maine Medical Center, Waldo County General Hospital in Belfast, and Miles Memorial Hospital in Damariscotta, among others. This makes MaineHealth even more of a major health care player in the state, and the local benefits and drawbacks of the merger will make themselves apparent this year.

Other mergers whose waters educators, students, parents and taxpayers will negotiate this year include the new regional school units, such as RSU 13, whose board is now talking about sending eighth- and ninth-graders to Georges Valley High School in Thomaston and the upperclassmen to Rockland District High School. That decision has huge academic implications. A subcommittee has been analyzing a variety of options and this most acceptable option was not made in a vacuum. Still, many details remain, large and small, even down to identifying a school mascot. We urge those who are interested in the future of education in the RSU 13 communities to pay attention.

At the same time, there is still talk about the Many Flags, One Campus proposal, which would entail a new RSU 13 high school constructed on the same grounds as a local community college, vocational school and marine trades center. That proposal deserves much more scrutiny by the entire Midcoast this coming year, because its social, environmental, educational and fiscal implications extend into most of our communities.

Likewise, Maine School Administrative District 28, School Union 69 and the Five Town Community School District must also address their own merger, especially in light of news that officials are now moving forward with a regional school unit, despite admonitions against it over the past two years.

Other developments to watch include municipal efforts to enhance the business climate, such as Camden’s Business Park proposal for the parcel of town-owned land known as Sagamore Farm. The parcel lies at the foot of Camden Hills State Park, and a subcommittee of the Planning Board hopes to tap Gateway 1 planning funds to conduct a land survey to determine if an office development might fit there. Camden residents, take note.

In Rockport, the push is on to determine the future of the former Rockport Elementary School site; some citizens like the idea of its public use, while others want it to produce revenue. Is there common ground for such a small piece of strategically located land? Rockport residents, take note.

And in Rockland, officials and citizens will consider their own vision for Tillson Avenue and a portion of its harbor frontage, planning that will determine the flavor of this Penobscot Bay anchor for years to come.

The year 2010 will be lively, despite ongoing economic uncertainties; yet all of these economic threads will intertwine, creating the Midcoast regional economy as we live it. The fact remains that most of us who live or visit here do so willingly, and find reason to remain. Therefore, we are willingly shaping our economy. Some decisions made this coming year will be brilliant, others not so bright. If one cares enough which way the wind blows, pay attention, join a committee, and help steer the ship.

Full steam ahead into 2010!