Camden has approximately eight business clusters powering its economic engine, the largest being retail. But that is followed closely by professional trades, which send ideas, plans and products into the Midcoast, national markets, and beyond.

“I was surprised at the number of media companies, engineers and artists, all what you would call the creative economy,” said Matthew Eddy, the town’s interim economic development director, who is spearheading a project to energize Camden’s economy.

The second session of the strategic planning project will be held Oct. 6, 5:30 p.m., Knox Mill Event Center, 40 Washington St. Camden. Focus will be on economic analysis findings, Gateway 1 inventory study, and priorities.

Camden has been concerned about its future since MBNA was acquired by Bank of America and divested key downtown real estate, beginning in 2005. Eddy’s job since arriving in July is to create a plan that, in broad strokes, expands the town’s year-round economy and supports a diverse population.

Eddy has conducted a survey of businesses in town, clustering them according to what they do. That survey is to be reviewed Oct. 6 at the second public session of the project. The meeting will take place at the Knox Mill Event Center at 40 Washington St. at 5:30 p.m. and the agenda will include reviewing goal statements and setting priorities.

Eddy is Camden’s first-ever economic development director for a town, population approximately 5,300, which is classified by the state as a service center, meaning it draws citizens from the broader region for shopping, work and events. Camden voters approved spending $85,000 this year for the position at June Town Meeting, and Town Manager Roberta Smith subsequently contracted with Eddy, whose employer is the Augusta-based Eaton Peabody Consulting Group. Eddy serves in a transitional role, and sees his work to write an economic development plan finished by Thanksgiving, after which he will help Camden search for a full time director.

A former economic director for Brunswick, Bath and Westbrook, Eddy now drives up Route 1 several days a week to Camden, sitting in a spare room with a window overlooking Washington Street. Taped to his walls are large sheets filled with bold magic marker scribbles collected at visioning sessions, phrases such as, “downtown campus”, “perception not open for business”, “condition of Knox Mill”, “going dark in the winter,” and others that reflect both the town’s pride and angst.

From the initial survey, emerging business clusters are:

Retail shops and wholesale trade represents 18 percent of Camden’s economy.

Professional, 15 percent, media, engineers, the arts.

Hospitality, 12 percent, rooms and food.

Hospitality support, 4 percent; e.g., boat rentals, opera house events, eco-tourism.

Health care, 11 percent.

Contractors/real estate, 11 percent.

Contractors/real estate support services (laundry and lawn mowing), 4 percent.

“It’s a big growth industry,” he said. “Basic housing and building stock will always need attention.”

And finally, there is the manufacturing cluster, which registers so low in percentage that Eddy assigns the keystroke ≈ to represent it, but gives it no number. Still, for a town that once thrived on manufacturing, he is not dismissing the sector altogether.

With the help of a Department of Transportation Gateway 1 grant, Eddy is using a database developed by DCI Development Concepts Inc., an Indianapolis-based planning firm, to establish an economic baseline for Camden. A DCI principal is Ian Colgan, son of Maine’s economic forecaster Charlie Colgan. Eddy said Camden is using the DCI software to help determine where growth will take place in town and build a model to keep “data up-to-date, to project parking needs, pedestrian movement and building scenarios. To help visualize what happens if the Knox Mill gets filled and Camden Harbor Landing gets greened.”

He is also securing a University of Maine study to help Camden market itself.

In August, Eddy told the community in a press release: “Camden is rich in economic development planning and reports. Many reports, such as the ‘Camden Working Waterfront,’ the ‘Blue Ribbon Task Force Final Report and Recommendations,’ the ‘Apollo Tannery Site, Report and Recommendations,’ and the Camden Comprehensive Plan provide great ideas and direction. Recent reports, like the Ragged Mountain Recreation Area Redevelopment Plan, provide future direction for important venues in the community. These reports, and their recommendations, will become the starting point for the strategic planning process.”

Eddy has characterized Camden as home to an abundance of good ideas but which don’t always connect, and in some cases, replicate each other. He believes that Camden has a strong national cache, on which it should capitalize. Annual attendance of Pop!Tech and Camden Conferences offer social and business networking opportunities, and a chance to expand Camden as an intellectual property center.

On Oct. 6, the public session will consider action items, including:

Making Camden Opera House improvements; e.g., building a loading dock for traveling musicals; fix the roof so falling snow and ice does not endanger pedestrians; building a kitchen; complete the third floor; and install Wi-Fi throughout the building.

A proposed riverwalk along Megunticook River.

Expanding and improving the harbor boardwalk and expanding sidewalks around Main, Chestnut, Union, Pleasant and Wood streets.

Discussing the intellectual property center, and a revolving loan program.

The discussion continues that which began at the first public session of the economic development project, held Sept. 8 at High Mountain Hall, when participants spoke about Camden’s economic climate, its strengths and weaknesses.

Roger Moody, former town manager and a member of the Camden Area Futures Group, a nonprofit that worked for four years on community and economic issues, warned against becoming a seasonal community.

“If you want a great community, can you do it with a big splash in the summer and a near death experience in the winter?” he said.

He also said Camden still has coffee shops where ideas are exchanged, groups formed, and groups dissolved. By that “coffee shop index,” Camden is doing well, he said. With Maine Media Workshop and Maine Media College in Rockport, a Camden College of Art and Design would be something to consider, expanding on the Campus Camden idea, with more and bigger conferences.

Upgrades to the Camden Opera House feed that prospect, and its director Kerry Hadley regards it as one of the town’s strongest economic components. Think of it, she said, as a cruise ship (i.e., conferences) that blow into town with 500 people on board, or as a Macy’s, a downtown anchor store. The facility has had new lighting and sound systems installed, making it more attractive to other events.

Hadley also cited the economic multiplier effect, with an estimated average $56 spent locally with every non-resident visit to an opera house event.

Camden Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Kuller similarly described the Camden Snow Bowl as an economic generator, and with the proposed new lodge able to accommodate 200 to 250 people, an event facility will be created, ideal for weddings and reunions, he said. Additionally, Camden attracts eco-tourism visitors with its mountain biking at the snow bowl, and winter activities.

Others at that meeting suggested the project consider Camden’s energy production — hydropower and potential wind power opportunities; the role of pedestrian and biking infrastructure, as well as K-12 public education, in attracting new businesses; the vitality of the Camden Public Library, outstanding restaurants, a nearby airport, language school, and historical resources.

Weaknesses cited included the state’s transportation system, downtown parking, a governmental structure that resembles an octopus, the perception that Camden is not always open for business, growth or even new ideas, the fragmentation of ideas and resources, lack of engagement by residents, high rent, streets not lighted well at night, and little common vision.

Finally, there was the lament that manufacturing received little attention.

“Many people live working with their hands,” said Rockport resident Richard Remsen, who owns a foundry. “Too many people are pushing papers and not really making anything.”