March 14, 2011. I’ll never forget that date: My first day on the job as Camden’s development director. After working in Maine state government for 20 years, I was somewhat reinventing myself as I walked in the door of the Camden Town Office. And even though my first project here was filled with a wide range of energy and interest, I quickly realized that this was the start of something good, really good. Camden is such a beautiful community and has so much to offer; I considered myself lucky to have this opportunity.

It is no surprise that much of my time has been devoted to the Apollo Tannery site and working on opportunities associated with it. As we move forward, I am optimistic a fantastic fit for the site will come along. To assist with generating even more awareness, I have just established a Facebook page to help broaden the visibility of our Free Land for Jobs incentive. I would like your help in promoting it. If you are already on Facebook, please visit the Free Land In Maine page and Like it. Also, please share with your network. In doing so, you can help support the redevelopment as voted on in 2008. Working together, we can hopefully catch the interest of a business and attract it here. But is that all I’ve been doing? Absolutely not! After getting my bearings and reviewing materials such as the Development Concepts Inc (DCI) report and Strategic Economic Development Action Plan, I rolled up my sleeves and got busy.

I had the pleasure of meeting with one of Camden’s larger employers, Wayfarer Marine, and learning more about it. The effect it has on the Camden community is tremendous and worthy of attention. After better understanding its concerns and hearing of its potential, I immediately turned to Peter Gross and the rest of the Community and Economic Development Advisory Committee (CEDAC) to discuss the resource we have at Wayfarer. Economic development is often looked at as business attraction, but an important component often overlooked is business retention. It is important to draw new business but it is equally important to pay attention to and serve the needs of our existing businesses as well. CEDAC and I will be exploring ways in which we can assist our current businesses.

To that end, I wanted to acquire some tools to allow for measuring the effect of both new business, as well as the adverse impact of potentially losing a business. Thinking back to my prior employer, I recalled software that had been developed and slowly rolled out to various communities across the state. I asked myself, why not Camden, and made some calls. I am happy to report that we now have the software, free of charge, to measure these impacts.

It is referred to as economic modeling and provides quantitative outputs of direct jobs, indirect jobs, and an overall multiplier effect. I plan on using this as new opportunities arise but also to underline the necessity of supporting those already here. To build on this, Camden is known for its larger conferences such as PopTech, Camden Conference, and the Camden International Film Festival. I have either met with or heard presentations from the key contacts of these organizations in order to form a baseline level of understanding. My plan is to reach out to my existing network and not only look for opportunities to add value but to also find ways to measure the economic impact of these organizations/events. We all know they add value to Camden and the region, but what is that value? And is there a point where additional investment will result in an even great impact to Camden and our region?

In 2010, Camden approved its first tax increment financing districts. Now that a year has gone by, it is time to analyze the taxes these districts have generated and review the various projects that had been submitted and approved. Before coming to Camden, I spent a lot of time reviewing and approving TIFs for all municipalities in Maine so I am familiar with the mechanics behind them. I have provided a refresher on TIFs to CEDAC and my next step is to provide recommendations on the various projects submitted. Specifically, are there items that I think warrant more attention than others? Much of this is influenced by the DCI report and strategic plan that had been developed prior to my arrival, as well as the amount of TIF revenues generated to date. While we won’t be able to immediately accomplish all the projects listed in the TIF development program, we have the chance to look for those opportunities which can be achieved now.

Camden’s downtown is vibrant and I found this to be one of the factors I found so attractive when I first visited. I am slowly getting out to meet as many businesses as I can and participating in the Camden Downtown Business Group. I am a huge fan of what role social media can play in our society and appreciate the efforts of Dan Bookham and the Camden-Rockport-Lincolnville Chamber of Commerce to encourage its use. I’ve sat down with a few downtown business owners to clarify some of the opportunities we learned about through social media workshops sponsored by the chamber. The one-on-one contact was well received and we’ve made some progress in the form of Facebook improvements and Quick Response code use. If any of you would like me to chat with you about this as an opportunity, please reach out to me.

Many of you reading this are property owners or agents for properties in Camden. What we don’t seem to have is a common repository of available properties for businesses looking to enter Camden. This is certainly a moving target but one that clearly has a value, especially with your support of creating the position I now hold. I have begun to canvas the area and reach out to you in hopes of establishing a dynamic database of properties. If I have not connected with you and you do have commercial property available, please connect with me so that I can gather your information.

I could go on but let me end here by again saying how excited I am to be here, with one reason being Camden’s reputation of being part of the Jewel of the Maine Coast. But I also need to add that it is so many of you who have made a difference. Beginning with my first day, so many of you have come up to me and welcomed me with open arms. A special thank you goes to Roberta Smith, Camden’s town manager, for supporting me and this position. Her 30 years of experience in municipal government are invaluable and I plan to leverage her wisdom. I look forward to continuing the work I have started and giving you every confidence that the decision to create a development director position was the right one to make.

 

Brian S. Hodges is Camden’s development director.