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Taking up the mantle | A new young professionals group in Bridgton is ready to roll

BY Carol Coultas

3/22/2010
Photo/Judy Beedle
Photo/Judy Beedle
Justin McIver is optimistic a new young professionals group in Bridgton will help his hometown prosper

When Justin McIver graduated from Colby-Sawyer College with a business degree, he was torn.

Tugging on one side were the roots of his hometown of Bridgton and the family business, D&M Electric. Pulling in an opposite direction, the chance to make more money and find new opportunities outside of Maine. Most of his Bridgton friends chose the latter.

"It was a hard choice," says McIver, 27. "I ended up coming back here, but if my dad’s company wasn’t here, I never would have."

That realization — that Bridgton had little to attract young professionals — prompted McIver and a group of other locals to form the town’s first-ever, young professionals group that is setting bylaws and casting a wide net to gather momentum. The as-yet unnamed group has elected officers, formed committees and connected with new economic development director Alan Manoian, who recently launched the Bridgton Economic Development Corp. Together, the two organizations plan to put the Lakes Region town on the map in a new way.

"Bridgton is taking on a very clear, new brand," says Manoian, who has seen the group double to 30 since its mid-February launch. "Bridgton is a wonderful place to listen to the loons at night and ski at Shawnee Peak and enjoy our lake. But it’s also a place that embraces business, technology and sustainable growth."

McIver says there are many undiscovered business assets in town. "There are a lot of people from out of state who come here for a summer place or to retire," he says. "That’s really a benefit to us, with their connections and expertise."

McIver speaks from personal experience. Responding to a need to strike out on his own, McIver incorporated Main Eco Homes last spring, a company that builds energy-efficient and environmentally friendly homes. A summer resident invested in one of McIver’s homes, which returned a neat profit to the investor and to McIver when it sold to another part-time resident, from Florida.

"I’m trying to build my company, and being able to capitalize on the unique mix of people within this community is a win-win for the older generation, as well as the young," he says. Last year he sold three Main Eco Homes, a satisfying achievement given the state of the housing market and the demands of his management job with D&M Electric, he says.

He uses that example with his Bridgton buddies, to encourage them to consider coming back home. "But it’s a tough sell," he says. "It’s all about the jobs for them."

Manoian hopes some recent initiatives will bring high-tech and other good-paying jobs to Bridgton. In fact, one of the stops on the tour he intends to give prospective businesses considering a Bridgton location is with the young professionals group. "They are living proof that we have a talented, skilled work force," he says. "But we need more of them."

McIver says a commitment to see Bridgton prosper is the glue that binds the young professionals group to the community. Anyone between ages 18 and 40 in the area with a strong work ethic is encouraged to join.

Unlike some young professionals groups throughout the state, social networking is not Bridgton’s main mission. Members are expected to join municipal and civic boards and actively participate in economic development projects. Manoian is reserving for young professionals half the seats on a new board charged with developing a comprehensive plan for the town. McIver expects the under-40 crowd will respond.

"This is really our chance to give back, to say to the older generation, ‘Thank you for all you’ve done, we’re now ready to help.’"