Michael Aube, who shepherded a game-changing $65 million arena project in Bangor, showed signs of economic-development finesse early in life.
At about the age of 10, Aube, in an entrepreneurial Tom Sawyer-esque fashion, convinced neighborhood friends in Saco to rake his family's lawn, a chore his father had given him one Saturday. Aube, as project manager, paid his friends but managed to recoup some of his costs by selling the workers Kool Aid to quench their thirst.
"'Oh, you are going to end up a manager,' " Aube, 61, now president and CEO of Eastern Maine Development Corp., recalls his father telling him.
Aube's more than three decades of economic development work at the local, state and federal levels includes many successes, from aquaculture efforts in Washington and Hancock counties to manufacturing expansions at former auto parts maker Lemforder in Brewer. Prior to his post with EMDC, Aube served for eight years as state director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development Administration, and three years as Maine's commissioner of Department of Economic and Community Development, where he launched the Maine Quality Centers job training program.
But it is the arena project that may have the most significant impact in eastern Maine, he says. "We will have the opportunity to put Bangor on the tipping point of changing its economic opportunity and its place in the New England area," Aube says of the project.
A 1972 graduate of Boston College with degrees in history and education, he became a student of public policy working under U.S. Sens. Ed Muskie and George Mitchell. He traversed the state and saw firsthand the need for substantive job creation, something that would carry him forward for the rest of his career.
Beginning in the spring of 2010, Aube started to convince others what he already believed: The arena and convention center could be the catalyst for growth in the region. The new centerpiece could bring in more visitors and vacationers, and help retain Mainers who were leaving the area for jobs outside the state. An economic impact study in 2010 projected that a new arena would add more than 400 local jobs, with visitors bringing more than $26 million in direct and indirect new spending to local businesses.
Aube says the arena project is a natural fit, with Bangor's transportation assets of an international airport, I-95 and the Penobscot River, and the experience from its decade-long hosting of the American Folk Festival. The addition of Hollywood Slots' gaming and hotel facility and the new waterfront concerts show the city is a desirable venue.
Arena-project participants say Aube's talent for bringing a wide assortment of stakeholders to the table and providing the framework for consensus was critical to its success, although he is quick to share the credit. Talking points and concepts for undertaking such a bold project in dreary economic times were hashed out. Early on, Aube says, there was a fundamental shift away from the "Field of Dreams" approach.
"We're not doing this `build it and they will come,' we're saying we will build it because we have the assets that will fulfill … the demand for these kinds of services," he says.
Aube had already impressed the business community by infusing fresh energy into the EMDC and spearheading Mobilize Eastern Maine — a loose-knit umbrella organization of private sector business and nonprofits. From the Mobilize Eastern Maine group, a core of project supporters coalesced, forming The Friends of the Maine Center. Eventually, the group became a powerhouse of 50 organizations adding financial backing, logistical support and political clout to the arena project. A massive public marketing campaign, Arena Yes!, spun off from it.
As the city's mayor a decade earlier, Aube was familiar with how plans to replace the Bangor Auditorium and Civic Center had been long-talked about and long delayed, and the economy wasn't helping this time around. Even with the city's proceeds from Hollywood Slots covering much of the cost of the project, Aube says the public still needed convincing. The group's campaign spread the word, addressing the social and service organizations, Kiwanis and Rotary clubs, as well as high schoolers and senior citizens. The message apparently got through; on May 5, voters approved the arena by a 3-to-1 margin.
Aube envisions that in another 10 years, the arena, due to open in the fall of 2013, will have helped transform the city and region.
"I think we will see a completely different cityscape, a completely different economic structure, and I think it will all be positive."