Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

June 5, 2019 From the Editor

Ellsworth’s housing shortage goes hand in hand with worker shortage

Mainebiz had its most recent “On the Road” roundtable in Ellsworth. Each year, we visit six places in Maine, and Ellsworth was our third stop of 2019. It’s our chance to ask local business people what they see as the major issues.

Not surprisingly, the workforce shortage is top of people’s minds. But the issue is very much intertwined with the shortage of affordable housing.

One key driver in the need for housing is Jackson Laboratory, which is based in Bar Harbor but has a relatively new facility in Ellsworth. JAX has 1,400 Maine employees, including 460 in Ellsworth and the balance on Mount Desert Island.

On MDI, housing is at a premium. Houses and apartments that might have once been available for year-round rental are now largely reserved for short-term use, through Airbnb. With Acadia National Park limiting the land that can be developed, there isn’t much in the way of new housing. The median home price is now $320,000, compared to the median price of $179,900 for the state as a whole. Ellsworth’s median price is also around $179,000, though until recently there hadn’t been a lot of activity. The town is now seeing more multi-family development, though more is needed.

Back to Jackson Lab. Its 1,400 employees commute from 67 zip codes, 14 of Maine’s 16 counties. Many come from the Bangor area and are bused to work on the Island Explorer through a program subsidized by Jackson Lab, with employees paying $20 a week.

It’s been said before, but with Maine’s workforce stretched, the need for affordable housing goes hand-in-hand with finding workers.

A fish pier has become home to artists and chocolate makers

At one time, the O’Hara fish-and-ice processing pier was a key part of Rockland’s fishing economy.

Historically, the Tillson Avenue sardine processing factory made its presence known with its prolific output and its prodigious smell. An ice factory, a relic that predates refrigerated shipping containers, made possible the shipment of fish around the world. The surrounding wharves bustled with activity from the fishing fleet. The O’Hara family oversaw it all, including hundreds of employees.

Fast forward to recent years: the O’Hara family moved its fishing fleet to Alaska. Today, The U.S. Coast Guard and Journey’s End Marina occupy much of the end of Tillson Avenue and the pier.

The O’Hara family still owns some of the Rockland property, but now it is a landlord to artists and makers, as well as other businesses. Bixby Chocolate, maker of the Bixby Bar, is in the former ice factory. Renowned Maine artist Eric Hopkins has a gallery and studio in the former sardine factory, at 120 Tillson Ave.

On Maine’s ever-changing “working waterfront,” not all of the changes involve condos or hotels.

Sign up for Enews


Order a PDF