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Garvan Donegan has a background in public policy, investment funds and foreign trade zones, but in recent years he has been at the center of much of the economic redevelopment efforts in downtown Waterville, where efforts by Colby College have been paired with co-working spaces, retail development and restaurants.
Mainebiz: They say, ‘All politics is local,’ but is that also true of economic development?
Garvan Donegan: While economic development is hyper local and, often extremely visible, local economic development is also tied to complex systems and associated regions, states, nations, and the global economy. From moment-to-moment we may not know exactly what is occurring in global finance systems, but we can very clearly see our Main Street activity, a city’s skyline taking shape and changing or a downtown vacancy [that needs to] be filled.
Given this, our motto is always to think regionally and globally, but act locally. During times of economic uncertainty, it’s particularly important to act locally and to have a diverse construct of local investments into a downtown or community. This has been true in our mid-Maine communities and, in the case of Waterville’s downtown, that local investment has been partnered by institutional and philanthropic support that has reduced risk profiles and supported large projects and deeply impactful initiatives.
MB: How has mid-Maine taken advantage of its Foreign Trade Zone?
GD: Last year, Waterville’s FTZ 186 realized a value of over $96 million in shipments to the Maine’s U.S. market and a value of almost $4 million in exports, totaling approximately $100 million in shipments flowing through FTZ 186, which has saved resources for companies, increased the velocity of supply chains, grown international trade and [foreign direct investment], and supported approximately 250 Maine-based jobs.
MB: What are some of central Maine’s biggest opportunities?
GD: Through the launch of CMGC’s Dirigo Labs, and the associated investment in our innovation ecosystem, mid-Maine has an incredible opportunity to organize the regional economy and the tech industry’s ability to transition to the post-manufacturing economy.
Dirigo Labs will galvanize mid-Maine’s unique diversity of academic institutions and tech firms and develop a startup accelerator that harnesses the entrepreneurship and digital skills of our students, graduates, academic faculty and business owners to build a sustainable tech and innovation hub that powers a thriving rural economy. Similarly, this initiative aims to recruit rural remote workers to the region and stimulate digital economy jobs.
MB: … And the challenges?
GD: Both pre COVID-19 and now, CMGC hears every day from small and large businesses about very real workforce challenges across every sector in Maine — every industry has been either experiencing labor challenges or has had to be diligent about workforce development and labor and talent pipeline creation.
MB: How do central Maine’s schools and colleges factor into economic development?
GD: At the secondary level, the Mid-Maine Technical Center offers Information Technology and digital media coursework, and it received national recognition for its successful pre-apprenticeship program, a partnership with CMGC which places top students with local employers for on-the-job learning. At the post-secondary level, Thomas College has developed niches in both business degrees and cybersecurity, and is the region’s only graduate degree-granting institution. The world-class liberal arts institution of Colby College attracts a vibrant community of students, faculty and alumni and has recently started investing heavily in the revitalization of downtown Waterville.
As a result of this, the city of Waterville is experiencing a dramatic transformation.
What they do:
Focus on economic development and quality of life issues in Fairfield, Oakland, Waterville and Winslow.
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