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Sponsored by: City of Bangor

City of Bangor

PHOTO Courtesy of the City of Bangor Bangor, on the bank of the Penobscot River, is becoming a go-to spot for business, and scored near the top in a national ranking of the best sites for startups.

Quietly becoming one of Maine’s best-kept business secrets

It’s easy to overlook the inclusion of Bangor on a recent ranking of the country’s best small cities for business startups. Nearly 1,300 cities, in every state, were evaluated in the 2018 study by financial services website WalletHub. And Bangor’s ranking (No. 385) certainly wasn’t the highest in New England.

It was the second-highest.

Only East Providence, Rhode Island, scored higher — No. 303 — in the annual ranking, which was based on 18 metrics, including data on small-business revenue growth, workforce education and labor costs.

But Bangor doesn’t seem to mind being second. While its downstate neighbors sometimes capture the limelight, the Queen City’s 33,000 residents know they have a good thing, thank you very much.

“Growing up, I never imagined I’d be here now,” says Tanya Emery, a native of nearby Hampden and the City of Bangor’s director of economic development. Emery attended Trinity College in Connecticut, and then worked for an information services company based in New York. But she returned to the Bangor area in 2001. “I chose to come back for reasons a lot of people in Bangor are here — the quality of life, the affordability, all the factors that make it a great place for a family, and for a career.”

New attractions beckon

Such criteria are becoming more important to business, as economic and technological change gives employees more freedom to choose where they live and work. In Bangor, they’re finding an increasingly diverse mix of opportunities.

Long known for its lumbering, shipbuilding and manufacturing, the city is now a regional hub for health care, technology and hospitality. With its central location, Bangor is a service and transportation center for much of Maine. The city’s core is now also a sought-after residential address, and aging commercial properties are being converted into chic apartments. In 2014, for example, a 120-year-old building at 28 Broad St. was renovated and transformed into 18 luxury lofts at a cost of $2 million. All were quickly tenanted. Last year, the building sold for $3.1 million.

“It’s easy to understand the attraction to Bangor’s downtown,” says Emery. “You can dine out at night, see a show or catch a concert, and then walk to work the next morning — without breaking your budget.”

The human factor

For employers, Bangor’s labor pool is also an attraction. In fact, Bangor ranked No. 175 on the WalletHub list — among the top 15% of the cities evaluated nationwide — for “access to resources.” Human resources accounted for most of that ranking, according to the study methodology.

“People here are experienced, skilled and motivated,” Emery says. While the evolution of the city’s economy has sometimes meant difficult adjustments for its workforce, it’s also made them “extremely versatile and eager to take on new roles.” Those qualities were some of the reasons Wayfair, the online home furnishings company, chose Bangor as the site of a new customer service center in 2016. Noting “the area’s tremendous legacy in customer service” in a press release, Wayfair moved into a former L.L. Bean call center and now employs 500 there.

Bangor workers today are younger, more diverse and better educated than the city’s labor pool of years past, according to Emery. That may have something to do with the growth of nearby academic institutions, which include Husson University, Eastern Maine Community College and the University of Maine. The UMaine campus in Orono, less than 10 miles from downtown Bangor, is home to 11,000 undergraduate and graduate students. It’s also Maine’s only research university, with world-class investigators in fields such as marine science and composite-material engineering.

Whether an international researcher or a returning native like her, Emery says the city’s new residents discover that “there’s access to everything here in Bangor.” As for the lure of the big city, she notes that Bangor International Airport is only three miles from downtown, and says, “I can always fly to New York.”