WATERVILLE — Darryl Sterling’s goal is to have 1,000 new jobs in Waterville, Winslow, Fairfield and Oakland by the end of 2014, and see unemployment reduced by 50 percent.

“These are very ambitious goals,” he said. “But you have to set the bar.”

Sterling, executive director of the Central Maine Growth Council, is working to see his vision become reality.

He is courting several companies looking for places to move, working with area colleges and economic development organizations, promoting entrepreneurship and helping connect businesses and communities with resources, among other activities.

“I’m working with 10 to 12 companies right now on expansion plans,” Sterling said. “Some of them are Waterville companies; some are companies looking to come to Waterville.”

A company that does precision manufacturing is looking at sites in Waterville now, he said. That would bring 50 new, good-paying jobs for highly skilled people, Sterling said.

Sterling said the number of inquiries he has received from such companies looking for places to move has quadrupled since he took the growth council job seven months ago.

He is working with a company that wants to consider developing a firm near the airport and would build a hangar there, he said.

“Also, we’re looking at a venture to build a medical office cluster which could be in Waterville and at FirstPark (in Oakland). This is pretty exciting. The interest is there.”

The Central Maine Growth Council is a public-private nonprofit organization seeking to develop a strong regional economy in central Maine by working with businesses, governments, academic institutions, arts and cultural agencies and residents in Waterville, Oakland, Winslow and Fairfield.

Sterling touts central Maine as a highly desirable place to work, live and recreate.

The growth council gets 50 percent of its funding from participating municipalities and 50 percent from private business.

Sterling’s position formerly was held by John Butera, who left to work for Gov. Paul LePage’s administration. Sterling, of Richmond, was formerly director of economic and community development for that town, where he said he brought in several businesses that netted 500 new jobs over the course of his 10 years there.

“That’s pretty good for a small town,” he said. “I did a lot of regional work as well.”

Before working in Richmond, Sterling was director of economic and community development and planning in Fort Kent and helped developed the annual sled dog races that ultimately were featured on ESPN and touted internationally. He spent a year as community development director in St. Agatha before that.

Sterling said recruiting new businesses is not an end-all — that helping existing companies grow also is important. For instance, he said he helped Orion Ropeworks in Winslow apply for a $400,000 block grant that would allow the company to buy the assets of its largest competitor, bring equipment to Winslow, close a plant in Mexico and add new jobs in Winslow.

“They’ve already started hiring. We’re looking at additional economic development block grants for other companies such as Johnny’s Selected Seeds” in Winslow, he said.

Sterling is also working with the fledgling Hathaway Creative Center in Waterville — housed in former factory buildings — to draw businesses there, and is working with people in Quebec to bring a large bike tour to Maine next year. He is also a member of a new committee appointed to help develop the city’s Robert LaFleur Municipal Airport.

He says he seeks to help entities that are “under-utilized, under-valued and under-served.”

“The airport comes to mind,” he said. “My point is, let’s look at this airport as a positive economic resource for the region.”

Sterling maintains that what benefits one community in central Maine benefits all. Fostering a robust regional economy requires collaboration with municipalities, businesses, colleges and organizations.

“The reason all the collaboration is of paramount importance is that not one entity can do it alone,” he said.

Butera, the former growth council director, had an office in City Hall; Sterling’s is at 50 Elm St., in the same building that houses the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce.

He is a member of a city advisory committee that examines tax breaks requested by companies and is working with the Waterville Main Street program on a project for the Haines Building, downtown at the corner of Main and Appleton streets.

He thinks the area also could use a convention center.

Sterling has developed a strategic plan for the growth council that will be unveiled next month. He said he is excited about the projects he is working on.

“It’s a challenge. If somebody tells me, ‘This can’t be done,’ I say, ‘Oh, yes it can.’ Sometimes you have to shift paradigms and come up with a whole new approach to have a successful outcome — and that’s what I’ve always done.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

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