Driving through Waterville, I often recall with vivid memory sitting in the back seat of my parent’s car complaining about the smell penetrating the station wagon.

“That’s the smell of money!” my father would exclaim. Of course, that smell was Scott Paper Co. in Winslow, the same paper company that brought the Isgro family to Waterville in 1960 and financed the upbringing of seven children and a pensioned retirement.

Times have changed, and industries have come and gone, but Waterville must revive the idea of manufacturing. While it may look different from decades ago, we still need workers to make things.

The manufacturing sector in the United States by itself represents the eighth-largest economy in the world, according to the Manufacturing Institute in Washington, D.C. With access to a foreign trade zone, an ever-improving airport and a vibrant downtown, Waterville stands poised on the edge of a new economic era, where good-paying jobs support a strengthened downtown. This may be a lofty and perhaps long-term goal, but we must look toward the future. While forward strides have been made, much more still needs to be accomplished.

We cannot control decisions made in Augusta or Washington, so we must use our own resources, both human and economic, to determine our future. We must get creative with everything from the various tax increment financing (both municipal and state-sponsored employment TIF) to our forgivable loan program to ensure that the funds needed to get new businesses are available and our economic engines turning.

Let’s make sure that we are working to assist manufacturers and other qualifying businesses with Community Development Block Grants and increase our use of Pine Tree Development Zones, which have been crucial in the expansion of more than 300 businesses across Maine, including Waterville. The city is ripe for expansion with existing structures available in town and more space on Trafton Road, College Avenue and the Head of Falls.

Businesses alone cannot create the necessary tax base that Waterville needs for long-term economic success, so tax policies also should be used as a weapon in the war against dilapidating housing, as well as to encourage a reduction in rental units and an increase in owner-occupied housing.

Waterville should exploit every area we can reach within the law to ensure that the cost of services remains as streamlined as possible and that tax policy and zoning laws are used to encourage an influx of owner-occupied single- and two-family homes.

From the South End to every corner of the city, we must do everything we can to ensure the stabilization and preservation of our historic neighborhoods, where many Waterville families have felt forgotten as surrounding homes have become neglected or transformed for the worse.

The city should work with both new and existing businesses to ensure that those who work in and around Waterville understand what a gem the city is. We have first-class recreation trails, access to early child care, great public and private schools for our children, access to top-notch medical facilities, locally owned retail businesses and an enormous choice of places to worship.

The strategies I have outlined to attract new jobs and increase home ownership to increase the tax base are not, I am sure, the only ideas that will help Waterville succeed in this new century. They are a starting point in an era where new and innovative thinking will be needed as the economy struggles forward in a continuing time of recovery. We need to come together as residents and businesses, and we need to work with and not against our nonprofits.

While we may disagree about individual issues, let us remember that we share a common destiny.

Waterville stands on the edge of an uncertain future in uncertain times, but we know what is needed to set the stage for a strong economy and a growing city with a future that is brighter than its past. Remember, no one lights a candle and hides it under a bushel, but it is placed high in the house so that its light shines to all.

Let us be that light and give an example to all of what a community that stands united and working together can accomplish and become again that shining beacon along the Kennebec River.

Nick Isgro of Waterville is a candidate for mayor. He is controller at Skowhegan Saving Bank and treasurer at the Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers.

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