Since Waterville soon will have a new mayor, what’s next for our city?

The issues aren’t that much different now from those of three years ago. As Waterville’s incoming and outgoing mayors, we say economic development and the best way to increase the city’s prosperity are at the top of the list.

The city has had a number of successes in the past three years, beginning with the revitalization of the airport, one of our greatest assets for economic development. We changed the look of the building from something that resembled a rundown bus station to one that attracts jet traffic and has services for them. In addition to increasing jet traffic, the staff has attracted new businesses providing engine service and repair and airplane detailing.

Last year, we purchased 60 acres of free trade zone land surrounding the airport, property that will allow businesses who locate there to import parts without paying duty until their products are assembled and shipped out for sale.

This year, nine new businesses and beautiful new apartments and offices over Silver Street Tavern were opened downtown.

We have full occupancy at the Hathaway Complex in apartments most people thought were priced too high to fill. In addition to the new businesses, 350 employees from MaineGeneral Medical Center and 32 from Inland Hospital worke downtown.

The city as a whole this year experienced the arrival of 24 new businesses, a 50 percent increase in revenue over projections for building permits, and the return to the tax rolls of 45 acres of land surrounding Seton.

Now the question for the new mayor is what should we do to capitalize on these developments?

We suggest looking at economic development strategies that capitalize on our assets and work to retain and expand what we have.

People want to live close to amenities, arts and culture, recreational opportunities and good health care facilities; find a balance between work and leisure; and have the opportunity to do business anywhere in the world from their hometown.

What do we have to address those desires?

We have one of the best downtowns in Maine and a new Colby president who is interested in making it a vibrant place for 200 students to live.

We have a wide variety of local business owners whose products and services attract customers from around the state and beyond. Those business owners support the economic development organizations of the area with their dollars and their time.

We have world-class arts, music and recreation areas that bring people here to spend money in restaurants and stores while they are visiting.

We have state-of-the-art child care facilities and a school system that has 75 percent of our third graders reading at grade level, as opposed to the statewide average of 39 percent; 16 statewide high school Science Olympiad wins in the last 18 years; and, a math team started only two years ago that ranks second in central Maine and 15th out of 143 in the state.

We have hundreds of students at the Mid Maine Technical School, Kennebec Valley Community College and Thomas College who grew up here and who most likely want to stay in the area. We have students from around the country and around the world at Colby and Thomas. We suspect that some of them would stay here, too, if we were in the business of making that happen.

We have some vacant properties and some interested developers already working in the area.

What we need is a strategy for putting our assets to work in a focused and coordinated way. The current vacancy at the Central Maine Growth Council, the changes in the city’s planning and engineering departments, and the need to be as creative as possible with limited economic development dollars are providing the opportunity to think strategically.

We suggest a facilitated process with business leaders and economic development staff of the organizations we currently fund — Waterville Main Street, Kennebec Valley Council of Governments, the Central Maine Growth Council and the Chamber of Commerce — to map resources, agree on priorities for the city and for the surrounding towns, assess functions needed to achieve the priorities, develop the form of the organization(s) needed to best coordinate and carry out the needed functions.

With concentrated planning efforts, with a willingness to think outside the box and with a much-needed attitude adjustment, the greater Waterville community can prosper and thrive. It’s what we all want. Let’s do it.

Karen Heck has been mayor of Waterville since 2011. Mayor-elect Nick Isgro will be sworn in on Jan. 6.

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