FirstPark is the most significant — and the most successful — publicly supported business development ever undertaken in central Maine.

Its 24-member towns, organized as the Kennebec Regional Development Authority, completed a major portion of the park in 2002, well under budget and on time with support from $2 million in public grants and a $3.5 million bond issue that will be paid off six years from now.

T-Mobile’s massive call center in FirstPark employs 600 customer service representatives overseen by another 100 management and training personnel.

This local work force is regarded by T-Mobile as one of the best among its many U.S. call centers. In fact, it is advertising for more help.

Starting pay is between $11.78 and $13.94 per hour, depending on prior experience. Employees have health insurance, stock options, a 401k, a tuition reimbursement program, phone plan discounts, child care credits, shift differential pay, tangible incentives for superior performance, and onsite amenities, including a workout gym, showers and food available around the clock.

T-Mobile, now in its 10th year, is regularly listed as one of the best places to work in Maine.

With 700 people earning annual wages averaging more than $25,000 each, plus benefits, T-Mobile’s contribution to the central Maine economy is at least $17.5 million per year.

No other public economic development effort in our region has ever produced such results.

The workforce in FirstPark is several times larger than that of Hathaway Shirt, which shuttered its doors many years ago. It’s bigger than that of the former Kimberly-Clark mill across the river in Winslow. It’s bigger even than what Guilford Transportation left behind when the rail yards closed.

Money that T-Mobile pays to its Maine employees comes largely from other parts of the nation and is spent locally on rent, groceries, car repairs, clothing, insurance and health services. Their wages support other businesses and create other local jobs.

Employees from the 15 businesses within FirstPark pay real estate and vehicle excise taxes that more than offset what our member towns contribute to the park.

The Kennebec Regional Development Authority is the only development agency in our region that has ever systematically engaged new companies to come to Maine.

While no one can promise another T-Mobile right around the corner, the authority’s executive director — a business ambassador for our entire region — recently reported about nine business prospects that he is actively pursuing from among the 45 out-of-state leads he has called on during the past 18 months.

FirstPark contains 24 lots, of which nine have been sold. Six of the sold lots have been fully developed and host 14 small businesses in addition to T-Mobile.

The lots still available for sale have listing prices totaling $5 million. Eight of these are ready-to-build lots with paved streets and utilities including water, sewer, storm water retention ponds and fiber conduit.

Electricity comes from three-phase, 440 volt, underground cable with duplicate feeds. Developed areas of the park are supplied with underground high bandwidth fiber for optic data, voice and ancillary services.

Without these sophisticated features, no other town or county in our region could have convinced a business such as T-Mobile to build a 78,000-square-foot building.

All of the lots in FirstPark are pre-permitted by state, federal and municipal regulators. Because the park is a Pine Tree Zone, the state can supply qualified businesses with training expenses and major startup concessions on sales and income taxes.

With quick access to the interstate, the park is an easy commute for most of the people who live in Kennebec and Somerset counties.

The Kennebec Regional Development Authority receives $340,000 in annual taxes assessed on properties already developed within FirstPark. Tax revenue from these and other lots later sold will continue for the life of the authority’s agreement with the town of Oakland — for another 80 years after the bond is paid in 2020.

All elements of the budget are voted on in public each March at the authority’s annual meeting and reviewed during the year in monthly meetings of the executive board and quarterly meetings of the general assembly.

The FirstPark concept proved itself with the arrival of T-Mobile 10 years ago and with the attraction of a number of thriving smaller companies. FirstPark continues to be an asset of extraordinary value for attracting new business to support the economy of central Maine.

Peter Mills, of Cornville, wrote this on behalf of the executive board of the Kennebec Regional Development Authority.

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