OAKLAND — The executive director of the organization that manages FirstPark is resigning at the end of the month after four years at the helm, raising fresh questions about the business park’s future and its strategy in attracting more jobs that were pledged nearly two decades ago.

Brad Jackson, the executive director of the Kennebec Regional Development Authority since February 2013, is resigning from his position effective March 31, according to board Chairman Howard Mette. Members of the authority’s board received the news in an email statement this week, Mette said.

Jackson did not respond to multiple requests for comment this week sent by email and phone message. Mette said he does not know Jackson’s future plans.

“He had a vision. He did a lot of good work,” Mette said, citing as an example two grants Jackson won since joining the authority in 2013. However, Jackson’s vision and the board’s didn’t mesh, according to Mette.

“We had a difference of opinion as far as how the park should be promulgated,” he said, saying it posed a conflict for how things would work. Mette would not elaborate further on those disagreements but repeated that the board and Jackson “just had a difference of opinion.”

The authority manages retail space at FirstPark, a business park in Oakland near Interstate 95 that was established in 1998 when 24 municipalities in Kennebec and Somerset Counties agreed to invest in the park by paying down its initial debt. Those community investments were made in exchange for part of the revenue from the anticipated business development in the park, but both revenue to the communities and the number of predicted jobs has not matched the original expectations.

Some towns have raised concerns over the 285-acre park — which landed a T-Mobile calling center in 2006 that employs 600 people and invested $17 million to build its FirstPark facility — but still had 18 undeveloped lots out of 25 in 2015.

At the time of its creation, officials said FirstPark would be a magnet for businesses that would create 3,000 high-quality jobs during a 20-year period.

Diana Rafuse was at the helm of the development authority from 2009 to 2012, and aimed to “re-introduce” the business park by pushing it not just as a regional business attraction but a statewide one, too. At the time, Rafuse prioritized the creation of a new strategic plan, developing a regional economic strategy with local organizations, and building stronger ties with the state’s policymakers and local business owners.

Jackson, a retired lieutenant colonel with an economic development background, said last year that FirstPark was undertaking “a bit of a shift in strategy” in vying for smaller companies to lease new buildings. Jackson made the comments in announcing a new partnership with SVN The Urbanek Group, a global commercial real estate firm, to bring new development and companies to the Oakland business park. SVN would aim to attract developers to the 285-acre business park as the development authority sought small to medium-sized companies to lease buildings on lots.

“The thinking in the past has been getting more T-Mobile buildings here, large companies,” Jackson said in an interview at the time. “That’s not the market here anymore. We’re looking for smaller companies — small, medium-sized enterprises — and hand-holding them over the border. It’s the next step.”

“Essentially, we’re re-tagging what we’re doing here,” Jackson added at the time, pointing to FirstPark’s new advertising campaign, “Business is moving here,” as the guiding focus. “We’re getting to a point where it’s time to start developing the supply side of the equation, cultivating the supply.”

Now, with Jackson resigning, the development authority board’s top commitment is to FirstPark, according to Mette.

Right now, the board is in the process of re-evaluating its vision, so there are no immediate hiring plans, he said.

“We want to make sure that we provide jobs for this area,” he said. “In terms of developing that, we need to make sure that we do what’s right for the communities.”

Mette said there don’t appear to be any deals that will be affected by Jackson’s resignation.

“I feel very optimistic about where we’re going, and I’m looking forward to making sure that this, indeed, will be a success,” he said.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.