OAKLAND — For the new executive director of FirstPark, economic development is second nature.

Jim Dinkle has spent most of his working life in economic development and redevelopment at various stops around the country. He said Tuesday that he was attracted to the position at FirstPark, a business park in Oakland near Interstate 95, because he was struck by the integrity of the Kennebec Regional Development Authority’s governing board, citing its history in its communities and their ability to contribute time, energy, knowledge and skill to those communities, and by the ongoing work to revitalize the downtown area in Waterville.

“When I see the resurgence on Main Street and the quality of businesses, that was very attractive to me,” he said.

Waterville City Manager Mike Roy, who is president of the governing board, said the search process used to fill the position was a long, difficult one that extended nationwide. He said the organization was pleased to find Dinkle with his experience in the municipal sector and with economic development. Roy said that Dinkle’s experience, even though out of state, will serve him well in working with the 24 communities that make up the group.

“In a short time, he’s come to understand the mission of KRDA,” Roy said. “He’s come to understand the mission very well and understand the urgency of making something else happen there.”

Dinkle replaces Brad Jackson, who earlier this year resigned as executive director of the authority after serving in that position since 2013 to move to the private sector.

Dinkle was appointed the new executive director on Nov. 6. A native of Lexington, Kentucky, Dinkle said he had been living in Arizona, where he ran a regional economic development organization for five years before serving as a private economic development consultant for about a year. He has worked in economic development and redevelopment since the early 1990s, he said, having also worked on brownfield property redevelopment in Chicago. Brownfields are sites where potential development might be complicated by pollution.

Dinkle said he also worked for the Burlington Santa Fe Railroad while in Arizona, helping businesses that wanted lower shipping rates or access to better services to relocate onto railroad sites. That railroad experience is also part of what attracted him to the area, with its Intermodal Freight Facility, he said.

“I think it’s a tremendous asset to the region,” Dinkle said. “It’s like an interstate highway to the world.”

In a new weekly update Dinkle has begun sending out, he wrote that he will meet on Dec. 1 with a prospect for one of the 18 sites still available in the park. He writes that this prospect works throughout the country and has offices in Canada and Japan.

“They are full service, performing everything from site selection through construction for their clients,” he wrote. “My initial goal is to earn a site visit from their executive team.”

Dinkle couldn’t talk about who that prospect is because discussions were in an early stage, but he said it was someone he was familiar with from previous work.

Dinkle said he also plans to work more closely with area colleges to see what partnerships they can forge. Once a voting member on the University of Kentucky board of trustees, Dinkle will be visiting Colby College, Thomas College and Kennebec Valley Community College to begin building partnerships.

Higher education is a strategic ally of economic development he said, and these schools produce trained young professionals who can hit the ground running because of the education they receive locally.

“I would like to see us do a better job of retaining these graduates,” he said, which can be done through recruitment and working to attract growth sector jobs such as those in science or information technology.

In the past, there have been concerns about the 285-acre park’s ability to attract tenants and to create jobs. While the organization did draw a T-Mobile calling center in 2006 that employs 600 people and invested $17 million to build its FirstPark facility, many of the other lots at FirstPark remain unoccupied.

To start with, Dinkle sees his mission as improving the marketing of KRDA and FirstPark. The organization is working to improve and relaunch its website, which will feature a language translation feature for Spanish, German, French, Japanese and Chinese, and will be working to brand itself better on social media.

“I want to capture the essence of this park,” he said.

Dinkle also hopes to clear all or part of one of the available lots of trees and foliage and will recommend this to the governing board in the coming months. Clearing one of the lots will show potential tenants the type of land and space available at First Park, he said, and he will recommend other cosmetic fixes to make the park “show better.” Right off the bat, he’d like to see a flagpole at the entrance with an American flag, a Canadian one and a German one, noting that the German flag should be included because T-Mobile, a major business in the park, is a German company.

The 24 communities that make up KRDA, a quasi-municipal entity created by the Legislature, are Anson, Benton, Canaan, China, Clinton, Cornville, Fairfield, Farmingdale, Gardiner, Hartland, Manchester, Norridgewock, Oakland, Palmyra, Pittsfield, Readfield, Rome, St. Albans, Sidney, Smithfield, Solon, Starks, Waterville and Winslow. The authority was established in 1998 when those 24 municipalities in Kennebec and Somerset counties agreed to invest in the park by paying down its initial debt. Those investments were made in exchange for a share of the revenue produced by business development in the park, something Dinkle’s appointment is meant to improve.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis

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