Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro said he met mayors from all over the country and made connections for accessing resources related to economic development, as part of his recent visit to Washington, D.C., to attend the United States Conference of Mayors.

About 170 mayors from more than 40 states attended the Jan. 24 White House event, according to Isgro, who said it was great talking with a diverse group of people from municipalities of all sizes who are facing the same challenges Waterville faces. President Donald Trump addressed the mayors as well.

“One of the major themes from the president’s administration is that they are here with the same goals we have for our communities and the people who live in them,” Isgro said in an email. “They want to be partners on things like designated Opportunity Zones, which Waterville was smart enough to apply for and receive, and working to make it easy for us to connect with all available resources when it comes to economic development.”

He said Ben Carson, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, spoke to mayors about the importance of projects such as the Hathaway Creative Center in Waterville, formerly the Lockwood Mill, which has a mix of “much needed quality market rate and workforce housing.”

“I’m looking forward to working to have better communication and resources by working with such active administration,” said Isgro, who is also vice chairman of the Maine Republican Party.

The city of Waterville funded $914 of Isgro’s trip, which included airfare, meals, mileage to and from Waterville to the airport, and Uber transportation to and from the airport to the hotel, The Hamilton, and to the conference, according to City Manager Michael Roy. Isgro paid for his own lodging, he said.

The city raises money in the budget for travel and training for full-time employees, administration and elected officials and the amounts are “pretty small,” Roy said. He said the city has established standard rate limits and the amounts allowed for Isgro’s breakfast was $7; lunch, $12; and dinner, $30.

It was the first time in Isgro’s five years with the city that he has taken such a trip and sought reimbursement, according to Roy. Roy said the trip could benefit Waterville resource-wise through the connections Isgro made with face-to-face interactions.

Auburn’s Republican mayor, Jason Levesque, was among those from Maine who also attended the conference.

Isgro posted a photo Jan. 24 on his mayor’s Facebook page of himself at the White House with the statement: “I’m honored to be at the @WhiteHouse today representing @CityofWtvl at the White House Discussion on Transforming America’s Communities with fellow mayors & @realDonaldTrump. Our President & his team are devoted to restoring hope & opportunity across our great nation! #mepolitics”

Roy added that Waterville is the first city in Maine to receive a federal BUILD grant, formerly the Tiger Grant program, and Isgro’s attending the conference is beneficial for those types of connections. The $7.37 million grant, announced in late 2018, will be used for changing the traffic patterns on Main and Front streets downtown and help improve sidewalks, intersections and other aspects of the city’s center.

Councilor Sydney Mayhew, R-Ward 4, said he spoke with Isgro about the conference and Isgro said it was an enlightening and productive event. The mayor plans to share what he learned there with the Central Maine Growth Council, Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, Roy and councilors, according to Mayhew.

“Anytime a municipality can send a mayor to that type of conference on a federal level is very beneficial to us,” Mayhew said. “He was really excited to learn about some of the economic development things, and he talked to me about federal opportunity economic zones discussed among them. Nick was thrilled about bringing some of those ideas back home, so there was a lot of collaboration between him and the municipalities.”

The other six councilors, including Chairman Erik Thomas, did not immediately return requests for comment.

Isgro said the conference included a discussion about a bill President Donald Trump signed that unlocks $375 million in federal funding to help houses of worship and nonprofit organizations protect themselves from terror attacks.

“Having spoken to some local faith leaders since my return, we’ll be partnering to investigate this further,” Isgro said. “If federal dollars are available to help ensure that people of all faiths can worship with a feeling of safety here in Waterville, we should try to be a part of that.”

The Mayors Conference is the official nonpartisan organization of cities with populations of 30,000 or more and there are more than 1,400 such cities in the U.S., according to the conference website. Each city, it says, is represented by its chief elected official, the mayor. The conference’s winter meeting is held every January in Washington, D.C., and an annual meeting also is held in June in a different city, according to the site. The primary conference goals are related to advocacy, best practices, making business connections, promoting cities and networking, according to the conference website.

Although Waterville has just over 16,600, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, smaller communities are able to participate in some Mayors Conference-sponsored events.

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