2012-12-14 / Community News

Business plan focuses on big picture

Communities in Greater Portland economic group expected to review protocol
By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

A year after joining five other communities in developing the Greater Portland Economic Development Corporation, Scarborough officials are reviewing a protocol regarding how to handle businesses looking to locate or expand into the Greater Portland area.

On Wednesday, Dec. 5, the Scarborough Town Council reviewed the protocol, which outlines specific guidelines on how to handle such inquires.

Town Manager Tom Hall said the protocol “formalizes” a lot of what has already being agreed to informally in marketing Greater Portland collectively rather than individually.

The GPEDC Board approved the protocol Tuesday, Nov. 13. Now each of the GPEDC’s six member communities, which include Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Portland, Scarborough, South Portland and Westbrook, have been requested to approve the protocol.

The protocol states “there should be no solicitation of businesses currently residing in another community.”

Communities that are contacted by a business from another member community about relocation or expansion are required to inform the business of GPEDC. The business may request confidentiality, but if not, the community is obligated to notify the other GPEDC communities, including the one where the company is located, about the business inquiry.

The protocol also outlines the steps to be taken with inquiries from businesses outside the Greater Portland area.

“What is good for the region is good for Scarborough,” Hall said. “It doesn’t do us much good to steal businesses away from Westbrook and bring it to Scarborough. It might help with the tax base, but it doesn’t help the region in general.”

Scarborough Town Councilor Jessica Holbrook said she supports the collaborative marketing approach, but could not approve the protocol as written because of a section that bars soliciting businesses away from other communities.

“At the end of the day, I am a representative for Scarborough,” Holbrook said. “Although I like the idea of building our base, I don’t believe this is in the best interests of Scarborough.”

Rather than decide one way or another at their meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 5, upon Councilor Ed Blaise’s suggestion, councilors decided to table the item until hearing input from the Scarborough Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors.

Karen Martin, SEDCO’s communication and marketing manager, said the board addressed the topic in a morning meeting Thursday, Dec. 6 and overwhelmingly supported it.

“We don’t just want to be moving businesses around,” she said after the meeting. “The whole point of the GPEDC is really to increase the size of the pie and find new ways to market the area. The protocol adds ways to increase the numbers and look at the region as a whole and make it more competitive.”

With SEDCO’s favorable recommendation in hand, the council will address the topic again Wednesday, Dec. 19.

The Falmouth Town Council also took this wait-and-see approach.

Theo Holtwijk, Falmouth’s director of long-range planning, said the protocol is still under review in Falmouth and could come before the town council again in January. The council initially reviewed the protocol at its meeting on Monday, Nov. 26.

“The town council is aware of the protocol and has asked for the opinion of the Falmouth Economic Improvement Committee,” Holtwijk said. South Portland City Manager Jim Gailey said the protocol has not made it to the council level yet, but he hopes to bring it up in a workshop session in January.

He passed it by the South Portland Economic Development Committee, which approved it on Wednesday, Dec. 5.

“There is nothing earth shaking in it,” Gailey said last week. “It is a document that for the first time puts this stuff in ink on paper. The biggest thing is really that no steal clause, which the economic development guys have been living by for the last two, three years.”

Cape Elizabeth Town Manager Michael McGovern said the protocol has not been addressed by the town council as of yet and will not appear on any upcoming council agendas. McGovern said the topic will probably be addressed sometime in February.

“It’s a much bigger issue for (the other communities) than it is for us,” he said. “We are not out there looking for businesses to move to Cape Elizabeth.”

Bill Baker, Westbrook’s assistant city manager of business and community relations, said the Westbrook City Council approved the protocol with little fanfare on Monday, Dec. 3. Attempts to reach officials in Portland for comment, including Greg Mitchell, the city’s director of economic development were unsuccessful.

GPEDC Executive Director Tom Turner is confident all six communities will eventually adopt the protocol.

“We’re confident all six communities will approve it because it makes no sense to poach each other’s industries,” Turner said, adding, “combined these communities have so many strengths.”

Hall said there is nothing written into the protocol that reprimands communities for not abiding by it.

“We’ve all agreed to abide by this, but there’s no punitive penalties associated with this,” Hall said.

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