By Diana Bowley, Of the NEWS Staff - DEXTER — Local tax assessor David Pearson once joked that Dexter ought to place a large sign at the town’s entrance that reads, “Welcome to Greenville.” That way tourists would stop and stay in Dexter, rather than drive past the town on their way to the Moosehead Lake region.
Many believe the town has much to offer but getting that message out has been frustrating at times, town officials said Wednesday, during a meeting with U.S. Rep. John Baldacci.
“It’s a great place to live and raise your family. This is, in essence, the American dream,” Dexter Town Manager Robert Simpson told Baldacci, whose wife is from Dexter. “It is small-town America. It’s alive and well, but I don’t know how long it will be alive and well.”
The town has good infrastructure, which includes an airport and state-of-the art telecommunications, and has about 1 million square feet of vacant or soon-to-be vacant manufacturing space. It also has a large labor force. But unless the town can purchase one of the empty buildings soon to offer as a business incentive, Simpson worries that more workers will leave the area.
“We’ve had some relatively good contacts [from manufacturers looking to expand or relocate in Dexter],” Simpson said. The problem is acquiring one of the vacant buildings so the town can get federal or state funds for business development.
Simpson said he had hoped that the shoe company would give one of the buildings to the town, but called that idea “fantasyland.” Instead, H.H. Brown, which owns the former Dexter Shoe buildings, has offered its Water Street facility to the town at half of its assessed value or about $250,000. A counterproposal has been made to the company by the local development corporation to seek an option to purchase the building for $200,000.
Simpson said there is a lot of anticipation in town for something to occur right away, but there has also been some level of disappointment. The town needs help in the negotiations.
Toward that end, the town manager said he had received calls last week from Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe and Gov. Angus King asking about Dexter’s progress in securing a building. Simpson said he was surprised to find that the governor was not “attuned” to the town’s issues. “The information wasn’t trickling down or up to his level,” he said.
Baldacci told town officials Wednesday that he would call representatives at H.H. Brown and would stress how important this issue is to the community. “One more voice will just add to the forest,” Baldacci said.
In the interim, Baldacci said the town should continue its efforts to secure a technology and planning grant and develop a plan or economic development strategy.
Baldacci recommended that town officials seek out small manufacturing businesses, tourism and health centers to help fill the void left by the closing of Dexter Shoe Co.
An incubator would fit this purpose well, he noted. Maine communities often think “too big” and put all their eggs in one basket. Then the community is devastated when that “too big” company folds or leaves town, which occurred in Dexter. Even the airport, a critical asset, should be considered for development for air cargo and hangars, Baldacci suggested.
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