DEXTER — Local officials are not wasting any time finding tenants for two buildings that will become vacant once Dexter Shoe Co. ceases its manufacturing operations.
Since word was received earlier this month that the town could market two of the several buildings owned by the shoe company, town officials have been busy working on an advertising campaign that could bring new industry to town.
Shoe company officials announced last month that it would lay off 475 employees by January and would cease its shoe manufacturing operations in Maine.
Municipal officials at first were stunned by the announcement but now look at the development as a chance for other opportunities.
"We're trying to see this as a veiled opportunity — as a chance to bring a more modern economic base here," David Pearson, tax assessor and treasurer of the newly developed Dexter Regional Development Corp., said Thursday.
Pearson said that town officials had discussed the need to focus on economic development long before last month's announcement. Concerns about dropping employment levels in the community had sparked some efforts to address the situation. Local officials believed then that they were on top of the problem when the shoe company announced its decision to cease its manufacturing operations.
"It was clear that our little town was losing its economic livelihood," Pearson said. "It was clear we needed to do something, but we just didn't expect to lose as much, as fast as we did."
Town Manager Robert Simpson was the catalyst for that economic development drive, Pearson said.
Rather than rely solely on county economic development efforts to help the town, local officials organized their own economic development group. The local group will help ensure that the town remains competitive for economic development opportunities, Pearson said.
In fact, these officials are pushing forward with a feasibility study and plan for the Abbott Mill in the event that Guilford of Maine ceases its use of the building located downtown. The town received a $10,000 planning grant to study possible options for the building.
"We're trying to be prepared," Pearson said.
In the past, the town didn't have a clue what to do with the Dumbarten Mill so it was torn down, according to Pearson. The same was true when author Stephen King donated the former Plummer Memorial Hospital building to the town. The town auctioned the building off for "peanuts," he said.
When the Abbott Mill is no longer functional for the textile company, the town can reach for its plan and proceed from there.
Reaching out to other business and industry could be a "real opportunity for us," Pearson said. It could provide the town with a more varied tax base and a more modern business climate, he added.
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