June 3, 2011

OUR OPINION: Region is better with FirstPark than without it

FirstPark in Oakland has not yet paid the dividends its founding partners -- 24 local towns and cities -- would have hoped. Though disappointing, the initiative that is FirstPark remains worthy and all efforts should be made to support it.

What the municipal stewards of FirstPark should refrain from doing is abandoning the collaborative spirit that sparked its beginning. There are grumblings that the investment helped only Oakland, or that the jobs created weren't worth the $4.6 million lost to date.

It's too early to start drawing those conclusions. Provincial thinking will assuredly harm FirstPark's chances of future success. What Central Maine needs more than anything is positive action -- and thinking -- for economic development, focused on the assets it has.

FirstPark is one of those prime assets, a selling point and competitive advantage for this region in seeking investments from employers. It has drawn an anchor tenant -- T-Mobile -- that has proven the park and the work force here is viable for others.

Perhaps all it needs is a fresh effort, fresh thinking and good things will happen.

You're probably thinking: Give us a break, Pollyanna. The thing's a boondoggle, has always been a boondoggle, and we should pull the plug. That's a natural opinion, which has grown louder as government subsidies and increased spending grate upon the populace.

But Central Maine with FirstPark is much better than Central Maine without it. That's the thing about an investment -- the money is not wasted, if returns aren't immediate. Investments take some time to grow.

We feel FirstPark needs more time to succeed before passing any judgments.

In this troubling, uncertain economy, it's easy to seek snap answers to solve immediate problems. The public demands job creation, but that doesn't happen overnight.

It does happen, and can happen, through investments such as FirstPark. An axiom of economic development is that businesses go where they are invited.

FirstPark remains an attractive RSVP card. That's why we urge the two dozen partnering communities to take the long view on their investment in it.

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