Amazon Was Here

Retail is a mixed bag across the country. Malls in smaller cities are struggling, as former anchor tenants like Sears and J.C. Penney have closed stores, and many smaller shops have shuttered. Larger retail has shifted to shopping complexes anchored by a Walmart or other big-box store. Drive through any community other than Portland and notice the abundance of unfilled retail space.

The late, great Bookland Store sits vacant at Cook's Corner, in Brunswick.

The late, great Bookland Store sits vacant at Cook’s Corner, in Brunswick.

Smaller malls and shopping centers were popping up all over the place in Maine three decades ago. This pretty much sealed the deal for Mom and Pop small hardware stores and other locally-owned shopping options. Now, many of those same strip malls and retail havens have multiple vacant storefronts. Continue reading

Going Back and Moving Forward

I have the 3,000-word front page feature in this week’s Portland Phoenix. It’s about growth in the city of Portland, the current frenzy of real estate development, and whether or not this is best for all of the city’s residents, or just the few that are able to extract value from the current assets.

The article also looks backward, considering past boondoggles in order to have a better understanding of what might be the best way forward. I also am pretty upfront that I’m not enamored with most of the development ideas and plans coming from city hall.

My first extensive piece of writing about Portland and its economy was published back in 2004. It was about Hadlock Field. It’s hard to believe 10 years have passed on this. I’m still employing the same tools of the trade—research, putting boots on the ground and talking with those on the street, and remaining diligent in finding the narrative thread for the story I’m working on. No one has ever bothered to get this kind of up-close-and-personal look at baseball and whether it’s an economic benefit to the city, or not.


The June 2004 cover story in the late, great Portland Pigeon. “Direct Action Journalism” indeed!

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Solutions Trump Systems

How do we get things done? If our vaunted systems are in various stages of failure and even collapse, then it’s time we found a new way or perhaps, considered some of the old ways that are tested and true, but somehow, we’ve forgotten them—mainly because they aren’t sexy and don’t require a Ph.D. to implement. Sometimes I call it looking “back to the future.”

If we’ve reached the outer limits of growth—and I believe that we have—then what is our way forward? Economic development and a growth at all costs mentality will only take you so far. Look around at the great unwinding of the past 40 years and know that we haven’t been able to grow our way out of our troubles. Continue reading


Two weekends ago, there were two articles of interest to me, delving into economic development in Maine.  I found the first article via Twitter—this involved FirstPark in Oakland, Maine. The second was a featured piece in the print Maine Sunday Telegram, a paper I subscribe to. I’ve been thinking a lot about them ever since.

The former could be labeled a boondoggle, and the latter one, failed policy; I might add that incentives mentioned in the second piece are being perpetuated by the current administration. However, Team LePage gets a free pass in that they aren’t doing anything other than continuing the business as usual machinations of economic development in Maine. Continue reading

A Better Life

A few years ago, I was involved in some community-based work in Portland, centered on economic justice, neighborhood issues, and housing. A fellow organizer had a term for the city’s development community that I found appealing, because it characterized what development too often is—he called the power brokers “the neighborhood development mafia.” By that, he meant that those wielding the power to develop properties and “grow” the economy; realtors, property developers, city officials; the members of that “mafia,” circumvented the will of the people, most often in pursuit of profit. Continue reading

A Lack of Vision

Tumbling, tumbleweeds.

Tumbling, tumbleweeds.

Where there is no vision, the people perish…

People and places without a plan for the future—a vision—are doomed to failure. Equally worse in my opinion is a plan that takes you in the wrong direction.

I grew up in a community that at one time was a vibrant little place. Main Street had a number of places where you could shop, buy ice cream, pick up auto supplies; there was a barber shop (there were actually two, at one time), a hair salon, and several department stores. All of that’s just a memory that people rehash ad nauseum on Facebook these days. There’s a lot of hand-wringing going on, too. Rarely do they look behind the memories and wonder what happened to what was once Lisbon Falls. Continue reading

Small town growth and vitality

Boothbay Harbor: One of Maine’s 10 prettiest villages.

Last week I gave a talk on community branding. My presentation touched on economic growth and vitality in small town Maine, and I also managed to wax semi-poetic (coherent?) on workforce development, something I’ve acquired a fairly extensive knowledge base about. More than mere knowledge, I have developed initiatives and programming that have been successful. Continue reading

Turning the page (and embracing the future)

I’m officially a free agent. The job that I poured my heart into for just short of six years (August 7 would have been anniversary #6) ended yesterday at 5:00 pm.

This transition has been in the works for awhile; yesterday was just one more step in that process. First, the governor began railing against the four LWIBs (my employer) threatening to phase them out by June 30 (this posturing began last September). By March of this year, my hours with the Central/Western Maine Workforce Investment Board had been reduced from 40 to 20. When I walked out the door of the Lewiston CareerCenter last night at 5:15, it was just another step along the reinvention path. Continue reading