It’s back, by popular demand. Well, at least two people in the past two years asked me why I stopped writing the original “Scarborough’s Business” column. I never inquired into the meaning behind the question. The question was good enough for me. I certainly didn’t want to disappoint an audience of that size.

The old column concentrated on Scarborough, but I’m going to try to cover more territory in the new incarnation. The Current reports on South Portland, Cape Elizabeth, and Scarborough. And, although I would probably like to write a column about fine wine, neurosurgery, or the World Bank, I don’t know anything about those things, and I should probably stick with what I know, so you will be treated to a lively discussion on issues pertaining to economic development: what it is, how it affects our lives and what is going on in the “tri-town” area. (One paragraph in and I’ve already coined a phrase. Unfortunately, South Portland is a city. When you are a trendsetter, you are allowed to take some liberties.)

Time to get serious. This column will be about economic development. I will try to cover what is going on in terms of business development in our communities, editorialize from time-to-time and maybe even try being a wee bit controversial or confrontational (people I know always tell me I get those two concepts confused). I would like to use this column to inform and educate our readers about the needs of our communities, and the progress we are making in creating jobs and wealth for our residents.

What is economic development? A good question to be sure, and a difficult one to answer. Traditionally, economic development has meant “smoke stack” chasing. This term means doing everything possible to get businesses to locate in your community. Very little thought was given to how these enterprises would affect the community. Would they provide good jobs with good benefits, add to pollution and traffic, or meet the community’s long-term goals? The chase was the main thing: building tax base and then hoping for the best.

But, often the best doesn’t occur, and communities are left with pollution, substandard structures, traffic jams, and jobs without benefits or a living wage. So, even though economic development can be simply defined as creating jobs and tax base, economic development planning is far more important. Determining a community’s wants and needs are the first steps. When a community, a county, or a state determines what it wants in terms of commercial development, develops a good plan and sticks to its guns, smart economic development occurs.

What do I mean by smart economic development? First, we have to look at the various types of commercial development. These are often grouped by the following self-explanatory titles: retail, professional offices, research and development, light manufacturing, service, recreation, and hospitality. All of these types are pretty self-explanatory and each requires a specific type of facility in a specific location within a community. The scope, size, and location of each of these uses must be carefully planned so that they interact well (in the case of jobs and access), and not interfere (in the case of traffic, noise, pollution, etc.) with the residential areas in the community.

The three communities within the reach of this paper offer an interesting look into the approaches an individual community takes with regard to economic development. There are similarities and differences that should provide a lively canvas upon which to illustrate the issues of economic development.

The most telling similarity is their position as bedroom communities to Portland. Their respective differences range from the urban feel of South Portland to the small-town feel of Cape Elizabeth to the suburban feel of Scarborough. In economic development terms, South Portland is defined by the retail and office developments of the Maine Mall area and by the industrial area across from Portland on the waterfront. Cape Elizabeth’s economic development identity is framed by its lack of commercial development; it is a strictly residential community, and it wants to remain that way. Scarborough, once a rural community, is now a suburban community that has found the need and desire for commercial and industrial development to offset the costs of intense residential growth. In terms of tax base diversity in these communities, 55 percent of South Portland’s tax base is industrial and commercial, Cape Elizabeth’s stands at just under 2 percent, and Scarborough’s is 23 percent.

Over the next few months we will be exploring the issues involved in economic development within these three communities, reporting on efforts to attract and retain business ventures, and looking at some specific businesses (both new and existing) to give readers a better understanding of what is happening in our communities. Hopefully, we can even look at some state and countywide issues as they affect South Portland, Cape Elizabeth, and Scarborough.

Harvey Rosenfeld is the President of the Scarborough Economic Development Corporation (SEDCO), a private non-profit located in Scarborough. The opinions contained within this article are solely his and are not a reflection of the Scarborough Economic Development Corporation, nor of the Town of Scarborough.

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