PRESQUE ISLE – Close to 50 people turned out Tuesday as the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the Maine Development Foundation held the third of six meetings scheduled statewide to discuss their research project on business investment in the state.

Members of Aroostook County’s health care, business, municipal and education communities gathered at Northern Maine Community College for the meeting on “Making Maine Work: Critical Investments for the Maine Economy.”

“We are extending our plan to get Maine’s economy going again,” said Chris Jackson, senior governmental affairs specialist for the chamber. “There had been a lack of a shared and sustained long-term strategy.”

The chamber and the development foundation say they have been doing research to gain an understanding of Maine’s opportunities and barriers to investment, in an effort to inform and guide this fall’s gubernatorial debates.

The organizations plan a meeting in Portland on Aug. 18, from 7:30 to 9 a.m. at the University of New England.

Their plan, based on a survey of more than 1,000 Maine business leaders, presents 12 strategies to help the state attract people and investments and retain the work force it has now.

“Our population is growing very slowly,” said Laurie Lachance, president and CEO of the Maine Development Foundation. “We will not grow out of our problems.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Aroostook County’s population declined 3 percent from 2000 to 2008.

Business leaders who responded to the survey ranked quality of life and a loyal and skilled work force as “Maine’s two greatest economic development assets.”

The survey also provided insight into what business leaders say are the top five challenges to economic growth. First among them is the cost of health care.

One explanation for the rise in health care costs is unnecessary emergency room visits. One strategy to reduce those visits, being used now by The Aroostook Medical Center in Presque Isle, is the opening of two walk-in clinics, in the local Walmart and on North Street.

David Peterson, president and CEO of The Aroostook Medical Center, sees the clinics as a way to cut costs and deliver better care.

“The development of alternatives means the emergency department can focus on the more severe cases and do a better job of delivering health care services,” he said.

Jason Parent, director of development and college relations for Northern Maine Community College, discussed how the college is trying to meet the educational goals of the plan.

The college is working with hospitals and businesses to train workers, and has a new wind power technician program with 19 students working on summer internships in Maine.

Theresa Fowler, executive director of the Presque Isle Chamber of Commerce, sees the plan as “directional.”

“No report will be perfect for everyone, but it does highlight areas of major concern,” she said. “It gives us a focus using sound, resource-based research.”

Fowler said Presque Isle has a head start, with several of the recommendations already in place, including a downtown revitalization committee.

Also, a local organization, Momentum Aroostook, has been formed with the goal of attracting and keeping young adults in the area.

“The whole state should be looking at the same objectives and work as a state, not separate regions,” Fowler said.