The decision to renovate the Cumberland County Civic Center won handily in Tuesday’s election, garnering nearly 58 percent of the vote and winning in 17 of the county’s 28 cities and towns. This victory validates the center’s trustees in their decision to take the proposal to the voters and gives them every right to smile proudly and move ahead with all deliberate speed. But their victory also provides them a wonderful opportunity to solidify public acceptance of their contention that the civic center is of great economic significance to the county as a whole.

After any election, it is natural for the winners to gloat and proceed apace with their agenda. It is also natural for the losers to remain unconvinced and to grow increasingly resentful. One need look only at the increasing use of the people’s veto and the repeated efforts to bring gambling and marriage equality before the voters to know that winning an election does not settle an issue. It is hardly surprising that the 11 towns where the proposed bond issue failed were Portland’s western suburbs and the county’s rural towns running from Standish to Sebago to Harrison, Bridgton and Baldwin.

It is interesting to note, however, that the total “no” vote in these 11 towns accounted for only one third of the total “no” vote in the county. Indeed, the “no” votes in Portland, South Portland and Brunswick (10,132) exceeded the total “no” votes in all 11 of the small “losing” towns (9,073). In short, the civic center trustees still face more than 33,000 voters they have not convinced, and more than 10,000 of those “no” voters live right in the urban centers of the county.

Faced with this reality and the certainty that they will have to present increased operational budgets and, someday, new capital requests, now is the time for trustees to reach out to towns and voters all across the county to continue to make the case for the civic center’s region-wide importance. Trustees should keep extremely careful account not just of the dollars they spend for renovation, but also of who gets them. Who does the design work? The engineering? The construction management? Where does the steel come from? The concrete? Where do the drivers of the concrete trucks live? Who provides the insurance? Who keeps the books?

And after the renovation is complete, trustees should carefully document the number of events and attendance. And monitor changes in downtown meals and lodging and retail sales, perhaps by special agreement with selected nearby merchants. And, without disclosing individual identities, they should keep track of the residence of civic center employees and of the employees of the vendors who serve the civic center. They should monitor occupancy rates and assessed values of neighboring properties. They should keep track of the ZIP codes of ticket purchasers and publish annual reports of how many came from rural areas of the county, and from beyond the county and from out-of-state. They should reach out to area hotels and restaurants to keep similar records in an effort to build an empirical basis supporting the contention that civic center activities bring in money from outside Greater Portland and from outside Maine.

To the extent that trustees can build solid evidence that they are in fact an export industry, bringing money into the state that would not otherwise be here, in the same way as a silicon chip plant or a medicine manufacturer, they will build a better relationship with the taxpayers who are their ultimate directors.

This task is no less important than building relationships with the customers they hope will attend the events they schedule.

Charles Lawton is senior economist for Planning Decisions, a public policy research firm. He can be reached at: [email protected]