HARPSWELL — When Planning Decisions asked residents how they would like to see their local economy improved, people responded by saying they want to put the town on the map, literally, in a way that would attract more visitors.

But at the Portland firm’s first community forum for Harpswell’s economic development plan on Oct. 25, another suggestion was made: raise residents’ awareness about the goods and services offered in town. 

“The biggest part that I think that we miss is having us as townspeople be aware of the businesses we have in town,” Selectman Alison Hawkes said during the meeting, “because we are self-sustaining. Most people don’t have an idea.”

Part of the awareness problem is compounded by the town’s division between the mainland and the islands, Hawkes said, which might blind people from learning about business developments in other parts of Harpswell.

Hawkes said she didn’t became aware of the wider scope of Harpswell businesses until she became an elected official and began traveling around town more often.

While conducting the Oct. 25 forum, Sarah Curran, a senior planner at Planning Decisions, said she thought that was an interesting perspective because after doing some research, she found that more people are self-employed in Harpswell then the state and county averages.

According to 2011 tax information, Curran found that self-employed people make up 30 percent of residents – twice the Cumberland County average of 15 percent, and nearly twice the state average of 16 percent.

She said the purpose of this forum and other meetings is to see how people want, and don’t want, the local economy to change.

“We will try to find common themes (from those meetings) and then do a meeting about opportunities and assets” that can potentially improve Harpswell’s economy, Curran said. That meeting is expected to happen sometime in November.

Town Administrator Kristi Eiane said she is happy with the progress that town has been making with Harpswell’s economic development plan.

“I think there’s been a great effort to extract ideas from the community,” she said.

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.

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