SOUTH PORTLAND — After fielding applications from as far away as Australia, City Manager Jim Gailey last week said he expects to appoint a new economic director in the next couple of weeks.

The field of 85 candidates was reduced to seven finalists chosen by Gailey and a search committee comprised of Fire Chief Kevin Guimond, Human Resources Director Don Brewer, Transportation and Waterfront Director Tom Meyers, Water Resource Protection Director Pat Cloutier and Finance Director Greg L’Heureux.

Gailey said initial interviews began this week, and he would like to conclude the process by the middle of next month. The finalists are all from New England, Gailey said, but the depth of the applicant field impressed him.

“We had a tremendous amount of talent,” Gailey said.

Since the appointee might have to give a month’s notice to a current employer, Gailey said he hopes the new economic director will be on the job by the middle of March.

Gailey said the new director can expect to spend 80 percent of his or her time on economic development and 20 percent serving as assistant city manager and leading municipal initiatives.

Attracting new business to the city will be critical, Gailey said, but a primary task for the economic director will also be working with existing businesses to foster growth and expansion.

The job has been vacant since the resignation last August of Erik Carson, who was on administrative leave at the time he resigned. Carson had also served as assistant city manager before his demotion in October 2011.

Mayor Tom Blake has said hiring a new economic director is one of his top five priorities for the year.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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