WINDHAM — The executive director of the Greater Portland Council of Governments urged Lakes Region residents and business owners to work together and think regionally at a community lunch March 21, asking “How do we get people from diverse perspectives growing in the same direction?”

Kristina Egan spoke about the Lakes Region’s future growth at the lunch, which was hosted by Sebago Lake Rotary and held at the Windham Veterans Center. Egan is the former state director of transportation for Massachusetts and a former Freeport town councilor.

She began her presentation by discussing local data trends and asking audience members what they predicated the data showed. She focused on some of the problems facing the state. For instance, Maine has thousands of jobs that are unfilled as the population grows steadily older, she said.

She then focused on the Lakes Region specifically and demonstrated that family incomes in the area are lower than the county average.

“Our incomes are barely keeping up with inflation. We’re not getting wealthier,” she said.

As job growth increases and housing growth disperses, Egan said, the region has “three times as many jobs and a third as much housing,” which creates “an affordable housing issue that’s deepening in our region.”

She also highlighted transportation costs: “You in the Lakes Region are actually being hit hardest because people have to drive the furthest,” she said.

In terms of location affordability, Egan said, families living in Portland and making the median income spend about 45 percent of their incomes on transportation and housing, while Windham families spend 58 percent and Casco families 51 percent.

Egan then moved on to the region’s assets, which include a strong regional identity, natural beauty and rural character, clean water and a diverse economy. Members of the audience also added resources such as Shawnee Peak, Bridgton Hospital, good school systems and a strong work ethic.

Egan encouraged listeners to consider their options when looking towards the future and use their assets to their advantage.

“We have choices about how you develop and what’s coming next. How do we get people from diverse perspectives growing in the same direction?” she said.

She urged attendees to be cheerleaders for the region, to be teammates who are open to change, to think regionally rather than constraining themselves within municipal borders and to advocate at all levels.

Egan also recommended that residents “strengthen great places” by preserving rural character and protecting water bodies, “create great places” by investing in infrastructure and support the local economy by buying and hiring locally.

The audience contributed additional ways the region can work together, including increasing education about opioid misuse, encouraging young people to vote and collaborating across municipalities to increase efficiency.

Tom Bartell of the Windham Economic Development Corporation said that the “conversation needs to be taken up a level.”

“I find it harder to get the elected officials to think about regional issues, broadband and traffic, and not just the effect on Windham or whatever,” he said.

Egan agreed that working together across town lines is crucial and encouraged listeners to take matters into their own hands.

“It’s up to you. It’s in your hands about how we achieve this vision and whether we achieve it. It’s our choice what we do for the future,” she said.

Jane Vaughan can be reached at 780-9103 or at [email protected]

Director of GPCOG Kristina Egan spoke at a luncheon March 21 about the future of the Lakes Region.

The Sebago Lake Rotary Club hosted the community business lunch in the Windham Veterans Center.

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