Last Thursday, the Economic Development Strategic Plan was presented to the public by Economic Development Director Tom Bartell. The plan focuses on developing a business friendly environment in the Town of Windham, and will eventually be incorporated into the Town’s Comprehensive Plan.
Discussion and critique of the plan has been ongoing, and at the meeting last Thursday, members of the community were led through the mission statement and core values of the plan.
The plan states that its vision is to “create a business friendly environment that provides a high-quality of life, a vibrant economy and a welcoming atmosphere.” The plan’s mission is to “encourage economic growth and development in a manner that supports increased prosperity in the Town of Windham.”
Public input from previous meetings was compiled into a list of strengths, weaknesses and threats that benefited and afflicted the community.
“Weaknesses and threats were a much bigger topic than strengths and opportunities,” said Matthew Eddy, the strategic planning consultant.
“I saw that as a positive thing, because I thought people were willing to be critical of what was going on, and really try to get that handle on what was going on,” he said.
Central threats and topics of discussion included Windham’s status as a “bedroom” community, or gateway community, the lack of a village or town center, and a lack of places for college graduates to work and develop personal careers.
While Windham is regarded by the public and economic council as an “agricultural hub” of southern Maine, much of the town’s tourist potential remains untapped. Gateways to tourist destinations are abundant in Windham, and those gateways lead to potential opportunities for other communities.
“We should be recognized as a major community in this state,” said Bartell.
Instead, the public perceives Windham as a way to get somewhere else.
“A lot of people talk about Windham as a drive-through community,” said Eddy. “Tourists stop here, pick up what they want and they keep going,” he continued.
The plan addresses that perception, and aims to “promote Windham as the retail service center for the Sebago Lake’s Region,” according to the draft. The draft also plans to “capitalize on the strengths of Windham’s agriculture industry to encourage continued growth.”
“Windham economic development statistics” were also presented. The statistics were meant to shed some light on and provide context to the plan.
The statistics pointed to a migratory trend in Windham’s workforce.
“A lot of folks are commuting out of the community, and not necessarily to where we thought,” said Eddy.
According to the study, over 70 percent of Windham’s residents work in other towns, while less than 10 percent of Windham’s workers are employed in Windham. Retail services are the second largest employment industry, behind educational, health and social services.
The draft has already been discussed at a council meeting in March, and a business roundtable meeting in April.
The council meeting in March was described by Bartell as “very productive,” and although previous meetings saw a low attendance rate, the draft will be moved forward.
“We’re going to update the draft for May and June, and have it on the agenda for June 11th,” said Bartell.
The public is invited to attend the meeting, and provide comments. A draft of the plan has been posted online. For those who wish to provide input, an online forum has been established at www.windhamcommunityforum.org.