July 19, 2015

Raymond business owners and residents gathered to discuss economic growth and development - By Michelle Libby

For more than a year Raymond has been looking at changes that could be made to it so people would think of it as a destination and a place to do business. Last year a feasibility study was conducted by the Economic Development Task Force, and they hoped to partner with USM to create an incubator program, which would help develop new products. However, that fell through. 
Last month, the town planned two forums under the direction of Planning Decisions in the hopes of moving toward an economic development strategy. Only one of the forums was held. The other business owners, who planned to attend the first forum, received a phone call from Milan Nevajda from Planning Decisions to be interviewed personally. 

The attendees were a spread of all ages, said Nevajda. They also represented business owners, commercial property owners in and out of the commercial strip, various committees and economic development and even former business owners from the recent past, he said.  

During the feasibility study, ninety percent of business owners said they planned to stay in Raymond, said Danielle Loring, director of development for the town. They also want to grow their businesses in Raymond. 

“There was a lot of energy in the 18th meeting. A lot of passion about what they want to do,” said Loring.
The focus group wanted to see direct impact from what decisions are made. They want to grow and function more effectively. The focus groups were a way to recommend needs and strategies for improving Raymond. 

Planning Decisions collected four pages of data listing strengths and weaknesses and will make specific recommendations to the town, like tracking the vendors and supply chains to connect businesses already connected to ones that need the same services. 

“It’s a lot of material to sift through,” said Nevajda. 

The forum was asked about Internet and Broadband service and if they wanted to expand the infrastructure to see greater speed. However, most of the conversations were about broader topics like policy changes to make doing business in Raymond more friendly, rather than focusing on specific businesses.  

“We are looking for a step by step recipe to help our businesses and to attract and retain businesses going forward,” Loring said. Some of those steps would include training for staff, infrastructure and better business courses. 

One of the suggestions was to create an economic development position to create a direct channel to policy makers and the town staff, said Nevajda. This person would be informed and will talk about what needs to happen, funneling information from the town to business owners and back. 

“Raymond didn’t have a specific person who could lead economic development,” said Nevajda. Raymond wants to “change the mindset that it’s not a pass through to more attractive tourist areas like Naples or the shopping area in Windham. People didn’t see Raymond as a place to stop and take care of business. The goal is to make Raymond more of a destination, more identifiable,” he said. 

Two things suggested that Raymond work on were marketing and awareness, and bricks and mortar buildings. Another big piece was town regulations and how to balance what’s feasible versus what the goals of the town are. 

“We want to change Raymond’s image as a drive through town,” Loring said. Raymond has begun its campaign to brand and create more opportunities with its recent Everyone loves Raymond, ME festival over the Fourth of July. 

Planning Designs will create a report with the feedback for later in the summer. The focus group is part of a larger economic development plan intending to provide Raymond with specific instruction on what public activities and investments can be made to help growth businesses achieve their projected or aspired-to growth, attract new businesses to Raymond that make sense for the community and create an environment that fosters business growth and attracts new businesses to Raymond.

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