The path to prosperity

Alan Manoian, Bridgton’s economic development director, has one goal and one goal only: to make Bridgton prosper.

Prosperity doesn’t come easy, however, and it requires a foundation of savvy employees, quality companies and good-paying jobs, something Bridgton isn’t exactly known for, despite having some high-tech sector employers such as Howell Labs and Downeast, Inc.

It’s Manoian’s job, therefore, to change that by making the former mill town a business hub once again. But he’s not doing it alone. He’s enlisted the help of a group of well-connected and well-educated young people who have formed a new group in town dedicated to the advancement of Bridgton’s prosperity.

The first meeting of the new Bridgton young professionals group – a formal name has yet to be decided – takes place at the historic town hall Feb. 17 at 6:30 p.m. All young professionals wanting to see Bridgton grow and prosper are invited to attend.

“If you look at our 18-35 age demographic, we are losing a lot of that population. They are moving elsewhere,” Manoian said. “What we need to do here in Bridgton is to bring them back. And by bringing them back, we can prove to prospective employers that we have a sustainable, deep and strong pool of skilled young people.”

The path to prosperity, Manoian said, is convincing prospective companies, especially those in high-tech industries, to invest in Bridgton because of the work force and quality of life afforded in the northern Lakes Region.

Greg Watkins, a computer technician for Lake Region High School, thinks it’s time for young people like himself to work toward a better future.

“It’s our chance to basically speak up, and to stand up and have a say in how we shape what the town’s going to be like in the next 20 to 30 years,” he said. “Not only are we speaking for us but we’re speaking for the youth coming up behind us.”

Nick Klimeck, general manager of Black Horse Tavern, wants to see Bridgton advance as well.

“We’re trying to raise the standard of Bridgton,” he said. “A lot of people in Bridgton have this stigma of Bridgton being low-income housing. We want to bring it into the next generation and change things for the community.”

To get specific, Klimeck says it all starts with retaining the 18-35 demographic.

“We want kids who go off to college to come back to the community. Rather than going south or west, we want them coming back here after school,” Klimeck said. “We want to grow Bridgton. It has a lot of potential. It has had a lot of potential for years. Hopefully it starts to prosper, it’s a good community to live in.”

Manoian said the very existence of the group is a signal that Bridgton is willing to do what it takes to lure new companies to town.

So, what will the group do to effect prosperity? In addition to convincing young people to stick around, education is key. Manoian is working with Lake Region High School (two of the members of the new group work at the school) to make sure Bridgton is creating a viable workforce.

“Most young professional groups, and there are 12 others in Maine, have members between (the ages of) 22 and 40. We want ours to start at 18. And that means kids coming out of Lake Region High School,” Manoian said. “We want to engender an entrepreneurial spirit in them. If you want to be a plumber or a carpenter, here are the things you need to start a plumbing or carpentry business of your own.”

Another goal for the group is to hold monthly invitational luncheons for CEOs, commercial brokers and corporate locators looking for new sites for their companies. As the economic development director, selling Bridgton to such key people is Manoian’s job. But, with the new group, his efforts will be reinforced by young professionals such as Klimeck, Watkins and others such as Sarah Lowell-DeKubber, owner of Running with Scissors Hair Salon.

“We’re just trying to get more people involved, because people are always saying Bridgton is a boring town,” Lowell-DeKubber said. “There’s a lot to do here, but people don’t know how to access what there is to do. I think we’re the future of this town, so we want it to be a positive, fun place so we need to step up and do it.”

Manoian couldn’t agree more.

“Our first mission is to let people know: We are young, we are professional, and we do have what you need,” Manoian said.

Another purpose of the group is to provide “succession planning,” as Manoian describes it. Most members of the town’s boards and committees are older residents. The young professionals group is therefore also geared to grooming future leaders.

“A lot of young people are standing on the sideline. We have dedicated elders, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone serving who’s under 40 years of age,” Manoian said. “So, a strong component of this new group is the grooming of future leadership. We want young people to take the lead.”

Manoian says the young professionals group is not a luxury but a necessity for the future prosperity of Bridgton.

“Without a young professional group, you can’t project the image that we think these high-tech companies will find attractive. We’re trying to build a new brand,” Manoian said.

Justin McIver, co-owner of DM Electric and owner of Maine Eco Homes, is “really excited” about the new group and what it could mean for Bridgton’s future.

“I think it’s a great step toward the future and the economic development of this town,” he said. “Alan’s done a really good job of coordinating everything. I think we’re going to make great progress, attracting young people and corporate (entities) and show them there is a young, skilled labor force here and try to get this town off the ground and make good things happen here.”

No, they’re not the Beatles, but they are a new fab group of young professionals aiming to bring new prosperity to Bridgton. From left are five members of the newly formed group: Greg Watkins, Jyselle Watkins, Nick Klimeck, Justin McIver, Sarah Lowell-DeKubber and Bridgton Economic Development Director Alan Manoian. The group’s goal is to promote Bridgton, retain young people, and lure new companies to town. Its first official meeting is Feb. 17 at 6:30 p.m. at the historic Bridgton Town Hall on Main Hill. All young professionals in Bridgton are invited. (Staff photo by John Balentine)

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