John Shea, Piscataquis County Economic Development Council executive director, during the annual meeting at the Craft Cafe in Guilford in December 2021. Credit: Courtesy of the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council

The executive director of the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council is leaving after leading the organization for two years.

John Shea accepted a position as executive director of the North Central Kansas Regional Planning Commission in Beloit, Kansas, a nonprofit focused on economic development, housing, weatherization, regional planning and other efforts in a 12-county area, he said.

His last day with the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council will be April 12.

Shea led the economic development group through the COVID-19 pandemic while it advocated for municipalities in Piscataquis County and connected businesses to grants and resources. In recent months, Shea spearheaded a broadband expansion effort. The development council hired a consulting firm to conduct a study on broadband and how to address gaps throughout Piscataquis County. It remains unclear whether the county will move forward with broadband plans or whether municipalities may choose to invest on their own.

The organization has already started its search for a new executive director, said Lucas Butler, the development council executive committee’s vice president. Butler is also the facilities director for the Piscataquis County Ice Arena in Dover-Foxcroft.

The development council has put together a job description, which will soon be posted online. A hiring committee including council officers and several others will oversee the search for a new executive director, Butler said.

Ideally, the position would be filled in the next month, but the hiring committee will remain flexible to find the best person for the job, he said.

“I have no doubts given the current job market that it may be difficult,” he said. “Then again, we offer something unique that may attract a very good candidate. We’re very hopeful.”

It was an honor to serve Piscataquis County and work with the PCEDC’s executive committee, town managers and county commissioners, Shea said.

“There is so much potential in Piscataquis County, and to me the key factor is bringing all perspectives to the table to help resolve our most pressing issues — workforce, housing [and] broadband.”

Shea has enjoyed engaging Piscataquis County Commissioners and town managers on initiatives such as broadband and the upcoming economic development strategy because when he arrived, there appeared to be “some balkanization between the communities and the communities and the county,” he said.

Shea would like to see the next leader continue to grow the economic development strategy, he said. The effort, which is just beginning after a number of delays, is critical in focusing the development council and other stakeholders in the county around a shared vision of prosperity and growth, he said.

He called the process an exercise in community building and partnership. It will “open new opportunities to work together to make Piscataquis County a place to which families want to move and where young people find the opportunities that allow them to stay or return,” he said.

The economic development council has completed the groundwork for broadband expansion, Butler said. Figuring out a plan of action comes next, and the county cannot lose momentum on such an important issue, he said.

The organization will continue its efforts to connect municipalities with grants from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields Program, Department of Housing and Urban Development and other resources, Butler said.

The Piscataquis County Economic Development Council has its quarterly meeting on March 28.