Presque Isle City Manager Martin Puckett speaks during the May 4 city council meeting. Credit: Paula Brewer / The Star-Herald

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — A plan hatched 60 years ago to run the Presque Isle Industrial Park with oversight by a special council is enticing businesses — including multinational corporations — to move to Aroostook County.

The Presque Isle Industrial Council manages the 440-acre Presque Isle Industrial Park that is home to about 55 businesses and organizations, including multinational companies like FedEx, UPS and Coca-Cola, along with Northern Maine Community College and one of its newest tenants, the Maine Army National Guard 185th Engineers Readiness Center.

In many municipalities, such as Caribou and Bangor, either the city or a private development corporation sells city-owned spaces directly to companies. But in Presque Isle, the city funds the industrial council as part of its budget. By leasing spaces to businesses at the park, the council makes enough profit to return money to the municipal coffers each year. That means city taxpayers don’t pay the costs of running the industrial park.

“We’ve done this for decades,” Presque Isle City Manager Martin Puckett said. “It’s why the industrial park was built, to generate places for employment and places of business to exist in northern Maine.”

It’s fairly common throughout Maine that cities establish independent development corporations, said Steve Bolduc, Bangor economic development officer. Though Bangor has several development corporations that manage different industrial spaces, it doesn’t fund any of them with city money.

Town managers and councils handle municipal business properties in Caribou and Houlton.

Caribou has an all-volunteer economic growth council that has no operational expenses, City Manager Penny Thompson said. The Caribou Industrial Park is fully occupied now, but she and the city council would handle any tenants there.

“It’s totally different than how things are organized in Presque Isle,” she said.

Many Maine communities — including Presque Isle — have also turned to tax increment financing districts, which use property taxes generated by projects or businesses within a geographic area the municipality has defined, according to the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development. The money can be used to finance public or private projects for up to 30 years.

TIF districts also return money to their municipalities, but the concept of a city-funded development arm isn’t widely seen.

Presque Isle developed its industrial council in 1961 to help recoup losses from the closure of its air base that same year. Though the tenants have changed over the years, the mission is still to attract new industry and help the region grow economically.

This directory en route to the Presque Isle Industrial Park lists the businesses and organizations that occupy the 440-acre former air base area. Credit: Paula Brewer / The Star-Herald

Led by Executive Director Tom Powers, the industrial council has a seven-member board that includes two Presque Isle City Council members, two representatives nominated by the Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce and three at-large directors from the community who are nominated either by the city council or the chamber, according to the Presque Isle Industrial Council website.

Current members are Scott Norton, at-large, president; Derik Smith, chamber, vice president; Ray Hews, at-large, secretary-treasurer; Frank Bemis, at-large; Mike Chasse and Kevin Freeman, city council; and Margo Dyer, chamber, at-large.

The council fields requests from prospective businesses, but also seeks those that might be a good fit for the Star City. It works with existing tenants who need larger — or smaller — spaces. The arrangement has worked, Powers said.

“We make more than we spend. That profit goes right back to the city,” he said.

In its 2022 budget, Presque Isle allotted $417,832 to the industrial council for operations and $150,000 for its building fund. Debt service from existing loans is $214,001. Projected industrial park tenant revenue is $807,550. That means the industrial council will generate a $25,619 profit.

The industrial council can either move businesses into an existing space or build a new structure designed to fit specific needs.

Spec buildings are part of the model the city is using and can create spaces for businesses to use either as an operational center or for storage space, Puckett said. The city  has constructed some spec buildings with tenants in mind and others that they later found occupants for.

Two years ago medical wire manufacturer Acme Monaco moved into a new building that took the place of two spaces they formerly used at the park. The city’s newest spec building was constructed for Coca-Cola, which will move from its large Airport Drive location to a smaller facility on Skyway Street. Agricultural equipment manufacturer Spudnik will expand in Coke’s former space.

Both businesses have 10-year leases with options to renew, and the rent will offset the cost of the new building within that time, Powers said.

Businesses at the industrial park employ between 800 and 900 people.  The industrial council’s work is proof that municipalities can create and maintain jobs and be involved successfully in economic development, the city manager said.

“It’s one of the shining stars of why we have so many businesses in the city,” Puckett said. “I’m pretty proud of what’s up there and the foresight the [city] council had back when they created this.”