A Double Take on Economic Vitality

Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce
Written by Pauline Muller

Lewiston and Auburn in southern Maine are places where economic development and quality of life have hit simultaneous sweet spots. The two cities are poetically separated by the mighty Androscoggin River and its Great Falls that historically provided the power and water that drove industry. Today, the river is a source of inspiration and recreation with walking and biking trails along its banks, and paddling and fishing upon its waters.
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Manufacturing is a significant economic driver in the region, and the area’s abundance of globally-acclaimed master craftsmen makes it an international supplier of electrical components, custom compounded plastics, luxury goods, personal care products and other exports, ranging from superb shoes and fabrics to furniture, musical instruments and much more. The area is so prized for its craftsmen, in fact, that its latest promotional slogan ‘Make it Here’ aims to showcase just how well artistry and astute business leadership can create a unique environment for economic progress and living life beautifully.

“We want people to know that they can make it here. Not only are we proud of making things here, but people can make a new life here; they can make their dreams come true here and so much more,” says the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer and President Rebecca Conrad.

The chamber itself is “an organization of community-minded businesses that serves the greater Lewiston Auburn metropolitan area and beyond. An engine for economic vitality and enhanced quality of life, we challenge business and community to build, lead, and thrive,” says the chamber’s web portal, lametrochamber.com.

By offering networking events, opportunities for professional development, educational scholarships, and practical resources, the chamber aids businesses and residents of all stripes. It represents over 1,000 area businesses, and is the largest of its kind in the state of Maine. “The strength in our numbers allows the LA Metro Chamber to provide a collective voice, advocating for issues, influencing ideas, and facilitating conversations in support of business, commerce, and community.”

A rich history
Known locally as the ‘Cities of the Androscoggin,’ the sister cities of Lewiston and Auburn are enjoying a true coming of age on the banks of their shared river and are celebrating this economic vitality that has paved the way for their prized lifestyle. News of success travels fast, and the cities are presently welcoming new business from far and wide.

Androscoggin County was also named after the river, and both river and county take their names from the Abenaki word for ‘river of cliff rock shelters.’ Considering the area’s long and colorful history, there is much more linking the two cities than just the three bridges spanning the river. The history of Auburn and Lewiston dates back to the earliest settler days of the late 1600s, with Auburn’s oldest surviving building dating back to 1796. Both downtowns have historic brick buildings, and Lewiston has several million square feet of former textile mill being redeveloped into Class A office space for finance and insurance, as well breweries, restaurants, and loft style housing.

Both the Longley Bridge and the Bernard Lown Peace Bridge connect the two downtowns at different points, while the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bridge is to the north of the urban core. Without the river and these bridges, Lewiston and Auburn might never have become such integral parts of one another. The cities became recognized as towns when Auburn, which was to become the shoe capital of Maine, incorporated in 1842, and Lewiston, the textile hub, followed suit in 1863.

Live, work, play
Since that time, the area has become an affluent part of the United States and continues to grow rapidly under the watchful eye of the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. In a bid to amplify its marketing prowess, the chamber acquired the Lewiston Auburn Economic Growth Council in April 2018. The chamber represents fourteen towns in Androscoggin County, which naturally includes the two largest urban areas: Lewiston and Auburn. Together, the two also form the second-largest urban area in Maine.

“We are a competitive economic driver in the state, with both Lewiston and Auburn being the main local drivers of the greater area’s economy and lifestyle,” says Rebecca. She took office early on in 2017 and is currently in the process of reorienting the chamber of commerce as the voice of leadership in the area.

“We greatly strive for the development of our communities and quality of life. We really are a work, live, and play community,” adds City of Lewiston Director of Economic and Community Development Lincoln Jeffers.

Indeed, this balance is “very important for us in both cities,” says City of Auburn Director of Economic and Community Development Michael Chammings.

Building on their strengths
Lewiston and Auburn largely operate independently of one another, but when it comes to making this a great place to live and work – and when it comes to marketing – the two often join forces. Unlike human twins, there is no sibling rivalry when it comes to welcoming new business, because what is good for one city inevitably benefits the other as well.

“Each of the cities has its own strengths,” says Lincoln. “We do not cherry-pick each other’s businesses. For instance, Auburn has a very strong rail capacity. Therefore, if I get an inquiry from a business in need of that and who would like to settle in the area, we’ll immediately direct them to Michael’s office. We are competitive, but what drives us is what suits our clients best.”

Diverse economic activity
Trade and industry are big in the area, and Procter & Gamble is said to have recently invested in a vast upgrade of its factory here. Lewiston is still well-known throughout Maine and beyond for its repurposed cotton textile mills, and these days, the area’s forte includes everything from first-class, precision manufacturing to high-end craft manufacturing. Some of the region’s internationally acclaimed companies include General Electric; Modula, makers of vertical material handling systems; Compounding Solutions, who blend plastic compounds for others to turn into products ranging from LL Bean boot bottoms to medical equipment; Elmet Technologies, a cutting edge company with expertise refining tungsten and molybdenum into medical, aeronautic, and computer chip manufacturing technologies; Thos. Moser Handmade American Furniture, expert crafters of classic wooden tables, chairs; and more. Rancourt & Co. makes handcrafted leather shoes here, and another famous craftsman, Dana Bourgeois of Bourgeois Guitars, has been making instruments with his team of fine artisans for over forty years. The list goes on.

“Doing business here means that your entire lifestyle can be accomplished here in a great way. There is a lot of room for our manufacturing infrastructure to continue growing. It is in our DNA here to have pride in quality production,” says Rebecca.

Coupled with their proud manufacturing heritage, the cities of Lewiston and Auburn and the surrounding areas have become a destination with much more to offer than the standard big city menu. These two progressive communities welcome like-minded individuals looking for a place where work and play are equally rewarding.

Building the workforce
Of course, education plays a large part in ensuring a healthy, qualified workforce. To this end, millions of dollars have been invested in programming and facilities at the area’s five degree-granting colleges and universities.

“Auburn is also in the process of building a brand new high school with sports facilities around it. There is a big push and support for good education here,” adds Michael.

In fact, the area’s colleges rank very highly in America, with Bates College garnering the eighth position on Forbes’ liberal arts college list in 2017. These cities ensure that children are given every opportunity to become whatever their heart’s desire and that the relevant training is easily accessible and in line with the region’s greater vision.

This vision calls for steady but sustainable growth, something for which the area’s robust supply chain capacities allow. Not only that, but thanks to the vast footprints of the early mills and industrial/business parks, both cities offer more than enough real estate where new manufacturing and industry can establish themselves hassle-free. Local government, of course, also offers incentives to ease the move.

“We have good connections with the banks and are eager to finance new projects,” shares Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce Director of Economic Development Scott A. Benson.

“One of the things that sets both cities apart as well is our streamlined permitting process for projects. This means new projects are typically approved in one planning board meeting. We support new prospects with all the information they need throughout the entire process. This typically takes only four to five days here,” adds Lincoln.

Healthy minds, healthy bodies, healthy communities
The two cities’ healthcare and education offerings also go beyond the ordinary. The cities are blessed with two leading hospitals: Central Maine Medical Center and the St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center. “We also have strong geriatric care and a number of not-for-profits that work in niche areas of healthcare,” says Rebecca.

“To illustrate, our stats show that one in five people in the area work in healthcare,” adds Lincoln. Add the Maine College of Health Professions to the mix, and you have a winning combination that brings a steady pipeline of top-notch health care professionals to the region.

“We continue to build an education infrastructure that supports all areas of healthcare,” agrees Rebecca.

Celebrating culture
Here, folks love to play. With two cities so close to one another, locals get to enjoy double the fun with a wide variety of recreational opportunities to keep everyone relaxed and entertained. For active individuals, Auburn has no fewer than four golf courses, a ski resort, the Norway Savings Bank arena, the only facility in Maine with two sheets of ice, and much more.

The cities are also cultural hotspots and were accepted into the Réseau des Villes Francophone et Francophiles d’Amérique (Francophone and Francophile Cities Network of America) in 2016 during the local Francophone Week festivities. The initiative, started by the Franco Center, has been welcomed by the local leaders of Québec, Lafayette, Louisiana, and Moncton, New Brunswick as a way of honoring the area’s French heritage, language, and customs. Many of the French immigrants who came here from Canada helped to establish the milling and textile industry. Today, the cities are home to a strong Francophile tourism trade for people looking for an interesting and unique cultural experience. Museum LA, located in the Bates Mill Complex, tells the stories of work, immigration, and community.

Smart and sustainable growth
The area’s population has been growing rapidly, and that includes students. This growth rate has been so significant, in fact, that a new elementary school is presently coming to life. “We are a multi-cultural society, with families tending to be larger than the American average,” says Lincoln. To accommodate the boom, Lewiston is erecting a brand new, mixed-income residential development, known as The Hartley block. This sixty-three-unit apartment complex takes its name from the American modernist painter, Marsden Hartley, who was born in the city in 1943. Construction commenced in February of 2018 and promises to breathe new life into the city’s downtown with its affordable quality and four thousand square feet of street-level restaurant and retail space.

Many developers have followed suit, and renovating historic buildings for both residential and retail purposes is very much the order of the day – and locals are loving it. The city of Auburn is seeing the same trend, with over $18 million being invested in a single new project in 2018 and a lot more to come.

These are just some of the ways in which the chamber and both cities work together to retain their younger generation and to create an environment that meets the needs of both communities’ residents and businesses. With the idyllic atmosphere, rich cultural make-up, and craftsmanship traditions; the ample educational, business, and job opportunities; robust infrastructure; and the fantastic lifestyle that awaits, the cities of Lewiston and Auburn are fertile beyond belief and worthy destinations for those in search of fresh possibilities.

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