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Only Steps Forward: Partnership brings UMaine hockey to Auburn arena

By Jonathan P. LaBonté

Mayor of Auburn

It’s a constant struggle in operating a city and growing a community. How do you grow without investment; how do you provide services with men and women on the ground with the necessary equipment and tools?

Investment and services cost money, and most of the money is provided through local property taxes.

One of the cornerstones of my approach working with staff and city councilors has been to seek and develop relationships and partnerships that allow us to stretch existing dollars and resources to the fullest extent before returning to taxpayers to ask for more.

Given some recent conversations and tours in the community, it is a good time to provide an update and paint a picture through examples.

With Marc Gosselin, a former executive with the Maine Red Claws, now serving as the general manager of the Norway Savings Bank Arena, we’ve quickly moved to ink partnerships with two high-profile hockey programs: the men’s and women’s Division I hockey programs from the University of Maine. The men’s coaching team, led by Red Gendron, is hosting a late-August hockey clinic, and the women’s program will host a late-October “home” game against Brown University at our arena.

Our community is fortunate to have many folks who are graduates of UMaine serving in the private and public sector in leadership positions. Many businesses in Auburn have contracted for research and development around new and improved products through the university, as well. Through my invite to the university alumni leaders up in Orono, we are now talking about how we can take advantage of these local athletic events to draw together alumni and university partners in Auburn, as well as the surrounding area.

Just as the Bangor region is uniquely positioned to leverage UMaine’s sporting events to draw spectators and create networking opportunities, Norway Savings Bank Arena is emerging as a venue to accomplish similar outcomes, albeit on a smaller scale.

This networking will spill over to further opportunities than just networking at the arena. While some companies in Auburn do have existing relationships with Maine’s flagship university and research hub, there are many more opportunities to ensure local manufacturers and others know of the tools available to them to continuously improve their products and compete and thrive in our city.

I’ve connected the economic development and research liaisons at UMaine with city staff and partners at LAEGC to ensure that local businesses that may benefit from connections to the university are engaged and invited to events.

Those business relationships dial further down into needs for workforce development. Can we start to connect our local businesses with internship opportunities, say in engineering, to recruit young people to work in Lewiston-Auburn for a local company and see that result in full-time employment upon graduation?  Going further, can we help young people growing up in Auburn realize that local companies need highly skilled workers, and teach them that studying at our state university system can open doors to great careers in their hometown?

Fortunately, educators at Edward Little High School have already engaged UMaine through a STEM program (science, technology, engineering and math), and we have students today taking part in research, guided by local teachers and UMaine researchers, as part of a federally funded initiative.

The process of engaging with public sector partners with assets commitment to a statewide mission, such as UMaine, is continuous and can cover several aspects of growing our community. Many of those groups need to be more deeply connected to how we grow Auburn, and the UMaine example is one.

Sports tourism turns into business leader engagement. Business leader engagement turns into research and development to help them grow and employee more people in Auburn. Growing businesses need to recruit talent our community to fill those jobs. And young people growing up can aspire to a more diverse list of professions with a choice to call Auburn home in the future.

It’s an exciting time as these pieces start coming together. Again, if you have questions or ideas, please don’t hesitate to reach out. My number is 782-1174, or email me at jlabonte@auburnmaine.gov.

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