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Only Steps Forward: Mixed messages about how L-A can work together

By Jonathan P. LaBonté

Mayor of Auburn

With the discussion of the merger of the cities of Auburn and Lewiston likely to be a major—and heated—topic in early 2017, as well as the recent news of the resignation of the president of the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council, messages continue to be mixed about how much the cities do and should work together.

Unfortunately, you only tend to read about the interactions of the two cities when there is disagreement. Or, in the case of the merger, there are some strong opinions on both the side of merging and opposing the merger.

With that said, it seems prudent to share some ways the two cities, partners, are working together to advance economic opportunity and improved quality of life here in Maine’s largest Twin Cities.

On the housing front, both cities have worked together for years to establish a joint program for the creation of affordable housing, housing rehabilitation and lead paint remediation. One specific program, known as the HOME Program, which is administrated by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, would not be available to either city individually. It was by creating a joint effort that the cities were able to access additional resources to help with local housing.

While it may not be self-evident, the planning process for Auburn’s 21st-century Edward Little High School is certain to involve not only Lewiston, but also other neighboring towns and their high schools. As the career and technical education (CTE) needs of local businesses change, along with the changing career interests of students in the region, opportunities can present themselves to expand or add to the existing offerings at the Lewiston Regional Technical Center. The construction of modern facilities at ELHS is the best time to leverage that state investment into facilities to meet regional workforce needs.

As the two cities seek to improve quality of life to attract more residents and spur new business development, Auburn and Lewiston both invested matching funds in a grant application for LA Arts into a program known as Creative Communities = Economic Development. The outcome of that process is now a detailed, multi-year strategy for how both cities, and more than a dozen partners, can invest in infrastructure and services to enhance economic growth.

For Auburn, this includes projects like the St. Louis Bells finding a permanent home, led by a neighborhood process, and engaging with Community Little Theater for the development of the Great Falls Arts Center into a place for people to work and perhaps live.

And for our shared riverfront, jointly adopted plans for recreational trails on land and water set us on a course to expand the greenway system and make downtown and extended corridors a destination for not just Maine, but also New England. The upcoming efforts by Lewiston for acquisition of the canals, and Auburn’s efforts on the Little Androscoggin, could likely benefit from greater coordination, but the momentum of past efforts is what has positioned the region to pursue these adjacent recreation development projects.

Housing, workforce, education, arts, culture and recreation are foundations on which economic growth is happening in places just like Lewiston-Auburn. And without the two cities becoming one, and in many ways without needing to subsidizing a third party to do the same, communication, coordination and collaboration is happening.

Auburn and Lewiston could and should seek to improve how we implement these shared efforts, but we also must consider which other cities or towns could partner with us to increase the probability of success for our citizens and the businesses based here.

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