January 20, 2013

FirstPark to announce new director, seek input on needed skills

Regional cooperative should announce new director in two weeks, wants to coordinate with schools and training centers on recruiting workers, says Craig Nelson, president of governing body

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

OAKLAND — FirstPark, a business park supported by 24 area communities, hopes to announce a new director in about two weeks after a months-long search, according to Craig Nelson, president of the park's governing assembly.

Craig Nelson

Staff file photo by Joe Phelan

Nelson said his focus for the upcoming year will be developing the area's workforce, which he said is not well-positioned to attract employers.

"Even at the height of the recession, we keep hearing employers saying, 'I can't find the people I need to hire with the skills that I need,'" Nelson said.

In the course of attracting T-Mobile, the park's largest employer, to the 285-acre site, he learned that the availability and quality of the workforce are a top priority for businesses seeking a new location.

As a result, Nelson said, much of 2013 will be devoted to encouraging training and education centers to identify current and future skill sets that are needed by the country's employers.

"There's been a big disconnect," he said. "We need to do a much better job, not only in this area, but throughout the state."

The work of the director, which is the only paid position at FirstPark, has been performed by members of the executive board since November, when former director Diana Rafuse left after three years in the position.

Nelson said the search is running "a little longer than we expected," but the list of candidates includes good prospects.

A personnel committee has been interviewing candidates, Nelson said, and hopes to make a recommendation in time for a new person to be hired by the executive committee and begin working in February.

Rafuse said that beginning in October and continuing into November, she split her time between FirstPark and her new employer, Belgrade's Gagne and Sons, to ensure a smooth transition.

Shese said that she left FirstPark because only a small part of that job was devoted to financial analysis, which she enjoys and has a background in.

"There wasn't enough of that," she said. "I learned a lot about the public sector. It was a very positive experience."

Rafuse said she would recommend that the next director become well-acquainted with officials in the area, including regional economic development entities and the park's 24 member communities.

Rafuse said she expects the park will continue a strategic shift announced in 2011, when it began targeting smaller businesses instead of larger out-of-state companies.

"I think there's a lot of energy and enthusiasm to continue in that direction," she said.

Nelson said that the group will continue to pursue companies everywhere, not just in Maine.

FirstPark, was created in 2000 with investments from 24 member towns to promote regional economic development. Officials have said the goal is to have 3,000 jobs. The current job total is about 1,000.

FirstPark member towns are Anson, Benton, Canaan, China, Clinton, Cornville, Fairfield, Farmingdale, Gardiner, Hartland, Manchester, Norridgewock, Oakland, Palmyra, Pittsfield, Readfield, Rome, St. Albans, Sidney, Smithfield, Solon, Starks, Waterville and Winslow.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287

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