Presque Isle, Maine
More Than Just an Island
Transforming its landscape through cutting-edge infrastructure, robust economic development, and a community-focused vision for the future
In the northern reaches of Maine, Presque Isle is an enchanting mix of small-town charm and entrepreneurial spirit. This idyllic destination, set in the vast expanse of Aroostook County, offers a unique blend of natural beauty and economic vitality.
The town’s name, French for “almost an island,” hints at its intriguing geographical features and close relationship with the natural world. Here, the rhythm of life moves in harmony with the seasons, each bringing its array of activities and opportunities. Winter blankets the region in pristine snow, ideal for skiing and snowmobiling, while summer offers lush greenery and perfect conditions for hiking and kayaking.
But Presque Isle is more than just a scenic retreat. It’s a hub of agricultural and industrial innovation. The town is a critical player in Maine’s potato industry, and its commitment to sustainable practices and technological advancements in farming is noteworthy. This forward-thinking approach also extends to other sectors, with local businesses and startups demonstrating a blend of traditional values and modern ingenuity.
Presque Isle’s Industrial Prowess
In Presque Isle, the hum of industry blends seamlessly with the natural tranquility of the area, creating a place where modern infrastructure and historical roots interlace to produce a dynamic environment for business and innovation. Tom Powers, Executive Director of the Industrial Council, articulates this blend with a keen sense of pride and practicality.
He highlights the significant role of Presque Isle’s airport in the industrial landscape. “It’s not just an airport,” he says, “it’s a gateway.” With a $29 million project expanding its reach, this airport boasts the second-largest commercial runway in Maine and offers daily direct flights to Newark. This connectivity is pivotal, bringing Presque Isle closer to major hubs like New York and facilitating international journeys, with Presque Isle often being the last stop before flights cross into Europe.
Powers highlights the diverse industrial network of Presque Isle beyond its airport. He mentions Nepco, a key player in packaging and distribution across North America, and Aroostook Trusses, a 60,000-square-foot facility producing building trusses for New England. Columbia Forest Products, known for high-end plywood veneers, showcases Presque Isle’s logistical capabilities, with products distributed throughout the U.S.
The town’s efficiency is enhanced by a six-mile rail system, upgraded for modern standards and handling a significant volume of railcars, especially for liquid distillates like diesel and propane. Additionally, Powers points out the thriving trucking industry, with large firms operating numerous vehicles and trailers, emphasizing Presque Isle’s vital role in regional logistics through its integrated airport, rail, and road networks.
Economic and Community Development
In Presque Isle, the future is taking shape with innovative projects and strategic developments that are set to redefine the economic and community landscape. This transition is driven by a deep understanding of the region’s needs and potentials, as Galen Weibley, Director of Economic & Community Development, explains in detail.
The first is the airport terminal project, a $29 million investment in a 24,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility. “This new terminal is crucial for our local economy,” Weibley asserts, emphasizing its capacity to offer twice-daily commercial services to the New York City metro market through United. It’s an important aspect for businesses headquartered in Presque Isle, like MMG Insurance. MMG operates in five states along the east coast, and access to air travel allows the Company to remain deeply rooted in the Presque Isle community while also serving their independent insurance agency partners and policyholders across their geographic footprint.”
The transformation of Presque Isle’s airport is part of a larger narrative. Weibley shares a fascinating story about the Presque Isle Industrial Park and the airport, which were once part of the Presque Isle Air Force Base. The city’s proactive efforts turned vacant spaces and the old fire station-turned-terminal into thriving hubs of activity and new speculative buildings.
Weibley reveals plans for an aerospace research and development park near the airport, included in last year’s airport master plan. The park, receiving a $4.5 million grant, will host Vault Enterprises’ new R&D headquarters, supporting local economic diversification and technological growth. Additionally, Presque Isle addresses labor shortages with two initiatives.
One, in collaboration with the Northern Maine Development Commission, aims to attract young professionals. The other, based at Northern Maine Community College, targets individuals with refugee status or international visas, uniquely integrating education, housing, and employment on a community college campus to foster a vibrant business community.
Revitalizing the Downtown
In the heart of Presque Isle, a transformation is underway, reshaping the downtown area into a vibrant and historically rich center. Weibley shares the story of this remarkable evolution with palpable enthusiasm.
Upon arriving in Presque Isle four years ago, he saw a downtown brimming with charm and potential. “I was immediately struck by the compactness and character of our downtown,” he recalls. “Unlike many places, we’ve preserved our buildings instead of turning them into parking lots.” This preservation has laid the foundation for a downtown revival that rivals larger areas like Bangor.
Central to this revitalization is the focus on historical preservation, evidenced by a unique project involving a music store. Weibley shares, “They’re restoring the entire facade, and the mason working on it is the great-grandson of the original bricklayer.” This story of generational continuity showcases the community’s deep roots and highlights the commitment to maintaining the historical essence of the downtown.
Weibley discusses Presque Isle’s climate resilience and energy efficiency strategies, including a warm loan program offering low-interest loans for commercial rental property energy improvements. This initiative demonstrates the city’s commitment to sustainability and is recognized by the state of Maine. Additionally, a key development in downtown revitalization is the creation of the second-largest Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district in the region.
As a result of collaboration with local stakeholders, this TIF district is driving a $35 million downtown redesign project, stretching from the University of Maine at Presque Isle to the Aroostook River. The project focuses on making downtown more pedestrian-friendly, connecting neighborhoods, and improving recreational facilities, aiming to blend small-town charm with big-city amenities.
A Confluence of Technology, Recreation, and Agriculture
Presque Isle is a town where innovation, recreation, and agriculture intertwine to create a unique living experience. Both Weibley and Powers share insights that paint a picture of a community deeply connected to its natural surroundings and modern advancements.
Weibley begins by pointing out the exceptional broadband infrastructure in Presque Isle, a feature that he, as a millennial, found particularly appealing when he moved to the area. “It’s quite incredible,” he says, “We have access to up to ten gigs of speed thanks to the Three Ring Binder of Maine project, ensuring robust internet connectivity even in the event of outages.” This advanced infrastructure has attracted many who work remotely, drawn to both the technological capabilities and the inviting community.
The second feature Weibley emphasizes is the extensive recreational facilities. “The city has invested millions in the Sergeant Family Community Center and unparalleled trail systems,” he notes. These trails, catering to summer and winter activities, have put Presque Isle on the map for outdoor enthusiasts. “Whether it’s biking, walking, snowmobiling, or ATV trails, our recreational offerings are second to none.”
Powers emphasizes Presque Isle’s natural beauty and resources, noting its proximity to Aroostook State Park, Maine’s oldest state park, and access to outdoor activities. He mentions the availability of several lakes, the state’s largest snowmobile club within a five-mile radius, and a trail network extending to Quebec City.
Infrastructure and Housing: Building the Future
Presque Isle is evolving in terms of its economy and community activities and through significant strides in infrastructure and housing. Powers and Weibley shed light on these vital aspects, illustrating the city’s dedication to sustainable growth and development.
Powers discusses the recent advancements in the industrial park’s infrastructure. “We’re lucky to have a relatively new system for electrical, water, and sewer,” he remarks. These updates, primarily completed in the last decade, have positioned the industrial park as a modern and efficient space. He suggests that industrial parks should be evaluated based on tenant numbers rather than just acreage, emphasizing the park’s high occupancy and potential for expansion. The recent addition of F.W. Webb, a $6 million project, demonstrates the park’s ability to meet substantial water requirements for fire suppression, showcasing the city’s advanced infrastructure capabilities.
Weibley discusses Presque Isle’s infrastructure, including its capacity to handle 10 million gallons of wastewater daily and 3 million gallons of water storage. The city also expands its 51.5-mile gigabit fiber internet network. On housing, he notes a surge in residential development with over $2 million in permits during the pandemic.
He highlights two significant projects: an 18-unit workforce housing on Elm Street and a 27-unit townhouse on Federal Street, partnering with state agencies. Powers adds that Presque Isle is open to converting underutilized city-owned properties into housing, demonstrating a proactive approach to housing challenges and land optimization.
Poised for Progress in 2024 and Beyond
As Presque Isle strides into 2024, the focus is on nurturing a business-friendly environment while enhancing the quality of life for its residents. Both Weibley and Powers share their visions for the city’s future, each reflecting a blend of enthusiasm and strategic planning.
Weibley emphasizes Presque Isle’s commitment to business and development, noting streamlined building permit and site plan review processes and adopting new software for out-of-state developers. This approach demonstrates the city’s dedication to business growth. He also focuses on improving walkability and pedestrian connectivity, aiming to link neighborhoods with downtown and other areas, reflecting the city’s focus on health, wellness, and community building.
Powers echoes Weibley’s sentiments, focusing on the city’s readiness for business expansion. “We’ve pre-approved much of our land in the industrial park with DEP permitting,” he shares, underscoring the city’s proactive approach to eliminating potential business hurdles. He also speaks to the concept of ‘critical mass,’ where growth becomes a self-propelling cycle. “With each new business, we need more people for services, dining options, and healthcare providers,” Powers explains. This interconnected growth model reflects a holistic view of development, where economic expansion, community needs, and lifestyle enhancements are intrinsically linked.
Weibley and Powers highlight that while Presque Isle shares common challenges with other regions, such as housing and workforce development, the city addresses these issues head-on. Their combined vision for 2024 and beyond is one where business growth, community development, and quality of life merge, making Presque Isle not just a place to do business but a place to thrive.
AT A GLANCE
Presque Isle, Maine
What: A vibrant and evolving small city known for its innovative approach to infrastructure, business development, and community enhancement.
Where: Aroostook County, Northern Maine, USA