Thursday, May 29, 2008

Reviving hope in Rumford

Is economic revival possible in rural communities, particularly when traditional industries like manufacturing and papermaking dry up? Maine has made some attempts at trying to spur entrepreneurship in the state's rural counties, with limited success. More often than not, economic development in Maine continues to rely upon attracting large employers to the state, rather than trying to grow development organically.

In Maine's western mountains, economic prosperity has been measured by mills, and by the viability of traditional industries like logging. While that served the needs of the 20th century, the advent of the 21st century has not been kind to communities like Rumford.

Driving into town on either Route 108, or Route 2, gives you a clear vista of the community, and the obvious role of the paper mill. Most of the community's current infrastructure came from the growth spurt that Rumford experienced at the tail end of the 19th century, and the early years of the 20th. A drive through the town's neighborhoods today, reveals an abundance of Victorian, and Edwardian archetecture.

Mark Henry grew up in Rumford. Like many of his peers, Henry left the River Valley, in search of greener pastures. A stint in the military, then the launch of an innovative business venture, Mark Henry Enterprises, brought Henry success. His business, located in North Carolina, helped companies ranging from Fortunes 500 firms, and the military, to small start ups, access online training options.

While life in North Carolina was good, Henry and his family returned regularly each summer to the family camp on Roxbury Pond to vacation, and to experience the cool, clear ponds of the area, and the breathtaking mountain vistas.

It occurred to Henry one day that he could do his business anywhere. When Time Warner Cable brought high speed internet to his doorstep, on the pond, he and his wife knew that this is where they wanted to be full-time.

Back in the area, Henry immediately recognized the latent potential that the River Valley possessed. Rather than hoping against hope that the glory days of papermaking, or that manufacturing would rescue the community, Henry believes that Rumford's renaissance will come from the same entreprenurial spirit that brought him his success.

This morning's Sun Journal contains a well-written article by staff writer, Terry Karkos, detailing Henry's ambitious plan to launch a business idea that he believes could generate more than $3 million by training low-wage workers to become economically self-sufficient in five years.

Henry has formed The Good Fisher, a Maine nonprofit micro-business incubator and training facility. Currently, he is in the process of raising $360,000 in startup money, donations of equipment and 12,000 square feet of space that he believes the project will require.

The Good Fisher will foster and develop entrepreneurial activity in low-income workers in the region through a business co-op that provides training, technical and financial assistance, and long-term business support.

"The River Valley has great potential in its people and location, and The Good Fisher is committed to helping restore the economic viability of the region while renewing pride in our community," he stated Tuesday in a news release.

To read the entire Sun Journal article, you can find it here.

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