On Monday, Feb. 3, the University of Maine hosted guest lecturers Lee Umphrey, Vicki Rusbult and Will Harper from the Eastern Maine Development Corporation (EMDC). The lecture worked in collaboration with the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions.
The lecture, titled “Shifting Dynamics of Rural Economic Development in Maine,” focused on how EMDC has changed its model, which significantly expands what services they offer.
Umphrey has been the president and CEO of EMDC since 2018. Before working with EMDC, he gained experience in private nonprofit financial management. Rusbult works as the director of community initiatives for EMDC and has been with them since 2010. Harper works as a planner for EMDC and joined the staff while pursuing his master’s degree in policy, planning and management at the University of Southern Maine.
Umphrey, Rusbult and Harper explained the mission of EMDC, concentrating on the new model of the economic opportunity response team. The primary focus of EMDC is supporting Maine businesses and local communities.
“The [whole] goal of our organization is to try to bring folks together and create a program of success for everybody,” Umphrey said.
Following Umphrey, Rusbult explained how their model upgraded by becoming proactive, instead of reactive, in their approach to supporting communities. They now work with small businesses and communities and provide services that will allow each community to make developmental progress.
Harper spoke about his work at EMDC and how the organization emphasizes a focus on climate resilience. He explained the ways that EMDC works with locals to educate them further on strategies in their given area regarding climate change.
“We’re really trying to find sustainability for communities right now,” Harper stated.
When reflecting on Harper’s statements, Rusbult further emphasized the significance of EMDC’s work with climate resilience.
“Climate resilience needs to be looked at hand-in-hand with economic development,” Rusbult noted.
A major improvement to EMDC’s new economic model is increasing its staff members’ knowledge surrounding economic gardening. In 2019, EMDC became the only organization in the state of Maine that offers economic gardening training. The central idea behind economic gardening is to increase overall development in Maine, particularly in areas that tend to be more rural. According to EMDC, the pros of economic gardening are that it accelerates job creation, is cost-effective and creates community loyalty.
As a part of their expansion across Maine, Rusbult explained how EMDC works closely with the UMaine Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability and Husson University. They work in collaboration to build relationships with students and community members in order to ensure that they are building productive and informative relationships with diverse stakeholders to address community concerns and issues.
Rusbult used the city of Eastport, Maine as an example of a local place that has seen growth and development on behalf of EMDC. They have increased tourism which brings more people to the area and creates revenue for locals by reinvigorating the city and investing in community interests.
Another one of the many opportunities that EMDC has to offer, which are open to the public, are conferences that work to educate community members about local concerns and a variety of ways to address these concerns. EMDC works hard to foster relationships and build connections with community members throughout the state in hopes to further develop the state of Maine.
To find out more about EMDC, visit https://www.emdc.org/.