Blue wood graphic with Skowhegan Savings logo

Local economist and community leaders report western Maine’s economic outlook is positive for 2024

January 2, 2024

Outdoor recreation, tourism, natural resources and sustainable manufacturing are key drivers, focus on affordable housing still a priority.

FARMINGTON, MAINE Skowhegan Savings Bank recently hosted a panel discussion with local economic experts and business owners regarding the outlook for western Maine. The discussion began with SVP, Senior Commercial Lender, Steve Thomas announcing the bank’s commitment to bring businesses and community members together to discuss the economic environment of the region and its future potential. 

“At Skowhegan Savings, our goal is to make our communities a better place to live and work,” said Thomas. “We have introduced several niche products to the market with our most recent lending platform designed to quickly meet small business rolling stock financing requirements. Our lending team is uniquely qualified in that over half of our team has owned and successfully operated businesses in Maine – so they truly understand the complex Maine business environment.”

The panelists, moderated by Christopher Farmer, VP Regional Commercial Banking Manager of Skowhegan Savings, highlighted western Maine’s stable economy and positive outlook due to the region’s rich natural resources, growth in outdoor recreation, tourism and resurgence in manufacturing.

Outdoor recreation and tourism
Panelist and Maine state economist, Amanda Rector, began the discussion noting Maine’s positive population shift over the past several years.

“During the pandemic, we actually saw a decline in Maine’s median age due to younger adults who could work remotely coming to Maine for better work life balance and to enjoy outdoor recreation,” said Rector.

Fellow panelist Jonathan Tower, managing partner of Arctaris Impact Investors LLC, whose firm purchased Saddleback in 2020, also expressed his optimism for western Maine’s bright outlook for outdoor recreation and tourism.

“Saddleback, Rangeley, and western Maine are just an awesome place to be. Not only is it aesthetically stunning with the mountains, woods and lakes,” said Tower. “But it also has an approachable and friendly culture that keeps people coming back for generations.”

Housing needs
Since reopening Saddleback, Arctaris Impact Investors LLC has invested significantly in the mountain’s infrastructure and brought 150 jobs back to the local economy. Upon reopening the mountain, leadership faced the challenge drawing employees back to an area that lacked affordable housing.

“Workforce housing was a real challenge for us as we reopened the mountain. Limited inventory and covid related relocating drove house prices up significantly.” said Tower.

To address this, Saddleback developed an on-mountain housing complex which accommodates between 70-90 people. Tower explained that the complex enables them to attract the talent they need to operate the resort and is a resource for neighboring businesses during the summer months who need seasonal workers at local restaurants, hotels and bars.

Aaron Bolster, owner of Allied Reality, reiterated Tower’s comments related to the housing challenges throughout the region.

“Maine housing stock is some of the oldest in the nation and with an increase in people relocating to our rural communities, there has become a real need for more housing,” stated Bolster. He went on to note the need for long term, strategic investment in housing with a focus on harnessing government grants and funding programs to help achieve this.

Bolster is still optimistic for a return to normalcy in the 2024 real estate market, “It seems like we are on the path to return to historically average appreciation levels and we’re moving beyond the drastic price increases that took place over the past several years.”

Natural resources and manufacturing
Rector also shared how the region is poised to take advantage of its rich natural resources and history of manufacturing, providing the example of TimberHP’s recent restoration of the defunct paper mill in Madison, which reopened earlier this summer to produce wood fiber insulation products.

“The economy in western Maine hasn’t shifted significantly in the past 10 years. It’s a very natural resource based, goods producing economy rather than service-based economy,” said Rector. “What’s exciting is that this part of the state has a real opportunity to become a leader in sustainable and environmentally friendly manufacturing.”

Representatives from local businesses, community leaders, and Skowhegan Savings employees were in attendance for the discussion. “It was a pleasure hosting this event, focused on western Maine," said David Cyr, president and CEO of Skowhegan Savings Bank. “There are so many exciting things happening in this region and we are glad to facilitate these kinds of discussions with local experts, business and community leaders.”