Last time we started to take a look at the property pricing game Mainers are going to have to start playing if the Moosehead development proposal presented by Plum Creek is approved by the Me. LURC. One of the issues that has been put forward is the question of affordable housing in the Greenville area and surrounding communities. One of the problems that Maine is experiencing as a state is the decline of real wage jobs in the way of manufacturing.

The textile and shoe factories we were once renowned for are all but gone.The lumber industry, suffering from an increasingly global market is but a shadow of what it once was.The Greenville area is no exception. With the recent closing of Moosehead Furniture’s manufacturing facilities, its future is vanishing before the eyes of the residents. It comes as no surprise that some people would look upon this proposal as a way to economically boost an area deep in its own recession. I have no wish to see the people of the Greenville area suffer from a lack of employment opportunity, However, the question needs to be asked if this is the right long term solution, or is it just a quick fix for the Moosehead region? Are we simply putting salve on a broken leg?

The long term prospects of the region must be the goal of recovery for the state of Maine. With this in mind, we need to ask, exactly what are the long term prospects. How is this proposal going to provide income? How much income will it provide? Will the income be sustainable over a long period, and revive the economic outlook for the Moosehead region?

As I’ve mentioned before, the answers to all of our questions lie in the history of the Plum Creek juggernaut. My contention is that the initial flurry of construction, when it happens will provide employment opportunities at an unnaturally high wage for the area. As the construction begins, skilled workers will be needed to build this dream. Carpenters, electricians, plumbers, landscapers, and other trades will be in heavy demand. Things will begin to take on a glow of success, the paychecks will be large, and money will freely flow in a once distressed area.The economy will appear to rebound.

But we must remember that this economic revival does in fact, revolve around the construction phase of the planned proposal. These are not long term, permanent employment opportunities. The only potential industry provided for in the proposal is a fraction of the total set aside for one of Plum Creek Timber’s sawmills. The prospects for large numbers of local residents to be employed at this sawmill are slim to none, at the best. The reason I feel this to be so is Plum Creeks history. In the states of Washington and Oregon, Plum Creek have shuttered a good portion of their sawmill operations. Hundreds, if not thousands of skilled mill workers have been laid off and thrust into a lifestyle far different from what they were used to.

In Montana, Plum Creek operations are such that wages have been offered at the low end of the scale for the areas the mills are located in. A recent article depicts how they had to raise their rates of pay to $12.00 per hour in order to compete with the $10.00 per hour MacDonald’s was offering to pay entry level workers.( ) Plum Creek is a business, and their first priority is the bottom line. I have no problem with that, that is what makes or breaks a business. But we need to assure ourselves that our own bottom line will come first. Part of the housing problem is low wages. Housing costs in Maine are beginning to surpass wages. Many people are having a hard time paying their bills due to the rising costs of energy and interest on mortgages. Higher wages will alleviate the difference, as will a reduction in the costs of housing. And the costs of housing will not be dropping, even in the long term for this region, or even in the state of Maine.

When the higher paying construction positions are gone, what will be left? Maybe, and that’s a big maybe, a sawmill whose management pays the very least the market can bear. Long term employment will consist pretty much of unskilled service and retail work. With a shopping complex planned for the region, retail will probably end up being the main field of employment. Service work such as landscaping and domestic work will probably be the second source of employment. Neither retail, nor domestic work can boast of higher than average wages here in Maine.

Therefore, the issue of housing cost needs to be addressed. Will their really be affordable housing in the Greenville area? The history of development areas indicate otherwise. Already in the Greenville area, houses can go for as much as$2,000,000 or more. The average low end for a cottage type of dwelling not on the water approaches the $100,000 dollar plus mark. While the homes in the Greenville proper are currently under the state average for similar homes across the state, those valuations are beginning to change.

The demographics indicate to me that the population of the region is slightly below what some consider to be the poverty line. In 2000, the per capita income was listed as $16,638. As the new construction progresses, the value of housing will increase in the region. It will cost progressively more to buy and rent in the region as more people from other areas with higher income purchase real estate in the area as second and third tier housing. We can see from another one of Plum Creeks developments what the future holds for this region by looking at Suncadia, a development in Washington state.

Suncadia is styled similar to what is proposed for Maine. Resorts coupled with high end real estate designed for the wealthy. A lower end home in the Suncadia resort area goes for nearly one million dollars, while many approach five million or more. There are no real employment opportunities beyond the service positions and a few retail positions in nearby shopping areas. Before the LURC makes their decision on this project, all aspects of the future of this proposal need to be examined. Not just the environmental and conservation aspects, but how will the lives of fellow Mainers be affected five, ten, fifteen and more years from now?

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