The town of Milo continually surprises me. Over the past twelve months, I have had the privilege of driving through this county to meet with business owners, providing support to those who are members of the Piscataquis Chamber, and seeking out new businesses in need of support and promotion. I am from “away”, a New Jersey transplant, in Maine for about eight years. I thought, in this position, that being from “away” would hinder my ability to connect, to understand, and to be accepted. My experience has been that some small towns just have a difficult time with trust when you haven’t grown up in their backyards, and I do understand that. On the other hand, coming in with a fresh perspective has been invaluable.
There seems to be a cloak of weariness covering the county. Understandably so, in a county with a history of being in the top two of highest poverty rates, unemployment rates, and families on welfare. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that nothing is ever going to change. When you believe that lie long enough, it becomes a reality. As a man thinketh…..
I refuse to see it that way. I know about our economy. I see the state of our world and the condition of our nation, state, and local governments. I am not oblivious to that. When a railroad experiences bankruptcy and stops moving through a town filled with businesses which depend on it, it is clear why there would be concern, or even panic. It’s understandable why a writer might quote that Milo is a “little town going nowhere”. But why should we sit back and just agree to that? Why not choose to believe that anything is possible?
I have been called a dreamer. That’s fine. I prefer to believe I am a visionary. Without a vision, people perish. As a Chamber, we have chosen to invest in students at the high school level, to teach them about business, economy, debt, budgeting, credit, planning, promotion, social media, and more. We want to mentor them and be a liaison between them and our current local business owners, forming relationships today that will become a launching pad for future jobs and careers. I would never ask our bright high school graduates to stay here for minimum wage opportunities. I want to empower them to know they are capable of great things, and begin giving them the skills to accomplish them here, in Piscataquis. Without this investment into our future, who will run our towns, our businesses, and our schools in the future?
Driving through Milo about seven months ago for the first time, I wasn’t expecting to see much, because of what I heard (and read). I had a meeting with some business owners at Elaine’s Bakery, which has become one of my favorite stops in Milo. Since that day, I have driven through town dozens of times. I see thriving businesses, busy parking lots, new sidewalks and street lights going in, and roads being improved. I see new additions on older buildings, signs of recent growth. A new business park had its first building completed, the Three Rivers Kiwanis building, and the park is ready for new construction, a great place for an established business to move in or a new business to start up. There is a thriving, top-notch grocery store, Tradewinds Marketplace, with a Dunkin Donuts on site and a Family Dollar next door. Then there’s J.S.I. Store Fixtures, a company that operates in the tens of millions each year (yes, in Milo!). One local business owner, Ron Desmarais (Maine Alternative Solutions), owns several businesses in town and has a desire to help entrepreneurs get their start. He could be anywhere, but he’s in Milo. Long-standing family-owned businesses have also made Milo their home, such as Trask Insurance. The insurance company was started in 1938 by Claude Trask and is now run by Fred and Brian Trask.
So we have new businesses and generational businesses choosing to be in Milo. There are families that have lived here for generations. Milo is growing, moving, and changing. It may not be what it was before the railroad shut down, true. But I will choose to believe that the future will be more glorious than the past, and as one person, do everything I can to make that happen. I know numbers don’t lie, and dollars are not plentiful. But we have to start somewhere. For me, it begins with what I choose to believe about a place. Then, what I choose to confess about it. Milo is special. Milo is changing. Let’s focus first on one problem, and then find its solution, then move on to the next.
Change. Believe. Correct. Build. Grow. Believe some more.
Big ships make slow turns. But slow and steady wins the race. Yes, there are problems. But the more we complain about the problems, the longer we keep them alive. I see Milo rising up out of the ashes. I see a town experiencing growth in spite of adversity. I see some business owners and residents with great attitudes who are ready to take their town to the next level, to a new and better place. Milo: “A little town going nowhere?” I beg to differ. I believe, rather, that Milo is a little town with big dreams, and at every corner, I see them unfolding, and becoming a reality- and I want to be a part of that. Don’t you?