A proposed redistricting of Maine’s economic development districts drew two dozen town and city officials, heads of economic development organizations and others to a meeting with state and federal officials at the University of Maine Hutchinson Center, June 7.

Maine has six economic development districts recognized by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration. Waldo County is currently split between two with the majority of the county, including Belfast, falling within the purview of Eastern Maine Development Corporation, based in Bangor.

Burnham, Freedom, Thorndike, Troy and Unity are members of the Kennebec Valley Council of Governments.

One redistricting plan under consideration, and up for discussion among officials at Friday’s meeting, would include Belfast in an expanded Midcoast region stretching south to Harpswell. But the two municipal officials from Waldo County in attendance said they would rather stay with EMDC.

Belfast City Manager Joe Slocum and Searsport Town Manager James Gillway each claimed to identify their municipality’s economic development prospects with Bangor more than with other Midcoast towns.

Slocum said his perception was that more economic development news was coming from towns and counties to the north and east of Belfast than from the south. He also said that the presence of the Hutchinson Center created a connection with the University of Maine Orono.

Gillway said Searsport identifies with Bangor and Eastern Maine on account of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, which runs from Searsport to Madawaska, and with Belfast because many residents work there. “They work at that big establishment next door,” he said, meaning Bank of America. “If we were shopping, we’d probably go to Bangor before Ellsworth or Rockland.”

The feeling further south seemed to be mutual, with officials from Knox County towns generally expressing a sense that they had more connection with one another than with Belfast.

Knox/Waldo Regional Economic Development Council Director Alan Hinsey found himself in the middle of the split. Hinsey said the dynamics of the Midcoast could be viewed in any number of ways, but he said he sees Belfast as part of the same “workforce area” as Camden and Rockland.

Slocum said his view of Bangor as Belfast’s locus of economic development doesn’t rule out working with neighboring municipalities to the south, and while representatives of Knox County towns seemed to hold a similar view that economic development would naturally spill over the Knox/Waldo county line, officials from towns in Lincoln and Sagadahoc Counties generally expressed the opinion that Belfast was not on their radar screen from an economic development perspective.

Many in attendance seemed to agree that, given Lincolnville’s association with Camden, the division would fall on one side or the other of Northport, or Islesboro.

“It’s a matter of where you see your CEDS [Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy] align,” said Mark Ouellette of the Maine Department of Economic and Community development. Each economic development district creates a CEDS that in turn affects federal funding of related projects.

“Economic data suggests there’s a strong correlation along the coast,” Ouellette said.

Alan Brigham of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration struck a conciliatory tone in his comments to the assembled officials. “We’re not creating fences here or building walls,” he said. “It’s really about how you identify your economy. If people in certain parts of Waldo County feel in alignment with EMDC, I don’t see a problem in the world with letting that persist.”