Assistant Secretary of Commerce, John Fernandez, visits southern Maine

By Ramona du Houx - August 16th, 2010 · 

John Fernandez, a top economic offical from the Obama administration tours southern Maine with Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. Courtesy photo.
Answering the invitation from Congresswoman Chellie Pingree the Assistant Secretary of Commerce, John Fernandez, visited Maine today.

“It’s not just about recovery but it’s also about accelerating the transition to a 21st century economy. And it’s important for me to get out of Washington and see what’s happening on Main Street,” said Fernandez.

Fernandez said the Obama Administration is focused on helping communities and regions implement strategies that create sustainable jobs and boost economic competitiveness.

“I’m glad we could bring him here for a firsthand look at the economic challenges Maine faces and to get his national perspective on how we can capitalize on our opportunities,” said Pingree. “Creating jobs across the state is the number one issue. We can do it by supporting the kind of mixed-use facilities and manufacturing developments already getting underway in Biddeford, Portland, and Brunswick. Any expertise and support we can get in building on these developments is incredibly valuable.”

Pingree invited Fernandez to the state to highlight the economic development opportunities and challenges in southern Maine, including former mills in Biddeford and the Portland Waterfront.

Pingree and Fernandez toured the Portland waterfront, including Ocean Gateway, the International Marine Terminal and the Fish Exchange. Pingree then hosted a meeting in her office between Fernandez and development officials working on the development of the Brunswick Landing – the former navy base. Afterward she hosted a business roundtable lunch and discussion with Fernandez at DiMillo’s Restaurant.

“There is more space in those mills than in the Empire State Building,” said Pingree as she toured the Mill District in Bidderford, a complex of 35 buildings on about 40 acres. “The potential for turning that space into jobs and economic development is huge.”

Recently Pingree was able to obtain a special designation for this Mill District that will make it eligible for lower cost financing. Dozens of residential and commercial tenants have moved into renovated mill space in Biddeford and Saco, and further development is underway.

“Congratulations on the work you have done here already,” said Fernandez during the tour in Biddeford. “These things only work when you have public-private partnership.”