Portland measures up in Chamber report

For young, civic-minded entrepreneurs, luck can play a big role in success, and so can the city of Portland.

For weeks, my daughter and a few of her friends from the Portland Parks and Recreation after school program have been planning a bake sale to benefit the The Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland.

A fire in the laundry room at the league in January destroyed most of the toys and linens used for the animals. Luckily, no animals were hurt.

The after school program makes sure my kids – and thousands more in Portland – have a safe, secure and educational place to go after school. The city program promotes good health and being a good citizen.

The girls came up with the idea of a bake sale on their own, but the program coordinator was incredibly supportive and encouraged the kids to make a plan.

And, boy, did they.

These 9- and 10-year-old girls weren’t content with a bake sale at the school. The earning potential was too low.

Instead, they were determined to hold the bake sale at Payson Park, a popular sledding and ice-skating destination not far from their school.

They set the date of Feb. 10 back before a heat wave cleared all the snow out of Portland.

The girls were undaunted.

Last week, they applied for and received a permit from Portland to hold their bake sale. The city staff was friendly, fast and encouraging. I believe they went out of their way to be helpful.

And then, on Friday, it snowed. It snowed a lot. And the business plan of the young entrepreneurs paid off.

On Sunday, the sun came out, the wind died down, and the sledders arrived in great numbers.

The cookies and hot chocolate flew off the tables, and the girls raised more than $250 for the animal shelter – not a bad days’ take considering the rice crispy treats were frozen hard as a rock.

The kids had a good time; they learned a little bit about permits and pricing; and they raised money for a good cause.

And, it turns out, their experience in Portland tracks with the results of Portland’s Economic Scorecard, which was released this week by the Portland Community Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the Portland Regional Chamber.

The scorecard looks at the city’s and the region’s economic health and decides whether they are meeting certain benchmarks, exceeding them or holding steady.

It’s a good report card.

“Portland and our region look good compared to the rest of Maine, and compared to New England. That’s true over the short-term and the long-term,” the report says.

The report cites the region’s well-educated workforce and level of higher education attainment, its lower unemployment rates in comparison to the state, New England and U.S., and its retail sales.

The population of the region is growing and so are earnings and household income.

And regional food services sales growth is keeping pace with benchmarks, and I bet that doesn’t even include the wildly successful Sunday bake sale.

The report also identifies areas where the region is lagging.

The city gets dinged for the size of its municipal workforce, for its general fund debt and for its property tax rate.

My property tax bill came last week. And it’s steep, higher than the average in Maine and most of the municipalities used for comparison.

But I believe I get my money’s worth.

The city has debt because it invests in infrastructure, including a major project to separate storm water and sewer that will make the beach and the water healthier.

Despite a historic storm, my street was plowed four times – twice in each direction – by 10 a.m. on Saturday.

On Monday, garbage and recycling were picked up on time.

And the positive experience getting a permit for a bake sale has been repeated with most of my interactions with the city, whether it’s voting, turning in candidate signatures or registering my car.

Knock wood, I can’t think of a single bad experience.

The chambers’ report on Portland is one of the best I’ve seen. We are hit with numerous reports about the quality of the government, and most of them are grinding an ax.

The Portland report, along the lines of the Maine Development Foundation’s Measures of Growth, is different and worth a read.

Portland isn’t perfect. No place is. The property taxes are high.

But if you want to live in a city that’s clean and safe, where the garbage gets picked up on time, the snow gets plowed and bake sale permits don’t require congressional intervention, I’d put in a good word for Portland.

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at dfarmer14@hotmail.com.