A thriving economy is a goal for any town or city, but is hard to achieve for a small town surrounded by other small towns. Town selectmen Mike Watson and Ron Strouse described for me the challenges facing Cambridge, Maine. Mike said, “The economy here is gone. The big factories are out.” He also said that at one time there were 35 dairy farms and two beef cattle farms. Only one of each remain.
Most Cambridge residents commute to larger towns (including Bangor, an hour away), are engaged in businesses requiring regional travel, or work from home. There are a couple of auto-maintenance garages, some woodworkers, and, Mike said, “a lot of retired people.” He pointed out that Maine has one of the largest senior citizen populations among U.S. states. “It’s old and getting older.” But he said the town is “always looking” for development opportunities.
Future development may be linked to the arrival of broadband internet, expected in fall of 2019 with the help of a grant from the State of Maine. The town had appointed a committee to study the issue and the options, and an announcement of the timeline appeared on the town website after my visit. Lack of access to high-speed internet is an obstacle to development throughout rural Maine, and Mike looks forward to its arrival. “I like this broadband coming in. If you have good internet, you’re the center of the world, and you can do whatever you want to do.” He continued, “The internet is going to make it possible to buy or sell anywhere in the world.” People will be able to “live the country life” while continuing their work life. “It’ll be a plus for us.”
Related to Cambridge’s short list of enterprises and limited internet is the town’s scarce presence online. Aside from the town’s own website, there are few web pages to be found about Cambridge.
Another potential boost to the economy due this summer is a brewery. East Outlet Brewing can be found on the road leading into town. No one was around when I went by, but I’ll try to follow their story.
It’s possible to imagine a future, not too far out, when young tech workers who can be situated anywhere will be drawn to Cambridge, with the brewery as the center of evening life. Mike has confidence that the town will carry on. “People like the seclusion that a small town affords them.”