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Fryeburg unemployment among lowest in county
FRYEBURG — Unemployment figures for Oxford County reveal one significant outlier among towns with populations over 2,000.
Average unemployment rates in 2010 over the county as a whole measured 10.2 percent and, in most cases, larger towns suffered higher than average rates. Of the nine towns in Oxford County with populations over 2,000, only three averaged lower unemployment than the county as a whole.
The entire state averaged 7.8 percent unemployment for 2010.
Paris averaged 9.7 percent; Buckfield, with barely over 2,000 residents, averaged 8.4 percent; Fryeburg, by far the lowest, came in at 6.8 percent.
Town and business leaders from the Fryeburg area offered a few possible explanations for the low rates.
"We're right on the border to New Hampshire, so there are people that live here in Fryeburg that do travel to New Hampshire," said Town Manager Sharon Jackson.
Some, but not all towns near New Hampshire, particularly those in Southern Maine, do seem to benefit from neighboring a state where the unemployment rates consistently measure lower than Maine's. Eliot and Kittery, for example, both had average unemployment rates of around 6 percent in 2010. Further north on the border, however, Berwick, came in at 7.8 percent, near the state average, and Parsonsfield, south of Fryeburg and with a population was just under 2,000, averaged 9.4 percent.
Jackson also pointed to Fryeburg's proximity to Conway, a resort town just on the other side of the state border, as a factor in the town's economy and employment rates.
"Conway seems to be a tourist area where there are a lot of businesses, so I think that's a big contributing factor," said Jackson. "... There are resorts, there are both summer and winter sports activity, so that might help."
Donna Woodward, president of the Fryeburg Business Association, agreed that proximity to the resort had a positive impact on the town. The association has 80 locally-owned member-businesses, and many benefit from the tourist draw of Conway.
"We gain a lot from being near the resort area. We get the overflow from Washington Valley in certain areas. When the valley's full, people come to our inns," said Woodward.
However, she pointed out that other factors, such as quality of life, attract potential business owners to the area.
"The draw to Fryeburg is a number of things," said Woodward. "What brings people to Fryeburg to live is Fryeburg Academy, the school system, is excellent here; it's absolutely beautiful here, the agriculture and the environment here attracts people to the area; The recreation we have, we've got hiking and ski slopes; And we've got the historical value here too. A lot of people like to come to Fryeburg because we have a lot history here."
She says the Business Association, which is just over a year old, works to recruit business and encourage creative local ideas.
"We live not only next to a resort area, but next to a tax-free state. What we don't get because of it is we don't get good retail here, so you have to find other ways to make a business," said Woodward. "We find that, with the business association, we're able to pinpoint challenges and find ways to embrace and support new businesses."
In addition, Fryeburg is hoping to make the town more attractive to tourists who might drive through town on the way to the resort, or on the way into Maine to visit the Lakes Region or Saco River.
"We're actually working on a downtown revitalization project right now," said Jackson, "The town just received a $10,000 planning grant to do a study and put together a plan for downtown. Once that plan is complete, we will look at the options that are in the plan to make Fryeburg a stopping point for people rather than just driving through."