Posted October 24, 2016
Last modified October 24, 2016
Coleman Brice, an information technology consultant in New Jersey, visited a friend in Eastport a dozen or so years ago.
“I was blown away by the intellectual climate, the creative arts culture, the working waterfront, and the beauty and natural ruggedness,” he remembers.
Five years ago, Brice and his wife loaded up their beloved Labradors and son Elijah and moved to Eastport, where the couple continues to offer IT services as telecommuters to clients in New York and locally. Telecommuting also allows them to manage coworkers as far-flung as Portugal and Ireland.
“Having lived in Hollywood, California, and the Jersey Shore, we’re more at home here than we have ever been anywhere else,” he said. “Coming up here really improved the quality of our life tremendously. We've been ‘Eastported.’”
Brice is one of a growing cohort of telecommuters here, folks who are able to choose a quality lifestyle thanks to the digital age. Most are independent contractors who can perform their work anywhere in the world.
Now the city has launched an Eastport Telecommuter Recruitment website with the goal of reaching out to telecommuters looking for just the kind of lifestyle that Brice and his family are enjoying.
The website was the brainchild of Lora Whelan, a telecommuter who works at her home office as assistant publisher and editor for The Quoddy Tides newspaper.
Whelan grew up in New York City and moved to Eastport in 2003 to become executive director of Eastport for Pride, Eastport's Main Street Maine program. She started at The Quoddy Tides in 2008.
She began thinking early on about telecommuters for their potential to grow the city’s declining population and revitalize the economy. Last winter, she contacted Eastport’s city manager, Elaine Abbott, and the city council for their approval to set up an ad hoc committee to build the website under the city’s auspices. Then Whelan sent a demographic survey to about 20 telecommuters.
“We wanted to see what it was that brought people from places like California and New York City and made them relocate here, of all places,” said Abbott. “We started finding a common theme. It’s the affordability of living here, the safe, tight-knit community, the small schools where children are always supported. We were hearing a lot of the same things about why people came here and what made them stay.”
As a recent transplant, Brice is well-aware of the region’s drawbacks. But he sees them differently.
“What some people love about Eastport is what other people hate. I like the fact that it’s a pain to get here. You fly [to Bangor] from Philly, and then you’re still 110 miles away and you’ve got to drive in. To some types of personalities, that’s adds to the charm and character. I like the solitude and serenity of a small town vibe and the milder pace of life. It’s a peaceful refuge in the midst of a world of stress.”
Input like that helped shape the direction of the website, which is about lifestyle.
“We have people here from global corporations working from Eastport, enjoying the quality of life but still doing the work they love to do,” Abbott said. “To be able to live someplace you love and to be able to do the work you love—that’s amazing. We took that information to the website.”
This latest initiative occurs amid a range of revitalization activities. Various financial assistance programs promote training, education, business start-up, and property acquisition and improvement. Eastport’s IT infrastructure has seen significant upgrades, with further improvements planned. Currently, the city is doing a feasibility study to establish a high-tech incubator and business training center. And businesses and nonprofits work together, rather than in competition, to promote burgeoning visitor activities.
“Eastport is definitely up and coming,” said Abbott. “I refer to it as a forward-leaning community. A lot of people are to be credited with the forward momentum Eastport is experiencing—business owners, residents, volunteer organizations, people who write the grants.”
Many telecommuters already in Eastport are independent contractors, some with clients that include national or international corporations. There are software developers, online internet security experts and freelance writers. Some are artists and crafters who market their product online.
The website went live this past September, and inquiries are coming in.
“Anytime anyone moves to Eastport, they benefit the community,” said Abbott. “It’s diversity of thought, diversity of activities and interests. It’s just really a bonus when people move here from another place and bring their experience and knowledge with them. Some telecommuters also bring young families, which helps with the school population. They get involved with their community just as much as anyone else. And they come with their job, so they’re not competing with anyone for a job.”
Benefits flow the other way, too.
“What Eastport gives to telecommuters, and to everyone else, is a sense of place, a sense of community,” said Abbott. “I don’t mean that lightly. It is truly a community here. People look out for each other. We have a sense of belonging, gorgeous scenery, fantastic local food, arts and culture. It takes a certain kind of person to love Eastport, and that person has to be someone who does not care that it takes two hours to travel to a mall. If you’re looking for a supportive and vibrant and peaceful community, Eastport’s your place.”