EDITORIAL: 'Small town America, you matter'

·3 min read

Sep. 14—The BDN Editorial Board operates independently from the newsroom, and does not set policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com

It's not easy to find a situation where a super sized corporation like McDonald's looks like the little guy, but one such scenario is currently playing out in Madawaska. That's not to say the U.S. government is the bad guy for moving forward with a new $71.7 million port of entry project — but it's objectively the bigger player in this equation.

The federal government has officially broken ground on the border crossing project that connects Madawaska and Edmundston, New Brunswick. This facility and a $97 million international bridge project spanning the St. John River will not only offer huge infrastructure upgrades, but are also expected to lead to more jobs and other related economic opportunities for the area. We don't dismiss the future benefits in the slightest.

But there remains an open question in the present about the local McDonald's franchise, which sits in the middle of the port of entry construction site and is still fully operational as negotiations for the federal government to acquire the property have stretched on for months. The House from the movie "Up" comes to mind as construction surrounds the McDonald's, with real world ramifications for the community it has served for 50 years.

Local residents were confronted with the idea of losing McDonald's presence in a recent video. And frankly, they're not loving it.

Residents and officials made the video in an attempt to convince corporate McDonald's of the restaurant's importance to Madawaksa, and to rebuild elsewhere in town. The video featured repeated, moving pleas to maintain McDonald's presence there.

"We would love to keep [McDonald's] here. We don't have any fast food places other than this," said Madawaska resident Rachelle Clavette in the video. "We'd be lost without it."

"If ultimately they do decide that they can no longer be with us, they're going to be missed for a long time," Town Manager Gary Picard said in the video. He added that while the town is not involved in the ongoing negotiations, municipal officials have tried to make it clear that the town might be able to help "make rebuilding in Madawaska a viable option for them."

"The bridge is very much needed. The port of entry, the brand new port of entry is needed. It's a necessity for the growth and the future of Madawaska," Former Madawaska select board member Brian Thibeault said in the video. He also emphasized that were McDonald's to decide to rebuild in Madawaska, it would make an important statement about supporting and being part of rural America.

"McDonald's would be sending a message to Madawaska," Thibeault added. "What would it be? It would be that you matter. Small town America, you matter."

It's understandable that folks in Madawaska, and Aroostook County generally, might be feeling a sense of loss. Madawaska has already seen other corporations, like Kmart, leave town. Recurring analysis and headlines show population decline in the County, including in Madawaska. But those numbers likely don't fully capture the homebuyers who have recently flocked to Aroostook County during the pandemic.

The narrative surrounding rural America might often be colored with decline and loss, but that is not the whole story and does not have to be the direction things move. We appreciate Thibeault's perspective about corporations choosing to be part of rural America's future, just as rural communities should also be able to make choices for themselves and their future.

In this case that sounds like Madawaska getting its needed infrastructure development, with a side of fries somewhere in town.

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