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Only Steps Forward: L-A could benefit from coordination with Francophone Cities Network

By Jonathan P. LaBonte

Mayor of Auburn

Over the last couple of years, the Mayors of Quebec City, Moncton, New Brunswick and Lafayette, Louisiana have established a network of Francophone cities with the intent to promote and encourage deeper connections between communities with language and cultural similarities around the French language.

With support from the Franco Center in Lewiston, both Auburn and Lewiston have joined as twin cities.

Rather than one city in the lead, as others in the international network have advanced, here in Lewiston-Auburn the Franco Center has played the lead role in convening a working group of local partners that involves both cities, Museum LA, the Franco-American Collection at USM’s Lewiston campus, the Chamber of Commerce, the local libraries and business leaders.

As both cities look for ways to grow our economies, in particular by attracting outside dollars, there’s growing recognition that playing to our strengths is the only way to achieve that. You can spend a lot of time and energy—and sometimes money—trying to be something you’re not.

And even with the growing diversity of other immigrant groups coming to L-A, there’s still a strong foundation of French-Canadians with the relationships and history that brings. An important note is that some of our new immigrants are fluent French speakers, something a number of businesses are finding very helpful.

The Francophone Cities Network is planning a number of initiatives over the next few years, and cultural tourism corridors and sharing best practices are high on that list. While we are still early in packaging what a visitor to L-A might do or see when here, other towns and cities not too far away in the Province of Quebec have been doing it for a while and are eager to share what they’ve learned.

Can’t imagine that a visitor to Montreal or Quebec City would have a reason to add a visit to Lewiston-Auburn to their itinerary? Just this spring, two tour buses from Atlantic City stopped at the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Lewiston on their trip south from the Province of Quebec. In this case, the cultural tourists were traveling to visit and play on internationally renowned organs, and the Casavant organ in the Basilica was on their list.

In the future, as our local work group expands, tour groups like this may find opportunities to add a few more hours to these trips, or even an overnight. Might they want to visit Museum LA and learn more about the daily life of the parishioners that helped fund the Basilica and the organ? Perhaps that extended trip means a dozen extra tables served at a downtown restaurant? Two busloads doesn’t revitalize an economy, but ensuring each time a visitor is in town we’ve ensured they’ve maximized their experience sure will.

While the Lewiston MAINEiacs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League were here, local hotels and restaurants benefited from visiting fans from across eastern Canada. And today, with the Norway Savings Bank Arena, youth tournaments hosted their have often included teams from Canada. A further coordination, by partnering with the Androscoggin Bank Colisee and other members of the Francophone Cities Network, could have Lewiston-Auburn hosting thousands of people from dozens of communities to experience L-A for several days, with youth hockey as the convening force.

This summer, the network is hosting its second conference of member cities in Quebec City, and a delegation from Lewiston-Auburn is already planning how to make best use of the time not only learning from others, but also planning for how we can bring this potential here.

If you work with an organization or business that you believe would benefit from joining the local workgroup, I’d encourage you to reach out to Mitch Thomas,

executive director at the Franco Center. There’s a lot more potential when more local partners are communicating and share opportunities.

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