Maine not a friend to small businesses

Posted April 21, 2009, at 5:15 p.m.

“Stand Firm Ye Boys From Maine.” I think that everyone is familiar with these famous words shouted to the men of the 20th Maine during the decisive Gettysburg battle. Stand firm they did, these carpenters, teachers, machinists, farmers, loggers, and fishermen. These men, who against all odds, exhausted, out of ammunition, and using just bayonets, pushed back the Confederate army and prevented the Union army from being flanked. The men who were the backbone of our state proved to be an integral part of the backbone of our country. When I look at this history, I am immediately proud to be from Maine. I look to the past and this legacy inspires me.

However, when I look to the future, I am truly alarmed and frustrated at the never-ending burden of tax, inflation, and economic uncertainty that plagues our small businesses, workers and the people of the above vocations. I wonder how people in this state can continue to make a living, by having an actual job. I wonder how we can survive as a state under these extreme tax burdens and in an environment that has become so unfriendly to small business.

Over the past 18 months, my family’s small business, which manufactures grilling planks and barbecue wood for the restaurant and retail industry, has gone from a small mail order business to one that has ongoing contracts with international companies all over the world. Our product, “Maine Grilling Woods,” is not just shipped to fancy restaurants in Boston, Chicago, and Dallas anymore. We now do nearly $1 million a year in gross sales using a “scrap” byproduct of the logging industry. We have grown from a business of four family members to that, plus six additional employees. These are six people who were previously unemployed in Waldo County.

We are still a very small company, but in this economy we continue to grow. In fact we are growing so fast it has tapped every financial resource we have. The state has never returned any of our many e-mails or phone calls when we have asked for assistance, whether monetary or business advice.

In the past year and a half we have absolutely struggled with skyrocketing diesel and fuel prices, electric bills that have doubled, and grocery bills that have increased by 30 percent. Because we have not been able to secure any reasonable loans, we have not been able to build a proper structure for our company. We have worked outside for two of the worst winters on record with our only shelter being an old barn and a series of industrial tents. We work six days a week in the snow, rain, ice and mud and still somehow continue to grow. We go home dirty and tired, but knowing that our company has exciting things developing. The economy has prevented additional employees and raises, but we have remained optimistic.

We have seriously looked at moving out of state where the cost of living and the cost of doing business is much more friendly and affordable. We decided to “stick it out” here because our families have been here for generations.

This latest tax proposal (LD 1088) makes it a very real threat that the decision to move will be made for us. We cannot continue to compete in a global market in this current business climate. The only way we have been able to do it thus far is because family work often goes unpaid. I go unpaid, sometimes for weeks, so that we can grow and pay employees.

I hear the cry “Stand Firm Ye Boys from Maine.”

I tell you that we are trying to hold our ground. The current tax and business climate in Maine makes us struggle, not only to be competitive, but just to survive. It certainly offers no help in the national or global marketplace. The new proposals will absolutely take away any hope of profitability and growth in the future. We have nothing left to tax.

I am asking the representatives of the state of Maine to consider the opportunity they have as lawmakers to create an environment that invites business here and that will encourage growth. Small businesses are our backbone and provide an excellent opportunity for employment and revenue.

Please help us stand firm in the state we love.

Skip Theobald is co-owner of Lexington Outdoors, Inc., which is headquartered in Robbinston and has a manufacturing facility in Brooks.

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