There are state and federal resources available to businesses and potential entrepreneurs in the Katahdin region, opportunities that become increasingly vital as the area’s economy continues to change.
On Thursday, experts representing many of these resources will gather for a Business Expo and Resource Info Session, aimed at area businesspeople and people thinking of starting their own business.
The event is set for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the East Millinocket Municipal Building Auditorium, and is free and open to the public.
The Katahdin Paper Co. LLC mill in East Millinocket closed on April 1, idling about 450 workers into an already challenged regional economy, which has never fully recovered from the September 2008 closure of the company’s sister mill in Millinocket. That closure left 150 workers jobless.
State and local government officials are working to lure investors to revitalize those mills by July 31, when mill parent company Brookfield Asset Management has said it will begin decommissioning the mills.
In the meantime, the layoffs will have a ripple effect around the region with local businesses suffering as much of their customer base is without work.
The expo is an attempt to help businesses take another look at how they operate, as well as provide help to laid-off mill workers who are interested in starting their own businesses, said Jen Brooks, director of community development at Eastern Maine Development Corp.
“It’s important for businesses and those people who are starting businesses to know there are resources to help them every step of the way,” said Brooks, “and there’s people here who can help them navigate those resources. It really is one phone call away from success.”
EMDC has an array of services to help potential entrepreneurs, said Brooks, starting with basic business counseling. That counselor can help identify a market for exploration, see if a person’s skill sets match the business, help develop a business plan, identify financing, and other steps.
Representatives from EMDC, MaineStream Finance, Women, Work and Community, the U.S. Small Business Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the state Department of Economic and Community Development and several lending institutions will be at the expo.
“All of us want that community to thrive and survive,” said Jane Searles, a microenterprise coordinator with Women, Work and Community. “It’s going to take a lot of collective minds to make this work.”
Businesses may need to look at new products or services to offer to stay profitable, she said. They may need to explore new, creative ways of marketing, perhaps through social media. There are resources to aid in those goals, she said.
There is federal training money for laid-off workers, she said, and that can help supply the skills needed for a new career or to launch a business. And if an entrepreneur starts a new business, there may be an opportunity for them to hire other workers, aiding the economy.
“The driving force in Maine is our small business community,” said Gail Kelly, state director for U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe.
Snowe’s office has been helping coordinate federal efforts in the region. Kelly said that some of the smallest businesses may really benefit from even a few extra thousand dollars saved or earned. There are experts to help with that, she said, but small businesses may not be aware of them.
“When you’re a small business, you don’t always have the time to look at all these things,” said Kelly. “This will give it all to them in one place.”
Visit www.katahdinbusinessresources.org for more information.