DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Piscataquis County still has a high unemployment rate — it was 9 percent in October compared to the state rate of 7.3 percent — but several area employers report that their businesses have weathered the economic storm and appear to be on solid footing as 2012 approaches.
A major boost to the economy occurred this summer when Tractor Supply Co. decided to open a store in the Dover-Foxcroft Plaza. Tractor Supply began operations in mid-November and employs 17 full- and part-time employees.
Rob Hoskins, a Tractor Supply spokesman, indicated that the Piscataquis region was a good fit for the business’s target market.
“The Dover-Foxcroft area was attractive due to the many part-time hobby farmers and horse owners there,” he said. “The TSC product category expertise includes lawn and garden, animal care products that services the needs of these customers.”
Another successful business is looking to find a new home in Piscataquis County. Little Lad’s Bakery of Corinth produces 200 types of healthful snack foods for a worldwide market. The company is owned by Larry Fleming, who is also the owner of Little Lad’s Restaurants in Portland and New York City.
The company has operated a bakery in Corinth for the past several years, but Fleming wants to move his operation to the former Pride Manufacturing Co. plant in Guilford, which produced golf tees prior to its closing. The plant has been vacant for the past three years, but Little Lad officials announced in October that they expected to conclude negotiations to purchase the building within the next month.
Fleming said his plan includes moving all 12 of his employees from the Corinth operation and possibly adding more workers at the Guilford plant.
In 2006, new automobile sales dropped dramatically throughout the country. General Motors decided it was necessary to restructure its entire business model, which led to the decision to eliminate 2,600 automobile dealerships. Rowell’s Garage in Dover-Foxcroft was one of those dealerships.
This resulted in Rowell’s becoming a used car dealer, a move that proved to be beneficial because the staff is selling more vehicles.
Rowell officials report that the business has seen three years of incremental growth. Instead of reducing staff, Rowell’s sales and service team has grown by one person over the last few years.
General Manager Scott Moulton explained that the business experienced a few “bad years” due to a combination of the owner’s death and economic downturn, but the sales have steadily improved since taking a drastic dip in 2008.
“Since we’ve become a used car dealership our sales have picked up,” Moulton said. “We are no longer restricted to selling Dodge cars and trucks. We are now selling various types of domestic and foreign cars, so our customers have a much wider selection.”
Rowell’s officials also believe the economic downturn has made used vehicles more attractive because consumers are stretching dollars further by looking for more economical transportation.
“People are having a hard time paying $500 to $600 a month for a new car,” said sales manager Randy Herring. “We have a lot of variety in our inventory and if we don’t have it we can usually find it. This is why we have managed to make the transition so successfully.”
Other entrepreneurs have entered the business market in the past year. Two new restaurants in Guilford started in May. Diana McEachern opened Aunt DD’s Family Restaurant, beginning the venture when a Main Street building became available and had a reasonable lease.
When McEachern started, she was serving home-cooked meals from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Now she is planning to expand her hours to 6 a.m.-8 p.m. on Thursday to Saturday.
When McEachern decided to open her restaurant, she wasn’t concerned about the economic climate because she was more interested in becoming her own boss.
“I had worked for other people and decided now was the time to work on my own,” she said. “The economy hasn’t been a problem. What has really been a challenge is the amount of hours you have to be there. It’s every day, all the time.”
Another Guilford restaurant reopened in May when Paul Zimmerman and Martha Ward began running the Red Maple Inn. Zimmerman also didn’t have any major concerns about the economy when it came time to start a business. He thought there was a market for a place in Guilford that served food, alcohol and had live entertainment.
“I really wanted to operate a place where people could go and have a good time, but Martha and I wanted to do it the right way,” Zimmerman said. “We have good food every day and on the weekend we have live entertainment. It started out slowly in May, but now things are picking up and everything is going very well.”
Zimmerman intends to start a food delivery service. He plans on delivering pizza, meals and appetizers to those communities in the Guilford area.