May 25, 2018
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Shouting good news about business from the rooftops of Maine

Jess Knox, owner of Olympico Strategies and a blogger for BDN Maine's online business section.
By Jess Knox, Olympico Strategies

Editor’s note: Jess Knox is a former SBA official, current business consultant and Portland resident who is joining the BDN Maine team as a blogger in its online business section. In his blog, Disruptive Growth, Knox will write about entrepreneurship in Maine and the people, policy and issues related to it. We’ll also occasionally publish columns by him in the paper. To follow his blog, visit

One of the things that always nags me is the ongoing debate about whether Maine is “good for business.”

Over the years, I’ve probably seen more than a hundred different studies, usually accompanied by screaming headlines, with elected officials at all levels yelling criticism or citing a better report.

Instead of focusing on studies, those of us interested in greater economic growth — especially through entrepreneurship — need to be shouting success stories from the rooftops.

Why does celebrating our success matter? Because without it, we get the same old economic attitude. For years, our conversations in coffee shops, at soccer games and at community meetings have been about the bad things: the missed deal, the failed development and more. Much of this is fueled by the need to sell newspapers or attract viewers. There is a rush to controversy, much of it bad because it fuels our appetite through the traditional outlets.

This flood of bad news can choke the life out of optimism. We need optimism.

As Jim Clifton wrote in his book about entrepreneurship and innovation, “The Coming Jobs War,” the key trait of entrepreneurship is optimism. We need people to believe in themselves and that they can start, grow and expand their business and make it as good or better than anyone else’s.

The future economy of Maine is already being built by entrepreneurs all over this state. It’d be a whole lot better if they faced a barrage of good news, rather than the usual stream of Maine bad news.

Let me be specific: When there is a good piece of news about a company expanding, getting a patent, getting new space, entering a new market, hiring new people, getting more capital, increasing earnings (you get the idea…), we should be shouting that good news to anyone who will listen. Shouting about the good news helps build a new narrative about Maine (not just about that sugar beet debacle back in the day).

Hearing that good news matters to entrepreneurs here, those who are visiting or might visit, and those who see Maine as the place they might want to move, start or expand their business.

Building a narrative of good news matters most when it comes to the conversation about risk. I’m talking about the increased risk for an entrepreneur and the risk model for lenders and investors. That man or woman, doing whatever they are doing now, with that idea they’ve had kicking around in their heads, are probably not going to risk their current lifestyle and job to make that idea a reality if all they hear is how things are failing.

There are a ton of good things happening across the state. Shouldn’t we want those entrepreneurs thinking, “Maybe I can make a go of it too?”

Good news is also important for bank lenders and potential investors.

These people are pretty important to our economic development. I know our politics is filled with rhetoric about how all banks are evil and how venture capitalists are the scourge of the economy. But many of those people are Mainers like you and me. They’re a critical part of our economy. After the crash of 2008, Maine’s entrepreneurs and small businesses were saved by Maine’s community bankers since they were the ones still willing to invest in Maine businesses.

Moreover, they love successful businesses, too. The more they hear about successful new ventures, they become accustomed to a “start-up” paradigm, the more likely their risk tolerance matches innovative endeavors. A wave of success begets success. Everyone wants to be part of a winning team and if everyone’s hearing good things about Maine companies and entrepreneurs, a momentum of progress begins to take hold. That’s a problem we all should want to deal with.

So let’s build a winning team of entrepreneurship success. Let’s get more people making a go of it, let’s get lenders and investors fired-up to invest and let’s do some shouting about the good news. Let’s post about it, write about it, blog about it, sing about it, whatever it takes.

Spread the good news that Maine’s entrepreneurs are on the leading edge of Maine’s economy. That’s something for all of us to celebrate.

Jess Knox is a former political consultant and high-ranking SBA official who is passionate about entrepreneurship and Maine. He presently helps companies manage growth through his firm Olympico Strategies.


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