Want to start a business? Down East Maine has strong network to help you out

Elizabeth Sprague (left), who was formerly the small-business coordinator of the Downeast Business Alliance and now works with Maine Farmland Trust, talks with Clayton Blake of Cooper about a grant to expand his Blake's custom butchering facility in 2011.
BDN File Photo by Sharon Kiley Mack
Elizabeth Sprague (left), who was formerly the small-business coordinator of the Downeast Business Alliance and now works with Maine Farmland Trust, talks with Clayton Blake of Cooper about a grant to expand his Blake's custom butchering facility in 2011. Buy Photo
By Harold Clossey and Mark Green, Special to the BDN
Posted Dec. 01, 2013, at 1:47 p.m.

The Sunrise County Economic Council and Washington Hancock Community Agency would like to thank the Bangor Daily News for its Nov. 5 editorial on the important role entrepreneurship plays in creating new jobs and economic prosperity for our state.

The underlying points the BDN raises about creating greater awareness of and support for our many self-made businesses are welcome given that so many people are unaware just how important the entrepreneurial environment is to the local, regional and statewide economy. A host of programs available across the state, from Kittery to Calais and Machias to Madawaska, gives entrepreneurs and their businesses every opportunity to succeed.

Make no mistake: There are many, many great resources out there to help businesses succeed across Maine, including in the northern and eastern parts of the state. The BDN touched on several great ones — the University of Maine’s research and development arm, the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development and the Maine Technology Institute are all doing fantastic work to help entrepreneurs succeed locally, regionally, statewide and globally. We have strong, enduring relationships with each, and know the people and organizations involved have done a lot for the small-business community.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Here are a few examples of some great business resource providers of particular interest to entrepreneurs in eastern and northern Maine:

Incubator Without Walls: The Washington Hancock Community Agency, or WHCA, has been successfully offering a six-month “entrepreneurial boot camp” to Hancock and Washington County businesspeople for 16 years. Over that time, the IWW has helped more than 450 current or would-be business owners acquire the skills they need to make their businesses succeed — financial planning, marketing, management training, networking and business planning are all things IWW businesses can access at no cost. Earlier this year, WHCA teamed up with Sunrise County Economic Council, or SCEC, to expand the program and leverage an even wider network of business resources local businesses can access. Already, this has paid off with increased enrollment — 19 entrepreneurs currently enrolled in IWW — and plans for a youth entrepreneurship spinoff set to launch in early 2014.

Sunrise Loan Fund: SCEC operates eight unique loan products that lent or leveraged more than $5 million in its most recent fiscal year and another $5.1 million during the previous fiscal year. The council did that by working with partners such as Coastal Enterprise Inc.’s Women’s Business Center, the Northern Maine Development Commission, U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, the U.S. Small Business Administration, Finance Authority of Maine, WHCA, Slow Money Maine and more. The private banking community also works with those partners to support entrepreneurs with technical assistance, business counseling, training and much more.

What many of us in the nonprofit lending community have realized over the past few years is that what matters is not necessarily how much you have to invest but how you make those investments count.

If that means that the fourth- or fifth-generation fisherman can keep his boat and his house and feed his family, we’re onto something. What it also means is that working in tandem, we can target investment, create strategic opportunities that can benefit the whole region, and strengthen our rural economy as a whole. Bottom line: Free, confidential and professional entrepreneurial resources are plentiful in Washington County, and we strongly encourage people to connect with us.

We would both like to say that Down East Maine is rich in resources — natural resources, the professional relationships and arrangements we both have with other technical assistance providers, and the businesses themselves. They might not grab headlines or seem like obvious connections at first glance, but a deeper, more thorough understanding of the lay of the land in northeastern Maine will only buttress your assertions and lead to greater understanding of the issues facing rural businesses on the statewide stage.

Harold Clossey is executive director of the Sunrise County Economic Council. Mark Green is executive director of the Washington Hancock Community Agency.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/12/01/opinion/contributors/want-to-start-a-business-down-east-maine-has-strong-network-to-help-you-out/ printed on July 22, 2014