AUGUSTA — At the Mainebiz Momentum Convention, 1,000 Maine business people to think big. For New Balance, based in Skowhegan, that meant reinventing how the company had made shoes for more than 100 years.
“To be competitive we have to change constantly,” said Raye Wentworth, New Balance’s Skowhegan plant manager.
The company re-evaluated every part of its business and kept only parts that added value. The changes cut production time from eight days to eight hours and included making custom, multi-colored shoes.
“We make some ugly shoes,” Wentworth said with a laugh, “people love them. You can order custom shoes and we will get them to you in 10 days. That’s something our competitors can’t do.”
Wentworth was one of nine speakers at the Augusta Civic Center recently, where more than 100 Maine businesses gathered to network and talk about their successes. All of the speakers touched on the benefits of working in Maine and on the theme “think big.”
Keynote speaker David Shaw, the founder of IDEXX Laboratories, said in his experience, thinking big means taking big risks.
“Success is a choice. Why choose anything but great?” he asked the room of businesspeople. “Have a vision of what great looks like for your company. Good is not enough. Good is the enemy of great.”
He encouraged entrepreneurs to find their slice of pie in hot trends, take big risks and work to enrich the lives of as many people in the world as possible.
Kerem Durdag, the CEO of Biovation added that a competitive spirit helps.
“Nine out of 10 start-ups will fail miserably. I believe those of us who fail will pick ourselves up and try again and again and again until we rise up. After I saw the movie Rocky I ran 5 miles. I almost died. That’s the thing about start-ups. You run and run and run and hope you don’t die.”
Mainers in particular “are a very competitive bunch,” Durdag said.
Corky Ellis, the founder of Kepware Technologies in Portland, agreed.
“If you have a good idea and are willing to take a risk, Maine is a great place to do business. I can’t imagine running a software company in California or Cambridge. No one stays with you. Here, our turnover is miniscule.”
The biggest barrier, Ellis said, is finding those workers. His company employs about 80 people and half of them graduated from the University of Maine. According to Ellis about 50 computer engineers graduated from Orono last year, but Maine alone could have hired 200.
“We’re fighting for limited resources,” Ellis said.
Art Batson, the CEO of Lucas Tree Expert Co. had an entirely different issue: His Maine workers do so well he sometimes has to relocate them to his Canadian offices.
“My company has the most success when we find Maine workers and develop them,” Batson said. “Maine has an incredible work force. The work ethic of Maine should be commended.”
Donna Brassard, the publisher of Mainebiz, summarized the day’s events, “People are getting a lot of perspective and inspiration. I think they’re pleasantly surprised by the amount and diversity of businesses here. It’s just amazing. They’re all thinking big.