While rural Maine offers fewer employment opportunities than it did during the heyday of forestry and manufacturing, people are still attracted to the quality of life. Those factors are contributing to a growing number of micro-businesses statewide as people create jobs for themselves.
Savvy entrepreneurs are identifying unmet demand for products and services, says James Macomber, a micro-enterprise consultant with Maine Stream Finance, a subsidiary of Penquis that provides business education and residential and commercial lending.
“It’s my job to work with people in the start-up phase, and at the other end when they want to sell their home or business, and everything in between,” said Macomber. “The Penquis coverage area is Piscataquis, Penobscot, Knox, and Waldo counties, but I am serving clients in all but one county in the state. We won’t refuse to talk to somebody, no matter where they come from.”
Penquis offers live and online classes on several business start-up topics, as well as a 12-week Incubator Without Walls program during which participants learn while also completing a first-draft business plan. Penquis also facilitates connections between entrepreneurs and other resources they may need.
Micro-businesses are numerous and varied. “We have a woman who does a line of children’s clothing, a fitness studio, an accounting firm, a recreational vehicle rental business, and multiple taxi businesses,” Macomber said. “And we are working with an engineer who used to be with a firm, but found it easier to work as an independent.”
Many entrepreneurs sell to a broader market, Macomber said. “Some are marketing their products online. The children’s clothing client is preparing to go visit a wholesale show in New York in March to get the lay of the land and will go back to have a booth there in August and again for the Christmas season.,” he said. “Others are finding that their niche market is somewhere else, so they go there for a day or two and then come back.”
Some products and services require a physical location. The pop-up retail trend is making temporary space more affordable for micro-businesses. Booths at trade shows and malls, display space within established retail stores, and displays in the lobbies of financial institutions are also providing no-cost and low-cost options for entrepreneurs.
Another entrepreneurial trend that emerged last summer and will likely come back even stronger in 2014 is food trucks, Macomber said. “We had some that were fairly successful during their first year.”
For more information about the micro-enterprise programs at Penquis, call Macomber at 564-7116 or visit www.penquis.org and select “Starting a Business” under the “Our Services” tab.