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Updated: November 16, 2023

A Machias co-working space aimed at small businesses taps into a range of donors

Leigh Hallett / USDA The MaineStreet Business Building in Machias offers co-working and programs for small businesses and startups.

A co-working space in downtown Machias was unveiled Wednesday as part of a larger event.

The space was envisioned as a spot for startups to grow.

On Wednesday, officials from Maine USDA Rural Development hosted a roundtable discussion. Afterward, participants were able to get a first-hand look at the new MaineStreet Business Building, a shared workspace in downtown Machias overseen by the Sunrise Economic Development Council.

As part of the event, Rhiannon Hampson, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Maine’s state director, awarded $75,000 to the Sunrise County Economic Council. 

Overall, the Washington County nonprofit has received $151,000 through the USDA Rural Development program.

The nonprofit will help agricultural producers and small businesses in Washington County that want to explore and implement renewal energy projects. SCEC will offer tailored support including helping applicants secure partners, providing grant-writing assistance, and supporting successful applicants in implementing their projects.  

Sunrise Economic Development Council, which is led by Charles Rudelitch, will use the most recent grant to provide on-site technical assistance and networking and professional development events at the MaineStreet Business Building, which is on U.S. Route 1 (Maine Street) in downtown Machias. 

Indeed, it may sound like a contradiction, but downtown redevelopment is considered a key part of rural development. Hampson cited the workspace's benefit for the "wider community."

Courtesy / USDA Rural Development
From left, Katie Bragg, director of Small Business and Entrepreneurship; Rhiannon Hampson, USDA Rural Development; and Amanda Smith, coastal opportunities advisor). All three are Washington County natives who are working to increase business opportunities in the county.

“The value in creating these spaces downtown is multifold," she said. "Not only are we able to showcase what investment looks like in a tangible way, we are helping to inspire entrepreneurs. When someone drives through a town and sees a place like the MaineStreet Business Building, they know immediately that there is support available for local businesses."

Hampson said the space can be used to "host clients, hold meetings, enjoy reliable connectivity and have peer-to-peer learning opportunities. These are exactly the kinds of supports that small, rural business need to be successful."

A range of donors

Other donors include Machias Savings Bank, the Northern Border Regional Commission and Libra Foundation, as well as other businesses, foundations, families and individuals. (See photo.)

Denise Cilley, associate director of Sunrise County Economic Council, said the building's final cost was $1.5 million, up from the original $1.4 million estimate. She cited pandemic-related increases in construction and labor costs. An earlier plan called for salvaging a pre-existing foundation, but that did not prove to be feasible. 

She said the nonprofit plans to recognize donors in the next month with a community open house day. 

Leigh Hallett / USDA
Development of the MaineStreet Business Building in Machias depended on a range of donors.

Resources for small businesses

The MaineStreet Business Building opened in the summer, but Wednesday's event was one of the first chances for a wider audience to see it. 

It offers a conference room, meeting spaces, private offices, shared office equipment, and other resources for local businesses. The walls feature paintings by Sharon Kiley Mack, former head of the Machias Bay Chamber of Commerce. 

The Small Business and Entrepreneurship team at SCEC oversees the facility, connecting business owners and offering collaboration and networking opportunities. It's available to small businesses. Startups there are in sectors such as graphic design, agriculture, finance and fisheries.

Two years ago, USDA Rural Development awarded $100,000 to the Sunrise County Economic Council to equip the MaineStreet Business Building. The organization will use the RBDG award announced this week to provide programming at the facility.

USDA’s competitive Rural Business Development Grant program funds projects that provide technical assistance and training for small rural businesses. Towns, nonprofits, business cooperatives, federally recognized tribes and other entities are eligible to apply. 

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