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Entrepreneurs considering Maine as a place to start or grow a business are spoiled for choices when it comes to possible locations, from the bustling city of Portland on the state’s southern coast to Presque Isle up north.
Other options include the state capital of Augusta and nearby Waterville, re-emerging Skowhegan, the twin cities of Lewiston and Auburn and the Greater Bangor area, which one local likens to a small town where personal relationships matter.
One could say the same of the whole state, with a population of 1.3 million and a large rural footprint. As a starting point for business movers and shakers deciding where to plant roots, here’s an overview of what different regions have to offer.
Local resources: Startup Maine, Roux Institute, Maine Center for Entrepreneurs, New England Ocean Cluster, Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center, Black Owned Maine
Coworking: CloudPort, ThinkTank, Peloton Labs, CoworkHERS, the Third Place
Networking: Startup Maine meetups, Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce Eggs & Issues and Kegs & Issues, Live + Work in Maine “Community Welcome” events
Where to grab coffee: Bard, Coffee By Design, Speckled Ax
Livability pluses: Foodie heaven, growing college town, museums, islands
Insider’s tip: “Utilize all the resources that Maine has to offer - from grants to founders programs to pitch competitions. Mainers want to see businesses — old and new — succeed,” says Katie Shorey, president of Startup Maine. Her other suggestion: “The Portland entrepreneurial community loves events, and it can be the best way to meet people.”
Local resource: Midcoast Regional Development Authority, Coastal Enterprises Inc.
Coworking: TechPlace, Brunswick Landing’s technology and manufacturing business incubator, with shared office and industrial space, a shared machine shop, composites facility and bioproduction lab
Networking: Bath-Brunswick Regional Chamber events
Livability pluses: Walkable downtown, Bowdoin College, Maine State Music Theatre, expansive trail system at Brunswick Landing
Where to grab a beer: Flight Deck Brewing, located in the former Small Arms Firing Range on the redeveloped Brunswick Naval Air Station (now Brunswick Landing)
Insider’s tip: “At Brunswick Landing, the sky’s the limit,” says Jaimie Logan, director of TechPlace, Brunswick Landing’s technology and manufacturing business incubator. “We’re ready to help your company reach its goals, whether that includes launching cube satellites into space or brewing a fine Maine ale.”
Local resources: Main Street Skowhegan Economic Development Corp., Skowhegan Chamber of Commerce
Coworking: Skowhegan Center for Entrepreneurs
Networking: Main Street Skowhegan and Chamber events
Livability pluses: Outdoor recreation; festivals including River Fest and Skijor Skowhegan; free outdoor activities and gear available through Main Street Skowhegan’s Skowhegan Outdoors program; local food hub
Where to grab coffee: Miller’s Table at Maine Grains, the Bankery & Skowhegan Fleuriste and the new Joe’s Flat Iron Café
Insider’s tip: “Skowhegan is currently undergoing a renaissance,” says Kristina Cannon, executive director of Main Street Skowhegan. “With more than $650 million in investment expected in the next few years, there’s never been a better time to join the Skowhegan community, which is full of go-getters, innovators and passionate individuals who value collaboration and camaraderie.”
Local resources: Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce, Harold Alfond Institute for Business Innovation at Thomas College (Waterville), Central Maine Growth Council, Dirigo Labs, Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce
Coworking: Bricks Coworking & Innovation Space (Waterville)
Networking: Chamber events
Where to get your chocolate fix: Bixby Chocolate Café (Waterville)
Where to get coffee: Wild Clover Café& Market (Waterville)
Livability pluses: Revitalized downtowns, central location, Colby and Thomas colleges in Waterville, the new Paul J. Schupf Arts Center (Waterville), Kennebec River recreation
Insider’s tip No. 1: Augusta’s “restaurant scene has been revitalized with places like State Lunch and Cushnoc on Water Street, plus an eclectic variety of great restaurants in Hallowell,” says Nancy Marshall, CEO of Marshall Communications. “Plus, the state capital draws Maine’s leaders along with all the affiliated services. It’s a great mix of rural and urban. I’ve had my offices there since 2001 and am glad to be headquartered there.”
Insider’s tip No. 2: “The spirit of collaboration and community truly sets central Maine apart as an ideal location to start a business,” says Nick Rimsa, owner of Tortoise Labs.
Local resources: University of Maine including Foster Center for Innovation (Orono), Husson University (Bangor), UpStart Maine (Bangor), Big Gig business-pitch events
Coworking: UpStart Center for Entrepreneurship (Orono), Rize CoWorking & Collaboration Space (Bangor), Bangor Innovation Center
Where to grab coffee: Bagel Central, Chimera Coffee and Wicked Brew Café in Bangor, Nest in both places
Networking: Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce events, Fusion: Bangor events, Mainebiz Bangor Breakfast Forum, annual Bangor "Blitz" startup conference
Livability pluses: Downtown Bangor revitalization, arts and culture, outdoor recreation
Insider’s tip No. 1: “The economic development directors in the area work really well together, so no matter which one you start with, they will work to find a business owner a good option,” says Renee Kelly, University of Maine Office of Strategic Partnerships, Innovation, Resources and Engagement. “Joining Fusion: Bangor or participating in the Bangor Region Leadership Institute are the best ways for newcomers (or boomerangs like myself) to get to know the area and make strong connections.”
Insider’s tip No. 2: “Even though the Greater Bangor area has a population of over 150,000, the area is still a small town and personal relationships carry a lot of weight,” says Ashley Briggs, owner of Briggs Solutions for Business and the Rize CoWorking & Collaboration space.
Local resource: Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce
Coworking: Ignite Presque Isle
Where to grab coffee or tea: HUB Coffee, Fuel ME, Bubble Tea Café
Networking: Chamber events, Momentum Aroostook
Livability pluses: ATV and snowmobile trails, college town (University of Maine at Presque Isle, Northern Maine Community College), Crown of Maine Balloon Festival
Insider’s tip: “Presque Isle is called the hub of Aroostook for so many reasons, there is truly something for everyone,” says LaNiece Sirois, executive director of the Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce. She recommends creating a trip to the area around an event, many of which are listed on the chamber’s website.
Local resource: Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce
Coworking: MUNKA Coworking and Co-Lab Create in Lewiston
Where to grab a beer: Baxter Brewing in Lewiston, Side By Each Brewing Co. in Auburn
Networking: Chamber events, Third Place events
Livability pluses: Vibrant immigrant community, Bates College, historic mill redevelopment, Lewiston Riverfest and Public Theatre, annual Auburn Lobster Festival
Insider’s tip: “Auburn has been and is currently a very entrepreneurial city,” says Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque, pointing to the city’s 50% discount on permit fees for veterans and grants for neighborhood grocery stores, agriculture startups, retail businesses and building facade improvements. “Combined with our aggressive gifting of city-owned land for development, and you have all the ingredients ready to start or expand an operation in Auburn.”