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August 11, 2014 From the Editor

The common thread in these women is grit

Now in the sixth installment of our annual Women to Watch, Mainebiz offers in this issue an in-depth study of five women making a difference in Maine.

This year, we received a fat folder full of nominations. We also had an internal list of candidates. Our team evaluated each nomination carefully. You could say it was an arduous process, but, apart from the fact that I locked the door and told the staff they couldn't leave till we made our picks, it was actually interesting and fun.

We were looking for people from a range of industries. We wanted businesspeople who had accomplished something, but still have many years ahead of them. We wanted smart leaders, but also people with something at stake.

The women we picked are accomplished, but they're not walking resumes. They're entrepreneurs, risk-takers and visionaries. They've borrowed money and brokered deals. They've literally built buildings along with businesses. They've overcome challenges. They've demonstrated a certain grit that I think we can all acknowledge is an important part of running a successful business.

The profiles not only bring the Women to Watch to life. They also, I think, show how much our staff enjoyed meeting them and doing the interviews.

Senior Writer Lori Valigra wrote three of the profiles.

Amber Lambke, co-owner of Maine Grains, was the only one of the women who several of us on staff had met prior to the nomination process. She was part of the Mainebiz “On the Road” round table discussion in Skowhegan. We were impressed by the way she communicated the importance of providing a market for grains grown in Maine to reenergize agriculture and trade. She was part of the state's trade mission to Iceland. And I personally witnessed her persistence in conveying her business' story to one of the venture capitalists at the Mainebiz event. To interview Amber, Lori took an overnight trip to Skowhegan, where she attended the annual Artisan Bread Fair, and got Amber's tour of the Maine Grains' Somerset Grist Mill, which was created in the former Somerset County Jail.

It was clear in the profile of Margo Walsh, director of MaineWorks, a staffing firm that places veterans and recovering alcoholics, that she is not comfortable sitting still for an interview. Lori sat in her truck as they drove around Portland and her subject poured forth about building a business while demonstrating an empathy for people who have taken a wrong turn or two.

Claudia Raessler, CEO of the Maine Textiles International, got our attention by taking on an industry that many had left for dead: textiles and dyeing. She's a lawyer by training, successfully launched an alpaca farm, selling the wool. When a dyehouse where she sent her wool closed, she audaciously threw herself into buying the equipment and bringing it up to Maine in a dozen tractor trailers. Her entrepreneurial spirit was further demonstrated by taking over a portion of a defunct mill in Biddeford.

Ellen Belknap, president of SMRT, has gotten a lot of attention recently because her firm designed MaineGeneral's new, $322 million Augusta hospital. She is part of a relatively small percentage of women architects and an even smaller percentage of women leading architecture firms. But, as Senior Writer Jim McCarthy discovered, she has a refreshing point of view on the subject of how being a woman guides her leadership style. Belknap cites her collaborative skills — or, as she says, her knack for the “care and feeding of multiple stakeholders.”

Our Web Editor Dylan Martin profiles another person who carries the themes of rebuilding and resurrection. Lauren Wayne was an experienced music promoter, but had never run an organization before being named to lead the State Theatre, a historic venue in downtown Portland that had more lives than many of the rock stars it has hosted. She's now built a successful track record and the theater is playing a significant role in the downtown's creative economy.

Finally, while this is a total coincidence, Mainebiz likes the fact that three of the honorees' businesses have Maine in the name.

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