PORTLAND, Maine — Maine doesn't have a company cracking the Fortune 500 list. General Dynamics, the owner of Bath Iron Works, is listed, but the shipbuilder is headquartered in Falls Church, Virginia.
So how does Maine lead the country in any business category? Small business.
Maine has a niche for small businesses, specifically those staying open past the first year benchmark. The Pine Tree State is number one in the country for percent of startups that are active after one-year, according to the Kaufman Foundation Indicators of Entrepreneurship. Maine sees 88.13% of startups sticking with it, compared to 77.28% in New Hampshire, 78.82% in Vermont, and 82.74% in Massachusetts.
“Just an enormously high percentage rate," said the State Director at the Maine Small Business Development Centers, Mark Delisle. "I think that is largely due to the set of support and resources that are available here in Maine.”
The Maine Small Business Development Centers through the University of Southern Maine is a free federal program through the Small Business Administration. Combine the SBDC with the Finance Authority of Maine (FAME), and Coastal Enterprises Inc. (CEI), and Delisle says small business owners have cashflow planning and capital resources at their fingertips.
“Maine is really a small business state," said Delisle. “You’re surrounded by other folks that are starting small businesses, a lot of people you can connect with, a lot of people you can ask advice from. It’s very welcoming for small business.”
On Monday, WalletHub released it's 2019 Best & Worst States to Start a Business. Maine is 23rd but ranked higher than any other New England state.
“Probably the largest reason that happens is because we have one of the lower cost structures in New England compared to a Connecticut or Massachusetts," said Delisle. “[WalletHub] selected a set of data limits from three different categories. I think those are valid data elements, but we can certainly pull up different measures of economic activity and small business success and plug them in and the rankings would shift and change."
Governor Mills may try to increase Maine's business presence. Her administration launched a new economic development strategic planning initiative. Delisle says this hasn't been seen in Maine for over 20 years.
A report is expected in November, ahead of the incoming legislature, and Delisle is hoping the task force includes entrepreneurship and small business as a key element for economic growth.
“We have a huge challenge demographically. We are the oldest state in the country, [and we have] a shrinking workforce. A lot of those challenges are very hard to overcome economically. You need to find ways to break through that and attract more people here... Probably the key is to attract more people here to start and grow businesses.”