WATERVILLE — A business incubator is opening in the downtown, the former Levine’s building is being developed and the city will learn soon if the airport area is designated a foreign trade zone.

The update on Waterville economic development came Monday from Darryl Sterling, executive director of the Central Maine Growth Council, who spoke to the Waterville Rotary Club at the Alfond Youth Center.

Sterling said Colby College launched a business incubator downtown at 44 Main St., where entrepreneurs will get help developing their business ideas. The incubator is above the Paragon Shop in the former Nale law offices at the corner of Silver and Main streets.

The incubator is being developed in partnership with Thomas College, which offers a degree in entrepreneurship, Sterling said.

He said staff will help entrepreneurs with ideas for new businesses get connected with resources to help them get patented, find funding and market their ideas. The entrepreneurs, including high school and college students, may decide to start their businesses in the 44 Main St. space and then find a permanent location, according to Sterling. Staff members will work to help them find more permanent space.

“It all fits under the ‘entrepreneurial umbrella,’” Sterling said.

The former Levine’s building, at 9-19 Main St., has been purchased by Michael Soracchi of Milford, Conn., and the Central Maine Growth Council is helping him develop the building for mixed use, Sterling said.

Sterling said he has spoken with R.H. Reny’s department store officials about possibly opening a store on the first floor there.

“It’s not totally ruled out or ruled in, and we’re waiting to hear back,” Sterling said. “An eatery has been approached and indicated it wants to come into a mixed-use space.”

Meanwhile, the upper floors will be renovated for residential use and Sterling has spoken with officials at Camden National Bank next door to see if the bank is interested collaborating on part of the project.

“We’ve just started talking with them,” Sterling said. “They’re very receptive.”

The city expects to hear by about May 1 whether the city-owned Robert LaFleur Municipal Airport and surrounding area will get foreign trade zone status, he said.

“I’m hoping within 30 days we’ll have it,” he said.

Sterling, who worked on the trade zone application, said businesses would have an incentive to move to the airport, as duties would be waived for companies doing business with foreign companies. Companies could save millions of dollars in waived fees — and that money instead could be used to do research, increase salaries and improve businesses, he said.

Sterling is a member of the airport committee and wrote a story about the airport that was featured in the Nov. 2-8, 2012, issue of New England Real Estate Journal.

The Growth Council is a public-private nonprofit organization that works to develop a strong regional economy in central Maine. It works with businesses, governments, residents, academic institutions and organizations that promote arts and culture.

It is funded by participating municipalities and private businesses.

Amy Calder — 861-9247
acalder@centralmaine.com