WATERVILLE — If you want to start a business in Maine or are having problems with your existing business, help is a phone call away.
That message was touted repeatedly Thursday by Deb Neuman, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development.
Neuman spoke to 42 business people, educators and others Thursday at Thomas College, at a business breakfast hosted by both the college and Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce.
Neuman cited a number of ways the state is trying to be more business friendly and help people start businesses and expand existing ones.
She is part of the Governor’s Account Executives Team, a new panel she helped to create that works with businesses to help them identify goals and figure out what they need to do to  succeed.
The team works from the premise that a business owner does not have to know all of the programs, people, resources and requirements necessary to run his business — that that is the team’s job, according to Neuman. The team makes contacts and brings in the appropriate experts and partners to help.
“The team is just amazing,” she said.
To speak with a team member, one need only call 1-800-872-3838, according to Neuman.
“We can often bring some good ideas to the table or good people to the table,” she said.
The team also works within state government to help business people navigate through permitting and licensing processes.
Neuman cited a case in which her department provided help to a ski resort that was struck twice by lighting in July, causing the lodge to burn. The owner, she said, was nervous about being able to get all the necessary permits in place and rebuilding a structure in time for the winter season, as July to December was not a lot of time.
Neuman worked with him and got all of the necessary public safety, fire and other officials together to get the project off the ground.
“Everyone sat around the table and we worked through it,” she said. “We had some bumps along the way, but we were able to do it.”
Neuman, of Bangor, hosts the award-winning “Back to Business” talk radio show on WVOM in Maine and on stations throughout New England. Her guests include people in business who talk about what works for them and what does not.
Neuman grew up in Pennsylvania while summering in Maine with her family on property they bought many years ago in Steuben, on the coast. She went to college out west, graduating from University of the Pacific, but always wanted to live in Maine, year-round, so in her 20s she moved to Bar Harbor, she said. She worked at an inn which she ultimately ran, and then decided she needed to own her own business, so she found a banker to help her.
“It was his first day, so he made the loan,” she said, to laughter from the group.
She bought an inn and later owned a tour boat company; six years ago, she started her radio show.
Before starting her current job with the state in July, she was director of the Target Technology Center at University of Maine and was a business development specialist, counselor and lender for Eastern Maine Development Corp. She also was on Gov. Paul LePage’s transition team, providing input about the needs of small businesses and offering ideas for helping to improve delivery of services to help businesses start and expand.
“I’m truly passionate about small business, having been there, done that,” she said.
Neuman said her department also has the Business Answers Program in which members of the Governor’s Account Executives Team take telephone calls from businesses wanting to know everything from what types of permits they needs to whether the team can help with a current business crisis.
The account executive will listen, try to understand what’s going on and either help solve the problem immediately or get back to the person, she said. They also may sit down to discuss the issue, according to Neuman
“This team, this department, is very much about partnerships and collaboration and we work closely with economic development groups, private sectors, chambers…” she said.
The team does not just hand out brochures to businesses seeking help; rather, it contacts people who can help them, she said.
“We don’t just want to kind of send you off,” she said.
She likened the team to a primary care physician for businesses.
“You come in, you tell us about your headaches and what’s going on and we oversee your business health,” she said.
The department is working to streamline the licensing and permitting processes to make it easier for businesses, according to Neuman.
She said she hears every day from businness people who want to grow and expand their companies. A Virginia man who has a summer place in Maine at one time wanted to start a business here but the climate was not right at the time, she said. But he called recently and said he heard it is a good place to do business now and he thinks it’s time, she said.
“I said, ‘Yes, we will help you,’” Neuman recalled. “Within a week we set up a conference call to speak with a number of people, and that’s still going on.”
She said making the state more business-friendly is a focus of LePage’s.
John Fortier, owner of State Farm Insurance on Silver Street, said there appears to be a lot of good change happening and asked Neuman why the media is not reporting all the changes.
Neuman said the department has a legislative liaison for the media and efforts are made to spread the word about positive changes. She said it is important for businesses to tell their stories.
“I do my part to get positive news out there,” she said. “If we can all do that, it will make a big difference.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247
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