Executive Director Kristina Cannon of Main Street Skowhegan, pictured in February 2018 at the organization’s offices, expects the Community Entrepreneur Program will be a driver for the local economy. Morning Sentinel file photo

Main Street Skowhegan has learned it will receive support from the National Main Street Center to help the community assess its entrepreneurial needs and foster a more-welcoming and supportive business community.

Main Street Skowhegan was selected as one of three in Maine, alongside those in Lisbon and Monmouth, to provide the community — through the Community Entrepreneurship Program — with workshops, training and local assessments.

Executive Director Kristina Cannon of Main Street Skowhegan said the program will allow the community team in Skowhegan to dive deeply into entrepreneurial systems and assessing other networks, funding, policies, social capital and assets to determine the town’s strengths and weaknesses.

Main Street Skowhegan is one of 10 Main Street programs in the state to have received nationally accreditation.

Maggie Drummond-Bahl, senior program officer at Maine Community Foundation, which managed the competitive application process for the program, said the timeline for the project is uncertain because of closures due to coronavirus.

When things are closer to normal, a National Main Street Center facilitator will travel to the communities and conduct focus groups.

In the meantime, Drummond-Bahl said planning grants will be sent out to communities along with planning expectations and building blocks for development.

“The National Main Street Center has developed several tools to help communities identify assets and opportunities for support entrepreneurship and innovation,” Drummond-Bahl said. “The Skowhegan team will begin to formulate a plan based on these findings.”

Anne Ball, senior program director of Maine Development Foundation, which also managed the application process and is sponsoring the program with Maine Community Foundation, said each community will be awarded a $25,000 implementation grant in the first two years.

To receive additional funding, the communities must apply for implementation funding for items specific to their community, with the total of all grants topping out at $70,000.

“It could be plans for a shared commercial kitchen, plans or wiring for a co-working space or maker space, the build-out for a shared retail space for local makers and creators of all types,” Ball said.

“The sky is the limit, and the community will come up with what is going to support their work in this area while working through the trainings, support and consultations with the National Main Street Center.”

Added Drummond-Bahl: “We felt that Skowhegan was a great choice because they are representative of so many other communities in Maine that have experienced economic decline over time, but this is also a place that has some amazing assets that they’re working hard to maximize in their community revitalization efforts. (Main Street Skowhegan) and downtown show signs of new life and energy. They have deployed several new strategies to help attract and support entrepreneurs.”

Drummond-Bahl also referenced Main Street Skowhegan’s Run of River project, describing the efforts as an “authentic, homegrown economic development win that is within reach.”

The Run of River project will be located within the downtown Kennebec River Gorge and will offer many water facilities, including a whitewater park with enhanced rapids and waves and four-season trail systems.

“By creating a more-supportive environment for entrepreneurs and business owners, we hope to see more of our residents, including our local youth, starting businesses and being successful,” Cannon said.

“We also expect to attract new people to Skowhegan who want to take a chance on that startup they’ve been dreaming about. Ultimately, both scenarios will mean more jobs and a more diversified tax base for our town.”

Cannon said the program can also be a way for businesses that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic to determine how to reduce the impact of future crises.

“We’ll take lessons learned and incorporate them into our plan for building a stronger environment for small business in Skowhegan,” Cannon said.

 


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