SKOWHEGAN — As the first wave of federal funding to small businesses dwindles, business owners in Skowhegan are hopeful that more relief may be on the way.

In an effort to showcase the need for more funding, organizers from Main Street Skowhegan gave U.S. Sen. Susan Collins a tour of  downtown businesses and revitalization projects Friday afternoon.

Beginning at the Maine Grain Alliance on Court Street, Collins was greeted by Kristina Cannon, the executive director of Main Street Skowhegan.

The tour lead up Water Street, to the Skowhegan Watch Point and back to the Maine Grain Alliance.

Along the way, Collins met with several business owners including Matt DuBois, co-owner of the Bankery and Skowhegan Fleuriste, both on Water Street.

DuBois told Collins about how his businesses benefited from the Paycheck Protection Flexibility Act, a loan program for businesses that was initially passed in March as part of the federal CARES Act.

“We’re managing alright through this,” DuBois told Collins. “We were able to get the PPP, and that helped us through May and June. And we’re holding our own right now.”

DuBois also mentioned how vital the Main Street program has been to the business community in Skowhegan.

“Our Main Street program is important to all of the small businesses here,” DuBois said. “It promotes business but also tourism, and after COVID, we want to bounce back as a community even stronger than we were before.”

Main Street Skowhegan is a nonprofit organization whose aim is to revitalize and develop the town’s economy.

In June, Main Street Skowhegan provided $20,000 worth of funding to 23 businesses with its Technical Assistance/COVID-19 Relief Grant program.

Amy Rowbottom, owner of Crooked Face Creamery on Court Street, said the first PPP loan was crucial to the survival of her business.

“It was lifesaving,” Rowbottom told Collins. “When this started, the whole sale ended abruptly and we were scrambling to come up with something. … It was a massive transition, but it (the loan) was really critical to keep us going.”

Main Street Skowhegan’s parent organization, Main Street America, is pushing Congress to include funding for the Economic Development Administration to support the work that Main Street organizations provide.

The organization recommends a $100 million competitive loan be included in the next economic stimulus package.

Sen. Susan Collins crosses Kennebec River over the pedestrian bridge near the Weston Dam on Friday with Kristina Cannon, executive director of Main Street Skowhegan in Skowhegan. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“From the national perspective it’s been a really important idea to bring forward because the Main Street entities have a vast network throughout the country,” said Shaw Sprague, senior director of government relations and policy for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, of which Main Street America is a subsidiary. “Direct federal support is something that would be new. Typically Main Street entities will receive funding through municipalities, small business participants, events, … but not direct federal support …

“So in light of COVID and the uncertainty that it’s brought for so many businesses, the national Main Street Center is asking Congress to consider additional funding that would be incorporated into the next relief package.”

Yellow Light Breen, president and chief executive officer of the Maine Development Foundation, said that the additional funding would help boost businesses after the first round of funding helped them stay afloat initially.

“That was kind of the ‘tide me over, keep me alive’ money,” Breen said. “But this is the ‘enable us to keep working together to create opportunity and to attract customers so we can flourish’ (money).”

Collins’ tour ended with a meet and greet with local business owners.

“I must say, the collaboration I’m seeing in Skowhegan is second to none. It’s extraordinary,” Collins said. “Coming from rural Maine as I do — I’m from Caribou, my family is a six-generation family business — I have a real heart for small-town Maine. And it’s wonderful seeing your community work so closely together toward the common goal of revitalizing and renovating and reinventing Skowhegan.”

According to Collins, who co-sponsored the original PPP act, 28,000 businesses in the state have taken advantage of the loans. Collins is running for reelection in November.

“What I wanted to do was to make sure we didn’t break the link between the employer and the employees, because I think that’s so important,” Collins said. “I think it has been a tremendous success after some glitches initially.”

Collins told attendees at Friday’s tour about her goals with the new round of small business relief.

“That is, open up the program again to those who didn’t get one in the first round,” Collins said. “Extend it to 501 (c)(6) like chambers of commerce, as long as they have under 50 employees … and we’re going to allow for a second PPP loan for the really hard hit businesses.”

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