Showing posts with label InterfaceBusinessNews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label InterfaceBusinessNews. Show all posts

Friday, March 15, 2002

CWRP invests in wetlands

Published in Interface Business News

PORTLAND—Taking advantage of federal grant money and their own corporate resources, about 15 Maine companies have invested nearly $500,000 in cash and services for the Maine Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership (CWRP), to protect, rehabilitate and protect Maine’s wetlands. The benefits are not just for the environment, but for the businesses themselves.

Jeff Simmons, senior environmental scientist at the Yarmouth office of Bedford, N.H.-based Normandeau Associates, said he gets to work with firms he might otherwise compete with or not interact with very much.

“From a business perspective, it’s a smart thing to do,” Simmons said. But it also has personal and professional payoffs.

“As a resident of Maine and as a wetlands scientist this is something that’s near and dear to my heart,” he said.

The CWRP is part of larger regional and national efforts to protect wetlands, and is supported by large federal grant budgets, matching every private dollar with up to $3 in federal money.

While a good matching deal, currently worth $2 million overall, the private dollars can be hard to come by.

The lead company in Maine is Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline, based in Boston, Mass. Patrick Hester, senior vice president and general counsel for Maritimes & Northeast, said the program started in Massachusetts in the past couple of years, and expanded to Maine shortly thereafter.

Hester was able to raise support among companies Maritimes & Northeast has worked with in Maine.

They have started with the “easy wins,” projects Hester described as nearly complete. “If we or somebody else didn’t come along, the project would still be sitting there,” Hester said.

“It is good community involvement and good corporate stewardship,” according to Bill Hubbard of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, one of sixteen federal agencies that are involved in wetlands preservation under the federal Coastal America program.

David Warren, managing partner of Verrill & Dana in Portland, agrees. “We have a very strong desire to contribute to the community,” Warren said.

Gil Paquette, senior manager of Duke Engineering and Services in Portland, said not only does it feel good too do a project like this, but through contact with agencies and regulators, “it strengthens our ability in the permitting arena as well.”

Even Verizon Maine, based in Portland but a subsidiary of New York-based Verizon, got involved, though the environmental nature of the CWRP falls outside its normal commnunity focus on literacy programs.

Dan Breton, director of public affairs for Verizon Maine, said the company’s employees and customers care deeply about the environment, providing a major impetus for the company to spend money on wetlands.

Cito Selinger, managing partner of Curtis Thaxter Stevens Broder & Micoleau, a law firm in Portland, said that not only are they able to use their firm's specialization, but they can simultaneously support a major initiative of a client company, Maritimes & Northeast, and do some good as well.

“Development has got to be done sensibly,” Selinger said. “We don’t want to see the state developed in a bad way,” Selinger said.

Charles Hewett, vice president of Pittsfield-based Cianbro, agreed with Selinger.

“It’s something that we’ve done to be a good corporate citizen,” Hewett said.

Companies wanting to get involved in the Maine Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership should contact Marylee Hanley at Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline at 1-617-560-1573.

Friday, February 1, 2002

Don't let the name fool you; MTI supports much more than just high-tech companies

Published in Interface Business News

GARDINER, Maine—Working to meet a need among Maine businesses for research and development funding, the Maine Technology Institute (MTI) issues grants to support creation and marketing of new products and services.

“MTI’s mandate is from the legislature to help the small inventor/entrepreneur do business development to bring a product to commercialization,” said MTI grant recipient Jim White of pest-repellent start-up Holy Terra in Cape Elizabeth.

MTI also helps more established companies explore new technologies to improve their businesses, and sees “technology” as broadly defined, according to MTI director Janet Yancey-Wrona.

“Maine Technology Institute doesn’t just mean high technology. It’s also a walk-behind blueberry harvester,” Yancey-Wrona said.

With $6.4 million annually in funds available to Maine businesses, MTI is fast becoming a major force in development of new products for production in Maine. This year things are a little tighter, Yancey-Wrona said: The state is asking for $1 million to help make up the budget shortfall.

But the agency is still granting money, hosting networking functions to get businesspeople together, and running grant-writing workshops.

Successful MTI grantees are at various stages of business and project development. White, a research biologist who came up with a pest-repellent formula, needed to form a company, protect his intellectual property and start federal approval processes for possible agricultural use.

“The first grant that we received allowed us to do all the legal end of this,” White said. “There’s so many of us that just need $10,000, $15,000 to get the ball rolling.”

MTI requires grantees to match funds, which can be done with cash, other grants, or “sweat equity,” like the work done by Joan Gordon at Maine Molecular Quality Controls in Scarborough.

“We’re two scientists. How do you run a business?” said Gordon, president of the two-person company. MMQC spun out of Maine Medical Center’s research department in 2001 with a goal of improving the reliability of genetic testing.

“There are no kits,” she said. “We needed to develop other types of technology.”

Federal grants under the Small Business Research Innovation program are hard to get, and Gordon would have been competing against companies as large as 500 employees, with whole departments dedicated to writing grants, she said.

With MTI, the pool of applicants is smaller, and assistance is more available. “They’re local. You can talk to them,” Gordon said.

MTI has helped Gordon with more than just writing grants, recommending a bookkeeper when Gordon decided to outsource that service. “It’s practical support as opposed to purely research support,” Gordon said.

Chris Sieracki, of Fluid Imaging Technologies in East Boothbay, was further along in his project than MMQC was in theirs. But after developing an instrument to constantly monitor water quality, he wanted to be able to put it into water, rather than siphoning fluid out for examination.

“We saw there being a good market for a submersible version of this instrument,” Sieracki said.

He got an MTI grant to develop it and has already sold three to major research institutions, at $70,000 each. He expects to hire a marketing director in the next few months, and is now working with Kady International of Scarborough to develop equipment for monitoring ballast water in ships.

“We need (MTI grantees) to be pulling in federal R&D money,” Janet Yancey-Wrona said. “We also want to see that Maine as a whole is coming up in terms of federal R&D funding.”

There is some risk, though, and Yancey-Wrona accepts that. “If everyone’s successful then we’re not doing what we say we’re doing,” she said. “There’s a lot that you learn from a failed project.”

And MTI even helps venerable businesses that are already successful, if they have new projects they want to work on. MTI is funding a partnership between the University of Maine and Sappi Limited, a multinational with a big presence in Maine, that is doing research on new methods of retaining fibers during the papermaking process.

MTI really makes a difference. Just ask Joan Gordon. “Without MTI we probably would be out of business by now,” she said.

Incubators growing throughout Maine

Published in Interface Business News

AUGUSTA—Responding to demand for support of small businesses, the state of Maine and private-sector businesspeople are establishing seven business incubators around the state.

Called Applied Technology Development Centers, the state-funded centers are targeted at specific sectors of the economy, including forestry, aquaculture, precision manufacturing, biotechnology and information technology. Start-up grants for each of the seven centers around the state are between $450,000 and $950,000, and the state will support each center’s overhead costs with $40,000 to $50,000 in annual funding.

The goal is “to support emerging small businesses that are commercializing new technology, products and services,” said Phil Helgerson, director of the state’s incubator program.
Incubators provide space, business advice, professional networking and access to state, federal and private business development grants and loans, helping businesses get going.

“They can be more than they otherwise would be, operating independently,” Helgerson said.

National data, cited by a number of incubator administrators, indicates that over 75 percent of incubator graduates remain in business, and over 80 percent of them stay near where they incubated.

However, the centers must come up with most of the money to keep themselves going, from rent paid by tenants, grant programs and community and business contributions. Down the road, royalties from the products developed at the centers may provide a significant revenue stream.

“They are essentially self-sustaining operations,” Helgerson said. The program started in 2000 and got its first installment of state funds in early 2001. All seven centers will be done with construction by mid-2002, and some have already reached that stage, he said.

One state incubator has been going for five years, and offers a picture of where its sister incubators could be in that time. The Center for Environmental Enterprise, housed at Southern Maine Technical College in South Portland, already has one graduate, TerraLink, now on Congress Street in Portland.

The center has several tenants, including New England Classic, a wood paneling and wainscoting manufacturer that specializes in using sustainable resources in its products.

There is a waiting list to get in, and a rigorous application process designed to pick out the most likely to succeed, though Ferland admits that not all incubating businesses will graduate.

The incubator also offers a degree of legitimacy to a small business. “A federal lab isn’t interested in working with someone in his garage,” Ferland said.

An entrepreneur does not have to look to the state for incubators.

A privately-funded incubator is in development on Ayers Island, in the Penobscot River in Orono. It will focus on developing university research into commercial products. “It’s fairly broad,” said project coordinator John Hackney. One such commercial product is a method to turn household trash into building materials.

Things have been a bit slow to get going at Ayers Island, though, because the site, a former textile mill, needs to be cleaned up, and a one-lane bridge needs to be replaced before the center can really start up.

In rural eastern Maine, where businesses are often far from each other, the incubator idea has broken the “building barrier” with the Incubator Without Walls (IWW).

Project manager Debbie Neuman said it was impossible to choose a location for a building that could actually serve the entire region. “We felt we could have a much greater impact if we did it without a building,” Neuman said.

So the IWW serves six counties over the phone and the Internet, and with small centers in Calais, Bangor and Belfast.

Rather than just serving start-ups, the IWW is open to all of the small businesses in the region. Since October 1999, the IWW has helped 300 businesses, Neuman said.

Like most incubators, the IWW is a partnership between several community and economic development organizations. “It’s not our program. It’s everybody’s. We’re in this together,” Neuman said.

Maine farmers facing crunch in federal subsidies

Published in Interface Business News

BANGOR—Farmers are having a tough time of it lately, and the federal government is helping, but Congressional limits on eligibility and available funds make it hard for Maine farmers to get the money they need to stay in business.

“It’s not enough,” said Kevin Maxwell of Maxwell Farms in Lee. “If you’re farming to (get paid) the government prices, you won’t make it.”

Maxwell Farms, which grows potatoes and grains, received more federal money than any other farm in Maine between 1996 and 2000, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data compiled by Environmental Working Group (EWG), a Washington, D.C.-based policy advocate firm. The farm got $314,328.59, mostly in disaster relief payments to help the farm recover from flooding and drought; but the farm still had trouble: “We have had to sell part of the farm, even with these programs,” Maxwell said.

Other farms received as little as $3.02, while others even had to repay money they had been given in previous years. A total of 2,731 farms or farm owners in Maine got at least a total of $1,000 from government programs between 1996 and 2000. The programs vary from wool and mohair subsidies to corn and soybean price supports, and even extend to conservation of land. Most of the money Maine got from the USDA programs was in disaster relief and conservation, but even then there are problems.

To get disaster relief aid, a farm has to lose at least 35 percent of its income due to a natural or weather disaster, like drought or the army worm invasion last summer, said David Lavway, the executive director of the Maine office of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency. Even then there are limits on the amount of money an individual can get in an emergency.

Far more difficult than emergency limits are Congressional priorities for farm assistance. Maine grows “the wrong crops,” according to EWG spokeswoman Sarah Steinberg, meaning many farms do not qualify for any subsidies or have a very small pool of money available to draw on.

Funding limits are a problem for Lavway, too. He said apple and potato support is capped at $38 million across the nation.

The conservation funds are targeted at farms that have big needs, which Lavway said leaves out those farmers who are doing a well at conservation. “The person doing a good job is not benefiting from the program,” Lavway said. But he said he has hope.

The release of the data by EWG and pressure from Maine’s Congressional delegation could, he hopes, put more money into conservation funds, meaning Maine could receive more than the $41 million it got from 1996 to 2000, an amount Lavway describes as “peanuts,” compared with what the Midwestern states get.

And with potatoes having the best year they’ve had in the past decade, Lavway said there might be an opportunity for those farmers to pay down some debt as well.