PORTLAND – Mainers’ creativity will lead the state’s struggling economy into the future, but first Maine must tackle serious economic challenges and promote its notable assets.

That was Roxanne Quimby’s message Wednesday to 230 business people at the Portland Regional Chamber’s monthly Eggs & Issues breakfast at the Holiday Inn by the Bay.

Quimby, who recently founded the Quimby Colony in Portland, a nonprofit for artists, said Maine has the “chronic problem of high unemployment” and an aging population. Many working-age Mainers are leaving the state, she said, making the elderly and the economy reliant on the toil of fewer citizens.

To recover and grow, Quimby said, the state and its people should encourage outsiders to move to Maine by promoting the state’s assets, such as natural beauty, low crime and community values.

Portland can highlight its architecture, walkability and fine restaurants, said Quimby, a co-founder of the Burt’s Bees line of personal care products.

“We must brainstorm what the message needs to be and market ourselves as a Renaissance city that demonstrates advanced and cutting-edge thinking,” she said.

Quimby said businesses can help to promote the state by collaborating with Maine’s creative community — the artists who have great ideas but might be short on business experience.

“We must take the strength of the pragmatic business outlook and marry that to artists. It will create offspring that are bigger and better,” she said.

Quimby, who sold 80 percent of Burt’s Bees in 2003 for $177 million, has made news in the last decade for buying thousands of acres in northern Maine for preservation. She now owns 100,000 acres in the Mount Katahdin region.

She has sparred with hunters and snowmobilers over plans to limit their activities on her land, and surprised the conservation community when she filed plans to subdivide land in Willimantic and started logging the property this fall.

Quimby’s spokesman told The Portland Press Herald that Quimby’s goal is to support the local economy and give back to the community.

Her new venture, the Quimby Colony on Congress Street, provides studio space and housing to artists who work in fashion, costume, textiles and culinary arts. 

Staff Writer Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be reached at 791-6316 or at: [email protected]