Maine’s 197th birthday is today, and we thought that an appropriate opportunity to reflect on the role that manufacturers have played throughout the state’s history and, importantly, today. New England in general and Maine in particular are and have been havens of small business and manufacturing for a long time.
Whether it’s the can’t-get-there-from-here reality of living in northern New England, or the simple fact that Mainers would rather buy goods and services from their neighbors than from strangers, we think of small business when we think of Maine. This is a legacy of which we are proud to be a part, and we are proud to see so many of our neighbors among the ranks of Maine entrepreneurs.
Manufacturers in Maine and throughout the country are skilled at leveraging their small size for agility, creativity, innovation and re-imagining the way things are done by the big, cumbersome corporations. Some of Maine’s most iconic and successful businesses are – or started – small. These include Bath Iron Works, Idexx, The Jackson Laboratory, Allagash Brewing, Coffee By Design and nationally renowned restaurants like Primo, as well as innumerable small individual makers serving their local communities.
The thing all these manufacturers have in common is that they did what it took to make it in Maine, because they believed in our state. They trashed the conventional wisdom playbook so they could do things their own way. They also do things in a way that’s better for their communities – our communities. They are job creators, change makers, philanthropists, leaders.
At Zootility, our version of this is to take manufacturing as it’s done by big, inefficient companies and invert the process, scaling maker principles to a manufacturing setting. Through this, we can make high-quality, affordable, well-designed metal products in Maine, creating 24 jobs so far in our community, all while making things we love.
GE or Ford might never manufacture in Maine, and that’s fine with us, because like the rest of you Mainers, we’ve always been do-it-yourselfers. We believe that this approach – our approach, and the approach of small businesses across Maine – is that doing things our way is the authentic Maine way. It’s better for our economic well-being and yours if businesses are small, production is local and anyone can be an entrepreneur. We don’t think we’re the only ones who feel this way.
Maine is home to approximately 1,100 small manufacturers (defined by the Small Business Administration as manufacturers with 19 or fewer employees) and these businesses employ thousands of people in our state. We see new businesses emerge constantly, something which we strive to encourage and promote. Maine is also lucky to have groups like the Maine Technology Institute, the Maine Manufacturing Extension Partnership and the Small Business Administration that can help entrepreneurs realize their goals to make it in Maine.
We believe that as a small manufacturer, we should help other small businesses learn and grow. Our staff is involved in small-business mentorship, and we want to share our experience, knowledge and resources with people looking to start their own businesses.
These are the tenets of a free market: that anyone should be able to start a business where they want to live, and be able to see it succeed. States like Maine, with lots of small businesses and a strong entrepreneurial spirit, are best poised to weather future changes, whether in climate, economics, politics, society or demographics.
Of course, Maine has lost a lot of manufacturers over the years to economic and social change. These losses have been devastating to communities across Maine, but we can only hope that entrepreneurs will continue to reinvigorate our communities. We are lucky that Maine has a supportive community of businesses who want to see each other succeed. We are lucky Maine is populated by creative, resilient folks who are willing to go to great lengths to do things the way they think is right, to bring jobs to communities across the state, to keep production local and small businesses alive and thriving.
We don’t need to do things the way anyone else does. As long as entrepreneurs in Maine continue to challenge the status quo, small business will bring renewed prosperity to all corners of our great state. Zootility’s contribution is just a small part.