Coastal Enterprises Inc. marked its 40th anniversary with a celebration with business owners, project developers, community partners, investors and funders that have been part of its journey in growing Maine’s economy.

“This is a celebration of our 40th anniversary with a lot of old and new friends,” said CEI President Keith Bisson at the 550-person event at Thompson’s Point in Portland on April 25. “Usually we have an annual breakfast meeting, but we wanted to have more of a party and set the stage for the next 40 years.”

The celebration included a panel discussion as well as a business showcase including more than 50 startups, partners and sponsors, from American Unagi to Your Maine Concierge.

“I’m particularly excited to see all the businesses here tonight that CEI has supported, whether through financing, advising or workforce support,” said Elizabeth Love, CEI’s associate director of Workforce Solutions. “It makes me excited to live and work in Maine. There’s a lot happening.”

“CEI does so much for the state of Maine. We wouldn’t be in the same place without them,” said Gary Vogel of event sponsor Drummond Woodsum. “It’s pretty remarkable for a small community development financial institution.”

CEI was founded in 1977 when there were twice as many manufacturing jobs in Maine as there are today, said CEO Betsy Biemann. “We’re redoubling our efforts to grow an economy that works for everyone,” she said.

Bisson announced the creation of an internship in the name of CEI founder Ron Phillips in recognition of his “restlessness in innovation.”

“We were part of an ethos, a culture and a time in American history when we thought change was right around the corner and imminent,” said Phillips, a civil rights activist who founded the community development corporation in 1977. “CDCs were a way to rally people, the local community, and raise capital to invest the various enterprises in that area.”

CEI’s first major investment was in the Boothbay Region Fish and Cold Storage Inc., which had been destroyed by a fire.

“The Boothbay fish plant became to me the metaphor to symbolize the coming together of public and private sectors, individual investors, government, and banks to build a project that had value for our local community,” Phillips said. “Before you knew it, there was a snowballing effect and people started to get adjusted to this idea that there was somewhat of an alternative bank that was interested in new ideas, innovation and startups.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at:

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