As the executive director of the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber representing businesses in the Bath-Brunswick-Midcoast area, I’m fortunate to hear about certain business dealings as they occur and I’m lucky to get reports and articles sent to me that outline some upcoming business dealings and trends. Some of the information isn’t mine to share, but other pieces I can comment on. Here are some general business observations and trends that I’ve noticed that may be of interest to you.

Succession planning numbers are staggering
I’ve said in small circles over the past three years that succession planning is the most impactful issue that no one is discussing. As business leaders, the focus has been, and rightfully so, on just getting through the next 3-6 months, with long-range thinking being put on the back burner. That was amplified during the pandemic, but even prior to the pandemic, when unemployment was desperately low, business leaders were very focused on finding staff to keep their business going and not necessarily focused on what their own next 10 years might look like.

The issue isn’t poor management, it’s more the fact that such a high percentage of business owners are Baby Boomers, and that population is closer to retirement age. How many businesses will we lose in the next decade because businesses don’t have a plan? How many owners think a family member or loyal employee wants to have the business handed to them? What does “handed to them” look like — is that a buyout, and if so, what are the terms of that agreement? There are a number of businesses who may not be planning to retire in the next five years and think they have time to make a plan and some unexpected event — like a worldwide pandemic, for instance — may come along and make them re-evaluate.

Last week, I attended a webinar hosted by the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the University of Maine Graduate School of Business that began, what will likely be, a series of conversations on the topic. According to research they shared, “Baby Boomers own 12,790 businesses that employ 108,000 people and many of these businesses will need to transition to new ownership in the coming years. Unfortunately, recent research from Wilmington Trust found that almost 50% of businesses owned by those 65+ (and 60% of all business owners) have no succession plan. Additionally, over 40% of these owners have all of their wealth tied up in the business based on research from Constant Contact.”

At the chamber, we’re trying to figure out a way that we can help our businesses with succession planning and perhaps create a program using the expertise of our chamber members. We hope to work with the University of Maine to get some best practice ideas on how to present this later this year, but business owners shouldn’t wait for us to launch a program to help connect you to the professionals who can help you plan. Talk to a financial advisor soon, and at least have the conversation. If you need help finding someone to talk to, reach out to me at the chamber office.

WILL Power and Midcoast Edge plan kickoff events
A sure sign of a return to normal is the planning of events, and this week I was part of two committee meetings about 2021 kickoff events. The Midcoast Edge is our young professionals group that has been dormant for about two years now and has a group of committed young professionals ready to start initiating new programming again. WILL Power is our Women in Local Leadership team who typically has great attendance at their unique events. The Edge is planning a late May event, while WILL Power has locked in a June 10 event date. More updates on those outdoor events as details with venues get finalized.

New businesses and new spaces
In the past two weeks, I’ve spoken to a number of people about new spaces and new places as we have some businesses expanding in new locations, as well as some brand new businesses emerging. Hannaford is looking at a June opening for their Cook’s Corner Mall location, while work continues on the Martin Point’s Health facility on Brunswick Landing (across from Fat Boy’s on Bath Road). Brunswick Landing has new residential properties being built along with some other expansions. In Topsham, we’re looking at two ribbon cuttings in June, and two more undisclosed ribbon cuttings closer to September- all in the Topsham Fair Mall area. Finally, the Brunswick Rotary Club heard from the new owners of the property formerly known as The Daniel, and they presented a rough timeline for their development project which should launch later this year. Few regions in the state have as much growth and expansion happening as we do.

Bowdoin students continue to engage in community
I was fortunate enough to get my first vaccine shot (#TeamPfizer) this past Saturday at the Mid Coast Hospital clinic at the Brunswick Parks and Rec., and two things struck me. The first was just how organized, easy and efficient the entire system was in getting people checked in, safely screened, vaccinated and departed. Secondly, a number of Bowdoin students were there to help on a Saturday to check people in, and that kind of community service is a heart-warming trend to see.

Mask up so we don’t spike
Finally, a national trend is happening with the emergence of the COVID-19 variants, and in particular the U.K. variant, leading to a rise in COVID cases. Please, for another 4-5 weeks continue to mask up and be socially distant until we can get more people vaccinated. We’re so close to the end, if we can remain vigilant. I’d hate for our businesses to lose out on much-needed revenue because case counts reach a dangerous level. Let’s all chip in for a few more weeks and put this pandemic behind us.

Cory King is the executive director of the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber.

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