Topsham Meineke Car Care Center

Long Time Employee Takes on Ownership

Long-time employee of the Topsham Meineke Car Care Center, Jim Chattley, has purchased the franchise from Melissa and David Eddy. The purchase was made possible by an SBA-backed 7(a) loan through CEI 7(a) Financing of Brunswick, its first such transaction in Maine.

Jim Chattley (second from left) and his team.

Chattley, an employee of Meineke Car Care Center since its original ownership in 1997, jokes that he “came with the building,” when the Eddys took over the business ten years ago.  He first worked as a mechanic and later became a foreman, earning the trust of the owners and customers alike.

When the Eddys began discussing their plans to retire, they approached Chattley about buying the franchise. Eventually he realized the timing was right.  The benefits to employees buying out the boss work both ways. For owners looking to retire, employee ownership makes for an ideal succession plan. As with Chattley, as a new owner he already has the skills, understands the operation and has a relationship with the client base.

Chattley originally approached his banker to secure financing, but could not come to an agreement on the terms of a loan. Because of the close relationship he has with the seller, and because of their shared goal of the succession plan, Dave Eddy recommended following a path that he himself had taken 25 years before: getting in touch with CEI to explore his options. CEI is a mission investor and has been a national leader in rural business development for 40 years.

Chattley worked with Brad Swanson, business advisor at the Small Business Development Center there. Through dedicated customer business advising, Swanson introduced Chattley to CEI’s subsidiary, C7a, which specializes in SBA-backed loans for small businesses.

“The team at CEI and C7a structured the loan with terms that made sense for me and the future success of this business. They really understood me and my goals for the shop.”

-Jim Chattley, owner

Jim Chattley cuts the ribbon in celebration of his C7a loan which enabled him to purchase the Topsham Meineke.

Chattley says one of the great things about buying the established business is that he and the other four long-term employees will stay on, creating a seamless transition. He has plans to hire one more technician so that he has more time to do what he likes the most: work on cars.

C7a makes loans nationally, yet this is its first in Maine. “Maine is our home and we are excited to be supporting small business owners here as they follow their dreams and build their enterprises,” says Rob Wilson, CEO of C7a. “Across the country, from Maine to Montana, the small businesses we work with have common goals and challenges that we understand and help them navigate. When they do well, the benefits radiate beyond their four shop walls and flow into the community.”

Huse Memorial School Apartments

Reuse of School Building Provides Affordable Housing

The grand opening of the Huse Memorial School included fanfare from the Bath Municipal Band.

Originally built in 1942, the preservation and reuse of the former John E.L. Huse Memorial School building in Bath will provide 59 units of critical workforce housing in an area where affordable housing options are few. CEI supported the facility renovation with $1.6 Million in State Historic Tax Credit financing.

State Senator Eloise Vitelli remarked that the reuse of the school building sustains the character of the community by preserving a historic space and fueling economic activity by providing affordable housing.

Just one week after opening, the property managers announced that the apartments were 78% rented. “People deserve the opportunity to live in the community where they work. We believe Bath is on the frontier of where housing is going… providing decent, safe, affordable housing for the people of Maine,” said John Gallagher, director of Maine State Housing Authority.

The Szanton Company took the development lead, along with a host of other partners including  Bobby Monks, Archetype Architects, City of Bath, MaineHousing, Bangor Savings Bank, Northern New England Housing Investment Fund and Zachau Construction Inc.

Interior community space in renovated school gym.

New playground outside the “17 Wing” addition to the Huse Memorial School.

Grand opening of the Huse Memorial School Apartments.



Grime Studios

Relocation for Expansion

Every day, dozens of musicians walk in and out of the warehouse-turned studio space known as Grime Studios located at 299 Presumpscot Street in Portland. The band rehearsal venue rents all 26 rooms each month and has a lengthy waitlist. Financing from CEI supported the renovation and buildout of the existing studio space.

A rehearsal room at Grime Studios.

When Justin Curtsinger of Portland was offered the role of managing the failing Prime Studios, a 15-unit music rehearsal space located at Thompson’s Point, he took on the project as a short-term endeavor. Within two months, he changed the name to Grime Studios and grew the occupancy to full capacity with monthly tenants for the 13 vacant rehearsal spaces. Not long after, Thompson’s Point was purchased for development and Justin was notified that the studio building would be torn down. With a strong clientele, a significant waitlist, and a business that was filling a niche market for musicians, he immediately set out to find a new space where he could continue and grow the business.

After numerous real-estate options fell through, he identified a large space in a warehouse on Presumpscot Street. Justin worked with experienced consultant Tom Blackburn of Creative Space, who adopted and supported the vision of Grime, acting as an imperative consultant through the process of locating, leasing, and building out a new shared studio space. “He knew the business vocabulary and believed in the project, and he acted as a representative for Grime. It would not have happened without him,” said Justin. He continued, “A huge part of the process was the support from the landlord here at Presumpscot Street who understood the importance of the project.”

Justin Curtsinger, owner and manager of Grime.

When he found the space he knew he would need additional funding to build out the music studios. He began looking for financing options at a local bank. Although the bank was unable to pursue the loan, the loan officer strongly advocated for the project, and directed Justin to CEI.

Justin worked closely with CEI loan and investment officer Art Stevens to develop a financial package that would support the renovation of the new Presumpscot Street location. “The efforts of Justin and Tom throughout the transition to non-profit status and managing the step by step details of a difficult leasehold improvement schedule further demonstrated their commitment to the project.  The end result provides a unique and valuable resource for the regional creative economy,” said Art.

Grime Studios closed a loan deal with CEI in April 2015, which was matched with grant funds that Justin and his team sought out independently. “The loan from CEI was the point of no return,” said Justin. While taking on the studio was originally a casual endeavor, Justin found himself committed to the success and growth of the business, managing the day to day operations of the studios as well as the phased expansion.

“CEI was ridiculously important in making this a reality,” said Justin.

CEI’s financing allowed for the buildout of 20 rehearsal studios, in addition to the original six at the new location, and the completion of Grime’s Phase One plan. Grime stands to remain a fully occupied studio space serving the rehearsal needs of over 50 bands in the Portland area during any given month. The business has a waitlist and plans to expand with more band practice rooms. The project has been successful because of Justin’s hard work and commitment to the project, as well as the key players who were willing to take a risk.

Central Lincoln County YMCA

Reaching Community Needs

CEI closed the first loan of its kind using financing from the USDA’s Community Facilities Relending Program, with up to $100 million guaranteed by Bank of America. The $2,460,000 loan to Central Lincoln County (CLC) YMCA, a landmark community center in the midcoast region, will allow for the renovation and expansion of its existing facility, originally built in 1973.

“Financially, this loan enabled the Y to bridge the gap between final costs of construction and the amount of funds raised in the capital campaign. We rolled in existing debt to arrive at the total amount, meeting our fundraising goal,” said Dennis Anderson, president of the Board of Directors, CLC YMCA. “This has given us a huge leap forward to be a more inclusive community center while meeting the needs of smaller organizations in the community.”

Meagan Hamblett, CEO with Dennis Anderson, President of the Board of Directors, in front of the Central Lincoln County YMCA

The CLC YMCA has been a community hub for decades, offering exercise and workout facilities, after school and summer childcare, and summer camp programs to meet the needs of the 10 town, 25-mile service area in the mid-coast region. Approximately 10 percent of year-round residents are members.

With renovations currently underway, upgrades to the facility include an expansion from 51,000 to 68,000 square feet, a new fitness center, teaching kitchen and communal space, an elevator, elevated running track, and welcome center. The facility will also become home to Spectrum Generations. The expansion will create new jobs including a Healthy Living Director as well as additional maintenance staff. “In this renovation we’re improving everything. We want to have the biggest impact we can have,” said Meagan Hamblett, CEO, CLC YMCA.

“Vibrant rural communities need more than individual businesses to thrive,” said Betsy Biemann, CEI’s chief executive officer. “They also need community resources that contribute to quality of life and help to retain and attract families and entrepreneurs. Community facilities like the YMCA serve an important role in bringing people together to offer services and recreation.”

“CEI has a long and distinguished history of supporting Maine communities,” said Bill Williamson, Maine State President, Bank of America. “We’re proud to partner with CEI, once again, to provide much needed capital for high impact community projects like the Central Lincoln County YMCA.”

The terms of the closing provide for an up-front construction loan from CEI that will be replaced by USDA funds upon the completion of construction.

Click here to read the full press release.

Gelato Fiasco

Growing a Workforce, One Scoop at a Time

“Take care of your employees and they will take care of customers who will take care of your business.”

–Josh Davis, co-founder & CEO

Maine Wild Blueberry Crisp Gelato

CEI’s work with Gelato Fiasco began over ten years ago, when co-founders Josh Davis and Bruno Tropeano first came to CEI to work with business advisor Brad Swanson to develop a business plan. Inspired by Italian gelato masters, the original vision was simple: establish a homemade gelato shop in Brunswick, Maine using locally-sourced ingredients. The decade of partnership between CEI and Gelato Fiasco, which included business advising and flexible financing, has been essential to the success of the Brunswick-based business.

“CEI has been with us since day one.”

–Josh Davis, co-founder & CEO

Gelato Fiasco worked closely with CEI’s lending department to tailor multiple financing solutions to support the growth of the business. An early micro loan for equipment and working capital launched the Brunswick storefront.  Additional loans for expansion followed, putting Gelato Fiasco in a position to move toward a second storefront business in Portland and grow the wholesale business.

Co-Founder Josh Davis

As the company grew, increasing sales and demand did not always mean there was more money available.  “Growth is very expensive and capital intensive,” said Josh. “We knew it would take a lot of capital to fill the orders we were getting. While we had some loans with CEI to increase capacity and meet demand, we knew at some point we would need a chunk of change to get larger equipment.” With a positive and long-standing relationship with CEI’s lending team, they began seeking out investment funding from CEI Ventures. Gelato Fiasco’s transition into the wholesale market was only possible because of these investments.

“I got to know Josh and Bruno over the years and witnessed dramatic growth in them as business owners,” said Nat Henshaw, president of CEI Ventures. “They are truly talented entrepreneurs that have some ‘special sauce’ or magic in their work.”

Gelato Fiasco, Portland

Between 2012 and 2015, CEI Ventures invested in Gelato Fiasco through three rounds of equity financing, supporting wholesale expansion and a new production facility known as the Flavor Foundry, located in Brunswick. “CEI Ventures was our lead investor, doing a lot of vetting when putting the deal together. Other investors then came in and followed on that deal,” said Josh.

The wholesale operation has far exceeded the storefront business in profitability and scale-up, but both are essential to the success of the company. “Nationally, people view Gelato Fiasco as the brand of gelato that is in their freezer. They don’t know where Brunswick is. They think of it as their brand. In Maine, people think of it as the brand that is in Brunswick and Portland,” said Josh.

Co-Founder Bruno Tropeano

Gelato Fiasco has a reputation as a quality employer in Maine. As the business grew, Josh and Bruno had to step away from the day-to-day operations and rely on and trust their employees. “It seemed like a leap of faith. I thought I had to be in control of everything,” said Josh. “We learned that bringing in outside talent and providing direction and leadership, then giving them space to excel was the best way to raise up a trustworthy and capable team.” The company has retained 12.5% of its original staff. One employee was hired at the age of 16. She recently completed her master’s degree and now oversees other staff. Gelato Fiasco employs 49 full time employees and hires up to 25 additional seasonal staff annually.

Davis sums it up best, “We believe in job creation and retention, and continue to grow to support our staff as allies in our sustainable growth. We are committed to happy employees who stay with us for the long haul and are excited to give exceptional customer service, making this a career, not just a job.” Gelato Fiasco takes the long view: to continue their commitment to growing the economy and workforce in Maine.

About Gelato Fiasco:

Gelato Fiasco is one of America’s leading independently owned producers of gelato. Choosing to produce in Maine instead of outsourcing to a co-packer, Gelato Fiasco makes all of its grocery store pints at its Flavor Foundry in Brunswick, Maine, with milk from family farms, natural cane sugar, and nuts, cocoas, chocolates, fruits, or confections. Pints are sold at more than 5,000 grocery stores across the United States. The company also operates year-round scoop shops in Brunswick and Portland, Maine. Gelato Fiasco’s pints have been featured in Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, and O: The Oprah Magazine. Its Ripe Mango Sorbetto and Mascarpone Pistachio Caramel Gelato won the Specialty Food Association’s sofi awards, the most prestigious product recognition in the specialty foods industry. Gelato Fiasco was founded in 2007 by Joshua Davis and Bruno Tropeano.


Dog Not Gone

Niche Markets Offer New Opportunities for Maine Stitchers

Julie Swain, owner, Dog Not Gone

Mainers love the natural beauty of our state, and spending time outdoors. Farmers, hikers, hunters, fishermen–all are aware of the changing environment and growing tick population. For Julie ­­­Swain, her love for her pets, and the looming threat of Lyme disease motivated her to create a protective dog vest with insect repellent and visibility properties. When her friends saw the high quality vest and wanted the product for their own pets, her small home-grown business Dog Not Gone was launched. Production of the specialized pet apparel remained a side project for 20 years, selling vests at local craft fairs around Maine. LLBean’s interest in the dog vest pushed Julie to expand production and outsource manufacturing at the former Dirigo Stitching mill in Skowhegan. Product lines have since expanded to include high-visibility and insect repellent apparel for dogs, horses, and more recently, humans.

Dog Not Gone high visibility apparel

Julie heard that CEI helps small businesses with loans and investments, and helps build business-to-business connections. “With the introduction of the human line of tick repelling apparel, we needed help,” said Julie. The tick repellant dog vest is the best selling product, but now, Julie explained, people are looking for ways to keep ticks off themselves. In-store sales spiked to 75% human apparel sales versus 25% dog apparel sales. CEI’s financing supported the expansion of the tick repelling human apparel line.

Just two years following the initial manufacturing outsourcing, the Dirigo Stitching mill announced that it would be closing its doors, ending a long history of textile manufacturing in Central Maine. Julie and her husband Bill had two options: send the products to Asia for manufacturing, or buy the mill. With a commitment to local manufacturing and their own community, they decided to take the risk and purchase the mill, taking on the manufacturing and production of Dog Not Gone products as well as Maine Stitching Specialties, a textile business that specializes in American flag production. The acquisition of the mill meant taking on the management role for both of the businesses.

Maine Stitching Specialties operations in Skowhegan

“We believe in local manufacturing. I used to work for a company where production was sourced in Mexico,” said Julie. “There were always quality and delivery problems. We make everything here, and most of our customers are New England based. We wanted to support the local economy and keep everything close to home.” The purchase of the textile factory preserved eight jobs, and has given the business lots of space to expand. All materials they use are sourced in the US.

“Business growth and jobs means keeping Mainers off unemployment and assistance,” remarked Julie.

With multiple businesses operating out of the same mill, the Swain’s have a dynamic team of employees who are accustomed to job-sharing, with some employees who have been working in the factory for 30 years. Following the loan closing with CEI’s financial team, Dog Not Gone met with CEI’s Workforce Development team to discuss anticipated growth and provide potential strategies for stitching recruitment and training opportunities.

Dog Not Gone and Maine Stitching Specialties staff

All Dog Not Gone and Maine Stitching Specialties products are available in the newly opened factory outlet store in their downtown Skowhegan mill at 40 Dane Avenue. “We’ve worked for a long time to build the business and get the structure and product right. The demand is there now,” said Julie. Over 54 million US households own a dog, and another 2.5 million own a horse. As the concern for Lyme disease increases, the Swain’s are already seeing greater sales and a variety of new retail customers. Watch for their products which are sold at local Maine businesses and national chains including LLBean, Reny’s, Orvis, Tractor Supply Co., Agway, and Wal Mart.

Berrie’s Hearing & Optical Center

Berrie’s Hearing & Optical Center located on Maine Street in Brunswick

Berries’s Hearing & Optical Center is one of downtown Brunswick’s oldest establishments, opening its Maine Street doors in 1936. Anna Strange is the first female-owner of the business, and only the third owner in over 80 years. As a native Mainer, she said people responded well to the transition of ownership and revamping of the space, helped in-part by a CEI loan in late 2015. Many of the aging clients walk through the doors, look around, and say, “This is different than when I was a kid!”. They remember coming to Berrie’s to get glasses as a child, and have remained lifelong customers. Today, the optical business operates alongside the hearing center which offers hearing assessments and hearing aid solutions to customers.

When the previous owner of Berrie’s announced his retirement after 30 years of practice in 2014, Anna decided to purchase the business. Less than two years later, when the building came up for sale, Anna knew the Maine Street location of the business was hugely important to its continued success. She began searching for a loan from a local bank. “I was in the process of seeking out financing, and I saw that you [CEI] had just moved into Brunswick. I impulsively wandered in to your new Federal Street office and immediately was connected to staff that helped me put together a loan application,” said Anna.

Anna Strange, Owner, Berrie’s Hearing & Optical Center

“Working with CEI felt like the right community fit and I was excited about its proximity to Berrie’s.”–Anna Strange, owner, Berrie’s Hearing & Optical Center

Anna worked with business advisor Brad Swanson to put together a business plan. Next, she secured financing through CEI’s lending services, which allowed her to purchase the building and give the interior and exterior a facelift. Anna’s goal was to respect the history of the business and its location, while bringing much needed updates and renovations to the space. In partnership with the Brunswick Downtown Association, she participated in a grant which partially funded downtown facade improvements.

Every building in downtown Brunswick is currently occupied or under construction for occupation. Anna and her colleague Michael Cartwright are excited to be part of a thriving Maine downtown that supports small local businesses. CEI has supported numerous other businesses in Brunswick’s downtown through the years including Gelato Fiasco, Little Dog Coffee Shop, Cool as a Moose, The McLellan, as well as businesses at the Brunswick Landing. Many of these businesses are women-owned. “I believe that the women-owned businesses in Brunswick are part of the overall economic health of the town and of Maine Street! Without us, there would be vacant real estate and store fronts, and a lack of necessary needs and services available to our neighbors,” said Anna.


American Roots

Manufacturing Career Pathways in Portland

Launched in 2015 by Ben Waxman and Whitney Reynolds, American Roots is a family run textile business that trains and hires stitchers in Portland Maine, creating American-made polartec fleece apparel. The company works in partnership with Old Port Wool and Textile, another Portland-based textile business owned by Ben’s mother, Dory Waxman. American Roots is a union company, manufacturing and selling 100 percent American-made Polartec outerwear. The owners are committed to paying livable wages and providing benefits to the employees.

“CEI has been instrumental in helping us find and train workers who have become the backbone of American Roots. With the training programs and the microloan CEI provided for sewing machines, American Roots went from concept to reality.”

–Whitney Reynolds, Co-Owner, American Roots

American Roots polartec fleece apparel

Within the manufacturing sector in Maine, stitchers are in short supply. As a long-standing and successful textile enterprise, Old Port Wool and Textile partnered with CEI to create a training program to assist in building a skilled workforce for its sister company, American Roots. “Working with American Roots and Old Port Wool and Textile to develop a curriculum to train workers for a growing sector in Maine and providing financing for an innovative startup company- this is a great example of how CEI helps to create economic opportunity,” said Liz Love, Program Developer, CEI Workforce Solutions.

Stitchers training at American Roots

To date, three classes with a total of 20 students have completed the stitcher training, with 14 hired by American Roots and Old Port Wool and Textile. While the training program is available to all who are interested in stitching, it has attracted many New Mainers who have arrived as immigrants and refugees with long and successful stitching careers in their home countries. The training includes contextualized English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction provided by Portland Adult Education, and paid on-the-job training. Students hail from a range of countries including Angola, Burundi, Congo, Ethiopia, Egypt and Iraq. “They are incredible human beings,” said Dory, who believes in the opportunity that the American Dream offers. “One of our students lived her whole life in a refugee camp before she moved to the United States,” she said. The stories of these workers are what constitute the dynamic and rich work environment at American Roots.

CEI is working to support a broader group of textile companies by developing an industry-recognized credential for employee training, catalyzing additional funding and growing the textile industry in Maine.

Family & Founders of American Roots

Dan & Dory Waxman | Ben Waxman & Whitney Reynolds

The Local Gear

Building on a Legacy

Heather, Ben & David Newman in front of The Local Gear, Maple Street, Cornish, Maine

David Newman had been in the bicycle repair business for years, running a small operation out of his garage and managing various bicycle shops. With a dream to open his own bicycle and sporting goods business, and having decades of retail and management experience, he began looking for commercial real estate to establish The Local Gear in rural Maine. When the historic Stewart’s Auto Sales storefront and garage came up for sale, the location and space seemed too good to be true.

“This is a legacy building. Everyone in town knew Jimmy Stewart, and wondered what would become of the garage. We wanted to keep it local.”

-David Newman, Owner, The Local Gear

Trek Bicycles at The Local Gear

The combination commercial and residential space with a large parking lot was perfectly situated at the intersection of Route 5 and Route 25 in downtown Cornish, Maine. Mary Stewart, manager of her late husband Jimmy’s business property, believed in protecting Jimmy’s life-work and was in favor of selling to the Newman’s, knowing that they would establish a small family-run business.

David and Heather Newman, husband and wife, went to local banks for financing, but none were willing to take on the risk. The property was a former gas station, posing potentially huge environmental challenges, and the buyers were first-time business owners. Recognizing that they did not fit the typical parameters of borrowers, they turned to CEI and began working with loan officer Art Stevens to put together a financial package.

“Working with CEI felt right for us. Our philosophy and ideals really aligned. We had never owned a business or bought a commercial building before. Art was a great support, helping with every step along the way,” said David.

The Newman family sealed the deal with over $200,000 of financing for the purchase and renovation of the garage space that would soon be home to The Local Gear.

The Newman family: Ben, Heather, Ethan, Arthur & David

The family of five spent over six months renovating the space, almost exclusively on their own. “We were here every day. With the boys around, they really felt part of the business, and still do. It was important to do this as a family,” said Heather. The family reclaimed as many materials as they could from the original garage, and sourced used materials from the community to transform the space. Renovation challenges including unexpected electric work and environmental diligence processes were met with determination and support from CEI. “They could’ve easily walked away from this, but they never gave up, even with all the roadblocks,” said Art Stevens, CEI loan officer.

In a town of under 1,500 residents, the Newman’s made a point to fill a niche market in Cornish without pushing away any other businesses. The combination bicycle retail and repair business also carries outdoor sporting goods including fishing, camping and hiking gear. The Local Gear attracts both locals who now don’t have to travel to Portland or New Hampshire for sporting goods, and high end shoppers. “Carrying Trek bicycles gives us legitimacy among the cycling crowd,” said David.  In addition to their retail space, the building includes another small commercial space on the ground level which is rented to a local business, and a three bedroom residential apartment upstairs.

Ben Newman working in the shop at The Local Gear

The doors opened in early April, and Dave and his oldest son Ben are running the shop. “We’re a close family. I’m proud to feel a sense of ownership in the business,” said Ben, who works at the shop and is learning bicycle repair and renovation skills from his father David.

Maine Grains

Local Manufacturing Boosts Downtown Revitalization

Amber Lambke never imagined that she would be a key visionary leader behind a small town’s economic revitalization, and eventually the CEO and President of a large manufacturing facility. As a Skowhegan resident, Amber found herself actively volunteering with downtown revitalization projects. In 2007 she developed and hosted the first annual Kneading Conference which brought together farmers, millers, bakers, and other artisans of the like. The conference established a conversation around revitalizing a grain economy in Maine. When trying to source local ingredients, they all agreed that grains were difficult to find, and local milling infrastructure had long been abandoned.

Amber Lambke, CEO and President of Maine Grains (photo by Lily Piel)

Central Maine’s rich history of growing grain demonstrated the potential for a milling operation that had been untapped for over a century. Amber spent years traveling and learning about the grain industry and realized that organic grain production at a regional scale was different from anything that was happening. Niche mills that were set up on farms had fragile infrastructure, and models of Midwestern operations were of mass scale; there was nothing in-between.

Amber stepped in once again, spurred on by a passion for her community. In 2012, she identified a highly visible old Victorian jailhouse in historic downtown Skowhegan in which to establish Maine Grains. The tall structure had the height necessary for gravity-feed milling, and already had a fully-functional commercial kitchen.

Business counseling at the onset was made possible through the SBDC and CEI. Amber worked closely with Janet Roderick, CEI Business Advisor, with early stage business planning, developing a narrative, crunching numbers, and identifying and writing grants. More recently, a seed equity investment from CEI allowed Maine Grains to expand local operations by purchasing new equipment from Germany which dehulls and processes rolled oats. The new machines help with efficiency and output, as rolled oats comprise 40% of the company’s production.

With the investments Maine Grains received, including CEI’s seed equity investment, 11 new jobs have been created. Positions including six milling staff, a bookkeeper, salespeople, a customer service representative, and an operations manager are in the lot.  All jobs are filled by local residents and with milling expertise such a rare commodity, Maine Grains integrates on-the-job-training for all milling jobs.

“Having a growing startup business in need of more personnel support has allowed us to identify key people in the community,” said Amber.

Maine Grains facility in downtown Skowhegan (photo by Julie Persons)

The renovated facility is MOFGA organic-certified, and functions as a zero-waste operation. Maine Grains processes grains naturally, using no water, and ultimately creating products and byproducts that are a valuable local resource. The grains milled at the facility are sold widely among purveyors in brewing and natural food industries, offering a nutritious, flavorful, and locally milled product. Byproducts are sold back to farmers to be used as mulch, composting, and food for animals.

After four years of operations, the company currently works with 36 farmers, a number which has doubled every year, and sources 90% of its grains from farms in Maine, with preference given to non-GMO, organic grains. Maine Grains also partners with the UMaine Cooperative Extension to facilitate grain education among farmers.

Maine Grains, located in downtown Skowhegan, is now home to other businesses and is a prime example of the town’s growth and community revitalization efforts. The large parking lot hosts a local farmers market, and commercial space in the mill is rented to tenants including a local foods café, a yarn shop, and a radio station. The past decade has been a catalytic phase of revitalization for Skowhegan, seeing the talent, energy, and passion of the local community emerge as a transformative force.