Pingree praises Maine brand at business talk

Small Business Administration event highlights women in business
By Daniel Dunkle | Sep 25, 2017
Photo by: Daniel Dunkle Congresswoman Chellie Pingree says being in Maine is a businesswoman's "secret weapon" during a talk Sept. 25 at the Strand in Rockland.

Rockland — Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, was a featured speaker at a meeting Monday morning, Sept. 25, at the Strand Theatre that drew 100 people interested in highlighting women's entrepreneurship.

"Being in Maine is the best secret weapon you have," the North Haven legislator told the assembled participants.

The event, organized by the U.S. Small Business Administration, gathered several Midcoast "success stories" among the speakers, including Cyndi Prince, owner of LooHoo Wool Dryer Balls; Nancy O'Brien, owner of Fiore Artisan Olive Oils and Vinegars; Heidi Vanorse Neal, owner of The Loyal Biscuit Co.; and Kate McAleer, owner of Bixby & Co.

A total of 96 people registered to attend the talk and panel discussion, many of them women who either already own businesses or are seeking to start businesses.

Pingree said women starting businesses accounted for one third of the businesses in the country, creating 9 million jobs. She also said women's entrepreneurship is the fastest-growing segment of the economy, seeing 45 percent growth from 2007 to 2016. In Maine, 18 percent of businesses are started or owned by women, she said.

She talked about her own experience, starting with organic farming on North Haven and then selling knitting kits all over the world. What started as selling a few locally knit socks at her farm stand grew into an important local business.

Part of the appeal of the kits and items sold was the connection with Maine. She said in the days before the internet, her company wrote little stories about what it was like to live on the island and used those in catalogs to market the Maine brand products.

The other businesspeople who spoke at the event shared similar stories of finding a niche and selling the idea behind their products.

Prince started her business as she tried to find a natural, safe alternative to dryer sheets when her child was in cloth diapers. When she succeeded, she made her wool dryer balls available to others who share her concern about the chemicals used in many dryer sheets.

McAleer's business makes candy bars from healthy, organic and ethically sourced ingredients and markets them to people who are concerned about those issues. Her chocolate products are now shipped from Rockland to 2,000 stores in and out of state.

Loyal Biscuit Co. provides safe, healthy and organic treats and supplies for pets. Neal went from serving as the sole employee in her business to creating about 20 local jobs.

Nancy O'Brien quit her job in Connecticut after falling in love with Maine and established stores that allow people to taste different kinds of olive oils and vinegars and become educated about the products. Her business has gone from her being the one employee to providing jobs for 40 people.

SBA Maine District Director Amy Bassett introduced the congresswoman, and the panel was moderated by Diane Sturgeon, SBA deputy district director for Maine.

Other participating organizations and representatives included: Nancy Strojny, SCORE Portland; Betty Gensel, The Women’s Business Center at CEI; Martha Bentley, Maine Technology Institute; Jaimie Logan, Maine Department of Economic and Community Development and Ann McAlhany, Maine Small Business Development Centers.

Daniel Dunkle can be reached at or 594-4401 ext. 122. Follow him on Twitter @DanDunkle.

A panel of local successful business owners share experiences Sept. 25 at the Strand. Pictured from left are: Moderator Diane Sturgeon; Cyndi Prince, owner of LooHoo Wool Dryer Balls; Kate McAleer, owner of Bixby & Co.; Heidi Vanorse Neal, owner of The Loyal Biscuit Co.; and Nancy O’Brien, owner of Fiore Artisan Olive Oils and Vinegars. (Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
Kate McAleer, owner of Bixby & Co., makes a point during the panel discussion at the Strand. (Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Sep 25, 2017 14:51

Women can do and surely do! You all make me so proud!

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