The Working Waterfront

Where ideas are plentiful, but resources scarce

Loan funding helps small business dream big

By Kim Hamilton
Posted 2023-12-19
Last Modified 2023-12-19

A few weeks ago, at a small library in South Thomaston, I had the opportunity to sit down with several Maine business owners. We were brought together by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to discuss its new grant to Island Institute for our revolving loan fund.

Launched last year, the loan fund is the newest tool in our Tom Glenn Community Impact Fund and will strengthen our efforts to aid small businesses in Maine’s coastal and island communities.

The timing could not have been better. With small business Saturday just around the corner, it is a good time to focus attention on the small businesses that drive our coastal economy. Interestingly—and contrary to popular belief—rural, coastal Maine is chock full of small businesses.

Coastal Maine has twice the national average of residents with self-employment income…

According to our research, coastal Maine has twice the national average of residents with self-employment income, and, on unbridged islands, the number is even higher. This entrepreneurial spirit is deeply embedded in Maine’s island and coastal communities and part of what makes Maine tick—from oyster growers, lobstering, and boat yards, to general stores, coffee roasters, breweries, art galleries, and more.

The USDA’s decision to support Island Institute through its Rural Business Development Grant program speaks to its understanding of the dynamics along the Maine coast.

USDA State Director Rhiannon Hampson emphasized the unique challenges faced by coastal- and island-based small businesses and the rewards that come from investing in them. From the high costs of housing and transportation to the relentless struggle to attract and retain skilled employees, small business are facing tremendous headwinds. They must adapt to a changing climate and navigate the enduring repercussions of the pandemic.

The benefits of small business growth, however, are many. We tend to think of jobs as the primary outcome of small business development in rural communities. Yet small businesses help local communities flourish through their indirect impact on other local businesses and by creating opportunities for more young people to remain in these communities because they have a job.

By helping these businesses access the necessary funding, we can safeguard economic stability and amplify the ripple effect that benefits not only a single business but also an entire community.

While we are proud to be the first loan fund in several years to receive a Maine Rural Business Development Grant, the significance of this award lies in its potential to scale the number of businesses we can support in years to come.

Expanding access to patient capital and technical assistance in a community-driven manner is a formula for success, and we think it’s the highest and best use of awards like the Rural Business Development Grant.

Of course, we all know that many small businesses start with the seed of an idea from a passionate founder. And good ideas aren’t limited by geography. Having additional capital to put to work in these local communities—where ideas are plentiful, but resources are scarce—is exactly what our community investment fund is for.

For us, having more capital to fuel this passion, to provide staying power to founders’ dreams, and to provide a place to learn, work, and grow for new generations of people who want to call the Maine coast home goes to the core of our mission. Bring on small business Saturday. We’re ready.

Kim Hamilton is president of Island Institute, publisher of The Working Waterfront. She may be contacted at