Lisbon eyes hub to grow local businesses

Lisbon plans to create a hub to help local entrepreneurs create and grow their businesses.

The business hub would allow entrepreneurs to try using an affordable storefront or having an office space to meet with customers instead of in their living room, according to the town’s economic and community development director, Brett Richardson.

It has not been determined where the hub would be located.

The hub would include shared working space, a small commercial kitchen and short-term retail space. There would also be room for pop-up markets and events, which are events that happen from time-to-time such as a winter farmer’s market.

Richardson said this business center could also include a coffee shop, a bar or a community center — some space where business owners feel comfortable outside of work and home to “rub elbows” with other like-minded folks to fuel additional innovation, Richardson said.

Richardson said there few commercial buildings available for fledgling businesses that don’t want the expense of building their own yet.

Ross Cunningham, President of Positive Change Lisbon, a Lisbon group that advocates for businesses, supported the concept.

“I think it’s very exciting that Lisbon, who has a plethora of home-based businesses, is developing a process to help entrepreneurs both from in Lisbon and outside of Lisbon find a home here and give them the support they need to grow solid Maine businesses,” Cunningham said.

“I love this idea,” said Tara Kieger, owner of Sweet Cakes Bake Shop located on Route 196 in Lisbon. “I think there are so many people just here in the town of Lisbon doing business in their living rooms.”

There’s no commute and easy access to those home-based businesses so it may not appeal to all, Keiger said. But for people who want to take their home business to the next step, “that space provides that and is going to be that in-between without too much risk.”

Kieger said her concern is whether people will use a space like this though. The town will have to market the hub and make it appealing to a small business owner.

“Just because you build something doesn’t mean they’re going to come,” she said.

The idea was sparked through a $60,000 grant the town landed a year ago from the Maine Community Foundation and Maine Development Foundation’s Maine Downtown Center.

Richardson said the town spent $10,000 to study both opportunities and challenges for businesses in town over the last year. The town worked with Matt Wagner of Main Street America, who created a report with 10 recommendations for the town. Last week, the town received a check for the additional $50,000 to start putting the plan in motion.

The grant allows Lisbon to do a market study to help determine exactly what the entrepreneurship hub will look like. This is likely a longer-term undertaking that will require additional funding to find and renovate a building to house it all, Richardson said.

“Entrepreneurship data suggest supporting local entrepreneurs is the best long-term economic strategy,” Richardson said.

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