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Maine Business Works

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History and Background Information

The Need

It has long been recognized that Maine must focus on the development of technological resources to ensure economic vitality and to maintain our 'way of life.' In the 1995 final report of the Maine Telecommunications Forum, it was stated that "Maine's quality of life - and our ability to compete in the global marketplace while preserving our communities and environment - will be closely tied to the quality and capability of our telecommunications network, and our ability to use it effectively." A central tenet of this principal is that rural Maine requires access to the same resources and information available to those in urban settings. It is vital that everyone within Maine has access to telecommunication resources in order to avoid the information "haves" and "have-nots," and in order to address the "Two Maines" syndrome.

Lack of knowledge seriously undermines business development and growth. Despite the substantial array of financing, counseling, research, and training resources available, the promise of assistance and support is empty unless the public can access information when they need it. The economic development agencies of Maine at the state, regional and local levels have continually struggled to make citizens aware of the many assistance programs available for citizens, communities, and small businesses. Delivery of these programs has always been hampered by inadequate access to up-to-date information (a characteristic defect of paper-based information systems.) Recent technological advancements in telecommunications, and the proliferation computers in homes and businesses, will enhance the delivery of these programs and provide users with real-time information.

History of Maine Business Works

Maine Business Works was initially conceived in 1996 as a wide-area network (WAN) connecting the Economic Development Districts of Maine with the University of Southern Maine's Center for Business and Economic Development (CBER) and the Maine Small Business Development Centers (MSBDC). A proposal for funding the Maine Economic Development Network (as it was originally named) was prepared and submitted by CBER. As a result, a grant was received from the Department of Commerce Telecommunication Infrastructure and Information Assistance Program (TIIAP), as well as matching funds from the State of Maine through the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD). The Maine Economic Development Network project was one of fourteen statewide telecommunication projects funded by the TIIAP grant in 1996.

The infrastructure of the network was completed in early 1997, and participants engaged in training for operation, maintenance, and utilization of the system. In early 1998, the principal participants met to discuss further development of the network. A t that time, the participants envisioned a system that would include creation of secure intranets for principal participant organizations, formation of an extranet that would enable the sharing of data and other resources among economic development service providers throughout the state, and development of a comprehensive on-line resource of economic development information for the small business community and the general public of Maine. Because the original computer serving the system proved inadequate to support these additional applications, a new server and operating software were purchased and installed during the spring and summer of 1998.

During the latter half of the summer, Central Maine Power (CMP) approached the principals of the network project with a proposal for a collaborative venture. CMP had developed a database of commercial real estate listings and related economic development information named Maine's Resource for Economic Development (MRED). The principal partners recognized the value of the MRED resource and elected to include MRED as part of the network system.

The name Maine Business Works was subsequently chosen as the system's new domain name. Since September of 1998, the principals partners have been working to complete several pilot database applications, including:

  • economic development service providers and their programs,
  • a calendar of small business events and training programs,
  • commercial real estate listings (formerly CMP's MRED system), and
  • financial programs and resources available to small businesses.

During the spring of 1999, efforts continued to focus on the development of these initial applications. Maine Business Works was first publically showcased at "Maine's Third Blaine House Conference & Exposition for Small Business" held at the Augusta Civic Center on May 25 and 26. Approximately 1,500 representatives from small businesses throughout the state were in attendance. The Blaine House Conference was also an opportunity to showcase Maine Business Works to many of the economic development providers who are expected to contribute information to the system.

Benefits of Maine Business Works

  • Individuals, business owners and managers, and service providers alike will have instantaneous access to a vast array of up-to-date economic development information. The web-site will promote the state's programs and resources and provide a single source of economic development information to anyone considering starting a business, expanding a current business, or bringing an existing business to Maine.
  • Information will be available to to users regardless of their location. Business counselors, state agency representatives, and other economic developers will have instantaneous access to this information resource wherever they have computer access to the internet. As a result, rural economic development assistance will be provided where and when it is needed the most.
  • Maine Business Works will help increase the efficiency of agencies utilizing the system to deliver their programs. The use of electronic mail for communication and ease of sharing documents will increase opportunities for collaboration among economic developers and simplify coordination of jointly administered programs and projects.
  • The responsibility of updating and maintaining information will be distributed among the individual agencies and organizations providing the products or services. Duplication of information housed by individual agencies and organizations will be reduced, resulting in substantial savings of public and private sector dollars. Accuracy of information provided to the public will be improved as providers will have access to the most up-to-date information.