PARIS – The nonprofit Community Concepts has launched a for-profit enterprise providing courier service to Lewiston and Auburn businesses.
A Lewiston businessman who already offers the service, however, is chafing at the idea of competition from the tax-free entity. And the state, a key funding source for the agency, says Community Concepts needs to be careful to make certain it keeps its nonprofit operations separated from those that generate income.
Community Concepts’ operating budget this year is $34 million. It provides services for low- and moderate-income Mainers that range from transportation to housing, and it employs 400 people in Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties.
Matthew Smith, Community Concepts’ executive director, said Wednesday that the agency needs the courier service income to replace federal and state money lost to funding cutbacks for transportation services and other programs.
However, Marc Moreau, who has operated a courier service in Lewiston and Auburn for 23 years, questioned the fairness of a nonprofit competing directly with the private sector, especially when Community Concepts has significant financial advantages.
In particular, the agency doesn’t have to buy vehicles or insurance for its new business venture, Moreau said Wednesday, nor does it need to invest in any other startup costs that a private business would face.
“I’m not too impressed with it,” Moreau said of Community Concepts’ courier service. “What are they doing in the courier business? I don’t step on their toes; why are they coming after my business?”
Chip Morrison, president of the Androscoggin Chamber of Commerce, admitted Wednesday that he told Community Concepts there was no existing courier service in L-A. He said he was unaware of Moreau, who runs his business out of the Bates Mill complex in Lewiston.
Moreau said he employs four people who travel 100,000 miles statewide annually providing courier service to businesses. Frequent stops include Bangor, Rockland, Portland and Oxford Hills.
The market for courier service in Lewiston is weak, Moreau said, which is why most of his business is out of town.
Smith said L-A businesses had approached Community Concepts over time to ask if it would provide business-to-business courier service. He said the nonprofit plans to use the seven vans it already uses in L-A to transport people for the service, which will transport papers, medical tests and supplies and other items at the same time.
The agency head also said there’s nothing unusual about a nonprofit setting up a for-profit business.
“It is long established within the tax-exempt world that there is a lot of room for participation in for-profit enterprises,” Smith said. “There is no specific rule that says we can’t do what we want to do.”
However, because Community Concepts gets 90 percent of its annual budget from tax dollars, a key state funding agency is recommending Community Concepts create a separate corporation to run its for-profit business.
Community Concepts “should be very cautious that they put a hard and thick wall between” the public and private operations, Lynn Kippax, spokesman for the state Department of Health and Human Services, said Tuesday.
Smith said the agency doesn’t plan to set up a separate company.