FARMINGTON — A forum to hear the concerns of Maine’s small businesses adjourned early Wednesday at the University of Maine at Farmington when no business owners showed up.

The forum was hosted by Maine’s Regulatory Fairness Board, who sought input on regulatory and statutory issues that affect Maine businesses. They particularly wanted to hear about state rules that hamper business sustainability and growth and recommendations that could enhance Maine’s business climate.

“It’s a good opportunity, a good listening tool for local businesses,” state Rep. Paul Gilbert, D-Jay, said before the meeting.

Unfortunately, the people who needed to be there or to respond with comments through a live, online streaming of the forum, were probably still tending to their business, board chairman and Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said. The forum was scheduled from 4 to 7 p.m.

“We need to find a different way to engage the business community,” he said.

Charged with listening to business owners and then responding to the governor and Legislature with recommendations, the board discussed concerns that affect Maine’s business climate, including the availability of capital to start a business, licensing issues and the need to “get at the reason,” Dunlap said, for a weak business economy in Maine.

“Without access to capital, Maine’s economy is not going to grow,” board member Doug Smith of Dover-Foxcroft said.

He wanted board members to consider drafting a future program around barriers to getting capital. The problem is getting people in here to discuss the issues, he said.

Dunlap suggested the board go to chamber meetings, where business people are.

The main reason for business collapse is the lack of startup money, board member Pat Kuhl of Brunswick said.

Members agreed there is capital out there but it’s not being deployed, especially not in Maine.

“The capital issue is at the core,” Smith said. “Other things flow from it.”

Small Business Advocate Peggy Shaffer, who works through the Secretary of State’s office, suggested the board needs to look at licensing regulations, including those around the state’s liquor laws.

Another example is the business of hair-braiding, which requires a registered cosmetologist in this state, she said.

While attempting to protect the public, she suggested the business and not the person should need licensing.

“We don’t license cooks, we license restaurants,” she said. “It creates barriers for new people to get into these fields.”

The board also discussed mentoring and the issue of small businesses not knowing where to reach out.

Schaffer said people can find help on what needs to be done to start a business through Business Answers, at 1-800-872-3838 or online at [email protected]

Gilbert wasn’t sure people knew about Business Answers and suggested better marketing.

The board agreed to try scheduling their next meeting in conjunction with a chamber of commerce meeting, particularly with the chamber in Bangor.

[email protected]

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