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Staying Afloat Part 2 

The current recession has left many Maine businesses struggling to keep their head above water. One Maine business owner who says that putting Maine’s college graduates to work here is vital for the state’s economic recovery.The Kenway Corporation in Augusta started out primarily as a boat building business. In the late 1950’s they began to move away from boats, manufacturing industrial fiber glass products for pulp and paper companies. Owner Kenneth Priest says Kenway has been able to stay afloat during the recession by diversifying their products. “It is really the success of our business,” says Priest, “we, back in early 2000, we realized we were, at one point, probably about 80% of our business, was probably pulp and paper. And we realized we had all the eggs in one basket.”Knowing how dangerous that could be if that basket crumbled, Priest says they took action. “We started an effort to diversify the company,” says Priest, “now since 2000-2001 we now have seven different diversified industries that we’re working in and that is the reason we’ve been very fortunate, very successful through this recession.”Back in 2007, Kenway got back to their roots when they bought a company called Maritime Marine. “This company is a company we purchased out of Massachusetts and we brought that business back to Maine,” Priest says, “we increased our fabrication area and we’re back building boats again.”With so many different industries under one roof, Priest says crosstraining his workers is vital. When the recession hit, it took a toll on the marine side of the business. “And what we’ve done is, as the marine side has slowed down, we’ve moved people from the marine side over to the industrial side and we’ve been able to maintain our workforce and essentially keep the majority of our workforce busy.”Priest says they do their training in house, but he also takes advantage of the opportunities the state has to offer. “We utilize a number of the governor’s office training initiatives. It could be the Governor’s Training Initiative, it could be the Maine Quality Center’s. There’s a number of these programs we utilize.”Those initiatives offer programs that help eligible businesses defray the cost of training employees. The idea is to help bolster maine’s economic recovery.Priest believes an educated workforce is a big key to that recovery. He’s working closely with the University of Maine and local colleges and is doing his part to keep Maine’s graduates here. “Working with the universities and utilizing the engineers that they have and hiring those engineers. When you look at it, we have four engineers here in the company and they all have engineering degrees from Orono, so we’re already utilizing those talents.”Priest says while the marine side of his business is starting to show improvement, he predicts 2010 will be very similar to 2009. Through it all, the Kenway Corporation has survived during these rough times. So what advice does ken priest offer to other small businesses? “Don’t be bashful to utilize everything that is in the state, and there are a lot of opportunities out there. Also our colleges and universities. They’re very interested in working with small businesses.”