Northeast’s best-managed handicrafts are all growing. In 1997, there were only 22 handicrafts operating and growing in Maine; now there are more than 70. One of them is a major concern for investors in a small-government state.
Most of the new businesses are family-run operations — about 95 percent owned by children. They are the only businesses selling products that can be traced back to their original manufacturing. There are nine manufacturers of handmade leather, and 16 of them manufacture custom-made leather garments or work in factories making other items that look like work clothing.
Of the small producers, five are also family-owned and four are owned by the U.S. Navy for the protection of ships and sailors.
One man, Joe Sargent, began manufacturing leather belts in 1979. After selling his first leather belt in 1990, he was working on the expansion of his inventory and eventually realized the value in expanding. He soon opened an extensive retail and website business selling a wide range of items — from hand-sewn leather belts and leather handbags to luxury leather gloves.
“It helps to have a very dedicated group around that’s always expanding,” Sargent says.
All his businesses — from belts to a leather handbag called “Cadillac” (it looks like a Cadillac, and is handmade in Maine) — are fully taxable and collect a 3 percent sales tax. And while one can’t be certain of the true economic value of each business’ products, one thing is certain: there’s a lot of money to be made here. It’s not like Massachusetts — no federal income tax. The only state with no property tax is Vermont, and only the wealthiest taxpayers pay at most seven percent in municipal property taxes. Most of these businesses, even Sargent’s, are paying tax in addition to the federal rate.
There’s another reason why Maine’s best-managed handicraft businesses are thriving. It’s less like Massachusetts and more like Texas and Minnesota.
When we look at businesses in Maine, we see them as local ones with an intimate bond to the community, but also ones that look global, globalistic or globalized. We’re seeing more businesses that are owned by foreigners who don’t pay state business taxes. That makes Maine’s economy a little more international than if we looked at a Massachusetts businessman, but less than if we looked at a business from a small town like Woodstock, where you have a strong
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