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Ron Phillips
Coastal Enterprises, Inc.

Wiscassett, Maine

Interviewed by Lynn Adler and Jim Mayer
Producers of Faith, Hope and Capital

A pioneer in community lending, Ron Phillips has helped Coastal Enterprises create sophisticated strategies for strengthening local industries and creating job opportunities for low income people.

Read a portion below or go to a printer-friendly page of the full interview.

RP: My name is Ron Phillips. I went to Union Theological Seminary in New York and studied history and economics. Actually, I intended to study more philosophy and theology and get involved in that kind of exposure to what human society is all about. But the concept of justice and economics kept kind of pressing in on that whole matter to the point where I got very interested in what we call, today, community development.

LA: Let's talk a little bit about the economic problems that Maine faces.

RP: When we started Coastal Enterprises in 1977, I would characterize the economic problems facing Maine as very much the same problems that third world countries face, being a natural resource state, being based on more extractive industries with less value added than you'd like to see. Maine really faced the question of how does it create a vibrant local business economy to market its products at competitive prices, and with value added to those products. Back in the 70s, Maine was really at the much lower end of the spectrum in terms of per capita income and also in terms of wage structure as compared to national averages.

LA: Now in the early days, there were a lot of experiments, I guess, and mistakes?

RP: Yeah, we don't think of those as mistakes. This field was very young. As you know, in the mid 60s Title Seven legislation of the Equal Opportunity Act authorized establishing CDCs——Community Development Corporations——around the country in urban areas and rural communities that were of low income to help these communities develop assets, mainly in businesses, housing and commercial real estate types of enterprise. So, t

T en years later, when CEI was organized, it was a young field. The religious institutions on the national level were trying to allocate resources to create housing, set up business enterprises, and make deposits in credit unions. But many of these early efforts, both with churches and even with government——particularly with government, in fact, where most of the money was——and with foundations as well, were really trial and error. They were learning opportunities——we don't think of them so much as mistakes——learning opportunities on how to take money from one place and invest it and loan it and manage it to create a project that would be sustainable and enduring. And we had our share of those kinds of learning opportunities.

Early on, we were focused on natural resource industries, the fishing industry. In fact, in the background right here is one of our early projects. It's a very successful business venture that supports the Southern Maine fishing fleet with ice and fuel and other kinds of services. But, we did get involved——and still are——in the small family farm movement. We tried to set up and support a marketing co-op which didn't succeed; we were involved in various fisheries cooperatives which also didn't quite make it; but a lot of things did come out of that period and we're doing much better today.

Full interview for printout

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