by Jamie Carter-Logan, Bryan Roche, Dustyn Bailey and Peter Anania
For his entire working life, Scott Howard has never had a boss. He has never been directed by a manager, or toiled under a company that he did not own himself.
Leading his own businesses, Howard has been at the forefront of emerging industries and trends for almost thirty years. From his modest beginnings harvesting the ocean’s bounty, to being one of the first individuals to recognize the rise in popularity of indoor rock climbing, to investing early and developing a powerful brand of locally grown, hydroponic produce, Howard has seemingly hit on every chance he has taken. And now, he’s preparing to tackle Maine’s adult-use retail marijuana market.
To put it simply, Howard has found his way by jumping into the middle of an idea and figuring things out — and it’s worked.
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Growing up, Howard watched as his father worked in corporate America, but the lifestyle never appealed to him. The family moved from Massachusetts to South Paris, Maine, giving Howard a childhood where he could experience the outdoors. He fell in love with his new home, shaping his future career aspirations. He had tried to follow the traditional trajectory, however his entrepreneurial spirit would send him down a winding path — one he successfully found a way to navigate.
Howard studied nursing at St. Joseph’s College in Standish, and was looking to continue his education in a pre-med program. By the time he graduated in the mid-1990s, the allure of Maine’s ocean and the idea of working for himself proved a much stronger pull than his interest in medicine.
He saw opportunity in the waters of the Gulf of Maine, and he wanted to capitalize on it. So, he bought a boat, learned all he could about operating it and overseeing a crew. He began harvesting sea urchins and was able to lay down the foundation of his first business. For five years the operation was successful, but eventually the market became oversaturated and Howard knew he had to look to another venture for steady income.
Always looking for the next big thing, Howard saw opportunity in the emerging rock climbing industry. He sold his boat and other equipment and used the funds to pay for an investment in the Maine Rock Gym.
An oddly shaped building on Marginal Way in Portland became the basis for Howard’s newest company, which catered to the outdoors-inclined, and let him continue earning an income as his own boss while fulfilling his adventurous spirit. Howard built the gym himself, and he hired a skeleton crew to keep the operation going. But it did more than keep going — it grew to the point where Howard quickly knew he had to expand.
He wanted to stay in the fitness and adventure sector, so around 2015 he decided to expand the Maine Rock Gym into a facility with a full range of fitness activities — EVO Rock + Fitness. Some of the new offerings included yoga, event planning and fitness education, to give his customers an experience beyond rock climbing. At the time, it wasn’t a franchise, but Howard obtained a licensing agreement that gave him the ability to use the brand name.
While Howard was growing the Maine Rock Gym, he soon caught wind of another opportunity that would allow him to jump right into another emerging industry — hydroponics.
In 1995, hydroponic agriculture was still a relatively fringe sector in Maine, but one that Howard knew he should take a chance on. He bought a 6000-square-foot greenhouse and started with just tomatoes.
Though the business, Mainely Hydroponics, was successful, Howard admits it was challenging. The local food movement was barely on the horizon, and he had to not only sell his products, but had to sell the very idea of a locally grown tomato. To build his business, Howard literally went door to door to health food stores and local grocers, explaining the value of locally sourced food and the benefit of his organic, hydroponically-grown tomatoes. His hard work paid off as Howard landed contracts with stores, such as Lois’ Natural, that were perfectly positioned when the local food boom hit.
The natural appetite for locally grown, organic produce grew so fast that Howard never had to worry about a marketing or an advertising budget. Instead, the demand for his products just kept increasing and they kept filling orders. Eventually, Mainely Hydroponics had to expand to a space three times its original size to meet demand. Howard’s timing could not have been more perfect.
There was also another benefit to the timing of Mainely Hydroponics’ launch — the internet. With the emergence of email and the possibility of remote work, Howard didn’t always need to be on site to take care of customers’ or employees’ needs. This gave him time to devote to yet another business he had started at the same time as Mainely Hydroponics — Fly Fish Maine.
When Howard decided to move away from his sea urchin business, he knew he still wanted to be on the water in some capacity.
”I loved being out on the ocean, it’s such a beautiful place,” he says. “Fly fishing might not be the best use of my time, but it is good for my soul.”
To continue earning money from his passion for the ocean, Howard capitalized on the visitors to the Maine coast who felt the same way he did about the ocean. He bought a small boat, and started taking charter reservations for saltwater fly fishing excursions. Howard still operates the business, taking bookings online at flyfishmaine.com.
He also still runs Mainely Hydroponics, though under a different name. In 2003, Howard and his wife were expecting their first child, a daughter named Olivia. He was also approached by Pineland Farms about moving his agricultural operations to their site in New Gloucester, Maine. When the deal came together, so to did new branding for the business, and Olivia’s Garden was born.
Howard’s work in hydroponics has slowly evolved over the years. Now, as the retail marijuana business gains its footing in Maine, Howard is prepared to be one of the first to jump right in.
With the full regulatory structure for Maine’s adult-use marijuana law still being developed, it is likely the state won’t see its first retail operations until the spring of 2019. But, he has already secured a property and permitting in South Portland, and is working with contractors to build it into a comfortable space, complete with decks.
He also has a name picked out for the new venture — Seaweed.
Initially, he was focused on just the growing aspect of the industry, but through his research has discovered the potential value in having a fully vertically-integrated operation that does everything from growing plants, to extracting oils, to baking and selling edibles.
So, should it really come as any shock that Howard will be ready to tackle yet another emerging industry? With each move, Howard continues to demonstrate that he is an entrepreneur in every sense of the word.
Throwing himself onto the Atlantic ocean was risky, both for his life and his success. However, once he tasted success he used his experience, intuition and love of the outdoors to craft new business after new business. His love for Maine stretches beyond its nature and beauty by employing Mainers and contributing to local economy. By pushing the envelope and passionately taking the first step in every business venture, he has never known any other boss than himself.
That’s why Scott Howard is a Maine Icon.
All photos by Peter Anania