ELLSWORTH — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins toured a local business Friday, one of many that has benefited from the Downeast Business Alliance’s Incubator Without Walls program, a service she strongly endorsed.

“Small businesses, such as these, are the backbone of Maine’s economy,” Maine’s junior senator, a Republican, said. “The Incubator Without Walls program is successfully helping to grow these businesses and to create jobs in rural areas.”

Collins recently helped secure federal funding for the Down East Business Alliance program. The Down East Business Alliance is a division of the nonprofit Washington Hancock Community Agency.

Collins and her staff toured Gladstone’s Under the Sun, a small business on Water Street in Ellsworth that has benefited from the IWW program, which is aimed specifically at microbusinesses or those with four or fewer employees.

The business, owned by Craig Gladstone, manufactures and sells a line of healthful snacks including dried fruit. In just a few years, the small business has grown out of several locations and may soon become too big for its Ellsworth location, Gladstone said.

Three other local businesses and IWW success stories met with Collins on Friday: Barkwheats, a Stockton Springs company that specializes in dog treats; Mitokine Bioscience, a medical research company in Hancock exploring new treatment for diabetes; and Weaving a Life a Brooksville company which combines weaving with conscious living principles.

Microbusinesses make up about 32 percent of the work force in Washington County and 29 percent in Hancock County, the areas served by WCHA.