WISCASSET, Maine — A town rural economic development agency has $5.5 million in loan and grant funds to pump into the state economy as a winner of a national Wachovia Wells Fargo NEXT award, officials said Thursday.

Coastal Enterprises Inc. overcame competition among 14 community development financial institutions nationwide to win the grant, which it will administer to local businesses that apply for grants and loans. It was a finalist with a Washington, D.C.-based institution, Coastal Enterprises CEO and President Ron Phillips said.

CEI workers were gratified to win the award, Phillips said. About 1,000 community development agencies are eligible to win the prize.

“To win this award you have to be judged by what really is a group of our peers as well as foundations, so we are very excited about it,” Phillips said Thursday.

“The funds would be used to support diverse projects in rural regions,” he added. “They could be small businesses, natural resource ventures, affordable housing businesses: These funds are aimed to support those types of projects, and all of these projects pay into the local fabric and health of a community.”

The group has not yet decided to whom the $5.5 million would go.

Examples of businesses previously aided by Coastal Enterprises include:

● Axiom Technologies in Machias, which employs 12 and is bringing broadband Internet to rural communities in Washington County;

● Tide Mill Enterprises in Edmunds, a ninth-generation organic farm and sustainable logging operation;

● Looks Gourmet in Whiting, with 26 employees creating value-added natural resource products such as gourmet fish chowders, meats and sauces marketed through Whole Foods and other national distributors;

● New England Outdoor Center, based in Millinocket, which employs 25 year-round and 45 seasonal workers, and provides outdoor experiences for adventure seekers, families and wildlife enthusiasts;

● Mano en Mano, in Milbridge, providing quality, affordable housing for six migrant worker families in the blueberry, lobster and clam harvesting sectors.

The NEXT Awards recognize pioneering work by community development financial institutions, which are market-based, private-sector financial intermediaries that provide financing to low-income, low-wealth and other disadvantaged communities. CEI will be recognized at a celebration on Nov. 15 at Opportunity Finance Network’s 27th annual conference in Minneapolis.

“I commend CEI on its NEXT financing strategy,” said Mark Pinsky, president and CEO of Opportunity Finance Network. “By sharing its vision for the future of the opportunity finance industry, this CDFI will inspire its peers to develop their own NEXT-level projects. CEI is also advancing the industry by serving the needs of more low-income, low-wealth, and disadvantaged people and communities in innovative ways.”

The Wachovia Wells Fargo NEXT Awards for Opportunity Finance is operated by and funded through OFN by The Wachovia Wells Fargo Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The awards recognize excellence among financial institutions that responsibly serve low-income and low-wealth people and communities. They established the prize to spotlight how CDFIs benefit the nation’s economy.

By administering loans such as those that will be offered with the $5.5 million, CEI helps local economies, as often its loans are paired with similar offerings from local banks and lending institutions, Phillips said.