The top official from Maine’s largest construction company will leave Monday for Iceland and Greenland to look for business opportunities.
Peter Vigue, president and CEO of Pittsfield-based Cianbro Corp., said that Maine’s skilled workforce and geographical position allow it to build structures in Maine and transport them over the ocean to remote work sites in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions of the North Atlantic.
Vigue said he’s looking for work based on mutual benefits.
“It has to be good for both parties,” he said. “We have to be mindful of that. It’s not a matter of taking advantage of opportunity but going up to see if we can add value and support those folks and at the same time provide opportunities for folks in Maine.”
Vigue said he will spend at least a week on the trip and has discussions planned with political and business leaders in both countries.
Cianbro Corp. operates marine facilities in Brewer and Portland. From 2010 to 2012, the company built 22 modules in Brewer for a nickel processing plant in Newfoundland, which were transported by barge. In 2002, Cianbro in Portland built two oil rigs that were used off the coast of Brazil.
Although Greenland is culturally and politically linked to Europe because it is a territory of Denmark, it is part of North America. Vigue said Greenland is close enough to Maine that equipment and structures manufactured here could be shipped there by barge.
Vigue’s trip follows the decision last year by the Icelandic steamship line Eimskip to make Portland its only port of call in the United States. That company, which sends a container ship to Portland every two weeks, also provides container service between Iceland and Greenland.
While the container service opens trade opportunities for Maine companies, Vigue said, it has also fostered new personal relationships and that can lead to business deals that have nothing to do with shipping.
He noted that his meetings in Iceland and Greenland have been arranged by Larus Isfeld, general manager of Eimskip USA.
Iceland and Greenland are quite different. Iceland, which is ice-free because it’s situated in the Gulf Stream, has been independent from Denmark since 1944 and has a well-developed economy.
Greenland, the world’s largest island, is covered by an ice sheet, except for areas along the coast. It is slightly more than three times the size of Texas but has fewer residents than Portland. Although Greenland has political autonomy and is moving toward becoming independent, it remains a territory of Denmark and its economy is relatively undeveloped.
A recent trade mission to Iceland organized by the Maine International Trade Center drew 34 people representing 16 Maine companies, several state agencies and the City of Portland. During the trip, Gov. Paul LePage and Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, Iceland’s minister for foreign affairs, signed a formal agreement that outlined a desire to increase cooperation in the areas of business development, transport, logistics and culture.
In addition, Greg Mitchell, Portland’s economic development director, and officials from Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital, discussed the possibility of establishing a sister-city relationship. Janine Bisaillon-Cary, president of the International Trade Center, said she hopes those talks will lead to an agreement.
Greenland offers great market potential for Maine companies because it is poised to begin the construction of three airports, two marine terminals and a $2.3 billion iron ore mine, said John Henshaw, director of the Maine Port Authority.
The mine will require construction of housing for workers, a 60-mile-long road and a new pipeline to carry pulverized iron ore in a liquid slurry to a marine terminal. There the slurry will be transported to ships, said Henshaw, who traveled to Greenland’s capital, Nuuk, last month with Christopher Howard of Pierce Atwood and Dana Eidsness, director of the new Maine North Atlantic Development Office.
Greenland, however, lacks labor and expertise, Henshaw said, and that’s where Maine companies like Cianbro and Reed & Reed Inc. can help.
Reed & Reed, a construction company based in Woolwich, built the International Marine Terminal and Ocean Gateway terminal in Portland and the Mack Point marine terminal in Searsport. The company’s president and CEO, Jackson Parker, said he wants to talk to Henshaw and learn about the projects in Greenland.
“We understand how to pack up our suitcase and go and build things,” he said. “That is definitely worth taking a look at.”
The delegation from Maine was the first visit to Greenland from a group representing a U.S. state, said Jakob Rohmann Hard, protocol adviser of the Greenland Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Greenland has historically been dependent on companies from Denmark for projects, Hard said. As Greenland develops its economy, Hard said, it wants to forge new relationships with companies and academic institutions in North America so it can foster more international competition and break the monopolies held by Danish companies.
“So, of course, we want to have more cooperation with our neighbors, including Iceland and Canada and the states on the East Coast of the United States,” he said.
He added, however, that it will take time to build relationships between Greenland and Maine.
“It’s a slow process,” he said. “Commerce is about trust.”
Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: