LABOR

Ratification vote would end FairPoint strike

FairPoint Communications workers were on the verge of ending their 4-month-old strike Friday in the wake of a tentative agreement between management and two unions. Nearly 800 Maine workers are expected to vote throughout the weekend on whether to ratify the agreement, which is expected to bridge a $500 million gap in wage and benefit concessions that led to the strike. Both sides had been working with a federal mediator in Washington, D.C., since the first week of January to hammer out an agreement. If the new contract is ratified, workers are expected to return to their jobs Feb. 25. Read the story.

MANUFACTURING

Dollar’s strength worries manufacturers

Maine’s manufacturers are watching the rise of the American dollar carefully as their goods become more expensive in global markets. The U.S. dollar’s value has grown about 16 percent more than other global currencies over the past year, creating dilemmas for some Maine manufacturers who are loath to increase their prices for fear of pricing themselves out of competitive markets in Europe and elsewhere. Some larger corporations with international sales such as Idexx Laboratories and WEX Inc. are using currency futures to hedge their bets, while others are ramping up domestic sales to make up for sagging global sales. Read the story.

UTC prepares for closure

Work continues in shutting down the UTC Fire & Safety plant in Pittsfield to comply with the desire of its parent company, United Technologies Corp., to consolidate operations. About 300 people were employed at the plant, many of whom are looking for work. The plant made fire and security products. A final closure date hasn’t been made public, but when UTC announced the impending shutdown last year, it cited a March 1 date. Read the story. 

ENERGY

Subsidies a hot button issue in Augusta

Lawmakers are sharply divided on whether subsidies that promote investments in solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy are good energy policy or a drag on the Maine economy. Renewables will be a hot topic this legislative session with the governor squarely behind natural gas expansion and hydrokinetic power initiatives and opposed to solar and wind power initiatives that solicit subsidies. The issue will likely come to a head when Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, submits a bill to cap subsidies available to renewable energy projects. Read the story.

Gas prices headed back up

Gas prices have inched up from their previous low, but still remain well below last year’s prices. Prices went up 6.3 cents a gallon in Maine last week, to an average cost of $2.26 per gallon, according to GasBuddy.com. Maine gas prices are 8.3 cents per gallon higher than in the past month, but still nearly $1.26 lower per gallon than at this time last year. The price per gallon in Maine is 1 cent above the national average. Read the story. 

GridSolar proposal fails to win PUC staff endorsement

A plan by a Portland energy company to become the state coordinator for projects that propose non-transmission alternatives to enhance electricity supplies failed to get the support of the staff of the Maine Public Utilities Commission. GridSolar, which has installed an NTA pilot project in Boothbay, said its experience with NTAs makes it the best choice to coordinate other NTA projects in Maine. But the staff cited the expense of GridSolar’s proposal and decided to endorse having the coordinator’s role go out to bid. NTAs come up with ways to enhance the delivery of electricity without the need to build more transmission lines. A decision is expected in March. Read the story.

WEATHERING THE WINTER

Restaurants point to weather, parking bans for drop in sales

Some Portland-area restaurants are reporting a drop-off in business of between 15 and 20 percent, attributable to the relentless winter weather and the ensuing parking bans. Snow totals to date are roughly double totals for the same period in a typical year, and have triggered 18 parking bans. Prospective diners are put off by the complications of getting to and from a restaurant, and fear towing, even though the city typically doesn’t start towing downtown until after 1 a.m. Greg Dugal, head of the Maine Restaurant Association, said it will be hard for city restaurants to make up the lost business. Read the story. 

Fuel companies scramble to keep up with deliveries

For most of the state, fuel companies are keeping pace with whatever wintry mix is coming their way. Although some delays in the delivery of heating oil have been reported sporadically, the Governor’s Office of Energy said deliveries are keeping pace with demand, despite heavy snowfall and relentlessly frigid weather. Some disruptions in the delivery of kerosene have been reported in Down East Maine. A spokeswoman for Irving Oil, a New Brunswick-based supplier of kerosene, said some deliveries were delayed because of unsafe travel conditions. Read the story.

HEALTH

Maine enrollment in ACA far exceeds the average

As of Feb. 6, Maine had enrolled 53 percent of those eligible for individual coverage under the Affordable Care Act, according to a Kaiser Foundation report. That’s the fourth-highest rate in the nation, behind Vermont, Florida and the District of Columbia, and well above the national average of 37 percent. According to federal data, 89 percent of Maine consumers who were signed up for the federally mandated health insurance program as of Jan. 30 qualify for an average tax credit of $337 per month. In 2014, nearly 90 percent of Mainers received subsidies, which lowered their average monthly premium from $443 to $99. Read the story. 

TECHNOLOGY

Tech company secures $2M in financing

Tilson Technology Management, a Portland-based IT services firm that builds telecommunication networks raised $2.2 million in a recent investment round. The company raised the Series B round from Rand Capital Corp. and Maine CEI Ventures. The company raised $700,000 in a Series A round in 2013. The capital will be used to expand markets and explore acquisitions, according to a release from Tilson.Read the story.

TRANSPORTATION

Biddeford airport gets OK for improvements

The Biddeford City Council voted Tuesday to move forward with safety improvements at the municipal airport, ending a six-year stalemate over the fate of the city-owned property. While the council supported accepting federal and state funding to pay for the majority of the work needed at the airport, it rejected a proposal to spend $27,000 to study the economic impact of the facility. Since 2008, the Federal Aviation Administration has put the city on notice that it must address safety issues. Councilors voted to accept more than $866,000 from the FAA and about $48,000 from the Maine Department of Transportation to pay to trim or remove trees, with the city contributing $48,000. The overall cost estimate includes $125,000 to acquire a 42-acre parcel from the New England Electric Railway that will allow the city to construct a safety area near the runway. Read the story.