REAL ESTATE & DEVELOPMENT

FedEx moving into former Hostess plant

A new tenant has been found for the vacant industrial space in Biddeford that once housed the Hostess Brands bakery. FedEx is expected to move into the 265,000-square-foot space at 1 Bakers Way later this year. Biddeford city officials learned about the move when it was announced at Thursday’s annual meeting of the Maine Real Estate & Development Association in Portland. Memphis-based FedEx will operate a distribution center in Biddeford. The company operates a similar facility in Saco. Read the story.

Brunswick Landing draws more tenants

Development at Brunswick Landing, the former Navy base, continues to grow. At the end of 2015, 80 businesses and organizations occupied 1.2 million square feet of the complex’s 2 million square feet of industrial and commercial space. The tenants created $77 million in taxable property for the towns of Brunswick and Topsham and 800 jobs have been created since Brunswick Naval Air Station base closed in 2011. And there’s more to come, according to Don Spann, a broker with RE/MAX Riverside who spoke at Thursday’s Maine Real Estate & Development Association annual meeting. Avita Housing and Priority Real Estate Group just broke ground on a 60-bed memory care unit and their builders, Northbridge, acquired Sunnybrook Retirement Village. Not only will Brunswick Landing get more tenants, but there could be a rent war between Topsham and Brunswick retailers. Spann said the Topsham Fair Mall is flourishing and has a very low vacancy rate, but other retailers, including those at Cook’s Corner and the Merrymeeting Plaza in Brunswick, are struggling. That could set the stage for a rent war to capture tenants for those shopping centers. Read the story.

ENERGY

Heating oil continues decline

Maine heating oil prices are continuing to plummet and are now at the lowest level in nearly a dozen years.

The average price in Maine on Monday was $1.77 a gallon, according to a survey conducted by the Governor’s Energy Office. The price fell 4 cents a gallon from the week before and is now at the lowest level since the state began regular heating oil price surveys in October 2004. Read the story.

Councilors turn down moratorium on fuel depot

The South Portland City Council decided Wednesday night against a six-month moratorium on development of propane storage and distribution facilities. Councilors voted 4-3 in favor of the moratorium, but the measure required a super-majority of five votes to pass. The decision came one year after NGL Supply Terminal Co. submitted a proposal to build a propane depot at Rigby Yard, off Route 1 near the Cash Corner and Thornton Heights neighborhoods. Read the story.

TRADE

Maine textile maker lodges complaint against China

Auburn Manufacturing Inc. is alleging that China is engaging in unfair trade practices on an industrial textile. The Mechanics Falls company, which is the largest U.S. manufacturer of silica fabric, said China is dumping its fabric on the American market at unfairly low prices and is providing unfair subsidies to Chinese manufacturers of the product. The company has filed petitions with the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission asking that anti-dumping and countervailing duties be imposed on Chinese imports of the fabric to level the playing field, according to a release from the company. Read the story.

HEALTH CARE

Sales of medical marijuana skyrocket

Mainers spent $23.6 million on medical marijuana from dispensaries last year, a 46 percent increase driven by multiple factors, including patients seeking alternatives to prescription painkillers and more doctors certifying people to use the drug, according to dispensary operators. Operators say the increase in sales illustrates the growing willingness of patients and doctors to consider alternatives to traditional medicine, and a reduction in the social stigma surrounding the use of medical marijuana. But an official for the Maine Medical Association said Wednesday the big jump also shows why the medical community has resisted opening the program to more patients with different medical conditions, citing a lack of research that demonstrates medical marijuana is effective in treating them. The $23.6 million in 2015 dispensary sales generated $1.29 million in sales tax, according to Maine Revenue Services. In 2014, the dispensaries sold $16.2 million worth of medical marijuana products and collected more than $892,000 in sales tax, a 40 percent increase over the previous year and more than triple the tax revenue collected in 2013. Read the story.

MANUFACTURING

Waterville factory announces layoffs in wake of Chipotle troubles

Paper products maker Huhtamaki has laid off about 30 workers temporarily at its Waterville plant as it deals with a slowdown of orders for packaging used by the Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant chain. Huhtamaki produces paper fiber trays and bowls for the Denver-based fast-food company, which has been dealing with recent outbreaks of food-borne illnesses linked to its products. In a phone interview Wednesday, the company’s national spokesman, Wess Hudelson, confirmed the layoffs but said some workers have returned to work periodically to fill vacant shifts. The plant employs about 470 people. The paper containers Chipotle uses for its burrito bowls are one of the major products made at the Waterville plant, and the ordering slowdown forced the company to make workforce reductions, Hudelson said. Chipotle sales have dropped off significantly after several outbreaks of illnesses linked to food served at its restaurants were reported in recent months. Read the story.

GENERAL BUSINESS

Rates, jobs, bode well for Maine’s economy

Maine should record solid job growth and the unemployment rate will remain low in 2016, a bank economist told the Maine Real Estate & Development Association’s annual meeting in Portland Thursday. Both of those trends coupled with low interest rates should buoy real estate sales, said James Marple, an economist with TD Bank Group. The state could add 5,000 jobs this year, he said, adding that job growth probably will slow in 2017. Overall, Marple said he is “cautiously optimistic” that the Maine and U.S. economies will perform well this year, although he noted that forecasting has been more difficult because recent skids in the stock and oil markets have upended business and government finances. Marple said the strong value of the dollar will hurt parts of the U.S. economy that depend on exports because it makes U.S. goods more expensive for foreign buyers. Maine, he said, is not as heavily dependent on exports as some other states, but what it does export goes to Canada, where the value of the Canadian dollar has plummeted compared to the U.S. dollar. Read the story.

New Chamber lobbyist on board

Christopher O’Neil, the longtime lobbyist for the Portland Community Chamber of Commerce, has left his post. O’Neil said in an email Wednesday evening that he lost the consulting contract he’d had with the chamber for the past nine years in a competitive bidding process. He has been replaced by Chris Quint, former executive director of the University of Southern Maine’s Office of Public Affairs. In August 2014, Quint was hired to replace longtime USM spokesman Bob Caswell, but he left the University in December 2015 to start his own media relations firm, Quint CO, according to his LinkedIn page. O’Neil, who was the chamber’s first Portland City Hall liaison, appeared before the City Council, Planning Board and municipal committees to present the viewpoints of local business owners on controversial issues such as the minimum wage, plastic bag fees, the city’s site plan review ordinance, and whether the city should create the position of an elected mayor. Read the story.