COMMERCIAL FISHERIES

Wholesale lobster price reaches 11-year high

Lobster prices in New England have spiked to their highest level in more than a decade, thanks to expanding markets, robust processing activity and anticipated Labor Day weekend demand. Trade publication SeafoodNews reports that the wholesale price for a 11/4-pound hard-shell lobster reached $8.50 this week, and new-shell lobster reached $6 – the highest August prices since 2005. The price data, from commodity news reporting service Urner Barry, show that hard-shell prices are up 25 cents from the previous week, and new-shell up 50 cents, as retailers stock up for Labor Day weekend. SeafoodNews attributed the price spike in large part to growth in the number and productivity of lobster processors in Maine and Massachusetts. Read the story.

Ruling on ‘invasive’ Maine lobster delayed

An opinion by a European authority about whether to classify American lobster as an invasive species – the first step in what could be a long process to ban lobster imports in the European Union – has been delayed. A spokesman said members are still gathering information for the EU’s Scientific Forum on Invasive Alien Species about whether American lobsters are a threat to native lobster populations. Swedish scientists submitted a report on July 31 saying they don’t have the science to prove that American lobsters have invaded and become established in North Atlantic waters, but the threat is real and can be fully neutralized only by an import ban. An opinion from the committee had been expected by Aug. 31, but is now expected by Sept. 9. Read the story.

BANKING

Bangor Savings buys local gift-card company

Bangor Savings Bank announced Thursday that it is purchasing Buoy Local, the Portland-based gift-card company, and intends to expand its services statewide. The two companies began working together about two years ago, when the Portland startup tapped Bangor Savings to help expand its services into the Bangor market. The Buoy Local gift card is a single gift card, redeemable only at Maine businesses, such as restaurants, retailers, gift shops, spas, and with service providers like tour operators and photographers. More than 100 businesses in Portland and Bangor accept the gift card and more than $185,000 has been spent with Buoy Local gift cards since the company was founded in November 2013, the bank said in a release announcing the acquisition. Read the story.

Camden announces three-for-two stock split

Camden National Corp.’s board of directors has approved a three-for-two stock split that is scheduled to occur on Sept. 30. The Camden-based company, which owns Camden National Bank and Acadia Trust, said it has achieved “strong financial results” through the first six months of 2016 as it continues to realize the benefits of its acquisition of SBM Financial Inc., the parent company of The Bank of Maine. Under the stock split, existing shareholders as of Sept. 15 will receive a dividend on Sept. 30 of one additional share for every two shares they own. Read the story.

HEALTH CARE

Health insurance co-op receives OK to leave N.H. market

Community Health Options, a Lewiston-based health insurance cooperative, has gotten approval to withdraw from the New Hampshire insurance market in 2017. The plan was approved this week by the Maine Bureau of Insurance, which has been monitoring CHO’s finances as it tries to recover from a $31 million loss in 2015. The nonprofit cooperative has set aside more than $45 million in reserves to try to avoid another big loss this year. As of July 31, the insurer had 11,438 customers in New Hampshire and 65,188 in Maine. It has about 72 percent of the individual insurance market in Maine. Leaving the New Hampshire market is expected to allow CHO to focus on its core market in Maine and rebuild reserves. On Wednesday, the insurer released its second quarter report, which showed a net loss of $3.3 million in the second quarter, down from a loss of $8.4 million in the first quarter. As of June 30, Community Health had $45.6 million remaining in reserves from premiums, borrowing, investments and other sources. Read the story.

LABOR

Xerox closing Lewiston customer service center

Xerox has announced it intends to close its customer service operation in Lewiston, displacing about 140 employees. The Fortune 500 company that got its start with copiers intends to close the East Avenue facility by the end of October. City officials are optimistic that the workers will be able to find work in the Lewiston-Auburn area, a hub of customer care centers, anchored for decades by the L.L. Bean call center and TD Bank’s back office operation. In a release, Xerox said it is closing the Lewiston center because a client’s contract is ending. Read the story.

LEGAL

Ruling reopens question of jobless benefits for striking FairPoint workers

Maine’s Business Court ruled in favor of unemployment benefits for the workers who went on strike against FairPoint. The court last week overruled a finding by the Unemployment Insurance Commission that the 900 Maine workers were not eligible for unemployment compensation during the strike that ran from October 2014 to February 2015. About half the workers received benefits in the summer of 2015, based on a ruling by a hearing officer that they were entitled to the aid because FairPoint had used replacement workers during the strike and therefore had not seen a “substantial curtailment of operations” during the walkout. The state’s Unemployment Insurance Commission, rejected the hearing officer’s finding in October 2015 and said workers who had received benefits would have to repay them. The ruling means the case goes back to the commission with new guidelines for making its determination on eligibility of benefits. Read the story.

SPORTS

Arena trustees gird for extended hockey loss

Portland may well land another pro hockey team to replace the departed Pirates in time for the 2017-18 season, but trustees of Cross Insurance Arena are preparing for the possibility of more than one winter without a primary tenant. On Tuesday, Godfrey Wood revealed that a potential lead investor pulled out of a deal that might have led to an East Coast Hockey League expansion franchise. Wood, who helped bring the American Hockey League Pirates to Portland from Baltimore in 1993, has been working with Brad Church to secure an ECHL team. Church said Wednesday that the unnamed investor was encouraged with their business plan and the history of the market, but pulled out for “personal” reasons. Church said his focus has changed to buying an existing ECHL franchise instead of scrambling to meet a late September application deadline for an expansion franchise. The board of trustees said they would continue to schedule whatever “money-makers” they can. Read the story.

RETAIL

Best Buy leaving Topsham

A combination of changing customer habits and operational costs proved too much for Best Buy to keep its Topsham Fair Mall location open. It will close Oct. 29. A corporate spokesman for the electronics retailer said the decision was made based on lease costs, strength of a retail area and consumer shopping patterns. Best Buy maintains four other stores in Maine – in South Portland, Auburn, Bangor and Augusta. Its Topsham employees have been encouraged to apply for work there. Read the story.

ENERGY

ORPC lands $5.3 million grant for tidal energy system refinements

A Portland company that is pioneering methods to harness river and tidal energy has received a $5.3 million grant to further its research. The U.S. Energy Department announced Tuesday that Ocean Renewable Power Co. was among the 10 organizations selected to receive more than $20 million in funding for new research, development and demonstration projects that advance the generation of electricity from ocean waves and tidal currents. ORPC, which has been testing hydrokinetic energy systems since 2009, was one of three demonstration projects selected for funding. It will use the money to enhance the performance of its tidal turbine system to capture higher flow velocities and reduce the cost of operations, which should ultimately lower the cost of energy. Total cost for the project is $9,962,078. ORPC has received nearly $1 million from Maine Technology Asset Fund and is seeking private investment, primarily from wealthy individuals and foundations, for the remainder. Read the story.

GENERAL BUSINESS

Garmin to continue publishing Maine Gazetteer

Garmin, the Swiss company that bought Yarmouth-based DeLorme in February, pledged it would continue to publish a paper version of its beloved Maine Atlas and Gazetteer. The company said Tuesday in a news release that it will “enhance” the map books, but offered no specifics other than saying the atlases will be revised and updated and the company will make additional investments in “resources and cartography staff based in the Yarmouth facility.” The guide is considered indispensable resource for Maine hikers and travelers – especially in the years before consumer GPS devices. Garmin publishes the map books for all 50 states. Read the story.