York-based Maine Coast Lobster just returned from a three-day seafood expo in Hong Kong, where business is booming. To date, the company has surpassed its 2015 annual sales to Asia.

“We’re definitely seeing more interest from more Asian countries such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and South Korea,” said Annie Tselikis, the company’s marketing manager, on Monday. “The media often latches onto the story about lobster in mainland China, and certainly that growth has been notable. But there has been considerable lobster market expansion in Korea, due largely to a successful (free trade agreement) the U.S. has had with that country that has allowed U.S. businesses to be competitive players.”

The company attributes “astronomical” sales to countries like South Korea, China, Vietnam and Malaysia for its 160 percent compounded annual growth rate from 2011 to date.

The free trade agreement with the Republic of Korea took effect in 2012, making about 80 percent of South Korean imports duty free. Interestingly, the U.S. Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration never identified lobster or commercial fisheries as industries expected to benefit from the trade agreement. Rather, Maine’s paper and electronics industries, transportation equipment manufacturers and farmers with dairy, beef, fruits and vegetables to export were expected to be the big winners.

Global trade continues to shift. Last year, paper and wood products were the top commodities exported from Maine, followed by electric machinery and computer chips. Lobster came in third.

This year, though, lobster is gaining. Through July, lobster is the second leading export behind paper and wood products, notching $186.8 million in sales to the forest products’ $288.7 million.

Aviation components are No.3 at $169.9 million and computer components and other electric machinery have fallen to No. 4 at $155.8 million.

It’s worth noting that five years ago, live lobster exports tallied $419.4 million. Last year, they exceeded $578 million, with Asian countries leading the surge.

BOOT STOMPING

Speaking of responding to market demand, Shawn Gorman, chairman of the board for L.L.Bean, told the audience at last week’s Portland Chamber breakfast they better move fast if they want new L.L.Bean boots for this winter. Despite ramping up production at their two Maine factories, the outdoor gear retailer expects to have another holiday backlog for its perennially popular Maine hunting shoe.

Gorman, who specialized in branding before taking the reins on the board, spoke of how important protecting a company’s reputation is, especially one that has operated for 100-plus years.

That made me wonder if Bean was getting any flak from the “boycott Maine” initiatives that sprung up in the wake of Gov. Paul LePage’s unfortunate remarks about the ethnicity of drug traffickers in Maine and his rant against Rep. Drew Gattine. Gorman said he’d heard there had been a few comments from customers, but nothing that rose to the notice of the board.

He said he expected the company’s legendary customer service and quality of products would help it ride out any politically induced disruption in sales.

STILL HIRING

Wayfair, the online home furnishings retailer, is still in the midst of a hiring frenzy to staff its operations in Brunswick and Bangor.

The company is hiring 450 in Brunswick to staff a sales and operations center at Brunswick Landing, a facility that will deal primarily with commercial and corporate accounts, according to spokeswoman Kate Margolis.

Last week, the company formally opened its customer service center in Bangor, where they are hiring 500 to handle mostly inbound calls from non-business customers.

“We are on track” for hiring at both locations, said Margolis who declined to provide specifics.

They might be able to tap displaced workers from Lewiston’s Xerox call center, who received notice two weeks ago that the operation will close by the end of October.

About 140 people are expected to be out of work.

TD Bank announced a week later that it is trimming its back-office customer service ranks in Lewiston by about 35 people.

The Maine Department of Labor is dispatching its Rapid Response team for two sessions, scheduled for Sept. 28 and Oct. 5 on site at Xerox. Xerox is conducting its own on site job fair on Sept. 28 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for employers who are looking for the skills that the Xerox employees already have. The Lewiston CareerCenter will hold its regularly scheduled monthly job fair on Oct. 3 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Business Editor Carol Coultas can be contacted at 791-6460 or at:

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