Biddeford Payless shoe store to close
Payless, the discount shoe retailer, will close its store in Biddeford as the company prepares to file for bankruptcy. The store, located at The Shops at Biddeford Crossing, is among the nearly 400 under-performing stores that will close in the reorganization. Other Maine stores are closing in Presque Isle, Bangor and Ellsworth, according to the company’s website. Stores at the Maine Mall and in Augusta, Westbrook, Auburn and Windham are not expected to be affected. Payless ShoeSource filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Tuesday, becoming the latest retailer to succumb to increasing competition from online rivals. The Topeka, Kansas-based retailer said it will be immediately closing the under-performing stores. It has over 4,400 stores in more than 30 countries and was founded in 1956. Read the story.
Lawmakers can’t agree on oversight for marijuana sales
A legislative committee split Tuesday over which agencies should license and regulate marijuana businesses in Maine, highlighting the difficult path ahead as the state moves toward retail sales of legal weed. After weeks of discussion, lawmakers failed to coalesce behind a single plan for which agency should take the lead in licensing the businesses that will grow, manufacture, test and sell marijuana and cannabis products for the recreational market. While part of the committee wanted the Department of Administrative and Financial Services to handle all licensing, other members argued that the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry is better equipped to at least handle licensing for cultivation, testing and packaging of marijuana. It’s a debate over process with potential implications for the timing of retail marijuana sales in Maine, expected to begin sometime next year. Read the story.
BANKING & FINANCE
Credit unions set records in 2016
Membership, loans and deposits at Maine credit unions hit record numbers in 2016. The popularity and usage of Maine’s 58 credit unions continued to surge in all categories, led by an increase of more than 18,000 new members in 2016, according to a news release issued Tuesday by the Maine Credit Union League. Total membership grew to nearly 686,000, it said. For the 12-month period ending Dec. 31, combined assets grew by nearly $450 million to $7.28 billion – a record high. Outstanding loans topped $5 billion for the first time ever, the report said. Lending increased by 9.6 percent in 2016 to end the year at $5.23 billion in loans. Savings grew by more than $390 million in 2016, an increase of 6.8 percent, the report said. Total savings exceeded the $6 billion mark for the first time and ended the year at $6.2 billion. Read the story.
Seaplane manufacturer to call Brunswick Landing home
A Finnish-American venture has chosen Brunswick Landing as the site of a production facility for building high-performance amphibious aircraft, becoming the latest aviation-related business to call the former Navy base home. Atol USA is a joint venture between Atol Avion, based in Finland, and a U.S.-based investor group. The company also intends to establish its North American headquarters at Brunswick Landing, noting North America is the biggest aviation market with a huge demand for seaplanes, according to a Tuesday news release. The existing technology hub at the former air base, a workforce trained in advanced composites and proximity to water for testing aircraft are among the reasons the company chose Brunswick Landing, said Paul Richards, president of Atol USA. The company plans to employ up to 100 people when it ramps up to full production. Read the story.
Report: Shipyard worth $756 million
A group that advocates for Portsmouth Naval Shipyard said the submarine overhaul facility had an economic impact of $756 million last year. The Seacoast Shipyard Association said in its report Thursday that the shipyard had a civilian payroll of $496 million and provided jobs to 6,329 civilian workers in 2016. The military payroll for Navy and Coast Guard personnel was $43 million. The report noted that 3,597 of the workers are from Maine, and 2,266 are from New Hampshire. The economic impact and civilian employment both grew about 3 percent to 3.5 percent from 2015 figures. Read the story.
Airports seek permission to regulate ride-sharing services
Airport officials in Portland and Bangor are pushing the state for permission to regulate ride-sharing companies to address public safety problems and create equity with taxis and other ground transportation. Under state law, municipal governments cannot place rules on transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft. That makes it difficult to supervise ground transportation and safety at busy airplane terminals, said Portland Jetport Director Paul Bradbury. Portland and Bangor are supporting LD 1010, a bill that would allow municipalities to pass ordinances on ride-sharing companies at airports. Typically, when a passenger requests a ride through the service, the nearest driver responds. At an airport, that creates an incentive for drivers to idle at the arrivals curb or circle the terminal waiting for passengers to come out of baggage claim and request a ride, Bradbury said. Read the story.
Tip credit bills draw dozens to hearings
Dozens of restaurant workers who testified Wednesday during a marathon public hearing before the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee on proposals to change the minimum wage law approved at the ballot box in November. While the majority of workers urged lawmakers to retain the tip credit, which allows employers to pay tipped employees a lower hourly wage, others said the experiences of other states show that paying waiters, bartenders and other restaurant workers a higher base wage does not mean customers will become less generous when tipping. Lawmakers are considering two bills, LD 673 and LD 702, that would retain the tip credit. And Wednesday’s strong turnout from restaurant workers illustrated their concerns that the shift will end up hurting – not helping – the public face of a major cog in Maine’s more than $5 billion tourism industry. Read the story.
State seeks permission to establish re-insurance program
The Maine Bureau of Insurance will consider launching a re-insurance program that could help stabilize the Affordable Care Act’s individual marketplace and could potentially lower premiums or keep rate increases in check. Re-insurance programs help insurance markets by broadening the pool of people in the market – which reduces financial risk for insurance companies – and, in some cases, infuses new money into the health insurance system. Three similar programs that were operated by the federal government designed to stabilize ACA insurance markets were de-funded by Congress at the end of 2016. The ACA individual marketplace is where people can purchase subsidized individual insurance.
The federal market stabilization programs ending were part of the reason for large premium increases in 2017 on the ACA individual market, experts say, including double digit increases for Mainers who did not qualify for subsidies. Eric Cioppa, Maine’s insurance superintendent, said that the bureau is supporting a bill that would allow the bureau to request a waiver from the U.S Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The waiver would permit states to create re-insurance programs, possibly with the help of federal dollars. Read the story.
MITC announces award winners
The Maine International Trade Center is recognizing four organizations with its 2017 International Trade and Investment Awards, including Yale Cordage as its Exporter of the Year. The awards will be presented during Maine International Trade Day on May 25 at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. Yale Cordage, based in Saco, makes high-performance synthetic ropes and rope systems that are used in national defense, science and industry, sport and recreation, and professional arboriculture. The company exports its products to more than 30 countries, with a concentration on markets in the European Union, according to a news release from MITC. Three other organizations, Verrill Dana law firm, the University of Maine Advance Structures and Composites Center and C&L Aviation Group also won recognition from the state trade group. Read the story.