LABOR

City enrolls panhandlers in new work program

Portland launched a new, 36-week initiative Thursday aimed at putting panhandlers to work. The Portland Opportunity Crew is a program overseen by the city’s social services division. On its first day in action, four panhandlers – three men and a woman – enrolled in the program, according to Aaron Geyer, the city’s social services program manager.

For two days a week through November, staff will take a city-owned van around to intersections that are popular with panhandlers and ask if they would like to make the city’s minimum wage. Up to five people a day could make $10.68 an hour picking up trash and improving parks and trails on the peninsula. Read the story.

Hospitality industry gets hiring boost in budget deal

A federal budget deal reached by Congress last week could bring relief to Maine employers struggling to find seasonal workers. The proposed $1 trillion spending bill funds the federal government until the end of September and includes a provision to raise the cap on the number of H-2B visas issued to temporary foreign workers, a program widely used in Maine’s hospitality sector during the summer tourist season. The annual cap was reached in March, while many Maine hotels, inns and restaurants still had pending applications for visas, leaving businesses scrambling to find replacement workers. The compromise budget doesn’t reinstate an exemption for returning workers, but it does raise the visa cap to 129,547, equal to the number of visas issued in 2007, the program’s peak. Read the story.

REAL ESTATE & DEVELOPMENT

City parcel draws bids, including one for Wex’s new HQ

Payment processor Wex Inc. of South Portland is hoping to relocate its global headquarters to Portland’s downtown waterfront by partnering with a developer who has placed a bid on a parcel of city-owned land across from the Ocean Gateway building. The developer, Jonathan Cohen of 0 Hancock Street LLC, is competing with a partnership formed by Portland-based Atlantic Bayside Development LLC and Jackrabbit LLC for the roughly 48,000-square-foot lot along Thames Street between Hancock Street and the proposed Mountfort Street extension. If Cohen’s development company is the winning bidder, it plans to work with Wex to construct a new headquarters building that would employ at least 450 Wex employees initially, with another 200 joining over time as the company grows. The Wex headquarters would be a four-story, 100,000-square-foot building with 10,000 square feet of retail space on the first floor. An adjacent parking lot at 100 Fore St. would provide up to 1,750 parking spaces for private and public use. Cohen’s company is offering $2.5 million for the parcel, while the Atlantic Bayside/Jackrabbit partnership is offering considerably more at $3.1 million. The Atlantic Bayside/Jackrabbit partnership is proposing a development of two mixed-use buildings with about 165,000 square feet of office, residential and retail space, along with a 382-car parking garage. Read the story.

Colby dorm project breaks ground downtown

Waterville officials on Wednesday kicked off the construction of a $25.5 million Colby College residential complex downtown that will house about 200 students and faculty and staff members involved in a special civic engagement curriculum. About 100 Colby and city officials, as well as students, residents and economic development organizations, turned out for the groundbreaking on the northeast tip of The Concourse, which Colby bought earlier this year. The 100,000-square-foot complex is expected to open in August 2018. The college employs more than 900 people and pays $55 million a year in wages to workers, the vast majority of whom live in Waterville and the area, said Colby President David Greene. Read the story.

COMMERCIAL FISHERIES

Lawmakers support getting tougher on lobstering violations

A legislative committee voted unanimously Wednesday to toughen penalties on lobstermen who fish too many traps or use “sunken trawls,” as part of an industry-supported effort to crack down on lawbreakers. Lawmakers are considering a suite of requests from the Maine Department of Marine Resources for more enforcement tools and tougher sanctions against violators in an industry worth more than $500 million last year. A bill unanimously endorsed by the Marine Resources Committee, L.D. 575, would allow DMR’s commissioner to order longer license suspensions for lobstermen who violate the laws on the first offense and, in several cases, permanently revoke the licenses of repeat offenders. The proposed changes would also allow the department to permanently revoke a lobsterman’s license for a second offense of exceeding trap limits or fishing sunken trawls. Read the story.

MANUFACTURING

Company expands to tailor poultry vaccines to farms

A poultry vaccine manufacturer officially opened a multimillion-dollar facility in Winslow on Wednesday that will produce autogenous vaccines at its site on China Road. The new facility at Elanco Animal Health is the first in the nation that will separate autogenous vaccine operations from commercial operations, according to Milson Gondim, vice president of vaccine manufacturing for Elanco. Built in only eight months, according to Gondim, the $7 million facility is dedicated to manufacturing autogenous vaccines, which are created specifically for individual farms, as opposed to commercial vaccines. Read the story.

Pilot program helps turn wood fiber into jet fuel

The former Old Town Fuel and Fiber mill could become the site of a $60 million production facility making a raw material that can help turn wood fiber into jet fuel, said Stephen Fitzpatrick, president of Biofine Technology LLC in Framingham, Massachusetts. Fitzpatrick was on hand Wednesday at the University of Maine’s Technology Research Center in Old Town, where a pilot plant was undergoing advanced testing for processing up to a ton a day of wood fiber into chemicals to make biofuels and biochemicals. The plant was on track to operate for 100 hours, a step to help prove its ability to operate at a commercial scale. The chemical acids produced by the plant – essentially a form of crude oil – are used in the university’s patented conversion technology to make diesel and jet fuel from woody biomass. The technology was developed by the Forest Bioproducts Research Institute. Read the story.

GENERAL BUSINESS

Pew report praises Maine’s tax incentive oversight

Maine is a leader in making sure tax incentive programs live up to their intended purpose, according to a report issued Wednesday. The report, from the nonpartisan Pew Charitable Trusts, praises Maine’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability and the Legislature for establishing a system in 2015 to evaluate the effectiveness of tax incentive programs in the state. The Pew report, which examines the status of tax incentive review programs in each of the 50 states, describes Maine as one of the leaders “because it has a well-designed plan to regularly evaluate tax incentives, experience in producing quality evaluations that rigorously measure economic impact, and a process for informing policy choices.” Read the story.

Portland firm merges with NYC company

A New York City accounting and advisory company has merged with a Portland firm. Marcum LLP announced Tuesday that it has merged with Meyers, Harrison & Pia LLC and Meyers, Harrison & Pia Valuation and Litigation Support LLC, according to a press release from Marcum. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The Portland MHP office employs five people who focus on valuation and litigation support. They and 50 other employees in MHP’s New Haven office are now under the Marcum corporate umbrella. Read the story.

TRANSPORTATION

New flights from Portland to Halifax announced

Elite Airways announced Wednesday that it will fly between Portland and Halifax, Nova Scotia, starting June 30. The new route will operate Fridays, Sundays and Wednesdays with fares starting at $169 each way, according to a statement from the airline. The route will restore international service to the jetport, which ended in 2014 when AirCanada stopped offering service to Toronto, said Zachary Sundquist, the assistant jetport director. Read the story.