REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION

Real estate economy reaches 11-year high

Over the past two years, Maine’s real estate economy has grown to a level of activity not seen since the market’s previous heyday in early 2006, according to a biannual report to be issued Thursday. The MEREDA Index, an indicator of the strength of Maine’s commercial and residential real estate markets, reached a new post-recession high of 95.7 in the first quarter, up slightly from 95.67 in the third quarter of 2016, according to the report, from the Maine Real Estate & Development Association. The index compares the market’s current strength to its previous high point, in the first quarter of 2006. An index score of 100 would mean that market activity was roughly identical to the first quarter of 2006. The index fell sharply from 2006 to 2010 and then remained relatively flat for three years before rising sharply through 2014 and 2015. Since then, it has continued to rise but at a declining rate. Read the story.

RETAIL

H&M opening at new location in Maine Mall

Trendy apparel retailer H&M opened at a new location at the Maine Mall on Thursday. The new location is directly across from its original location, in space formerly occupied by The Gap and Lane Bryant stores. The retailer, known for offering trendy clothes at reasonable prices, will offer collections for adults and teens, accessories and the H&M Kids collection for newborns to 14 year olds. Read the story.

JCPenney to add appliances to inventory

The JCPenney store at the Maine Mall was set to unveil its newest product line Friday: appliances. The 115-year-old department store chain rolled out appliances at 500 of its stores last year as a test to see whether shoppers would respond. The pilot program was successful enough that the retailer is planning to extend it to another 100 stores this spring, including the store in South Portland. Read the story.

ENTERTAINMENT

City rejects promoter’s 10-year state pier offer

Portland city officials have rejected an offer by Waterfront Concerts to enter into a 10-year contract to stage pop music shows on the Maine State Pier, saying they want to explore permanent development options for the 7-acre pier. What that means for the future of concerts on the pier beyond the 12 scheduled for the rest of this year – including The Disco Biscuits, Pat Benatar, Slightly Stoopid and Primus – is unclear. Waterfront Concerts has staged more than 50 shows there in the past two summers. City Manager Jon Jennings said officials would be happy to see the Bangor-based promoter continue to operate there, under the type of short-term agreements used recently. Waterfront Concerts gave its proposal to city officials at a meeting Friday, including a list of improvements that the company would make if granted a long-term contract, such as adding grandstand seating and possibly a roof over the audience area. Shows at the 3,000-capacity pier now offer folding chairs and standing room. Read the story.

GENERAL BUSINESS

Unemployment rate remains low

Maine’s unemployment rate remained unchanged from March, extending a very tight labor market heading into the summer months. Maine’s Department of Labor released April’s preliminary rate of 3.0 percent on Friday. That compares with 3.8 percent unemployment a year ago. The rate has been below 4 percent for the last seven months, and 15 of the last 18. The U.S. preliminary unemployment rate of 4.4 percent in April was little changed from 4.5 percent in March and down from 5.0 percent one year ago, according to a release from the DOL. The New England unemployment rate averaged 3.9 percent. April unemployment rate estimates for other states in the region were 2.8 percent in New Hampshire, 3.1 percent in Vermont, 3.9 percent in Massachusetts, 4.3 percent in Rhode Island, and 4.9 percent in Connecticut. Read the story.

Sea Grant director stepping down to take helm at nonprofit

A University of Maine official who has led its Sea Grant program is stepping down to accept a chief executive position with the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries. Paul Anderson, currently the director of the Maine Sea Grant College Program where he has been for the last 16 years, will join MCCF in September and assume the chief executive job on Jan. 1, 2018. The decision was announced by the nonprofit’s board of directors. Anderson will succeed founding Executive Director Robin Alden, who is stepping down after 14 years at the helm of MCCF, formerly known as Penobscot East Resource Center. Read the story.

ENERGY

Lawmakers push biomass incentives to next session

Efforts to help move the state’s biomass power industry onto a sustainable financial path are going to be put off until next year, lawmakers decided Tuesday, amid time concerns and proposals that are both complex and controversial. At the suggestion of the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee voted unanimously to carry over the measure until next session. Saviello presented recommendations based on the findings of a special study group created last year. They’re meant to improve the economics of the state’s struggling wood-fired power plants. But it was clear during a public hearing that although some of the ideas have support from the forest products industry, they will be opposed by Gov. Paul LePage and Central Maine Power Co. Read the story.

MANUFACTURING

Sappi combines divisions

Boston-based paper producer Sappi North America has combined two key business units to increase profits and spur investment in a more diverse product portfolio, according to the company. Sappi, which operates mills in Westbrook and Skowhegan, said the decision to combine its packaging and release paper units will better position the company for future growth and innovation. Release papers are embossed or coated papers that mimic the look of leather, exotic skins and other textures used in the apparel and automotive industries, among others. The company’s goal is to have the combined business units represent 25 percent of the global group EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization), said CEO Mark Gardner. Read the story.

LEGAL

Shipyard files trademark suit

Shipyard Brewing Co. has filed an unusual federal lawsuit against a Missouri brewery claiming trademark infringement. At issue is Logboat Brewing Co.’s Shiphead beer. In its lawsuit, Portland-based Shipyard says Logboat’s beer infringes on its trademarked name. It also says that because Shipyard produces beer with names such as Pumpkinhead, Melonhead and Applehead, consumers could conclude that Shiphead is a Shipyard product. The company is seeking an injunction and damages from lost profits. The lawsuit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri and has been referred to mediation. Logboat has denied any infringement. Read the story.

TRADE

Process starts for NAFTA review

The Trump administration on Thursday formally notified Congress of its intent to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, a step forward on a campaign promise that was widely popular among voters but has unsettled the American companies that have built their industries around the trade deal’s provisions. The notification starts the clock on a 90-day period in which Congress will consult with the administration about its goals. Negotiations with Canada and Mexico begin as soon as Aug. 16, the administration said. In 2016, Maine exported goods worth $1.4 billion to Canada and $46.1 million to Mexico. It imported $1.7 billion from Canada and $70 million from Mexico. Read the story.