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Commercial Confidential tracks Maine's business leaders and economic indicators.

About the Author

I'm an economics wonk and an online content producer for the Portland Press Herald.

You can get in touch with me by emailing cmilneil [at] mainetoday.com, or by calling 791-6307, or by following @vigorousnorth. Also check out my business and economics list on Twitter.

"On the Move": Submit items of interest regarding new employees, promotions and professional honors — with photos and LinkedIn URLs — to business [at] pressherald.com.

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Previous entries

April 2014

February 2014

January 2014

December 2013

November 2013

October 2013


September 2013

August 2013

July 2013

May 2013

April 2013

March 2013

February 2013

January 2013

Tuesday April 22, 2014 | 04:57 PM

Here's a fascinating chart for Earth Day, by way of the environmental organization Earth Policy Institute.

The takeaway: more than 12 million Americans now live in jurisdictions where plastic bags at grocery stores are either banned or taxed. Even more cities – including Portland, Maine – are looking into similar policies. The trend might have started in counterculture enclaves like San Francisco, but it's quickly catching on in other big cities like Seattle (as of July 2012) and Los Angeles (as of Jan. 2014).

A handful of other cities, including Washington, D.C., and Boulder, Colorado, are taking a different tack by charging new fees for every bag dispensed, and using the funds to pay for environmental programs. At a recent City Council committee meeting, several of Portland's leaders expressed interest in pursuing this approach here in Maine.

Friday April 11, 2014 | 10:27 AM

Randall Munroe, the artist behind the webcomic xkcd and former NASA roboticist, has given us the best explainer I've seen yet on Heartbleed:

Most websites have patched the bug so that servers won't spill out secret information any longer. To check the status of your online banking site, or webmail site, or any other website that you entrust with sensitive information, visit filippo.io/Heartbleed. Then change your passwords.

Thursday April 10, 2014 | 02:43 PM

Staff photo by David Leaming HUMANITY: Mike Grant mows the lawn in front of the solar-powered Habitat for Humanity home recently completed on Jacques Lane in Oakland on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013. There will be an open house event this Sunday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Staff photo by David Leaming

Last week, Kennebec Journal reporter Paul Koenig covered a brewing debate between Central Maine Power and solar power advocates. CMP, which owns and maintains the lines that deliver electricity in southern and central Maine, wants to levy a new fee against customers who own solar panels. They also want to shift more of its charges to fixed monthly fees, and away from variable fees that are proportional to how much energy a customer uses.

Environmentalists point out that these changes will diminish consumers' financial incentives to conserve energy or generate their own clean power with solar panels (see Beth Nagusky's op-ed in today's paper). They argue that customers who use more electricity ought to pay a higher share of the cost to maintain the lines that deliver power.

CMP has a different point of view. Paul's story quoted Gail Rice, a CMP spokeswoman: “When customers self-generate, our cost to serve them does not change, and when they pay less to CMP for their delivery service, other customers have to pay more.” In other words, CMP is arguing that green-minded customers need to pitch in more for maintaining the power grid — regardless of how little electricity they take from it. 

Lots of other states and utilities are navigating similar issues, of course, and today (via Grist) I learned of an interesting new solution from Minnesota called "value of solar" pricing.

Tuesday April 08, 2014 | 02:39 PM

This week's Maine Sunday Telegram delivered "Source," a new weekend section about eating and living sustainably in Maine. The debut issue included this in-depth piece on the history and growth of Maine's farm-to-table movement.

The growth in Maine farms and restaurants seems impressive from a consumer's point of view, but what's it like for the people working in the industry?

Reporter Meredith Goad has written about the increasing difficulty (and rents) in finding a suitable restaurant space in Portland. I was curious — is there any evidence of the same problem of scarcity in the market for restaurant labor?

The US Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics does an annual survey of wages in various industries and job categories, and here's a breakdown of their data for food service workers in the Greater Portland metropolitan area (which includes Biddeford/Saco and Bath/Brunswick):

2004 wage and employment data for food service jobs in Greater Portland:

Job type
Median hourly wage (2004 dollars)

Thursday February 20, 2014 | 11:54 AM

Maine's economic activity, split in half.

Yesterday, I posted a map here (link) that offered a striking visualization of how much a small handful of metropolitan areas contribute to the nation's economy.

Maine's commonly perceived as a rural state, but as it happens, a similar pattern holds up here. Here's a view of Maine's economy split in half: half of the state's economic activity happens in the relatively small southern corner, colored orange, and the other half happens in the much larger blue-shaded portion.

Here's some of the data behind the map (from the same report from the US Conference of Mayors that I cited in yesterday's post):

Portland-Biddeford metropolitan area (York, Cumberland, and Sagadahoc Counties)

$25.94 billion
Bangor metropolitan area