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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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Friday December 13, 2013 | 08:02 AM

The Bayside neighborhood is in the news this week as city planners get ready to vote on final approvals for an ambitious redevelopment on long-vacant railyards along Somerset Street. Randy Billings had a good overview of the neighborhood's history and past redevelopment efforts on the cover of Monday's paper, and along with it we ran an old aerial photo of the neighborhood from around 1960, part of our new "Flashback" feature in which we share old negatives from the newspaper's archives at the Portland Public Library. The library has actually made prints of more than a dozen of these aerial photos and they're on view on the walls of the second floor reading room. 

That photo came from a large-format negative, which gives the picture an amazing level of detail — as you zoom in on the interactive version here, you can make out individual business names on buildings throughout the neighborhood.  And a look at those businesses from 50 years ago offers some intriguing insights about the past half-century's economic changes. 

Here are some of the things I noticed:

  • Recycling was big business in 1960.  I counted eight city blocks filled with mountainous piles of junk in the 1960 photo. In addition to the open-air scrapyards there's also a warehouse on the corner of Marginal Way and Preble Street with a sign that says "WILLIAM GOODMAN WASTE PAPER". Two blocks away on Hanover Street (visible in the lower left corner) is a huge auto scrapyard behind a triple-decker with a "CENTURY TIRE CO." sign.
  • There are lots of empty lots. In 1960, most of Marginal Way passed through empty meadows, even though someone went to a lot of expense to fill in that land and push back the banks of Back Cove. And Interstate 295 doesn't exist yet, either: its future route is still watery in 1960.
  • There were a lot more homes. Residential neighborhoods along Lancaster and Franklin Streets extended far into Bayside. A number of homes shared fences with the scrapyards. Most of these neighborhoods were bulldozed for the construction of Franklin Street. 
Monday December 09, 2013 | 12:21 PM

Reporting and explaining the global economy is difficult: the narratives are complicated and they literally span the globe. 

NPR's "Planet Money" team took on the challenge with a product that seems relatively simple: a t-shirt. Reporters and videographers went from the cotton fields of Mississippi to the textile plants of Indonesia to the sewing factories of Bangladesh, and the resulting story is both beautiful and amazing.

It's also a really nice example of web-based journalism. They even financed all the globetrotting by pre-selling the t-shirts on Kickstarter instead of relying on pledge drives. 

Friday December 06, 2013 | 01:23 PM

Occupy Maine, take note: if you want your business leaders to get worked up about the ills of capitalism, forget about fast food workers and focus on your local pro sports teams. 

We often hear from Chamber of Commerce types that government ought to be run "like a business," but now that the Cumberland County Civic Center's board of trustees is managing the arena in the best financial interests of its taxpayers and driving a hard bargain with the Portland Pirates hockey team, the Portland Community Chamber is calling for a coup d'état, as detailed by Bill Nemitz in his column today.

The reason the Pirates left, you may recall, is because the Civic Center turned down a weak lease agreement with the hockey team in favor of hosting other, more lucrative events.

It was a perfectly capitalist decision, made in pursuit of maximum profits. Nemitz points out that Neal Pratt, the Civic Center's hard-nosed negotiator, actually won a prestigious award from the Chamber of Commerce earlier this year for his work as the Civic Center's board chair. 

Thursday November 07, 2013 | 11:38 AM

Via Jason Kottke, here's what Twitter's home page looked like during its awkward childhood back in 2006.

Seven years later and this is worth $31 billion, supposedly.

Thursday October 24, 2013 | 12:38 PM

Randy Billings has a story today about a small boom of housing units being planned or built on small infill lots in Portland's East End. A quote from the story:

“There are a lot people who would like to live on Munjoy Hill, for example, but they don’t want to live in the type of housing that exists right now,” said Jeff Levine, the city’s director of planning and urban development.

Neighborhood residents have mixed feelings: they welcome new investment and vitality as housing replaces vacant lots, but they're also wary of rising rents. "We want to keep the balance where people feel it’s a comfortable and affordable place to live and not overrun with high-end, impossible-to-afford places,” said Andrea Myhaver, president of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization.

The typical metric for home "affordability" is one-third of a household's income. In Portland, the median household income is $45,153, or $3,763 a month, which means that the median household can afford $1,254 a month (that's $3,763 divided by 3) in rent or mortgage payments.

One development under construction, the 86-unit "Bay House" near India Street (on the site of the former Village Cafe parking lot) is advertising 2-bedroom condos starting at $380,000. A household paying a 10% down payment on a mortgage there would end up paying $2,380 a month — roughly twice what a median household could afford.