Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Chris Hall is the CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber. He’s been working in Chambers of Commerce in Maine for over 20 years, and Notes from the Chamber will bring you his perspective and comment on what’s happening in the Portland region that’s most important to our economy today and tomorrow.
This afternoon the legislature's Transportation Committee is holding a hearing on LD 999, a bill that directs Maine's Department of Transportation to take a look at developing a new rail corridor between Portland and Auburn along the existing St. Lawrence & Atlantic rail lines. It'll be interesting to see if lawmakers pass the bill and pursue the opportunity to bring more rail service to Maine.
Trains are expensive, and there's little state or federal money to rebuild rail lines. In the past the conversation stopped there.
But in the past decade, with growing momemtum, private investors are stepping up to finance public infrastructure projects. In some parts of the country these public private partnerships are making it possible to create jobs and transportation improvements that are otherwise impossible to fund.
There's a lot of excitement along the Portland-Auburn corridor for this new rail project. You can easily imagine that Auburn is just a stop along a line that extends through New Hampshire and Vermont, all the way up to Montreal. And a revived rail line can carry passengers and freight, opening up more economic possibilities.
Yesterday we had 450 people packed into the Holiday Inn by the Bay to hear a presentation on three new hotel developments in Portland - the new Hyatt Place Hotel on Fore Street, the Press Hotel on Congress Street and the Courtyard by Marriott on Commercial Street.
The crowd was huge - the news was even bigger.
Out on the street the first thing you hear from folks is: 3 new hotels??!! Can we do that? Is there enough business for them all?
We found out yesterday that the answer is a resounding yes. Here are some facts and figures drawn from Jim Brady's presentation yesterday moring:
On Friday I had a chance to visit with the folks at Eimskip, the new Icelandic shipping company that's set up shop in Portland. Here's what I found out:
Canada and Europe want exports from our small businesses. That's right - SMALL busineses.
I thought Eimskip would be all about big shipments from big companies, and of course they're ready and able to do that. But they also specialize in aggregating small shipments from small companies.
This is huge if you think about it. For Maine small businesses without affordable shipping access to Canadian and European markets, Eimskip opens a door that wasn't available before. But it's a door that needs to be opened by Maine companies.
A friend of mine is attending a national business attraction conference this week. To protect the innocent I'll spare you names and titles. But check this out:
During a presentation by Ernst & Young, the national tax experts, one of their presenters showed a slide illustrating the results of the company's extensive study of state by state business tax climates.
Up on the screen at #1 - nationally - there's Maine. I understand the room buzzed and the presenter was surprised that folks didn't know. And by folks I mean some of the most influencial people in the country when it comes to locating business investment around the nation and the world.
The study is two years old. When it came out in the spring of 2011 there was a story or two. But in a few weeks the good news got old, and outside a few of our friends in the Maine development community, no one mentioned it again.
Yesterday was Member Appreciation Day at the Portland Regional Chamber. It's a little hard to describe just how much energy and excitement we feel every year when we say 'thank you' to the 1250 employers who support our organization. But trust me, it's a special feeling.
This year we had a huge party at Bruno's over on Allen Ave. Bruno's has been there for more than 30 years. If somehow you've missed it, get on over and bring the family for dinner, or check out the sports bar for a game. We had over 150 people in their function room and more in the bar - it was a blast.
What's even more impressive is the way Chamber members connected. 'Networking' is an over-used word, but when you see people making business and social connections you appreciate how much our organization contributes to our communities.
We host over 100 events a year in the eight towns and cities in our region. All those events bring people together to improve themselves, their business and their community. It's something you have to experience to believe, and it's amazingly effective.