The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Business Mon, 26 Sep 2016 17:14:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Oregon pot growers see potential for tourism Mon, 26 Sep 2016 02:11:10 +0000 MEDFORD, Ore. — Marijuana could join vineyards and pear orchards as Rogue Valley agricultural mainstays in southwest Oregon and draw in more tourists, pot growers say.

“I was a parent who said, ‘Don’t smoke this crap,’ ” Dewey Wilson, 61, said, noting that a decade ago he considered legalization of marijuana unimaginable. “I never thought this would happen. I’ve come full circle on the issue.”

Wilson, who’s growing 1,100 cannabis plants with a potential value of more than $2 million along the Rogue River, said he and his son began smoking marijuana for medical reasons.

He spent $2.5 million to buy the property last year and has spent another $500,000 on equipment, including surveillance cameras. He’s also converted an old barn that once housed cows to be used for tourism if the state allows it. He calls his farm Tomato Hill Co., or THC, which is the active ingredient in marijuana.

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission says Jackson and adjacent Josephine counties have about half of the 258 indoor and outdoor grow sites in the state. And Jackson County has about a third of all the large commercial outdoor marijuana operations.

Commission Chairman Rob Patridge said it’s not clear when supply might outpace demand for marijuana in Oregon. The state estimated that about 520,000 people in Oregon use pot, with the average weekend user consuming about 2 ounces a year.

The result is cattle farms being converted to grow marijuana crops.

“This is the old agriculture transitioning into the new,” said Brent Kenyon, a consultant for growers, including Wilson’s farm.

The owner of Green Valley Wellness, Michael Monarch, said he expects the commission will issue more licenses over the next year.

“There’s about another 600 (applications) in progress right now,” he said. “It takes a long time to get it right, and it’s complicated navigating through all the steps.”

Like Wilson, he expects more tourists visiting the area for the wine and pot industries.

“It’s mayhem now – it’s the wild West,” Monarch says. “But the dust will settle.”

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U.S. guidelines on self-driving cars get good reception at G-7 Mon, 26 Sep 2016 02:05:05 +0000 TOKYO — U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Sunday that his counterparts in the Group of Seven nations welcomed U.S. guidelines on regulating self-driving cars and have agreed to work together on creating such standards to maintain safety.

“There was actually a very enthusiastic reception to the policy,” he said. “We did a good job of inventorying what each country is doing and laying out areas that we want to explore further.”

Such issues include cybersecurity, ethics and privacy, wireless spectrum questions and many other issues, he said, while noting that reaching a resolution might take years, meaning the technology would be moving faster. Foxx called the U.S. guidelines released earlier this month the most comprehensive on autonomous vehicles, coming out ahead of the rest of the world.

Foxx and other transportation officials from the G-7 met over the weekend in the Japanese resort town of Karuizawa. Speaking by telephone with The Associated Press, Foxx stressed road tests on autonomous vehicles must continue to encourage innovation.

U.S. electric car maker Tesla’s Model S that was using the semi-autonomous mode crashed in May. The driver died after crashing into a tractor-trailer. Tesla is introducing improvements to its Autopilot system to make it safer.

“One of the things I think that autonomous vehicles suffer from is that they get compared to perfection, and not to the 94 percent of car crashes that are attributable to human factors. We have to make the right comparisons,” Foxx said, while declining comment on the ongoing investigation on Tesla. “These vehicles will not be absolutely perfect in terms of having no accidents, but by comparison they can be markedly better.”

Many automakers besides Tesla are testing or have rolled out automated vehicles, including Ford Motor Co., based in Dearborn, Michigan, and Nissan Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. of Japan.

The new U.S. guidelines are meant to bring order to the technology’s development. Proponents say such technology can make cars safer because machines can react faster and they are less prone to human error. But even experts remain cautious.

Among the recent forays into self-driving technology are the partnership between Chinese-owned Volvo Cars and the Swedish-based automotive safety group Autoliv Inc., as well as Volvo teaming up with U.S. ride-hailing company Uber. Ford has announced a $75 million investment in Velodyne Inc., which makes laser sensors. BMW Group, Intel Corp. and Mobileye have joined together to develop and sell autonomous driving technology.

Hans Greimel, Asia Editor for Automotive News, believes the new U.S. guidelines are an important “proactive” step in seeking powers to approve autonomous vehicles before they’re brought to market, marking a departure from the past, when regulators enforce rules after the cars are already sold.

“They are a clear step toward clearing the way for the next-generation of automobiles. The technology of autonomous vehicles is mostly there. What is lacking is a clear guideline for how the technologies should be applied,” said Greimel.

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Michelle Singletary: Is long-term care insurance worth cost? Sun, 25 Sep 2016 08:00:16 +0000 I wasn’t sure what to tell them – any of them.

A Silver Spring, Maryland, couple – the husband is 84 and the wife about to turn 79 – were distraught. They had received notice that their long-term care insurance premiums, purchased on the private market, are rising to a point they can no longer afford. Their policies were first taken out in 1999 and had a combined yearly premium of about $4,000. With these latest increases, they would be paying close to $8,000 a year.

The couple could downsize their current policy, reducing the length of coverage and/or eliminating an inflation rider, but they don’t like that option. It’s not what they signed up for. They are now on a fixed income and don’t have room to save to cover any reductions in benefits should they need long-term care.

“We thought we were doing the right thing,” the husband said. “They’ve made the premiums so cost-prohibitive we may have no alternative than to let the policy lapse.”

Karen and Tom Davis from St. Petersburg, Florida – she’s 57 and he’s 75 – also reached out to me. They bought long-term care insurance 14 years ago while both were still working for the federal government. They too are facing a steep premium increase in the federal program.

Federal employees and retirees who participate in the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program have until Friday to decide whether to accept higher premiums that on average will be 83 percent or $111 more per month.

“The thinking was that we would not expect extended family members to care for us in our senior years if we required long-term care, so three to five years of nursing home care sounded smart,” Karen Davis wrote. “Given the statistics and our age difference, I could potentially be vulnerable as a possible surviving spouse. We find that we have now invested over $20,000 (him) and $18,000 (me) in this plan. Would it be more reasonable to plan to self-fund long-term care, drop the insurance and cut our losses? There is always a possibility that the plan will increase again.”

Another reader wrote, “I am one of the many retired feds who is wondering what to do with the FLTCIP. Given the premium increases versus lowered payout, what’s a retiree to do? I wonder if my considerable lifetime pension (through the Civil Service Retirement System) will carry me through any care needs, plus what I’ve got in the Thrift Savings Program, plus other savings. I hate to keep throwing good money after bad.”

I’m writing a series of columns on long-term care insurance and wanted to start with the voices of people angry and stunned by the steep increases.

In my next column, I’ll pass along advice from financial planners for those who are facing premium increases and have yet to make a decision. The choices come down to: accepting the increase and keeping the same coverage, or taking less coverage at the same price. There’s another option that allows people to convert to “paid-up coverage,” which means the enrollee’s new maximum lifetime benefit would be reduced to the total amount of premiums paid for coverage or 30 times the person’s daily benefit amount, whichever is greater.

Long-term care insurance can cover the cost of nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and in-home care. In most cases, insurance will cover expenses for those who need help with daily activities such as eating and dressing, or who have a severe cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Medicaid covers long-term care, but to qualify for the benefit, you have to be pretty poor. Medicare – except in very limited situations – does not cover long-term care.

The premium increases have people wondering if long-term care insurance is worth it anymore because the companies got the pricing horribly wrong. The initial premiums they charged weren’t enough to cover claims.

So now you have folks who bought and held on to policies – sometimes for decades – asking should they go or should they stay. Many are now retired and living on a fixed income. They don’t have the savings to make up the difference in the cost of their long-term care that they had planned to be covered under their insurance policies.

And there are some who won’t be able to pay for policies even if they accept reduced benefits. But if they end up letting their insurance lapse, they risk losing money they might have just saved.

Insurance is all about hedging against risk. The question I hope to help you answer is whether you can risk going without some long-term care insurance.

Michelle Singletary can be contacted at:

Twitter: SingletaryM

]]> 0 Fri, 23 Sep 2016 22:09:50 +0000
Week in review: Lobster exports on record pace; Mercy to lay off 31 Sun, 25 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 COMMERCIAL FISHING

Maine lobster exports on pace to beat record

Maine’s lobster industry is on pace for its best year ever, having sold $103 million worth of lobster abroad in the first half of 2016. That’s more than twice as much as the $48.3 million it sold over the same period in 2015, and is even better than in 2014, when Maine had sold $54.7 million worth of lobster by July and ended the year with a record $365.5 million in foreign sales. State trade officials credit this year’s 113 percent jump in midyear exports to huge growth in Canadian sales, which is basically Maine helping to fill its neighbor’s global orders, and a 43 percent growth in exports to China. Marketing efforts by Maine lobster dealers to open new markets, particularly in Asia, were also credited for increasing sales. Read this story.


LePage expects Fairchild buy will mean lost jobs

Gov. Paul LePage said Tuesday that the sale of Fairchild Semiconductor International to a Phoenix rival will likely result in the loss of hundreds of jobs in Maine. Speaking on a WVOM morning radio show, LePage said Fairchild was one of the companies he was referring to last spring when he predicted there would be 900 to 1,200 good jobs leaving southern Maine this summer. The Sunnyvale, California-based microchip maker employs roughly 650 workers at its offices and a manufacturing operation in South Portland. Fairchild, now part of Phoenix-based ON Semiconductor, has not announced any immediate staff changes or layoffs in the wake of the sale. Company officials have spoken generally about cutting costs, but they said no consolidation of manufacturing operations as a result of the sale would occur until mid-2018 or later. LePage’s comment came in response to a question about the news last week that Bath Iron Works failed to win a major contract and the sale Monday of Fairchild to ON Semiconductor. Read the story.

Coalition urges businesses to recruit more immigrants

Maine Development Foundation and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce released a report Thursday calling for stronger initiatives to recruit immigrants into the workforce. The report said the state’s aging population is creating a smaller workforce that already is restricting economic growth by making it hard for employers to fill vacant jobs. The two groups called for setting a statewide goal to attract more immigrants to Maine, and expanding efforts to help them integrate into society and the workplace. Dana Connors, president of the Maine state chamber, said the impact of immigrants on the economy will grow dramatically. He said 83 percent of the growth in the U.S. workforce between 2000 and 2050 will be immigrants and their children, and Maine needs to tap into that. Read this story.

Unemployment rate still beats national average

Maine’s unemployment rate rose slightly in August, but is still well below where it was a year ago and well below the national average. The state’s preliminary jobless rate was 4.0 percent, according to data released Tuesday by the Maine Department of Labor. In July, the rate was 3.9 percent, having inched up from the 2016 low of 3.4 percent in April. Last year, Maine’s August unemployment rate was 4.3 percent. The national unemployment rate for August was 4.9 percent, unchanged from July and down from 5.1 percent one year ago. Read this story.


Portland Co. complex redevelopment plan unveiled

A former railroad foundry on Portland’s eastern waterfront would be transformed into a shiny high-end neighborhood with six blocks of housing, shops, restaurants, hotel rooms and marina slips under an ambitious and long-awaited redevelopment plan submitted by local developers. The scale of the development, which features a mix of glass-walled buildings and historic brick structures and is estimated to cost about $250 million, makes it one of the most ambitious projects ever proposed in Maine’s largest city. CPB2 submitted its master development plan for the 10-acre parcel at 58 Fore St. to the city on Monday, and unveiled it at a news conference Wednesday morning. It was the first time that detailed renderings have been made public, although the project has been hotly debated for more than two years. The former industrial land at the entrance to Portland’s inner harbor has been the subject of speculation about its future on and off for decades. Read this story.

Single-family home sales continue to rise in Maine

The sale of single-family homes in Maine continued to increase both in the volume of transactions and in price last month. The Maine Association of Realtors said sales of existing homes in August increased 10.78 percent over the same month last year, while the median sales price ticked up 5.35 percent to $197,000. A total of 1,840 Maine homes changed hands last month. Nationally, single-family home sales rose only 0.6 percent, while in New England it was 6.1 percent. The national median sales price was $242,200, a 5.3 percent increase over August 2015, and in New England it rose 0.8 percent to $274,100. Read this story.


Nonprofit awards $70,000 in startup support grants

Business-development nonprofit Maine Accelerates Growth has issued $70,000 in grants to three organizations that contribute to Maine’s economic growth. It issued $5,000 to the Treehouse Institute for its TEDxDirigo program to increase engagement with entrepreneurs and startups. TEDxDirigo is the Maine-based TEDx program under a free license granted by TED, a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas in the form of short, thought-provoking talks. It gave $15,000 to the Sustainability Lab, which is organizing the Maine Food Systems Innovation Challenge to take place later this year, and working to help scale new ideas for Maine’s food systems. Finally, it awarded $50,000 to the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development’s Top Gun accelerator program to help fund its expansion into Lewiston-Auburn. Top Gun is a program for Maine startups. Read this story.


Ad comparing natural gas and oil prices ‘misleading’

A newspaper ad touting the cost benefits of heating with oil over natural gas is being called misleading by a state energy official, and a cautionary note for residents making long-term decisions about how to heat their homes. The Maine Energy Marketers Association, formerly the Maine Oil Dealers Association, ran the ad as part of its campaign. It wants to discourage more homes and businesses from converting from oil, the state’s dominant heating fuel, to competing alternatives, namely natural gas and heat pumps. The full-page ad compares a low cash price of heating oil this summer in the Portland area – $1.70 gallon – with the recently approved residential rate for Summit customers for the entire winter – the equivalent of $2.49 a gallon. A smiley face tops the $1.70 price, and a frowning face with a teardrop is above the $2.49. Read this story.


Mercy announces layoffs after buyouts fall short

Mercy Hospital on Tuesday laid off 31 employees, nearly two months after it offered retirement buyouts to 99 people. The Portland hospital – which has about 1,500 full-time employees – cut workers in building maintenance, housekeeping, environmental services and other clinical and administrative positions. No doctors or nurses were laid off, although some nurses were eligible for the buyouts. Forty-seven had accepted the early-retirement incentive that was announced in July, which was one week’s pay for each year worked, and was offered to selected employees age 60 and older. A Mercy spokesman said not enough people accepted the early-retirement offer, making layoffs necessary. Read this story.

]]> 0, 24 Sep 2016 17:12:59 +0000
Trump hotels to pay New York $50,000 over data breaches Sat, 24 Sep 2016 02:25:30 +0000 NEW YORK — Trump Hotel Collection agreed to pay $50,000 in fines and strengthen security measures after data breaches exposed more than 70,000 credit-card numbers and other personal information, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Friday.

Banks analyzing hundreds of fraudulent credit-card transactions in May 2015 tracked the last legitimate ones to Trump hotels, suggesting the chain was the target of a cyberattack, Schneiderman said in a statement. A preliminary probe revealed malware targeting credit cards existed at multiple locations, including the computer networks associated with hotels in Chicago, New York and Las Vegas.

Further investigation showed that an attacker infiltrated the chain’s payment system in May 2014 by accessing an administrative account using legitimate credentials, and then deployed the malware, Schneiderman said. The chain knew as early as June 2015 that malware had permeated multiple properties but didn’t tell its customers until four months later, which is a violation of New York law, the attorney general said.

Another breach occurred in November 2015 when an attacker installed malware on 39 systems affecting five properties.

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Fed proposes commodity holdings regulation Sat, 24 Sep 2016 02:13:54 +0000 Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley’s sometimes lucrative romance with metals, coal and oil could become prohibitively expensive under a rule proposed Friday by the Federal Reserve.

The long-awaited regulation would require banks to put up much more capital to support investments in physical commodities, restrict ownership of power plants and limit the amount of trading banks can do. While the Fed doesn’t have the power to sever banks’ ties to physical commodities, it is seeking massive capital increases for firms – especially Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley – that have been permitted to stay in those businesses based on special legal exemptions.

Fed officials said that the proposal would mean about $4 billion in additional capital for financial firms’ current activity.

“The proposal would help reduce the catastrophic, legal, reputational, and financial risks that physical commodity activities pose to financial holding companies,” the Fed said in a statement. What’s unstated is that the proposal also addresses years of criticism that banks could seize unfair advantages in metal and energy markets by owning hard assets and operating huge trading desks at the same time.

The proposal comes on the heels of a Fed recommendation made earlier this month that big banks should be barred from buying stakes in nonfinancial companies – a removal of merchant-banking abilities that Congress would have to initiate. Merchant banking will also face higher capital under the Fed’s proposal.

Together, the recommendations are part of the central bank’s broad goal to rein in how Wall Street invests its money outside of traditional lending. The effort stems in part from a 2014 Senate investigation that probed the industry’s sometimes controversial dealings in physical commodities, such as operating mines, warehousing aluminum and shipping oil.

That Senate probe accused Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase of using their ownership of metals and other physical commodities to dominate markets and gain unfair investing advantages. The physical commodities businesses at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley were protected by grandfathering that allowed them wider abilities than most banks.

]]> 0 Fri, 23 Sep 2016 22:13:54 +0000
In a pilot project for UPS, drone delivers the goods Sat, 24 Sep 2016 01:44:36 +0000 ATLANTA — UPS said it has begun testing commercial drone deliveries of urgent packages to remote locations.

The shipping giant, headquartered outside Atlanta, said it is working with drone maker CyPhy Works on testing, which started Thursday with a mock delivery of medicine from Beverly, Massachusetts, to an island 3 miles off the Atlantic coast. UPS’s strategic enterprise fund has invested in CyPhy.

The test delivery of an asthma inhaler to Children’s Island, which can’t be reached by automobile, used a battery-powered drone with night vision and “secure communications that cannot be intercepted or disrupted.”

“We think drones offer a great solution to deliver to hard-to-reach locations in urgent situations where other modes of transportation are not readily available,” said UPS senior vice president of global engineering and sustainability Mark Wallace in a written statement. He added that “tests like these reveal a bridge to the future of customer service and urgent package delivery.”

CyPhy’s founder Helen Greiner said in a written statement that drones can make deliveries to places difficult to reach by “traditional transit infrastructures.” The drone used in the test Thursday is called the Persistent Aerial Reconnaissance and Communications system.

The move comes after new rules from the Federal Aviation Administration took effect last month for commercial use of drones, opening the door to limited use of drones by businesses. UPS Airlines’ director of safety Houston Mills sits on the FAA’s drone advisory committee.

UPS has also been testing the use of drones in warehouses to check high racks, and in efforts to deliver vaccines and blood in Rwanda in partnership with vaccine alliance Gavi.

]]> 0, 23 Sep 2016 21:44:36 +0000
U.S. stocks close lower after 3 days of gains Sat, 24 Sep 2016 01:28:53 +0000 NEW YORK — U.S. stock indexes closed moderately lower on Friday following three days of gains. Several technology stocks traded heavily, including Yahoo, Twitter and Facebook. Energy stocks fell along with a steep decline in the price of oil.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 131.01 points, or 0.7 percent, to 18,261.45. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index lost 12.49 points, or 0.6 percent, to 2,164.69 and the Nasdaq composite index lost 33.78, or 0.6 percent, to 5,305.75.

Stocks posted solid gains this week, with the S&P 500 up 1.2 percent, as investors were relieved that the Federal Reserve decided to keep rates at their current low level. The next time the Fed could raise rates is November, but the general impression among investors is the central bank will not raise rates until December, long after the general election.

Oil prices fell sharply after reports that Saudi Arabia was unable to reach an agreement with Iran to cut production. U.S. benchmark crude oil futures closed down $1.84 to $44.48 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell $1.76 to $45.89 a barrel.

Heating oil fell 5 cents to $1.41 per gallon.

]]> 0 Fri, 23 Sep 2016 21:41:12 +0000
Marriott tops all in rooms at the inns Sat, 24 Sep 2016 01:24:30 +0000 The acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide makes Marriott the world’s largest hotel chain with more than 1 out of 15 hotel rooms globally.

NEW YORK — Several of the best-known names in travel are now united in one hotel company.

Marriott International closed Friday morning on its $13 billion acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, bringing together its Marriott, Courtyard and Ritz Carlton brands with Starwood’s Sheraton, Westin, W and St. Regis properties.

In total, 30 hotel brands now fall under the Marriott umbrella to create the largest hotel chain in the world with more than 5,700 properties and 1.1 million rooms in more than 110 countries. That’s more than 1 out of every 15 hotel rooms around the globe.

Marriott now eclipses Hilton Worldwide’s 773,000 rooms and the 766,000 that are part of the Intercontinental Hotels Group family, according to STR, a firm that tracks hotel data.

“We’ve got an ability to offer just that much more choice. A choice in locations, a choice in the kind of hotel, a choice in the amount a customer needs to spend,” Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson said.

Starwood’s guest loyalty program – Starwood Preferred Guest – was also a “central, strategic rationale for the transaction,” Sorenson said. The program’s members are deeply loyal to it, have generally higher incomes and tend to spend many nights on the road.

“The most important piece of this is the loyalty program,” said. The more choice that guests have, the stronger that program is.

Starting Friday, members of Starwood and Marriott’s two loyalty programs will be able to link their accounts together. Gold elite members in one program will get gold status in the other. Platinum elite members will get platinum in the other. Marriott silver members will get Starwood’s lowest category, Preferred Plus.

Each Starwood point will be worth three Marriott Rewards points.

Starwood put itself up for sale in April 2015. The Stamford, Connecticut, company had struggled to grow as fast as its rivals, particularly in “limited service hotels,” which are smaller properties which don’t have restaurants or banquet halls. They are often located on the side of the highway, near airports or in suburban office parks.

To get Starwood, Marriott had to outbid China’s Anbang Insurance Group. U.S. and European antitrust regulators were quick to approve the sale but the Chinese government hesitated, delaying the sale by months.

“We may have been a little too optimistic about how fast we could get this thing closed,” Sorenson said Thursday.

Marriott and Starwood – like other hotel chains – own very few individual hotels. Instead they manage or franchise their brands to hundreds of individual owners, often real estate development companies. Those individual hotel owners are responsible for setting nightly room rates. It isn’t uncommon for a developer to own a Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt and Sheraton in the same city.

The purchase gives Marriott more leverage with corporate travel departments who often look for one giant chain to house all of their employees. It also gives Marriott more power over Expedia and Priceline, the two giant online travel agencies that sell rooms on behalf of hotel companies in exchange for a commission. The hotel industry has spent the last year trying to get travelers to book directly with them instead of the travel agencies to avoid paying those fees.

There are still many details to work out.

Marriott has thrived as an “asset light” company, owning a handful of hotels. Starwood has been selling off properties, while signing long-term management agreements for those same hotels. As of June 30, it still owned 23 properties. Sorenson said he believes there is a strong market to continue selling off many of those iconic hotels.

“There is always a market for the St. Regis in New York,” he said, adding that other assets in the portfolio have comparable stature. “In great global cities, real estate like that always has a value.”

]]> 0, 23 Sep 2016 21:24:30 +0000
FDA approves lower-cost alternative to drug Humira Sat, 24 Sep 2016 00:45:03 +0000 WASHINGTON — Federal regulators on Friday approved the first alternative version of the second-best selling drug in the world, Humira, the blockbuster injection used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases.

The Food and Drug Administration cleared a near-copy of the drug, dubbed Amjevita, developed by Amgen Inc. Regulators approved the drug for more than a half-dozen conditions listed on the original drug’s label, including severe psoriasis and Crohn’s diseases.

Humira posted sales of nearly $15 billion in 2015 and was for many years the top-selling prescription drug in the world, according to data from IMS Health.

It’s the fourth time that the FDA has formally approved a so-called biosimilar, the industry term for a lower-cost version of a biotech drug. Biosimilar drugs, long available in Europe, are thought to have the potential to generate billions in savings for the U.S. health system.

But currently only one biosimilar cleared by the FDA approval pathway is actually on the market in the U.S.

]]> 0 Fri, 23 Sep 2016 20:45:03 +0000
New Mexico races to reap Facebook boon Sat, 24 Sep 2016 00:42:59 +0000 ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Facebook and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce are using workshops in New Mexico and across the country to attract Latino-owned companies in hopes they use more tools on the social media giant’s platform.

The meeting in Albuquerque on Friday follows a recent announcement by Facebook and elected officials that the company would be investing a quarter-billion dollars in a new data center in New Mexico, the nation’s most Hispanic state.

State officials and business owners have been scrambling to take advantage of the economic windfall expected to come from the data center during construction and once it’s online in 2018.

They’re pushing for more economic diversity in the state with a focus on high-tech industries in hopes of guarding against weak oil and natural gas prices, which have left the state with a large budget deficit.

Facebook selected New Mexico over Utah for the data center after a mini bidding war. The village of Los Lunas, just south of Albuquerque, agreed to give up all property taxes for 30 years in exchange for annual payments starting at $50,000 and topping out at under $500,000.

“It’s a strategic partnership.” New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said Friday.

]]> 0 Fri, 23 Sep 2016 20:42:59 +0000
In Yahoo breach, foreign hackers may be playing ‘long game’ Sat, 24 Sep 2016 00:10:43 +0000 SAN FRANCISCO — If a foreign government is behind the massive computer attack that compromised a half billion user accounts at Yahoo, as the company believes, the breach could be part of a long-term strategy that’s aimed at gathering intelligence rather than getting rich.

Yahoo says the breach involved users’ email addresses, passwords and other information – including birthdates – but not payment card or bank account numbers. Although the stolen data could still be used in financial crimes, such as identity theft, experts say a foreign intelligence agency might combine the Yahoo files with information from other sources to build extensive dossiers on U.S. government or corporate officials in sensitive positions.

“With state-sponsored attacks, it’s not just financial information that’s of value,” said Lance Hoffman, co-director of the Cyberspace Security and Privacy Institute at George Washington University. “In the long run, if the state accumulates a lot of information on you, and especially if it corroborates that with other sources, it can assemble a pretty good profile.”

Governments have also been known to hack email accounts to keep tabs on their own citizens or dissidents. Experts believe that was one motive behind a 2010 hacking of Google Gmail accounts used by Chinese human rights activists.

Yahoo hasn’t revealed the evidence that led it to blame a “state-sponsored actor” for the latest attack, which the Sunnyvale, California, company said occurred two years ago and was discovered only in recent weeks.

Some analysts warn that “state sponsored” can be a vague term. It might also be an easy excuse to deflect blame for a company’s own security lapses, by suggesting it had no hope of defeating hackers who had all the resources of a government intelligence agency behind them, warned Gunter Ollmann, chief security officer at Vectra Networks, a British security firm.

Yahoo declined comment, but its top security official, Bob Lord, has said the company would make that claim only “when we have a high degree of confidence.” In a policy statement last year, Lord also said the company wouldn’t release details about why it believes attacks are state-sponsored because it doesn’t want to risk disclosing its methods of investigating breaches.

This wouldn’t be the first time that governments were implicated in high-profile hacking attacks.

U.S. officials have hinted that China might be to blame for a 2015 breach at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, in which background files and even fingerprints of millions of federal employees were stolen. China denied any official involvement. More recently, news reports say U.S. intelligence officials have blamed Russian spies for the hack of Democratic National Committee files, although Russia’s government has also denied this.

Some security experts believe the OPM attack was carried out by the same hackers who also stole data files from large U.S. insurance and health-care companies in 2014 and 2015. It may have been part of an effort to gather sensitive or compromising information to blackmail or coerce individuals working at a variety of federal agencies.

Hackers could also use such personal information to concoct bogus emails and send them to a person’s Yahoo account, in what might be a sophisticated “phishing” scheme aimed at getting the target to click on a link containing “spyware” or other malicious computer code.

“They’d have the ability to conduct targeted phishing attacks against individuals with potentially valuable information, without going through their government email accounts,” said Tim Erlin, senior director of security and risk strategy at Tripwire, a cyber-security firm.

Similarly, governments might want to target executives at multi-national corporations, especially if they’re competing with companies based in the country that sponsored the attacks. In such cases, intelligence officials might share useful commercial secrets with their home-grown industries, said Jeremiah Grossman, an official at SentinelOne, a Silicon Valley computer security firm. He noted that the 2010 attack on Google was blamed on Chinese hackers who also targeted U.S. companies outside the tech industry.

In any event, security experts warn that the Yahoo breach could still put ordinary users at risk, particularly if the hacked information finds its way to online marketplaces where stolen data are bought and sold. Many people use the same email address and password for a variety of online services, where they might also have provided financial information such as credit card numbers. And hackers with access to a Yahoo email account could try to reset passwords for other services, if a user registered for those accounts with a Yahoo address.

]]> 0 Fri, 23 Sep 2016 21:16:14 +0000
‘Even better than the Super Bowl’: Maryland expects $20 million boost from Miss World pageant Fri, 23 Sep 2016 23:55:56 +0000 For the first time in its 65-year history, the Miss World pageant is coming to the United States.

Its destination: The Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, just across the river from the nation’s capital, where contestants from 140 countries will compete for a gilded crown, bringing in an estimated $20 million to the local economy.

“This is even better than the Super Bowl,” said Jim Coleman, president and chief executive of the Prince George’s County Economic Development Corp., which has been lobbying for the event for nearly a year. “This is a huge win for our county.”

The pageant will culminate in a grand finale at Gaylord National on Dec. 18.

For a sporting event like the Super Bowl, Coleman said local governments would have had to offer large tax breaks and other concessions to attract athletes and attendees for a one-day event.

The pageant required no such incentives, Coleman said, and has a much broader reach.

“We’re talking about five days of nonstop exposure,” said Coleman, who served as a judge at this year’s Miss World America competition at the Gaylord National in July. “How many other events get you that kind of international impact? If we had to pay for this amount of advertising, it would’ve cost us half a billion dollars.”

Coleman expects the contestants to contribute between $5 million and $8 million to the county during their stay. (”If we can get them to the Tanger Outlets, that could mean another $1.5 million to $2 million,” he said, referring to the nearby outlet mall.)

Coleman said he is in talks with Miss World organizers to host the pageant at the Gaylord National for another three years.

In addition to the usual line-up – the talent show, a fitness assessment and interview rounds – participants will also have to present a charitable project and take part in a multimedia challenge to show “a deep understanding of all forms of media,” including Facebook, Twitter and television news. The pageant nixed its swimsuit competition two years ago.

]]> 0 Fri, 23 Sep 2016 19:55:56 +0000
Effort to close Maine’s last open lobster zone advances Fri, 23 Sep 2016 23:44:45 +0000 A local lobster zone council’s effort to restrict access for newcomers into the state’s busiest lobster hub advanced Friday when the state’s top marine official cleared the way for the proposal to move forward.

Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher determined that a Sept. 8 vote of the Lobster Zone C Council to require a lobsterman in Zone C to give up his license before a new license can be issued to someone else meets the department’s legal standards to consider rule changes, according to a notice released late Friday afternoon.

The council oversees lobster fishing off the areas of Stonington, Isle au Haut and Vinalhaven, waters generally considered to be the center of the state’s lobster industry. The roughly 300-boat fleet in Zone C drives the regional economy.

The change, referred to as a 1:1 exit-to-entry ratio, passed on a 6-1 vote of the council at its meeting in September. Licensed lobstermen in the zone were surveyed this summer about whether they wanted to restrict access to the fishery or continue to keep it open. Those who participated in the survey overwhelmingly voted to restrict access.

Once language of the new rule is written, it will be published and then followed by a public hearing in Zone C this fall.

After the public hearing, Keliher can choose to send the matter to the DMR Advisory Council, which can vote to adopt the new rule or not.

Deirdre Gilbert, director of marine policy for the DMR, said the rule-making process generally takes about 90 days.

If the council votes to uphold the rule change, the new rule will take effect in April. If it does not, Zone C, which was temporarily closed to outsiders while the council considered changing its entry rules, will reopen this winter, said Gilbert.

The coastal waters of Maine are split into seven fishing zones, lettered A through G, that stretch from the Canadian Maritimes to the New Hampshire border. Lobstermen must do 1,000 hours of training over 200 days as an apprentice to a licensed lobsterman from the zone where they live and will fish before they can apply for a state license. In all but eastern Penobscot Bay, or Zone C, apprentices wait years for a spot to open up.

At the time of the vote, council member Robert Ray said he felt bad for apprentices who had nearly completed their requirements, but said the closure had to take place because so many people were taking advantage of Zone C and its no-wait system, moving in from out of town and dropping traps and competing for ocean bottom with locals who had fished the waters for years.

Nearly three out of four lobstermen who participated in the referendum voted to restrict access.

]]> 2 Fri, 23 Sep 2016 20:27:11 +0000
Heir-tracing firm pleads not guilty to charge of conspiring on prices Fri, 23 Sep 2016 23:44:19 +0000 SALT LAKE CITY — A Salt Lake City company specializing in the little-known business of tracking down heirs to unclaimed inheritances pleaded not guilty Friday in a federal antitrust case that’s part of a wider U.S. Department of Justice probe into the industry.

Kemp & Associates is accused of conspiring with fellow heir-tracking companies for more than 14 years so the firms wouldn’t have to compete with each other and driving up costs for heirs who are rightly entitled to the money.

The company and executive Daniel Mannix have denied any wrongdoing. Their lawyers contend the firm provides an important service for people who wouldn’t otherwise know about estates they are entitled to, often from long-lost relatives.

Mannix and the company are each facing one antitrust count. Each defendant could face a fine of up to $1 million or twice the loss to the victims. Mannix could face up to 10 years in prison.

A two-week trial was set for late November, though that’s expected to be delayed because of the complexity of the case.

The industry defends its practices, saying it has helped heirs secure millions of dollars in inheritances. Companies like Kemp employ workers who sift through probate filings in search of people who have recently died and who may have missing or unknown heirs.

Using court records, genealogical documents and other public data, they track down whomever would be the beneficiaries, then reach out to them and offer to help them document their connection to the deceased and claim the money that would otherwise go to the state.

If they’re successful, the company collects a fee.

The firms typically withhold details like the name of the deceased or the amount of the inheritance until after they secure a contract.

Though the companies stand behind their business practices, they also tacitly acknowledge their calls can raise eyebrows. Firms’ websites include frequently-asked-question sections with rhetorical queries like “How do I know this is legitimate?” and “Is this some type of scam?” along with answers meant to reassure potential customers their methods are sound.

The probe led by Chicago prosecutors has resulted in plea deals with a California company and two executives. Prosecutors say Kemp and Mannix colluded with one those executives.

The charges allege the companies worked together so they wouldn’t have to compete with each other to offer the best price or service.

If two firms were trying to sign the same long-lost heir, one company might agree to back off in exchange for part of the fees, prosecutors said in court documents. If there were multiple heirs to a single unclaimed estate, the firms would split up the relatives so everyone got part of the revenue, the charging documents state.

]]> 1 Fri, 23 Sep 2016 21:43:00 +0000
McDonald’s tries adding Happy Meals to breakfast menu Fri, 23 Sep 2016 23:41:08 +0000 NEW YORK — McDonald’s is considering another addition to its all-day breakfast menu: Happy Meals.

The fast-food chain says it will begin testing breakfast Happy Meals in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Monday. The Happy Meals come with either two McGriddles cakes or an egg and cheese McMuffin. McDonald’s said the latter option is the same size as a regular Egg McMuffin, except without the slice of Canadian bacon or butter.

McDonald’s Corp., based in Oak Brook, Illinois, has been trying to win back customers since CEO Steve Easterbrook took over last year and said he wanted to transform it into a “modern, progressive” burger company. The company had conceded that it failed to keep up with changing tastes, with sales slumping in recent years.

One of the company’s biggest moves since Easterbrook took over was the rollout of an all-day breakfast menu in the U.S. last fall. It’s not clear what effect the addition is having. Although U.S. sales have been up at established locations in the last four quarters, McDonald’s hasn’t said how much of that has come from an uptick in customer visits, versus factors such as higher pricing.

McDonald’s is known for getting more business from families with children relative to its traditional rivals, such as Burger King and Wendy’s.

The company said the McGriddles cakes in the Happy Meals have 240 calories, and the egg and cheese McMuffin has 260 calories. The Happy Meals also come with apples, yogurt or hash browns. In the afternoon and evenings, fries are also an option.

If the test is successful and goes national, it would be the first new entree for the Happy Meal in more than 30 years, said McDonald’s spokeswoman Becca Hary. The test of breakfast Happy Meals was first reported by USA Today.

]]> 1, 23 Sep 2016 19:41:08 +0000
Fast-charging kiosks for electric cars open at five Hannaford stores Fri, 23 Sep 2016 18:26:11 +0000 High-speed electric vehicle charging stations have opened at five Hannaford supermarkets in Maine, following a model that has been used in other parts of the country to expand the network of charging stations and the use of electric vehicles.

The fast chargers can significantly power up an electric car in 20 minutes, compared with the hours it takes at home or at less powerful public chargers. Siting charge kiosks at Hannaford gives customers the option to recharge their cars while they buy groceries, said Barry Woods, director of Electric Mobility NE, an electric vehicle advocacy group, at an event Friday to open the chargers.

“You should see Hannaford as your new corner gas station,” Woods said. “This metal box will help us all charge into the future.”

The stations were installed in a partnership among Hannaford, EVgo, which installs and owns the stations, and Nissan. The automaker produces the Leaf electric vehicle and has been promoting sales by offering two years of free, fast charging to new Leaf owners.

The chargers are at the Hannaford stores in Portland on Forest Avenue, South Portland at the Maine Mall, Topsham, York and Augusta. Hannaford’s corporate headquarters in Scarborough and its store in Camden also have chargers.

The stations are part of an effort to establish faster, more powerful charging stations across the country to serve consumers with electric vehicles, and to encourage others to consider buying the environmentally friendly vehicles. Supermarket locations have been springing up in places like Texas, where Whole Foods established a charging station in Austin in 2010. Kroger, one of the nation’s biggest grocery chains, has about 300 charging stations sprinkled throughout locations in California, Oregon, Arizona, Texas and Washington.

At the Hannaford locations, customers can pay for their vehicle’s electricity with a credit card or a monthly EVgo subscription. The stations use both SAE connectors, used by most American and European car models, and CHAdeMO plugs, used by Asian brands. Tesla vehicles will be able to charge at the station using an adapter. Pricing for a charge varies depending on whether someone is a pay-as-you-go customer or has a subscription plan.

As of November 2015, there were about 142 of the most popular electric vehicles – the Leaf, Tesla Model S and BMW i-series – registered in Maine, mostly in the southern part of the state.

A full charge will power a new Leaf about 107 miles, while a Chevy Spark will go about 82 miles and the BMW EV will go about 114 miles.

Sen. Angus King, speaking at the event Friday, said electric transportation powered by renewable energy is essential to cut greenhouse gas emissions and curb the effect of climate change.

“The point is, we have to do something about this,” King said. “This is the pathway from the new energy future to the consumer.”

Hannaford’s kiosks add to a growing number of fast charging stations in Maine and the U.S., and support the slowly increasing market for electric vehicles. Tesla installed a supercharging station in Augusta last year and there are dozens of lower-powered private charging stations across the state.

The high-speed chargers could form the backbone for planned electric vehicle corridors linking Maine and Quebec, Woods said. Making fast chargers available like gas stations could also overcome the “range anxiety” that prevents people from buying electric vehicles because they worry they won’t travel as far as they want. Those worries are mostly a perception issue, Woods said, adding that as electric vehicle technology gets better, ranges and battery life will be extended significantly.

“The fast chargers show vehicles can be charged much more quickly and maintain a functionality and distance that is a lot more what the average American is used to,” Woods said.

“It gets people to think and talk about it, and while they are doing that, the vehicles are rapidly improving.”


]]> 77, 23 Sep 2016 23:33:24 +0000
Bath Iron Works to eliminate 160 positions in engineering, support services Fri, 23 Sep 2016 16:04:11 +0000 Bath Iron Works announced Friday it will lay off 30 workers and eliminate a total of 160 positions in its engineering and support organizations “as part of ongoing efforts to be more affordable,” according to a statement Friday.

In addition to the 30 layoffs, the remaining reductions will come through retirements, transfers, resignations and canceled job postings.

“We regret the impact this will have on employees and their families,” the company said in the statement.

Spokesman Matt Wickenheiser said the cuts are not related to the recent loss of an estimated $10.5 billion contract to build new cutters for the Coast Guard, which was decided just last week.

With more than 5,500 workers, BIW is one of Maine’s largest private employers.

“These reductions are a result of our ongoing efforts to reduce costs companywide,” Wickenheiser said.

]]> 33, 24 Sep 2016 15:06:44 +0000
Maine’s lobster exports going full steam, with Asian market growing Fri, 23 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Maine’s lobster industry is on pace for its best year ever, having sold $103 million worth of lobster abroad in the first half of 2016.

That’s more than twice as much as the $48.3 million it sold over the same period in 2015, and is even better than in 2014, when Maine had sold $54.7 million worth of lobster by July and ended the year with a record $365.5 million in foreign sales.

State trade officials credit this year’s 113 percent jump in midyear exports to huge growth in Canadian sales, which is basically Maine helping to fill its neighbor’s global orders, and a 43 percent growth in exports to China.

That success isn’t a coincidence, said Jeff Bennett, a senior trade specialist at the Maine International Trade Center. While the industry has enjoyed record catches over the past few years, that alone doesn’t equal higher exports.

Maine lobster rolls for sale in Beijing.

Maine lobster rolls for sale in Beijing.

“The fishery itself has worked hard to establish itself as a sustainable one, and that goes a long way with consumers and buyers,” Bennett said. “And the dealers have really knocked themselves out building the Asian market.”

The growth in the Chinese market has been remarkable. In 2010, Maine exported just $100,000 worth of lobsters to China. Last year, Maine sold $20 million in lobsters to China and another $5.8 million to Hong Kong.

“That is remarkable growth in such a short time,” Bennett said. “It’s all because of the dealers. It was an unfamiliar species to the Chinese, and the dealers had to educate them, in person, over time. Now it’s the future of the industry.”

Annie Tselikis, executive director of the Maine Lobster Dealers’ Association and spokesman for Maine Coast Co. in York, said Maine exporters laid the foundation for this Asian growth more than a decade ago.

“This export business did not happen overnight,” Tselikis said. “Many lobster companies invest considerable resources in attending trade shows around the world in places like Boston, Brussels, Hong Kong, Qingdao and Busan.”


A decade ago, John and Brendan Ready had just entered the business, ready to use their business degrees to turn the lobstering they had learned on an uncle’s boat into a career. The 20-somethings wanted a global strategy.

Though lobster was huge in Maine, the state crustacean represented a tiny slice of the world diet, John Ready said. They believed the big money was to be found overseas.

At the time, most established lobster dealers were happy to sell domestically, with some exports heading to Europe, Maine’s biggest overseas market. But as the world economy slowed, Europe’s lobster market quickly dried up.

The Readys already had started to export. They had made the jump to a 24-hour Portland operation, with a driver hauling truckloads of lobster to John F. Kennedy International Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport every night and salesmen prepared to sell all night to different time zones.

Making the jump to Asia was risky, but it has paid off tenfold, Ready said.

“It’s about logistics for us as much as lobsters now,” Ready said. “That is where you make your margin. At the heart of it, it’s about the lobster, of course, its taste and its story, but getting it there, keeping it fresh, that’s our business.”

1072511_506429 LobsterMap0916.jpg

They expanded their sales force, got their Portland operation certified for direct exporting and built a processing plant in Scarborough to minimize the financial hit when their Asian-bound lobsters don’t make it on to overcrowded flights.

That missed Asian flight? Happens at least once a week, even now, Ready said.

The amount of travel required was staggering, Ready said. His brother, Brendan, spent more time overseas than he did stateside that first year they entered the Asian market, he said. He spent $100,000 in airfare alone.

Ready spends as much money now entertaining Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai customers here in Maine, selling them the Maine lobster experience to build customer loyalty.

When Ready first started, they sold 100,000 pounds of lobster a year. Now, there are some nights when they sell that much to Asia in one night. And Chinese New Year, once Ready’s slowest time of the year, is now its busiest.


While the dealers have led the way, Maine International Trade Center has done its part to promote the brand. It led a trade mission to Shanghai and Tokyo last October, bringing along several lobster dealers.

Of course, lobster, from tails to rolls, was the highlight of every reception.

Although Asia’s appetite for lobster is on the rise, it’s not always Maine lobster. The trade data show that midyear sales to Korea are down 54 percent this year from last year at the same time, and 2015 Korean sales are down 61 percent.

Korean importers who had developed a taste for Maine lobster a few years ago, driving a sudden spike in exports, are now buying their lobster from Canada, which is the same species but landed a few hundred miles to the north, Bennett said. That shift follows the completion of U.S. and Canadian free trade deals, he said.

In 2012, the U.S. negotiated its trade deal with Korea, eliminating tariffs and duties and making our lobster much cheaper than Canada’s, Bennett said. That advantage faded in 2015 when Canada signed its own Korean trade deal.

Despite the uncertainty of a possible ban of live lobster exports to the European Union, state trade officials believe the European market is slowly starting to turn around after near collapse during the global recession a decade ago.


]]> 6, 23 Sep 2016 09:51:33 +0000
Sweden and Maine lobster: A love-hate relationship Fri, 23 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Halfway through 2016, the large importer that has increased its spending on Maine lobsters the most is none other than Sweden, the nation leading an effort to ban them from being imported to Europe.

By July 2016, Sweden had bought $570,711 worth of American lobsters from Maine, a 523 percent increase from the $91,527 it had spent by the same time the year before. By the end of 2015, it had bought $761,017 worth of Maine lobsters.

Japan saw its appetite for imported Maine lobster grow faster than Sweden’s, at 645 percent, but it was a much smaller market, importing less than half what Sweden usually does, or has done so far this year.

Most of the Maine lobster imported to Sweden this year has been alive.

In its bid to label the American lobster as an invasive species, which would trigger the ban of live imports, Sweden has emphasized that the bid wouldn’t kill the American market, just switch it over to a cooked, canned or frozen one.

Jeff Bennett, a special trade representative at Maine International Trade Center, said he didn’t know why Swedish lobster imports had skyrocketed, or if it had anything to do with the possibility of an EU ban.

“The Swedish government may not want our lobster there, but the Swedish chef obviously wants it on their menu and the Swedish consumer obviously wants it on their plate,” Bennett said. “More now than ever before.”

]]> 1 Fri, 23 Sep 2016 08:25:29 +0000
Wells Fargo CEO resigns position on Fed advisory body Fri, 23 Sep 2016 02:02:27 +0000 Wells Fargo’s embattled CEO is resigning his position on the Federal Reserve’s advisory council amid a scandal over millions of accounts allegedly opened by the bank without customers’ permission.

The San Francisco Fed said Thursday that John Stumpf is giving up his position as representative from the central bank’s San Francisco region on the advisory council.

Wells Fargo spokeswoman Jennifer Dunn said the move was a personal decision by Stumpf, saying that his top priority is leading the San Francisco-based bank.

The announcement came two days after Stumpf faced bipartisan outrage from a Senate panel over the alleged misconduct, believed to have gone on at the second-largest U.S. bank for years. Some 5,300 employees were fired.

Wells Fargo was fined $185 million by U.S. and California regulators earlier this month.

]]> 5 Fri, 23 Sep 2016 08:54:36 +0000
Mortgage rates drop, nearing an all-time low Fri, 23 Sep 2016 00:55:00 +0000 WASHINGTON — Long-term U.S. mortgage rates edged lower this week.

Mortgage giant Freddie Mac said Thursday the average for the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage declined to 3.48 percent from 3.50 percent last week. The benchmark rate is down from 3.86 percent a year ago, and is close to its all-time low of 3.31 percent in November 2012.

The 15-year fixed mortgage rate eased to 2.76 percent from 2.77 percent.

Prices of long-term U.S. Treasury bonds rose, pushing their yields lower, as investors awaited the decision of the Federal Reserve Wednesday on interest rates. The Fed kept its key interest rate unchanged but signaled that it likely will raise rates before year’s end. Long-term mortgage rates tend to track the yield on 10-year Treasury notes.

The yield on the 10-year notes fell to 1.66 percent Wednesday from 1.70 percent a week earlier. It declined further to 1.63 percent Thursday morning.

Though mortgage rates have been at historically low levels, data issued Thursday showed that Americans retreated from home-buying in August, as a worsening inventory shortage appears to be hurting sales and pushing prices higher.

Sales of existing homes slipped 0.9 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.33 million, the second straight monthly decline, according to the National Association of Real- tors.

Low mortgage rates have combined with an improved job market to bolster demand from possible buyers. But drastically fewer sellers are coming into the market. The number of properties for sale is dwindling despite buyer enthusiasm.

To calculate average mortgage rates, Freddie Mac surveys lenders across the country at the beginning of each week. The average doesn’t include extra fees, known as points, which most borrowers must pay to get the lowest rates. One point equals 1 percent of the loan amount.

The average fee for a 30-year mortgage rose to 0.6 point this week from 0.5 point last week. The fee for a 15-year loan was unchanged at 0.5 point.

Rates on adjustable five-year mortgages averaged 2.80 percent, down from 2.82 percent last week. The fee increased to 0.5 point from 0.4 point.

]]> 0 Thu, 22 Sep 2016 20:55:00 +0000
Study finds millennials are not that entrepreneurial Fri, 23 Sep 2016 00:28:23 +0000 Forty-four percent believe staying with one company is best for their career; only 22 percent want to start a business.

We often think of millennials as the “startup generation” – apt to jump from job to job in pursuit of the next cool technology or popular idea. In an article published on on Monday, Hillary Clinton called millennials “the most open, diverse and entrepreneurial generation in our country’s history.”

Millennials are certainly diverse, and they tend to be socially liberal. But a new nationwide poll carried out by EY, a professional services company, and the Economic Innovation Group, a policy and advocacy group, suggests that the generation of Americans who are now between the age of 18 and 34 really are not that entrepreneurial – a finding that is troubling for the future of the U.S. economy.

In fact, a plurality of the 1,200 millennials surveyed – 44 percent of them – said that they think the best way to advance in their career is to stay with one company. Twenty-five percent said moving from job to job at different companies was the best way, and 22 percent said starting your own company was the best plan. Among all racial and gender groups, black women were the only ones who thought starting a company was the best path to success.

“Millennials are on track to be the least entrepreneurial generation on record, and that has huge implications for our economy going forward,” said John Lettieri, co-founder and senior director for policy and strategy at EIG.

In an interview, Lettieri and others from EY and EIG pointed out that, unfortunately, the millennials who chose the one-company career path are probably wrong. It’s widely acknowledged that moving from job to job at different companies tends to be an easier way to move up the corporate ladder today than staying with one company.

Survey data suggest that millennials might also be unaware of their own lack of entrepreneurship. In the poll, 72 percent of the millennials agreed that entrepreneurship and start-ups are essential to the national economy. They overwhelmingly described working for a start-up as a sign of success. They also described their generation as more entrepreneurial than previous generations – but the data suggest otherwise.

Many millennials describe starting a business as personally out of reach, often for financial reasons. The reasons are no mystery. The generation is clearly struggling with low wages, heavy student debt and a grim economy, all of which have pushed them into deeply risk-averse career paths. Compared with Gen Xers, millennials are more educated, make less money and are more likely to be unemployed.

“When you’re pessimistic and distrustful as a generation, you tend to do things that make you poorer as an economy. Choosing those risk-averse paths, because they’re the ones with potentially the least downside, also caps your ability to grow,” Lettieri says.

Cathy Koch, Americas tax policy leader at EY, says the story has a silver lining: If given the kind of economic climate to start a business, millennials appear to have the attitude, the education and the skills to succeed. “This generation is very hard-working. They’re willing to move to get a better job,” she says. “They have a lot of the qualities that will enable them to do what it takes when the opportunity presents itself.”

Overall, the picture the survey gives of millennials is much more traditional than popular wisdom often suggests. Millennials appear to be heavily patriotic: 84 percent say they are proud to be an American, with Hispanic males most likely to agree with that statement. While they are distrustful of institutions like banks, corporate America, the federal government and the news media, millennials put great confidence in the military, the survey shows. They are also already deeply worried about retirement. More than 70 percent said they worried some or a lot about not having enough money to live on when they retired and about whether Social Security will exist in their older years.

Sadly, most millennials now think their standard of living will not be better than their parents’. Whites are most likely to agree with that statement, with about half of African Americans and 45 percent of Hispanics saying their living standard will be better.

Steve Glickman, co-founder and executive director of EIG, says this economic dissatisfaction has meant that the millennial vote is still essentially up for grabs in the election.

“A big reason they are uncomfortable with politics is they are uncomfortable with the personal state of their economics.” Millennials are trying to do everything society tells them to get ahead, he says – get educated, work hard, move if they need to move. “But they’re finding those decisions more and more difficult. That, coupled with the increased debt, means they have less and less opportunity.”

]]> 0 Thu, 22 Sep 2016 20:55:40 +0000
New El Rayo Taqueria opens in downtown Portland Thu, 22 Sep 2016 21:53:36 +0000 The new El Rayo Taqueria at 26 Free St. is now open and serving breakfast burritos and other casual Mexican fare.

The restaurant is the new incarnation of the popular Mexican restaurant on York Street that closed almost exactly a year ago. The previous El Rayo was near the Casco Bay Bridge in a refurbished gas station painted in bright colors, and had lots of picnic tables for outdoor seating. The restaurant had to move because the property owner, J.B. Brown & Sons, moved ahead with its plan to build a five-story commercial and residential building and a two-story parking garage on the site.

The new El Rayo is in the former location of Papier, a card and stationery store. It has a 14-foot-high ceiling, a bar and a deck. For now, the restaurant is serving breakfast and lunch only, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. A dinner menu will be added soon, according to the owners.

Tod Dana, a co-owner of the restaurant, has said there will be no major changes to the menu, except to add breakfast burritos and more quick-serve options such as soups and salads for downtown workers looking for a fast meal.

A larger El Rayo is at 245 Route 1 in Scarborough.

]]> 15 Fri, 23 Sep 2016 08:24:39 +0000
Yahoo says hackers stole personal data of 500 million users Thu, 22 Sep 2016 18:50:18 +0000 SAN FRANCISCO – Computer hackers swiped personal information from at least 500 million Yahoo accounts in what is believed to be the biggest digital break-in at an email provider.

The massive security breakdown disclosed Thursday poses new headaches for beleaguered Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer as she scrambles to close a $4.8 billion sale to Verizon .

The breach dates back to late 2014, raising questions about the checks and balances within Yahoo – a fallen internet star that has been laying off staff and trimming expenses to counter a steep drop in revenue during the past eight years.

At the time of the break-in, Yahoo’s security team was led by Alex Stamos, a respected industry executive who left last year to take a similar job at Facebook.


Yahoo didn’t explain what took so long to uncover a heist that it blamed on a “state-sponsored actor” – parlance for a hacker working on behalf of a foreign government.

The Sunnyvale, California, company declined to explain how it reached its conclusions about the attack for security reasons, but said it is working with the FBI and other law enforcement. Yahoo began investigating a possible breach in July, around the time the tech site Motherboard reported that a hacker who uses the name “Peace” was trying to sell account information belonging to 200 million Yahoo users.

Yahoo didn’t find evidence of that reported hack, but additional digging later uncovered a far larger, allegedly state-sponsored attack.

“We take these types of breaches very seriously and will determine how this occurred and who is responsible,” the FBI said in a Thursday statement.


The Yahoo theft represents the accounts ever stolen from a single email provider, according to computer security analyst Avivah Litan with the technology research firm Gartner Inc.

“It’s a shocking number,” Litan said. “This is a pretty big deal that is probably going to cost them tens of millions of dollars. Regulators and lawyers are going to have a field day with this one.”

Yahoo says it has more than 1 billion monthly users, although it hasn’t disclosed how many of those people have email accounts. In July, 161 million people worldwide used Yahoo email on personal computers, a 30 percent decline from the same time in 2014, according to the latest data from the research firm comScore.

The data stolen from Yahoo includes users’ names, email addresses, telephone numbers, birth dates, scrambled passwords, and the security questions – and answers – used to verify an accountholder’s identity. The company said the attacker didn’t get any information about its users’ bank accounts or credit and debit cards.

Security experts say the Yahoo theft could hurt the affected users if their personal information is mined to break into other online services or used for identity theft. All affected users will be notified about the theft and advised how to protect themselves, according to the company.

Yahoo also is recommending that all users change their passwords if they haven’t done so since 2014. If the same password is used to access other sites, it should be changed too, along with any security questions similar to those used on Yahoo.


News of the security lapse could cause some people to have second thoughts about relying on Yahoo’s services, raising a prickly issue for the company as it tries to sell its digital operations to Verizon.

That deal, announced two months ago, isn’t supposed to close until early next year. That leaves Verizon with wiggle room to renegotiate the purchase price or even back out if it believes the security breach will harm Yahoo’s business. That could happen if users shun Yahoo or file lawsuits because they’re incensed by the theft of their personal information.

Verizon said it still doesn’t know enough about the Yahoo break-in to assess the potential consequences. “We will evaluate as the investigation continues through the lens of overall Verizon interests, including consumers, customers, shareholders and related communities,” the company said in a statement.


At the very least, Verizon is going to need more time to assess what it will be getting into if it proceeds with its plans to take over Yahoo, said Scott Vernick, an attorney specializing in data security for the law firm Fox Rothschild.

“This is going to slow things down. There is going to be a lot of blood, sweat and tears shed on this” Vernick said. “A buyer needs to understand the cybersecurity strengths and weaknesses of its target these days.”

Investors evidently aren’t nervous about the Verizon deal unraveling yet. Yahoo’s stock added a penny Thursday to close at $44.15. But the Verizon sale represents a sliver of Yahoo’s total market value, which primarily consists of a stake in Chinese e-commerce leader Alibaba Group currently worth $42 billion.

AP Technology Writer Bree Fowler in New York contributed to this story.

]]> 16, 22 Sep 2016 19:24:41 +0000
Sales of single-family Maine homes rise a healthy 10.8 percent Thu, 22 Sep 2016 18:39:18 +0000 The sale of single-family homes in Maine continued to increase both in the volume of transactions and in price last month.

The Maine Association of Realtors said sales of existing homes in August increased 10.78 percent over the same month last year, while the median sales price ticked up 5.35 percent to $197,000. A total of 1,840 Maine homes changed hands last month.

“Maine’s real estate market, overall, is healthy due to continued buyer confidence and very low interest rates,” Ed Gardner, president of the Maine Association of Realtors, said in a release.

Nationally, single-family home sales rose only 0.6 percent, while in New England it was 6.1 percent. The national median sales price was $242,200, a 5.3 percent increase over August 2015, and in New England it rose 0.8 percent to $274,100.

Gardner, who is an owner/broker of Ocean Gate Realty in Portland, said business has been brisk across multiple residential markets.

“We are experiencing movement in all segments of the market, including seasonal properties and land parcels,” he said. “Real estate continues to be a great long-term financial investment – and quality of life investment. We expect markets to remain steady as households and investors take advantage of the tax incentives for real estate ownership through the end of the year.”

]]> 4, 22 Sep 2016 21:39:33 +0000
Business groups say Maine’s workforce needs more immigrants Thu, 22 Sep 2016 16:52:37 +0000 When Sigco, a Westbrook metal and glass fabricating company, learned that it could find the workers it needed to grow in southern Maine’s immigrant communities, it had to develop its own pipeline to steer refugees, asylum seekers and other new Americans to its plant.

Cindy Caplice, the company’s human resources manager, said she developed contacts in Portland’s adult education system, where many of the immigrants were taking English classes. She spoke to students and teachers and learned insights that made the hiring process easier, from ascertaining the level of English proficiency of the immigrants – many of them from Africa and Vietnam – to knowing that most immigrants would need to learn to convert centimeters to inches to work in her shop.

Caplice said the effort has been an unqualified success for her company at a time when Maine’s very low unemployment rate – 4.0 percent in August – makes it hard for many employers to find the workers they need. The company, with 273 employees, had about 20 vacancies last year at this time, she said. Now, there are two.

“Employers have got to just figure out how to train people and how to find them and how to make it work,” she said.


Caplice’s initiatives will need to be replicated by other businesses to address Maine’s increasingly tight labor pool, according to a report released Thursday by the Maine Development Foundation and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. Earlier this year, Coastal Enterprises Inc. also issued a report on the importance of recruiting immigrants, and in August, a coalition of business and economic development leaders backed immigration reform as a way to address workforce shortages.

The MDF/chamber report said the state’s aging population is creating a smaller workforce that already is restricting economic growth by making it hard for employers to fill vacant jobs. The two groups called for setting a statewide goal to attract more immigrants to Maine, and expanding efforts to help them integrate into society and the workplace.

Immigrants are only a small fraction of Maine’s population: 3.5 percent of Mainers are foreign-born, according to a U.S. Census Bureau survey cited in the report, while 13.1 percent of the U.S. population is foreign-born.

Dana Connors, president of the Maine state chamber, said the impact of immigrants on the economy will grow dramatically. He said 83 percent of the growth in the U.S. workforce between 2000 and 2050 will be immigrants and their children.

“We need to make sure that we are tapping into this same pool of talent,” he said at a news conference in Augusta.

Caplice said the lack of an established or obvious way to find immigrant workers shouldn’t preclude employers from making the effort. The report backs up that assertion.

The state’s demographics – an aging population where thousands are retiring every year, without an influx of new workers to replace them – create a ripple effect of negatives for the broader economy, the report said, leading to “lower tax revenue, greater demands on services, smaller school populations, and a smaller, less dynamic workforce.”

It noted that Maine’s labor force grew by 40 percent from 1980 to 2010, but is expected to decline in the future as more baby boomers retire and young people continue to leave the state. The state’s workforce is projected to drop from 696,000 in 2014 to 689,700 in 2024, the report states, exacerbating an already tight market for workers.

“We are largely missing out on the potential contributions of another large population (group) that is helping to drive workforce and economic growth in other regions,” the report said. “Attracting people from beyond our borders is vital to our state. Helping new arrivals participate fully in our economy is good for Maine and good for them, and can help make us a more attractive destination for the others we need to attract.”


The two groups avoided assessing blame for the state’s failure to attract new residents, although some members of Maine’s immigrant community have complained recently that Gov. Paul LePage’s negative comments about asylum seekers and refugees are creating an unwelcoming atmosphere for immigrants.

LePage said asylum seekers are “the biggest problem in the state” and are bringing diseases to Maine. He has proposed a review of “refugee-related” state programs, mocked a Chinese business executive’s name, and joked that having Indian and European workers in the state’s restaurants during the summer made ordering a meal difficult.

LePage also is backing Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who has made tightening immigration procedures in response to terrorism fears a key feature of his campaign.

LePage’s office did not respond to a request for comment Thursday. The governor has not spoken with the Press Herald since vowing Aug. 31 to never speak to the media again.

Both Connors and Yellow Light Breen, president of the Maine Development Foundation, avoided directly criticizing LePage for his comments, but said they hope the divisive tone of immigration discussions in this political season will ease.

The report’s focus on the need to find new workers, whether they’re immigrants or established Americans who move to Maine, should be enough of a message for politicians to get, Connors said.

“We’re hoping our actions will speak as loud as our words,” he said.

The report sidestepped politics, but noted that the popular Maine phrase for non-natives – people “from away” – is used to reflect pride in the state. But to those who weren’t born in Maine, it’s “an unnecessary and damaging division, implying those from elsewhere can never truly be a part of our state’s social fabric and economy.” The report also points out “many Mainers are themselves ‘from away,’ or are descendants of people who came ‘from away.’ “

The report also noted that immigrants can provide a vital spark to an economy – for instance, they start businesses at twice the rate of native-born entrepreneurs and represent an important market domestically while providing connections to overseas markets. Some Maine-based organizations, such as the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, have successfully recruited internationally. The lab, which uses the assistance of an immigration lawyer, has 16 senior scientists on staff from five countries.


In addition to setting a goal that “explicitly connects population growth to economic development,” the report calls for creating a group of business leaders to attract new Mainers, and says industry groups should look at addressing workforce issues related to the specific skills needed in their businesses.

In addition, the report says that programs to assist immigrants and migrants to the state should be funded adequately, that efforts should be made to ensure new residents are engaged in the economy and workforce, and that efforts to provide English language training should be expanded. It also calls on the state to examine and possibly replicate programs that reverse population losses in other states and regions.

Ryan Neale, a program director with MDF, pointed to Portland’s New Mainers Resource Center as an example that should be followed in other parts of the state.

The program, created by the Legislature three years ago and run by Portland’s Adult Education program, offers a spectrum of services, from English language classes to programs to help those with advanced degrees from overseas institutions transfer their knowledge and experience to jobs in the U.S.

Neale said the need for new workers is so important that Maine’s outreach to immigrants has to span those with a higher education and those with fewer skills.

“We can’t be that picky,” he said.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 and at:

]]> 155, 23 Sep 2016 00:13:39 +0000
Maine Accelerates Growth issues $70,000 in grants Thu, 22 Sep 2016 15:50:31 +0000 Business-development nonprofit Maine Accelerates Growth has issued $70,000 in grants to three organizations that contribute to Maine’s economic growth.

It issued $5,000 to the Treehouse Institute for its TEDxDirigo program to increase engagement with entrepreneurs and startups. TEDxDirigo is the Maine-based TEDx program under a free license granted by TED, a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas in the form of short, thought-provoking talks.

It gave $15,000 to the Sustainability Lab, which is organizing the Maine Food Systems Innovation Challenge to take place later this year, and working to help scale new ideas for Maine’s food systems.

Finally, it awarded $50,000 to the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development’s Top Gun accelerator program to help fund its expansion into Lewiston-Auburn. Top Gun is a program for Maine startups.

Maine Accelerates Growth is a grassroots organization focused on coordinating and investing in programs that boost innovation and high-growth entrepreneurship in Maine, funded in part by a $200,000 grant from the Maine Technology Institute.


]]> 0 Thu, 22 Sep 2016 20:36:43 +0000
U.S. home sales dip in August as inventories plummet Thu, 22 Sep 2016 14:28:48 +0000 WASHINGTON — Americans bought fewer homes in August, as a worsening inventory shortage appears to be pushing prices higher and sales totals lower.

The National Association of Realtors says sales of existing homes slipped 0.9 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.33 million, the second straight monthly decline. The setbacks occurred after a period of gains that have lifted home sales up 3 percent so far this year. But fewer people are listing their homes on the market, a problem that has intensified over the past year to limit sales.

The number of homes on the market has plunged 10.1 percent from a year ago to 2.04 million. As a result, prices are climbing. The median home sales price increased 5.1 percent from a year ago to $240,200.

]]> 0, 22 Sep 2016 20:34:07 +0000
Flaws like $4 billion Zumwalt’s leak called normal in new ships Thu, 22 Sep 2016 14:11:15 +0000 Crew members have detected a leak on the Zumwalt, the new destroyer built at Bath Iron Works, but the Navy and defense experts say such errors are typical for a first-in-class ship.

The destroyer is docked at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia, and local news organizations reported it was scheduled for training at sea. The Zumwalt instead will be delayed in Norfolk for repairs, which are expected to take 10 days to two weeks.

Naval Surface Forces Pacific spokesman John Perkins said crews on the Zumwalt found a seawater leak Monday in a lubrication system for one of the ship’s propeller shafts.

The Zumwalt had stopped in Norfolk on its way to Baltimore, where it will be commissioned next month.

In a statement, Naval Surface Forces said Zumwalt has a “built-in redundancy” of the ship’s propulsion system that enables the ship to operate even with the leak in the lubricating system. However, it was determined that the repairs should be completed in port before the ship and crew continued with sea training.

“Repairs like these are not unusual in first-of-class ships during underway periods following construction,” the Navy said.

Two defense experts agreed Thursday.

“You’re going to see these kinds of challenges come up, especially in these beginning phases,” said Eric Wertheim, a defense consultant affiliated with the U.S. Naval Institute and the author of the nonprofit’s “Combat Fleets of the World.”

“It would be surprising not to have teething problems with these first-in-class ships,” he said.


Wertheim compared the Zumwalt to a model home in a new housing development.

“The first house that’s built is going to be the first one of its kind,” he said. “The next ones will hopefully be easier.”

Loren Thompson, a naval analyst and the chief operating officer of The Lexington Institute, said the leak seems “inconsequential.”

“Normally, when there are issues in a first ship in a class,” he said, “the Navy and the contractor share the cost of resolving them.”

In its statement announcing the leak repairs, the Navy did not specify what the job might cost, and the Naval Surface Forces Public Affairs Office did not return calls from a reporter seeking additional information. A BIW spokesman would not answer a reporter’s questions Thursday and deferred comment to the Navy.

The destroyer, named for former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo Zumwalt, cost about $4 billion and weighs in at 16,000 tons.


The shipyard is now building the second and third vessels in the $22 billion program, the Michael Monsoor and the Lyndon B. Johnson. The Zumwalt and its sisters are bigger and more technologically sophisticated than any warship built for the Navy. With its angular shape, the stealthy Zumwalt is designed to minimize its radar presence.

“It’s a really, really revolutionary design,” Wertheim said. “In many ways, the whole class, the three ships, are going to serve as test ships for new technology.”

Especially because the Zumwalt is so different from its predecessors, Wertheim said the need for this repair should not reflect poorly on BIW.

“Not unless we start seeing recurring problems that are taking place,” Wertheim said. “And we haven’t seen anything that would indicate any major problems that are abnormal.”

The Zumwalt left BIW on Sept. 2. Once it is commissioned in Baltimore on Oct. 15, it will sail to its new home in San Diego.


]]> 59, 23 Sep 2016 00:26:56 +0000
Claims for unemployment benefits fall to lowest level since July Thu, 22 Sep 2016 12:43:10 +0000 WASHINGTON — The Labor Department said Thursday that jobless claims slid by 8,000 to a seasonally adjusted 252,000. That matched the level in mid-July, which was the lowest since April. The less-volatile four-week average fell by 2,250 to 258,500. Weekly claims have come in below 300,000 for 81 straight weeks, longest such streak since 1970.

The number of people collecting unemployment benefits is 2.11 million, down nearly 6 percent from a year ago.

Applications for unemployment benefits are a proxy for measuring layoffs. The low level of claims suggests that companies are holding onto staff.

“The labor market remains rock solid,” Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont Securities, wrote in a research note.

Unemployment is at a healthy 4.9 percent. Employers have added 204,000 jobs a month over the past year, though hiring slowed to 151,000 in August. The job market is robust despite a sluggish economy. Economic growth came in at an unimpressive 1.1 percent annual pace from April through June after growing just 0.8 percent in the first quarter and 0.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2015.

In a separate report, the Labor Department reported earlier that job openings rose 4 percent in July but hiring just 1 percent. That suggests employers are struggling to find qualified workers.

]]> 21, 22 Sep 2016 09:40:05 +0000
Dramatic plan for Portland’s eastern waterfront delights leaders, troubles neighbors Thu, 22 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 While city leaders are celebrating the infusion of commercial buildings and housing units proposed for the city’s eastern waterfront, some nearby residents on Munjoy Hill are worried about the project’s impact on views of the water and traffic in the hilltop neighborhood.

A group of local developers plans to transform the 10-acre industrial parcel at 58 Fore St. into six blocks of housing, shops, a hotel, restaurants, high-class office space, a marina and public open space. The project has been in the works for more than two years, and CPB2 submitted a long-awaited master development plan to the city for the former Portland Co. railroad foundry this week. Construction is estimated to cost $250 million.

“It’s an exciting opportunity,” Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling said after the plan was formally unveiled at a news conference Wednesday morning. “A quarter-billion investment in the waterfront is something that I’m going to be watching very closely because this could be really game-changing down here. But I want to make sure there is a robust community process, so people have the chance to give input.”

Pam Macomber, who has lived with her husband, Peter, across Fore Street from the Portland Co. complex for four years, said the detailed renderings show a more massive plan than she expected from earlier meetings with the developer. While the plans call for waterfront access through a 50-foot-wide easement and view corridors at Kellogg, Waterville, St. Lawrence and Atlantic streets, she said both private homeowners and passing pedestrians would lose vistas of the ocean.

“I think it’ll change the hill in probably not a good way,” Macomber said. “I think Portland is going to lose its sense of being connected to the water.”

Jim Brady, a CPB2 partner, said the firm will hold a neighborhood meeting Oct. 4 to discuss the plans with neighbors. The developers also will begin meeting with the Planning Board and the Historic Preservation Board next month.

New buildings for housing, offices and other uses would be built around historic brick buildings at the former Portland Co. complex. Rendering by Perkins+Will of Boston

New buildings for housing, offices and other uses would be built around historic brick buildings at the former Portland Co. complex. Rendering by Perkins+Will of Boston

“We very much look forward to working together with the city of Portland, the community of residents here, to hear their concerns and do everything we can to allay their fears and concerns,” Brady said at the news conference. “We’re excited about what this can do for the city of Portland.”

Brady’s rough estimate of the project’s cost is based on nearly one million square feet of development at $200 per square foot, plus parking, open space and the marina, he said.


Like Strimling, community leaders and other elected officials reacted warmly to their first look at the expansive project.

Chris Hall, president of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, said he “couldn’t be happier” about the Portland Co. proposal.

“It’s visually stunning, but it is also, in scale and scope, in keeping with the surrounding neighborhood,” Hall said. “I’m very encouraged by their flexible and creative approach.”

“Whether you’re looking from the land side or the water side, whether you’re looking at it from the housing side or a business side, it really is a bold and ambitious project,” he said.

Belinda Ray, who represents the East End on the City Council, said she would be reviewing the proposal.

“It obviously represents a huge change for the waterfront in that area,” she said. “I’m sure it will be shocking to many people, but it’s important that we keep the long-term goals of Portland in mind as we consider this development.”

Those goals include housing and more office space, she said.

Jay Norris, president of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Association, called the project “exciting” and “innovative.” He hoped, however, that the developers would be respectful to concerns about parking and scenic views in the area.

“Portland is in a vortex now of change and growth and development,” he said. “I hope that as the property continues to be developed that they’ll keep first and foremost in their minds the neighbors to that property.”

Strimling noted the 638 units of rental and owner-occupied housing in the initial plans. While he acknowledged the concerns from some neighbors about views, the mayor said CPB2 has addressed that issue in its plan.

“They’re meeting the expectations,” Strimling said. “I’m always looking for developers to go above and beyond to accommodate the community as best they can. So hopefully, as they hear from people, they’ll get a better sense of what going above and beyond might look like, but in the end, we need this site developed.”

Nearby residents in the area have opposed this project before and even forced a citywide referendum last year to protect their views and set up a process for protecting other views as the city sees more and taller development.

That citywide vote failed, but the master development plan from CPB2 could revive those tensions over the City Council’s decision to rezone upper Fore Street to allow taller buildings and more uses. The tallest buildings in the plan would rise nearly eight stories east of Waterville Street.

The Macombers reviewed the previous zoning standards four years ago when they bought their home, which she said they used their life savings to renovate.

“It used to be that zoning was a guarantee that what’s going to happen around you, you can understand,” Pam Macomber said. “The zoning that’s there now, we probably wouldn’t have bought the property.”

Barbara Vestal, who was involved with the group advocating for last year’s ballot measure, said she was “very troubled” by the renderings she has seen so far.

“Those height calculations will certainly need to be examined in great detail,” she said. “In addition, regardless of whether or not they meet zoning technicalities, this out-of-scale proposal puts great responsibility on the Planning Board and concerned citizens to engage in a robust dialogue with CPB2 to make sure that a master development plan is not approved until it is consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan.”


Will Williams, a landlord who also lives on St. Lawrence Street, said he is excited to see new life on the former industrial land. While the proposal calls for 435,200 square feet of parking, his worry was an increase in traffic on the surrounding streets like his own.

“I’d personally prefer not to see the Old Port come up here,” he said, referring to the bustling tourist and commercial district several blocks to the west. “I’d hate to come home and fight for a parking space in my own neighborhood.”

On Wednesday morning, JoAnn Dowe sat on her deck on Waterville Street with a friend, and the two women watched sailboats and a cruise ship in the distance.

“I’m feeling like I’m going to be moving, that’s how I’m feeling,” she said. When Dowe moved into her house in 2009, she was attracted to the view and the “old-world neighborhood” feel of Munjoy Hill.

“There is a lot of change here,” she said. “I’m not sure I feel the same way anymore.”

A neighborhood meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on Oct. 4 at 58 Fore St. The developers will begin meeting with the Planning Board and the Historic Preservation Board in October for a series of required workshops and hearings, and the first phase of the project could be under construction next summer.

Staff Writer Randy Billings contributed to this report.


]]> 57, 21 Sep 2016 23:43:35 +0000
Family renews effort to develop sprawling site on South Portland waterfront Thu, 22 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 SOUTH PORTLAND — The Cacoulidis family has resumed efforts to redevelop about 40 acres of prime waterfront where 15 years ago patriarch John Cacoulidis proposed building a gasp-inducing $900 million hotel and convention center that included a cable-car system across Portland Harbor.

The sprawling former shipbuilding site on Cushing’s Point has been cleared of brush and resurveyed in recent weeks, and four industrial buildings on the property are being renovated and offered for lease, said Tom Moulton, a partner at NAI The Dunham Group in Portland.

Moulton, who represents the family’s real estate interests, said a major national storage-and-distribution company is negotiating to lease one of the buildings, a 40,000-square-foot warehouse with office space at 1 Madison St., on the road to Bug Light Park. Moulton expects the lease to be signed within the next month.

The landowners have no specific redevelopment plans at this time, Moulton said, but they envision a combination of commercial and residential uses such as a hotel, apartments or condominiums, medical offices, retail stores and community amenities.

“The next step is to conduct a zoning analysis for development possibilities,” Moulton said Wednesday. “We’re trying to get our arms around the property and fully understand it. It’s probably the most prime development site in Maine right now and we want to realize its development potential within the next decade.”

Moulton said John Cacoulidis, who lives on Hope Island in Casco Bay, still heads the family company, but his son, George Cacoulidis, a New York-based businessman, assumed operational control two years ago.

The elder Cacoulidis bought the largest parcel, at 149 Front St., in 1999 for $1.4 million, according to city tax records. Part of a marine industrial complex where military ships were built during World War II, it was the centerpiece of a 2001 proposal for a convention center that called for two 41-story, elliptical-shaped hotel towers with a total of 2,600 rooms.

The proposal also called for a 300-foot-tall cable-car system that would have whisked visitors across the harbor to Portland, as well as a marina for cruise ships and two hospitals, for general and plastic surgery. Public reaction ranged from disbelief to anger, with many saying the plan was too big and too urban. Cacoulidis scaled down the project in subsequent years, but it never got off the drawing board.

Valued at $6 million for tax purposes, the land and buildings on Cushing’s Point are in the shipyard zoning district, which allows a variety of light industrial, commercial and marine uses, including hotels, restaurants, offices and shops.

City Councilor Claude Morgan, who represents the neighborhood, has watched and welcomed the improvements being made on the property whenever he walked his dog there in recent weeks.

“Everybody knew this day would come,” Morgan said Wednesday. “The question is, what will be proposed there? Hopefully the community will have something to say about that.”

Morgan noted, however, that the property comes with some challenges. It’s located off Broadway, a busy road at the end of a peninsula that includes residential neighborhoods, massive oil storage tanks and Southern Maine Community College.

“Broadway has reached capacity,” Morgan said. “Historically, that has been a bottleneck to all projects proposed in the area. That will be a hurdle to jump over.”

Morgan hopes the Cacoulidis family designs the project to be a part of the neighborhood, not separate from it, offering amenities such as a grocery store, shops, a community center and a police substation.

“A development will always impact a community,” Morgan said. “The question is whether the community will benefit from the development.”

This story was corrected to say the Cacoulidis family property is on Cushing’s Point.



]]> 20, 22 Sep 2016 22:43:11 +0000
Environmental group accuses TV makers of ‘bad faith’ in energy ratings Thu, 22 Sep 2016 01:37:04 +0000 SAN FRANCISCO — An environmental group accused three major television manufacturers Wednesday of misleading consumers and regulators about how much energy their high-definition screens devour by designing them to draw less power during government testing than in ordinary use.

The Natural Resources Defense Council concluded that the TVs made by Samsung, LG Electronics and Vizio saddle households with an extra $120 million in electricity bills each year and generate tons of additional pollution.

The added expense works out to about $10 to $20 per household annually over the anticipated decade-long life of the typical widescreen TV.

Both Samsung and LG Electronics disputed the findings.

“It appears that some major manufacturers have modified their TV designs to get strong energy-use marks during government testing but may not perform as well in consumer homes,” said Noah Horowitz, senior scientist and director for the NRDC’s center for energy efficiency standards.

Samsung and LG did not break any laws, according to the report, but rather exploited weaknesses in the Department of Energy’s system to measure electricity usage.

But the behavior “smacks of bad faith,” Horowitz said.

The findings were based on an analysis of high-definition TVs with screens spanning at least 55 inches made in 2015 and 2016. The estimates on electricity costs are based on high-definition TVs with screens 32 inches and larger.

The study concluded that Samsung and LG exploited the testing system to get better scores on the yellow “EnergyGuide” labels that appear on sets in stores. Those scores often influence TV buyers looking to save money on utility bills.

Samsung and LG sets have a dimming feature that turns off the screens’ backlight during the 10-minute video clip used in government tests, according to the study. But that does not typically happen when the sets are being used in homes to watch sports, comedies, dramas and news programming.

]]> 0 Thu, 22 Sep 2016 08:33:05 +0000
Ad touting oil heat over natural gas is misleading, Maine official says Thu, 22 Sep 2016 00:34:00 +0000 A newspaper ad touting the cost benefits of heating with oil over natural gas is being called misleading by a state energy official, and a cautionary note for residents making long-term decisions about how to heat their homes.

The Maine Energy Marketers Association, formerly the Maine Oil Dealers Association, ran the ad as part of its campaign. It wants to discourage more homes and businesses from converting from oil, the state’s dominant heating fuel, to competing alternatives, namely natural gas and heat pumps.

The full-page ad in last week’s northern edition of The Forecaster targets Summit Natural Gas, which came to Maine from Colorado in 2013 with big expansion plans for the Kennebec Valley and the Portland suburbs of Falmouth, Cumberland and Yarmouth.

The ad compares a low cash price of heating oil this summer in the Portland area – $1.70 gallon – with the recently approved residential rate for Summit customers for the entire winter – the equivalent of $2.49 a gallon. A smiley face tops the $1.70 price, and a frowning face with a teardrop is above the $2.49.

Copy for the ad says Summit’s winter rates are 46 percent higher than the oil equivalent in Greater Portland.

“So why would you switch?” the ad asks, directing readers to the MaineEnergyFacts website.

But Lisa Smith, a senior planner at the Governor’s Energy Office who tracks heating fuels through a weekly statewide survey, said the ad is misleading because it compares a single, low price at one point in time with a stable rate approved by the Public Utilities Commission for the winter.

Average heating oil prices in Maine rose steadily from roughly $2 a gallon in 2004 to nearly $3.70 a gallon in 2014, except for a sharp dip during the 2009 recession. In the past two years, though, they have fallen off a cliff, averaging $1.86 a gallon for the 2015-2016 heating season.

“Based on historic data,” Smith said, “prices go up in the winter with increased demand. No one knows what will happen this year. But comparing a non-heating season price to a heating-season price is comparing apples with oranges. It’s making the assumption that oil prices won’t change. And everyone knows that’s not true.”

But Jamie Py, president of the energy marketers group, said his goal was to make a straightforward comparison between two known prices – oil today and the PUC-approved rate for Summit.

“I’m not saying ($1.70) is the price of oil for the winter,” he said. “I don’t know what the price of oil will do. It could go down.”

In the ad, an asterisk at Summit’s $2.49 rate notes the conversion from therms, which is how gas is measured, to gallons, and says the price is based on the PUC winter rate. Py was asked why the $1.70 oil price didn’t include a disclaimer about how it was calculated. He said he could have done that, but didn’t think of it.

A spokeswoman for Summit said the company doesn’t comment on competitor advertising.


But the ad was timely in Portland’s northern suburbs. It ran just as Summit was trying to patch up a public relations misstep.

In early September, Summit had emailed its 3,000 home customers to say their rates would be going up 154 percent starting Oct. 1. That angered several customers. But the jump was calculated off an unusually-low summer rate that drew little attention, because people don’t heat in the summer. The pending winter rate actually is 20 percent lower than last year.

Summit sent a second email to try to clear up the confusion.

The episode was another blow for the company that came to Maine when oil prices were near record levels and homeowners were desperate for options. But when oil prices collapsed, interest in natural gas fell off.

The global glut of crude oil continues to depress the retail price of heating fuels and gasoline. The most-recent federal Energy Information Administration data suggests a modest rise in crude prices this winter, but the agency’s outlook for heating fuels won’t be released until next month. Meanwhile, Maine’s statewide average price for heating oil is $1.88 a gallon, according to Smith’s latest survey.

One area of wide agreement is that low oil prices have been a blessing for Mainers.

Using federal energy data, Smith looked at the impact of falling prices on Maine’s household economy. She calculated that Mainers saved $365 million last year over the 2013-14 heating season, when the average price had risen to $3.71 a gallon.

Low prices also have given the oil-heat industry a reprieve and an opportunity to staunch the bleeding.

Maine still leads the nation in the share of homes heated with oil. But penetration has fallen from a peak of 80 percent in 2000, to 74 percent in 2010, to 67 percent in 2014, according to U.S. Census data. During that period, natural gas, propane and wood picked up market share. Many Mainers also installed high-efficiency electric heat pumps.


So the challenge for the oil-heat industry is to slow that conversion. Highlighting today’s low prices is one strategy.

Py’s group has been doing this with financial help from the National Oilheat Research Alliance. Through an act of Congress, the group is authorized to help provide more-efficient oil heat and hot water to consumers and is funded through a $0.002 per gallon levy on heating oil. Alliance money is helping pay for the website and advertising, Py said.

The website focuses on the cleanliness, cost and choice offered by oil heat. Among its points: Oil heat has cleaned up its air emissions, while natural gas is a prime contributor to climate change. Oil prices have reached an 11-year low and “some experts expect oil prices to stay low for a while.” Customers can pick from 100 oil and propane dealers, while natural gas service is a monopoly. The site also seeks to sow doubt about alternatives, contending that oil is a safer fuel than natural gas and that heat pumps can’t do the whole job in most homes.

The Summit comparison ad, too, seeks to create doubt about the wisdom of switching to gas. But Dan Routh, past president of the Ad Club of Maine and creative director at Creative Imaging Group in Portland, said he found the ad confusing and misleading, and the smiley faces insulting.

“It’s so simplistic that it raises more questions than it answers,” Routh said. “I think they’ve lowered the bar on people’s understanding of the issue.”


That theme was echoed by Ben Dinsmore of Brunswick, who writes a personal finance blog called Trees Full of Money.

Dinsmore, who works in the offshore drilling and shipping sector of the oil and gas industry, said competition among oil dealers on price and service is good for Maine home customers. But he also said world oil markets are extremely volatile, while changes in gas rates are linked largely to inadequate pipeline capacity in winter for gas supplies that are only a few hundred miles from Maine. In his blog, Dinsmore predicted that heating oil prices are more likely to go up than down in 2017. In Maine, pre-buy contracts that lock in at between $1.70 and $1.90 a gallon would be a good bet, he said.

Dinsmore said the anti-Summit ad is “nothing more than a snapshot in time” and ignores many factors that families should evaluate if they are making a home-heating choice.

“If you live in an area that has access to natural gas distribution,” he said, “be diligent and don’t base your household’s heating system for the next 20 years solely on marketing hijinks.”

]]> 15, 22 Sep 2016 08:31:10 +0000
VW investor lawsuits swamp German court Thu, 22 Sep 2016 00:31:18 +0000 FRANKFURT, Germany — A German court says it has added staff and storage space to handle a flood of 1,400 investor lawsuits against Volkswagen seeking damages worth about $9.2 billion.

The regional court in Braunschweig said Wednesday that 750 lawsuits arrived Monday alone from a single law office as a possible one-year deadline to file approached. The court said the Volkswagen investor lawsuits equaled about half of its normal intake for an entire year.

Institutional and individual investors claim VW did not disclose in a timely way that it faced costly action from U.S. regulators over cars with software that enabled them to cheat on diesel emissions tests. They say the information could have enabled them to decide whether to sell their shares, which fell sharply after the U.S. regulators announced the case on Sept. 18, 2015.

Volkswagen said in a statement that the company “remains of the opinion that it duly fulfilled its disclosure obligations under capital markets law. This view has also been confirmed by a careful examination by internal and external legal experts.”

]]> 0 Wed, 21 Sep 2016 20:31:18 +0000
Google unveils messaging encrypted from end to end Thu, 22 Sep 2016 00:21:37 +0000 Google started offering users end-to-end encryption for the first time Wednesday with its new Allo instant messaging app. The move makes Google the latest company to follow a tech trend that has privacy advocates cheering, but some law enforcement officials worried.

Conversations in Allo are not automatically protected by that extra secure form of encryption, which allows only those who send and receive messages to unlock them. Rather, users can choose to have “incognito” conversations that feature the security measure, much like a system that Facebook is testing in its Messenger app. Other conversations in Allo are still encrypted between the app and Google’s servers, but that means the tech company will be able to access the content of those messages.

End-to-end encryption is becoming a standard feature for instant messaging apps. Other programs, including Apple’s iMessage and Facebook-owned Whatsapp, protect messages with end-to-end encryption by default.

Some law enforcement officials, most notably FBI Director James Comey, have warned that the spread of end-to-end encryption could help criminals and terrorists “go dark” because companies cannot access the content of the encrypted communications even when faced with a warrant.

Civil liberties advocates and technology experts, on the other hand, have generally praised the expansion of end-to-end encryption in consumer devices as a step forward for users’ privacy and cybersecurity. Some privacy and civil liberties advocates have criticized Google for its slow progress on the encryption front.

“Google is a day late and a dollar short,” said Johns Hopkins professor and cryptography expert Matthew Green. He also criticized Google for backing away from a privacy feature that was expected to be in Allo. When the company unveiled plans for the app, it said logs of users who were not in incognito mode would be de-identified and not permanently stored on its servers. But that’s not the case in the version of the app released Wednesday, which could leave Allo users’ intimate chats at risk of being subpoenaed.

The reason for the shift, according to the Verge, was to improve virtual assistant features built into the app. But Green sees the move as a sign that Google may be unwilling to depart from a business model built on harvesting user data to underpin its lucrative targeted ads market.

“If Google doesn’t see data, they feel that they don’t want to be in that business,” he said. “That’s fine, but customers should be aware that’s how they feel about it.”

While Allo is the first Google product with end-to-end encryption baked in, it isn’t the first time the company has tried to use the technology in its products. Two years ago the company announced plans for a browser plugin that would help Gmail users send and receive encrypted email. The plugin still hasn’t been released.

]]> 1, 21 Sep 2016 20:21:37 +0000
Wells Fargo workers: Pressure to sell relentless, pervasive Thu, 22 Sep 2016 00:07:57 +0000 NEW YORK — It began with the constant and compulsive pressure to sell. Then came stress-induced health problems. Wells Fargo employees, both current and former, say they spent every day frantically trying to persuade customers to open more accounts – not for any bonuses, but simply to keep their jobs.

Even in an industry known for performance demands, the sales goals were unprecedented. Employees described a near-obsessive focus from managers on a daily – or even hourly – basis about whether they were meeting the targets. The selling pressure was even put on tellers at the lowest employment levels of the bank, employees said.

It’s no surprise that Wells executives called each location a “store” rather than a bank branch.

“Every single day the first question out of my manager was, how many appointments did I have today? How am I going to meet my goals?” said Mikey McGinn, who worked for Wells Fargo as a teller and a banker from 2007 until July of this year.

Wells Fargo’s operations are under scrutiny since it agreed to pay $185 million to federal and local authorities to settle allegations that bankers striving to meet the targets opened credit card and bank accounts, moved money between them and even created fake email addresses to sign people up for online banking – all without customer authorization. The news has reignited outrage in an American public and their representatives, still angry over the Wall Street scandals that spurred the recession. And this scandal doesn’t involve complicated financial products, but people’s regular checking and savings accounts and employees at the local branch.


Employees at the bank known for its stagecoach logo say the immense pressure to sell, coming directly from top executives, spurred them to push products that customers did not need nor want. Many are angry that Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf, castigated Tuesday by the Senate Banking Committee, has put the blame on retail bank employees and that more than 5,300 employees have been fired since the bank started investigating.

“We had to meet sales goals every day or I could get written up,” said Khalid Taha, who worked at a Wells Fargo branch in San Diego from 2013 until July 2016. Taha said he was one of the few in his branch who met his quotas, but called doing so “a miracle.” Taha says he never did anything unethical or illegal at the bank.

While it varied by branch size and day of the week, a typical employee had to sell between 13 and 15 banking products a day – a new account, a mortgage, a retirement account, or even online banking.

The targets were high even in small towns. Bankers in St. Helena, California, were ordered to open 3,000 checking accounts and sell 12,000 other bank products a year, according to a lawsuit filed against the bank in 2011. St. Helena and the surrounding towns in the picturesque Napa Valley wine country had a total population of roughly 11,500 people.

At least three employees described a tactic known as the “mid-session review” in which Wells Fargo bankers sitting down with customers would excuse themselves in order to meet with managers, who were supposed to review the customers’ files and figure out what additional products the employees should sell them on top of the business they came to take care of.


Another practice, called “stagecoaching,” had Wells Fargo bankers stationed behind tellers while customers came in for routine transactions, looking for opportunities to sell.

“I dread it every day. (Customers) are in the branch for a debit card, but that’s not good enough. You have to come out of left field and say, ‘Hey, how’s your credit? Let’s sign you up for a secured credit card,’ ” said one Wells Fargo personal banker from a small town in Southern California, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person still works for the company and fears retribution.

Faced with the unrealistic sales expectations and close tracking of their sales by managers, employees looked for ways to manipulate Wells Fargo’s sales system. Bankers in Minnesota, Pennsylvania and elsewhere described a sales culture where cheating the system was par for the course.

Julie Miller was a Wells Fargo branch manager until 2013, and had worked in the banking industry for Wells Fargo and Wachovia for 20 years. She also says she never did anything illegal while at Wells, but said there were ways to game the system.

One tactic her employees would use would be closing accounts and then reopening them, a practice known in the banking industry as “churning” accounts. Under the guise of giving a customer overdraft protection, bankers would open credit card and savings accounts for them, knowing the savings account would never be funded to a level that would actually provide protection, Miller said.

“Most of the people we were opening accounts for … who needed the overdraft didn’t have the funds to actually get overdraft protection from it,” she said.

Several bankers said the pressure took a toll on their health. McGinn, who worked for Wells Fargo in Minnesota, said she gained weight from the stress. A banker in California said she developed a tic in her eye. Both said they also developed sleep issues related to their jobs.


Some employees did raise concerns about the aggressive sales practices. In New Jersey, one branch manager emailed Stumpf’s office in February 2011, expressing concern that employees had been moving money from one new account to another for months simply to “fool” Wells Fargo’s sales system.

Wells Fargo, asked for a response to the bankers’ stories, forwarded an email that Stumpf sent to all bank employees this week. It said Wells Fargo was committed to having a “supportive, caring and ethical environment for team members.”

“We regret and take full responsibility for the incidents in which customers received a product they did not request, as that is inconsistent with the values and culture we strive to live up to every day,” Stumpf said in the email.

The bank has said it will be ending its sales quota system at the end of the year. It also plans to reach out to all customers going back to 2009 to verify whether the accounts were authorized.

]]> 8, 21 Sep 2016 22:22:04 +0000
Facebook CEO has an ambitious proposal Thu, 22 Sep 2016 00:00:48 +0000 SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has a goal that’s even more ambitious than connecting the entire world to the Internet: He and his wife want to help eradicate all disease by the end of this century.

Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan are committing $3 billion over the next 10 years to accelerate basic scientific research. That includes creating research tools – from software to hardware to yet-undiscovered techniques –they hope will ultimately lead to scientific breakthroughs, the way the microscope and DNA sequencing have in generations past.

The goal is to “cure, prevent or manage all disease” in the next 80 or so years, a timeframe the 30-something couple are unlikely to live to see. They acknowledge that this might sound crazy, but point to how far medicine and science have come in the last century – with vaccines, statins for heart disease, chemotherapy, and so on – following millennia with little progress.

At current rates of progress, Zuckerberg reckons, it will be possible to solve most of these problems “by the end of this century.” Zuckerberg and Chan have spent the past two years speaking to scientists and other experts to plan the endeavor. In an interview, Zuckerberg emphasized “that this isn’t something where we just read a book and decided we’re going to do.”

Through their philanthropic organization, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the commitment includes $600 million to fund a new research center in San Francisco where scientific and medical researchers will work alongside engineers on projects spanning years or even decades. The goal is not to focus narrowly on specific ailments, such as bone cancer or Parkinson’s disease, but rather to do basic research. One example: a cell atlas that maps out all the different types of cells in the body, which could help researchers create various types of drugs.

Chan’s work as a pediatrician seems to be a big driver in the couple’s decision to take up this latest cause.

“I’ve been with families where we’ve hit the limit of what’s possible through medicine and science,” Chan said. “I’ve had to tell families devastating diagnoses of leukemia, or that we just weren’t able to resuscitate their child.”

Zuckerberg and Chan hope their commitment will inspire other far-reaching efforts and collaboration in science, medicine and engineering, so that basic research is no longer relegated to the margins. “We spend 50 times more on health care treating people who are sick than we spend on science research (to cure) diseases so that people don’t get sick in the first place,” Zuckerberg said.

]]> 0, 22 Sep 2016 08:38:13 +0000
Divided Federal Reserve opts for hold on interest rates Wed, 21 Sep 2016 23:24:42 +0000 The Federal Reserve expressed growing confidence in the health of the U.S. economy Wednesday but still declined to raise interest rates, declaring that the case for an increase “has strengthened” but that it would wait “for further evidence of continued progress” toward higher growth and faster inflation.

The decision suggests the Fed believes the U.S. economy has sailed safely through headwinds that worried officials earlier this year, including possible damage from Great Britain’s vote to exit the European Union. It appears to be a step toward raising rates soon, though vague on the question of when that increase might come this year.

America’s job market “has continued to strengthen,” Fed officials said in a written statement, “and the growth of economic activity has picked up from the modest pace seen in the first half of the year.” It added: “Near-term risks to the economy appear roughly balanced.”

Highlighting a growing split on the Federal Open Market Committee, three regional Fed presidents dissented from the decision: Esther George of the Kansas City Fed, Loretta Mester of the Cleveland Fed and Eric Rosengren of the Boston Fed. All of them favored an immediate move to raise rates. In July, only George broke from the decision to hold rates just above zero.

Fed officials also indicated that they still expect interest rates to rise by year’s end, although not as quickly as they had previously expected. They now expect rates to hit 1.1 percent at the end of 2017, down from a forecast of 1.6 percent in June. The outlook for the end of 2018 also fell by a half-point, from 2.4 percent to 1.9 percent.

Markets and Fed-watching economists had largely anticipated Wednesday’s move, after Fed Chair Janet Yellen and other top officials at the nation’s central bank sent strong hints in recent speeches that rates were unlikely to budge this month.

The decision, at the end of a two-day meeting in Washington, leaves open the question of whether the committee might raise rates when it next meets in October, shortly before the U.S. presidential election. Many Fed-watchers had expected no rate increases until November.

It appears likely to draw fire on the campaign trail from Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who has accused the Fed of keeping rates artificially low to boost President Obama and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Board members also issued updated forecasts for growth and inflation Wednesday, and they were little changed from June. The median forecaster on the board now expects the U.S. economy to grow 1.8 percent this year, down from 2 percent in June, and the unemployment rate to finish the year at 4.8 percent.

Inflation for the year is now expected to register at 1.3 percent, down slightly from June’s projections and still well short of the Fed’s 2 percent inflation target. Core inflation, which excludes more volatile prices such as energy, is expected to hit 1.7 percent for this year.

Other central banks are moving to ease monetary policy, not tighten it, in the face of weak domestic and global growth. Earlier in the day, the Bank of Japan announced new steps in an attempt to stoke inflation and growth.

]]> 0 Wed, 21 Sep 2016 19:55:24 +0000
New apartment building in Brewer a model of ultra-efficiency Wed, 21 Sep 2016 21:37:21 +0000 A Brewer housing complex received its final certification Wednesday under the Passive House Institute’s pilot program.

The Village Centre Apartments, which provides 48 units of workforce housing, is the largest Passive House building in New England, according to a media release from Wright-Ryan Construction, the contractor that built the complex.

The pilot program defines climate-specific Passive House standards for the institute. Passive House is a term that refers to ultra-low-energy, high-efficiency buildings.

Village Centre is estimated to be over 60 percent more energy-efficient than a typical apartment building built with conventional materials and energy systems.

“Village Centre represents an emerging trend in affordable housing,” said Alyssa Parker, director of Commercial Project Management at Wright-Ryan. “We’re proving that through smart design and well-executed construction management, radical energy efficiency such as with Passive House isn’t restricted to the realm of custom home building.”

The company said the complex was built at a fixed budget of roughly $139 per square foot and meets the project requirements as a publicly funded development under the Maine State Housing Authority.

Village Centre is owned by Community Housing of Maine and was designed by CWS Architects with sustainability consulting provided by Thornton Tomasetti.

]]> 0 Thu, 22 Sep 2016 13:40:50 +0000
Ambitious plan would transform 10 acres of Portland waterfront Wed, 21 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 A former railroad foundry on Portland’s eastern waterfront would be transformed into a shiny high-end neighborhood with six blocks of housing, shops, restaurants, hotel rooms and marina slips under an ambitious and long-awaited redevelopment plan submitted by local developers.

The scale of the development, which features a mix of glass-walled buildings and historic brick structures and is estimated to cost about $250 million, makes it one of the most ambitious projects ever proposed in Maine’s largest city.

CPB2 submitted its master development plan for the 10-acre parcel at 58 Fore St. to the city on Monday, and plans to formally unveil it at a news conference Wednesday morning. It will be the first time that detailed renderings have been made public, although the project has been hotly debated for more than two years. The former industrial land at the entrance to Portland’s inner harbor has been the subject of speculation about its future on and off for decades.

“This is an exciting project for the city of Portland,” said James Brady, a CPB2 partner. “I think this is an opportunity to help transform the face of Portland in a positive way for years to come.”

In its application to the city, the developer says there are “few parcels of equivalent potential significance along the East Coast of the United States.”

City Manager Jon Jennings described the proposal as “very exciting” and ambitious, while noting that the city would review it carefully. But he celebrated the proposed density as fitting for the Portland peninsula.

“There’s an enormous amount of interest, not only in this project, but the eastern waterfront,” said Jennings, noting the city’s ongoing planning efforts to create a new waterfront park between the site and the city-owned Ocean Gateway terminal. “I think the timing is right for this project to move forward.”


The master plan calls for nearly 960,000 square feet of development and 435,200 square feet of parking. The combined size of the buildings is nearly as large as the Maine Mall in South Portland, which has about 1 million square feet of retail space. The project’s scale tops the 30-acre Thompson’s Point development in Portland, which is approved for 641,000 square feet of building area, not including parking.

“It’s certainly in the top tier … of proposals in terms of size,” said Planning and Urban Development Director Jeff Levine.

The price of roughly $250 million is more than double the estimated $110 million cost of the Thompson’s Point project. And it’s about half of the estimated $512 million cost of the expansion proposed last week by Maine Medical Center on Portland’s West End.

The Portland Co. proposal calls for 638 units of rental and ownership housing, 132 hotel rooms, nearly 60,000 square feet of retail space and nearly 124,000 square feet of office space.

The project would trigger the new inclusionary zoning ordinance passed last year, requiring 10 percent of the housing units in developments of 10 units or more to remain affordable to middle-income earners. The developer, however, can opt out of that requirement by paying the city’s Housing Trust Fund $100,000 per unit of mandated affordable housing not offered.

“It’s unclear whether we would build them or buy them out,” Brady said, adding that he expects to have a diverse range of housing because the market won’t support luxury units alone.


CPB2, which includes Brady, Casey Prentice and Kevin Costello, bought the former Portland Co. complex in late 2013 for $14.1 million. Since then, they have been working on a development plan that conforms to the Eastern Waterfront Master Plan that the city adopted in 2004.

The project ran into stiff opposition last year from neighbors on Munjoy Hill who worried about losing their ocean views. After the City Council rezoned the land to allow taller buildings and more uses, residents in the area forced a citywide vote to protect the view along upper Fore Street. That ballot measure failed by a large margin.

The master development application launches the formal review process for the Planning Board, which will be asked to approve the general development plan and uses proposed for the site. Once approved, developers would have to return to the board to get individual site plan approvals for each new building. The master plan approval lasts 10 years, including extensions.

The master development plan “allows the city and developer to talk about big-picture issues,” Levine said.

According to the plan, the tallest buildings approach 65 feet and would be east of Waterville Street. Parking spaces would be below the buildings. Because heights are measured at the average grade of the steeply sloped land, some buildings in that area would be eight stories high.

The westernmost building also would have structured parking beneath it and have a maximum height of 35 feet, while the building just west of Waterville Street could be as high as 45 feet.

A total of 736 parking spaces are proposed for the site, mostly on the ground floors of the buildings.


Founded in 1846, the Portland Co. complex was built to connect Portland to Montreal by rail and was the first locomotive factory in the United States that brought all of the necessary shops and foundry together on one site. It remained in operation for 137 years and was deemed eligible for the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Contemporary buildings would be built around seven historic buildings that will be preserved and restored. One of those buildings, the Pattern House, is expected to be moved 230 feet closer to the waterfront as part of the redevelopment.

Two- and three-story townhouses are proposed along Fore Street. Their facades would include brick, textured metal, wood and glass. Those buildings would taper down the existing slope into “glassier, transparent buildings along the water’s edge,” according to the plan.

The plan calls for more than 223,000 square feet of public open space on the ground level, including plazas between buildings, waterfront access through a 50-foot-wide easement and view corridors at Kellogg, Waterville, St. Lawrence and Atlantic streets. There is an additional 72,000 square feet of vegetative rooftop terraces for private use.

A key piece of the development is the proposed marina, occupying about 13 acres of submerged land. It would consist of 220 boat slips, 80 of which would be designated for visiting vessels. The marina, which would have 100 parking spaces and is estimated to cost $20 million, also calls for a special kind of dock system that functions like a breakwater to protect vessels along the piers.

Thames Street would be extended along the water’s edge to create a new retail district incorporating the seven historic buildings that would be preserved, as well as the base of a new office building, hotel and waterfront pavilion. Renderings show a waterfront walking trail and rail lines.

A March 2015 economic analysis commissioned by the developer estimated that the project would add $85 million to the city’s tax base, generating an additional $1.7 million in annual tax revenue. It also estimated that direct and indirect construction-related spending would top $215 million, including 1,400 new jobs with wages totaling nearly $68 million. However, that analysis was based on a comparable area in the existing Old Port, rather than a specific redevelopment plan.

The master development plan does not commit the developer to build what is proposed. Instead, it sets limits on the maximum square footage that can be allocated for each specific use and can be subject to change depending on the market and other factors.


Developers at Thompson’s Point unveiled ambitious plans in 2011 for 30 acres in Libbytown.

That master development plan has been amended several times and the buildout has been slow. Rather than immediately moving forward with tall buildings and an arena, the developers are renovating historic buildings and filling them with creative enterprises, such as breweries, restaurants and art studios.

Thompson’s Point received a tax break valued at $32 million over a 30-year period to help offset the estimated $110 million in development costs.

Brady said he does not anticipate seeking a similar deal, known as tax increment financing, to offset private development costs. He said the road through the site will be privately built and maintained and open to the public.

Jennings noted that the city will need to make some investments in public roads, including a new road that could lead into the site from Thames Street.

“We certainly have to figure out how we’re going to pay for certain infrastructure investments,” Jennings said.

Levine said the Planning Board could begin conducting workshops as early as October.

If all goes well, Brady said construction on the first phase of the project, which would likely include the marina and other development blocks, could get underway by next summer.


]]> 180, 21 Sep 2016 14:33:44 +0000
Bike shop’s pending closure marks end of era for Portland cyclists Wed, 21 Sep 2016 01:25:33 +0000 Back Bay Bicycle will close its doors for the last time next week, signaling the end of an era for Portland’s cycling community.

The store has been in the city for three decades and in its Forest Avenue storefront for 25 years. But its lease was up this year and owner Cheryl Oliver is ready for a change.

Although she has loved running the shop, Oliver didn’t want to sign another long-term lease and couldn’t find a good alternative space. She also didn’t want to deal with the headache of moving. A sale of the business looked possible but fell through.

“It was all in or all out,” Oliver, 62, said Tuesday.

The store’s loyal customers learned the store was closing in an email sent late last week. Since then, they have been coming in droves for the liquidation sale and to pay their respects to the community institution. Business has been so intense that Oliver isn’t sure the store inventory will last until the end of the month.

“It’s gone shockingly fast,” she said. “It’s like watching snowbanks in springtime.”


The store was a full-service operation, offering bikes, helmets, clothing and accessories, tools and parts. It carried all kinds of bikes for adults and kids, and had a full line of performance road bikes from Masi and Bianchi. Mechanics worked on bikes in the basement repair shop and employees offered bike maintenance classes. Five weekly group rides are organized from the shop.

Mike Scarpelli, 29, a mechanic and salesman at the store, admits he’s having a hard time coming to terms with a future without Back Bay Bicycle. The Portland native bought his first two bikes at the store and started working there five years ago. He hoped to stay on and work at the store, on and off, as long as he could.

Henry Powell, left, of Portland gets help Tuesday from Mike Scarpelli, who has worked at Back Bay Bicycle for five years. Scarpelli said he wanted to buy the business, but the closure is moving too fast for him to get financing. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Henry Powell, left, of Portland gets help Tuesday from Mike Scarpelli, who has worked at Back Bay Bicycle for five years. Scarpelli said he wanted to buy the business, but the closure is moving too fast for him to get financing.

Scarpelli said he wanted to buy the business, but the closure is moving too fast for him to get a loan together.

“It’s bumming me out hard that I can’t stay here,” Scarpelli said. “It’s a fixture in the town. I wish someone would step up and help buy the place.”

In some ways, Tuesday was like any other day at the shop. A steady stream of customers came in, and staff kept busy fixing flat tires, ringing up customers and scheduling bikes for repairs. Some people thought the store was remodeling or moving, until they noticed the bare shelves and dwindling number of new bicycles on the floor.

Kevin Coyne, 55, was there to pick up a bike that was in the shop for repairs. Coyne has been a customer for years and bought his daughter’s first bike at the shop. It seemed busier than normal when he brought his bike in to get fixed over the weekend, but he didn’t put two and two together until he read the email that the shop was closing.

He is surprised and sad that it won’t be around anymore, but he’s happy that Oliver can retire if that’s what she wants.

“There’s something that doesn’t feel good,” he said, browsing through discounted bike bags. “Picking through here, it’s like going through a gravesite.”


Oliver said she got her start in the bicycle business at Portland Bike Exchange in the Old Port. In 1987 she opened her shop at a “hole in the wall” on Portland Street, then moved to Forest Avenue in 1992.

Business was steady over the decades and she built a loyal customer base. Some families have been buying bikes from her shop for generations.

Tobias English of Portland looks at a bike Tuesday at Back Bay Bicycle. So many customers have come in for the store's liquidation sale that owner Cheryl Oliver isn’t sure the inventory will last until the end of this month. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Tobias English of Portland looks at a bike Tuesday at Back Bay Bicycle. So many customers have come in for the store’s liquidation sale that owner Cheryl Oliver isn’t sure the inventory will last until the end of this month.

But after her brother died last year, Oliver started thinking about other things she wanted to do with her life. With the lease up this year, she decided it was best to move on. The hectic, seasonal nature of the business is what she’ll remember the most.

“I have always thrived on the chaotic mess that the bike season is,” Oliver said. “It’s like preparing for a big party that lasts five months, then you get some time in the winter to recharge.”

Beyond taking a month or so off after the shop closes, Oliver isn’t sure what she’ll do next.

Julie Suiter, 37, was at the store Tuesday buying some shoes, a lock and a saddle. Suiter bought her first bike from the shop when she started riding in cyclocross races three years ago, and trusted the shop for repairs and maintenance.

Aside from the loss of her favorite store, Portland is losing a landmark, Suiter said.

“It was one of those Portland shops,” she said. “The kind of shop you live in Portland to go to, you can’t find it anywhere else.”


]]> 10, 20 Sep 2016 23:52:17 +0000
EpiPen maker defends price hike, signals 
no cut in cost Tue, 20 Sep 2016 23:58:23 +0000 WASHINGTON — The head of pharmaceutical company Mylan is defending the cost for life-saving EpiPens and is signaling the company has no plans to lower prices despite a public outcry.

“Price and access exist in a balance, and we believe we have struck that balance,” Heather Bresch says in prepared testimony released by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee ahead of her Wednesday appearance before the panel.

The price of EpiPens has grown to $608 for a two-pack, an increase of more than 500 percent since 2007. Republicans and Democrats have said families struggling to pay for the emergency allergy shots have every right to be outraged by Mylan, a company whose sales are in excess of $11 billion.

Bresch says in the testimony that she wishes the company had “better anticipated the magnitude and acceleration” of the rising prices for some families.

“We never intended this,” she says.

But she says investments are necessary to ensure more access for those who need it and the company has made strides to more widely distribute the drug to schools and others.

“We don’t want to go back to a time – not that long ago – when awareness of anaphylaxis was much lower and epinephrine auto injectors were only available in schools with a prescription for an individual child,” she says. “Achieving this level of expansion of awareness requires significant investment.”

House Oversight chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and the panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, have said they also want to examine ways to encourage greater competition in the EpiPen market.

“Our goal is to work together to ensure that critical medications, like the EpiPen, are accessible and affordable for all of our constituents,” Chaffetz and Cummings said in a joint statement last week.

]]> 12 Tue, 20 Sep 2016 20:27:31 +0000
MPBN rebranding itself into Maine Public Tue, 20 Sep 2016 23:51:00 +0000 Goodbye MPBN, hello Maine Public.

Starting Wednesday, the Maine Public Broadcasting Network is rolling out a new name, logo and tagline on the state’s airwaves.

CEO Mark Vogelzang announced the changes Tuesday, saying they are the result of a yearlong review of the network’s mission and future.

“After very careful consideration we decided to move ahead with redefining ourselves,” he said.

In recent months, MPBN has expanded its programming by launching a new classical music station, expanding local call-in show “Maine Calling” and adding several syndicated call-in shows live.

The new tagline is “Maine Public, every day it’s ______” with different adjectives, such as “provocative” or “educational,” filling in the blank.

Portland agencies Might and Main and GarrandPartners were part of the rebranding effort.

]]> 4 Tue, 20 Sep 2016 20:27:29 +0000
Sen. Warren tells Wells Fargo CEO he should resign Tue, 20 Sep 2016 23:44:24 +0000 WASHINGTON — The CEO of Wells Fargo faced calls for his resignation Tuesday from harshly critical senators over allegations that bank employees opened millions of unauthorized accounts to meet sales quotas.

Members of the Senate Banking Committee showed bipartisan outrage over the long-running conduct, unsatisfied by Chief Executive John Stumpf’s show of contrition.

Stumpf said he was “deeply sorry” that the bank failed to meet its responsibility to customers and didn’t act sooner to stem “this unacceptable activity.” He promised to assist affected customers.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren flatly told Stumpf he should step down. “You squeezed your employees to the breaking point so they would cheat customers,” she said. “You should resign. You should give back the money you took while the scam was going on.”

The Massachusetts Democrat, one of the fiercest critics of Wall Street, also advocated for a criminal investigation by the Justice Department and a civil probe by securities regulators.

Stumpf, a 34-year veteran of Wells Fargo and CEO since 2007, earned $19.3 million last year. The bank does have provisions that its board could use to claim back executive compensation.

Wells Fargo sales employees, trying to meet targets that called for every customer to have eight products with the bank, opened more than 2 million bank and credit card accounts, regulators said last week in levying a $185 million fine.

Money in customers’ accounts was said to have been moved to the new accounts without their permission. Debit cards were issued and activated, and PINs were created, without customers’ knowledge. In some cases, bank employees even created fake email addresses to sign up customers for online banking services, the regulators said.

Wells Fargo has long been known in the banking industry for its aggressive sales goals. Stumpf bristled at Warren’s suggestion that the sales practices were a “scam.”

He defended the cross-selling of products – trying to draw customers into taking on more – as “deepening relationships.”

The senators also challenged assertions that Stumpf and other Wells Fargo senior executives didn’t become aware of the problems until 2013 – when the sales misconduct was reported by the Los Angeles Times. The practices apparently began as early as 2009.

Carrie Tolstedt, the former head of the retail banking business, announced in July that she will retire from the bank this year. She is expected to leave with as much as $125 million in salary, stock options and other compensation.

Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee said it will be “malpractice” if the bank doesn’t institute the compensation clawbacks, and Stumpf said the board “has the tools to hold senior leadership accountable,” including himself and Tolstedt.

Peppered with criticism for nearly three hours, Stumpf appeared taken aback by the intensity of the verbal lashing. At one point he stumbled a bit over his words.

“It struck me that he was berated in a way that shook him a bit,” said Chris Kotowski, an analyst at Oppenheimer & Co. That contrasted with Stumpf’s usual “poised, deliberate” manner when speaking in other venues, he noted.

Under the settlement with regulators, Wells Fargo neither admitted nor denied the allegations. It later said it plans to eliminate the sales targets by Jan. 1. Some 5,300 employees have been fired.

Stumpf offered some detail at the hearing about who was fired, saying “bankers, bank managers, managers of managers, and even an area president.” They ranged in pay from about $35,000 to $65,000 a year.

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Emergency repair to boost supply in gasoline-short South Tue, 20 Sep 2016 23:19:15 +0000 ATLANTA — Gasoline should begin flowing again Wednesday – through a temporary bypass on a critical pipeline – after a major leak in Alabama forced a shutdown that led to surging fuel prices and scattered gas shortages across the South, a company official said Tuesday.

The roughly 500-foot section of pipe serving as the bypass is now complete, but supply disruptions may continue for days, Colonial Pipeline spokesman Steve Baker told the Associated Press.

“When Line 1 restarts, it will take several days for the fuel delivery supply chain to return to normal. As such, some markets served by Colonial Pipeline may experience, or continue to experience, intermittent service interruptions,” Colonial said in a written statement. “Colonial continues to move as much gasoline, diesel and jet fuel as possible and will continue to do so until markets return to normal.”

Alabama state workers discovered the leak Sept. 9 when they noticed a strong gasoline odor and sheen on a man-made retention pond, along with dead vegetation, according to a report by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The preliminary report does not identify the cause as the federal investigation continues. It wasn’t initially possible to pinpoint the leak, partly because highly flammable benzene and gasoline vapors prevented firefighters and inspectors from approaching the site for days.

The company has acknowledged that since the spill was spotted, between 252,000 gallons and 336,000 gallons of gasoline leaked from its pipeline near Helena, Alabama. That’s no more than 37 truckloads at an industry-average 9,000 gallons per tank.

But because the leak forced a critical pipeline to shut down, its impact was far greater. The pipeline section that failed, built in 1963, runs from Mississippi to Atlanta.

Colonial Pipeline Co., based in Alpharetta, Georgia, was formed in the 1960s by oil companies to transport their product along the eastern seaboard. It now operates 5,599 miles of pipelines, transporting more than 100 million gallons daily of gasoline, jet fuel, home heating oil and other hazardous liquids in 13 states and the District of Columbia, according to company filings.

The pipe that failed is one of two Colonial lines connecting dozens of refineries in Texas and Louisiana with cities from Atlanta to New York. Usually running at full capacity, it provides nearly 40 percent of the Southeast and East Coast region’s gasoline.

The EPA fined Colonial $34 million in 2003 for gross negligence – at the time the largest civil penalty in EPA history – after it spilled almost a million gallons of diesel in South Carolina, polluting waterways in four states. The company also agreed to spend $30 million to upgrade environmental protections on its pipeline system. But spills happen often in the oil industry.

Since 2006, the company has reported 178 spills and other incidents that released a combined 193,000 gallons of hazardous liquids and caused $39 million in property damage. Most were caused by problems with materials, welding or some other equipment failure, according to federal accident records reviewed by the Associated Press.

The company paid $381,000 in penalties for violating safety rules during the same period.

The U.S. Transportation Department last year proposed new inspection requirements for pipelines in rural areas, including increased use of remote leak-detection systems. However, the American Petroleum Institute has said retrofitting lines with remote-controlled valves could cost up to $1.5 million per device.

The spill reduced fuel supplies in at least five states – Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas – despite executive orders by governors across the South to suspend limits on trucking hours, allowing drivers to stay on the road longer to bring fuel to gas stations. Prices went up 27 cents over the past week in Georgia, according to AAA.

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Income gap grows between white and black workers Tue, 20 Sep 2016 22:48:23 +0000 WASHINGTON — As wages for American workers have stagnated for more than a generation, the income gap between black and white workers has widened, and discrimination is the main reason for the persisting disparity, according to a new report.

The Economic Policy Institute also found that young black women are being hit the hardest. This gap remains even after controlling for factors like education, experience, or geography.

According to the report released Tuesday, as of 2015, black men living in similar metropolitan areas and regions of the country make 22 percent less than white men with the same education and experience. For black women, the number is 34.2 percent less. Black women made 11.7 percent less than white women.

Since 1979, median hourly wage growth has fallen short of productivity growth for all workers, regardless of race or gender. Meanwhile, wages for black men and women have grown more slowly than for whites, resulting in the wage gap remaining unchanged or expanding in the decades that followed.

The report points to several reasons for the widening gap, while noting discrimination has consistently played a major role. Few black workers have the kinds of top-wage earning jobs that have seen the majority of growth during the studied period. The decline of unions – which have historically been helpful to black workers seeking income equality – has also contributed to the disparity.

And the report concludes that having a college degree worsens the gap, counter to the idea that education is the key to a more equal society.

While black male college graduates entering the workforce in the 1980s had less than a 10 percent disadvantage compared to whites, by 2014, similarly educated black men started their first jobs at a deficit of roughly 18 percent.

The report also found that growing earnings inequality has impacted young black college-educated men and women’s wage deterioration more in the years since the Great Recession than during any other period.

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‘Hear and Now’ sounds out ideas on workplace hearing loss Tue, 20 Sep 2016 22:38:08 +0000 Eight years ago, Jeff Ammon, now 55, began noticing a feeling of pressure in his ears every day after work.

Over the next months, when his symptoms progressed into a slight loss of hearing and sensitivity to noise, he became worried. Ammon, a construction worker for 32 years, eventually started wearing ear protection hoping this would address these complaints – but it was too late.

From that point on, sounds ranging from the hum of a lawnmower to normal tones of conversation caused a piercing, jabbing pain in his inner ear. He stopped working in 2011, when the pain became unbearable. He also hears ringing in his ears and experiences dizziness, both side effects of the auditory damage.

“It’s debilitating … completely,” he said.

Ammon spent almost all of his working life surrounded by the loud noises of jackhammers, saws and air compressors. Now he avoids going outdoors, choosing instead to stay in his soundproof basement in Lebanon, Pa., and communicate with his doctor mostly through an online patient portal.

“The medication to address pain has not been very successful at all. … I’m also on some medication for stress, anxiety and depression,” he said. “It has isolated me from society.”

Ammon is not alone in suffering from workplace-related hearing loss. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is the most common work-related injury with approximately 22 million workers exposed annually to hazardous levels of occupational noise. Workers in the mining sector, followed by those in construction and manufacturing, are most likely to suffer from hearing impairment. An estimated $242 million is spent on worker’s compensation annually for hearing loss disability, according to the Department of Labor.

In an effort to reduce these numbers, the Labor Department launched a challenge this summer called “Hear and Now,” in which it is soliciting pitches for innovative ideas and technology to better alert workers of hazardous noise levels.

But critics say that while these efforts might help, technology to reduce hearing injuries already exists. They contend that the maximum level of noise exposure allowed before employers are required to provide sound-protection equipment is too low, and the regulations developed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are outdated. For example, those regulations use sound level limits that don’t factor in the noise exposures that occur beyond the workplace – at restaurants, concerts and sporting venues, for instance – that can add to workers’ cumulative risks of harm.

According to OSHA officials, the agency will issue a request for information later this year about current regulations at construction sites to figure out if more stringent protections are needed and how companies are complying. (The construction industry has often been held to separate noise-related rules and requirements than those in place for other industries.) The review may lead to an update to these rules, most of which date back to the 1970s. A similar call for information was issued in 2002, but no changes resulted from the action.

Employers may also have to shoulder the responsibility of instilling more awareness and education among their workers. For example, workers sometimes choose not to wear hearing protection at work sites because they are not aware of their risks – especially when they are not operating loud equipment.

Mark Cullen, a professor at Stanford University who explores workplace hazards, found in a study that the employees who suffer most from hearing loss were those who were working in jobs involving moderate noise levels instead of high-noise environments.

“At very high noise exposures, people very faithfully wear hearing protection and at low noise situations, people don’t,” he said.

For general industry workers who are exposed to noise for eight hours a day at or above a time-weighted average of 85 decibels, OSHA requires employers to provide notification, audiometric testing and free hearing protectors. Employers also have to offer training programs for affected workers. The limit is 90 decibels for an eight-hour exposure for construction industry workers.

Meanwhile, the CDC, as part of its Buy Quiet campaign has an online database of power tools with information about sound levels of different tools to encourage businesses to invest in quieter tools and machinery.

Ammon worked for several small construction companies building houses. He said he was never told to wear ear protection. His colleagues didn’t wear it either. No one talked about it and, even when he worked with loud equipment, he wasn’t aware of the need for it.

“It costs money. That’s my opinion on why it’s gotten as bad as it has, at least for small construction companies,” Ammon said, and the rules are “just not enforced.”

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Maine’s wild blueberry crop bigger than expected in drought Tue, 20 Sep 2016 22:15:23 +0000 Maine’s wild blueberry crop was better than expected this year despite a drought that has hit some sectors of New England agriculture hard, and consumers could benefit from the heavy supply.

Maine, which is by far the largest wild blueberry-producing state in the country, most likely hit its five-year average of about 93 million pounds of blueberries this summer, said Nancy McBrady, executive director of the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine.

Growers normally welcome a big crop. But blueberry prices have been somewhat low in recent years, and this summer’s big supply could add to that trend.

“This is proving to be a problem on the selling end of things,” said Ed Flanagan, chief executive officer of Wyman’s of Maine. “There is a lot of supply being offered right now. And it’s weighing prices down.”

That’s good news for consumers, especially if it holds down market prices beyond the current season as some growers and processors fear.

The wild blueberry industry has struggled recently with oversupply and competition from the Atlantic Canadian provinces, which also produce wild blueberries. Canada’s dollar has been weaker and its blueberry prices lower than America’s recently. The federal government has even stepped in, spending about $13 million to buy up some of the surplus crop this year. The wild blueberry industry is coming off back-to-back huge crops of more than 100 million pounds in the past two years. McBrady said improvements to irrigation and a strong year for pollination buoyed Maine’s crop this year.

Wild blueberries are not as well known to consumers as the fatter cultivated blueberries, but they are commonly available in frozen food sections of grocery stores.

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