The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Business http://www.pressherald.com Thu, 26 May 2016 03:18:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.3.4 Data: Rent not affordable on minimum wage nationwide http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/data-rent-not-affordable-on-minimum-wage-nationwide/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/data-rent-not-affordable-on-minimum-wage-nationwide/#comments Thu, 26 May 2016 02:44:05 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/data-rent-not-affordable-on-minimum-wage-nationwide/ A decent two-bedroom rental today will cost you on average more than you could afford working full time earning the local minimum wage everywhere in the United States – in every state, every county, every metropolitan area. No matter how you draw the geography. Whether you live in Sioux Falls or San Francisco.

What the government considers to be a local “fair market rent” for a two-bedroom would eat up more than 30 percent of a minimum-wage worker’s earnings. This fact, from updated data annually compiled by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, addresses a small number of scenarios. Most renters make more than the minimum wage. And many workers who do may not need two bedrooms or rely on just one income.

But the national pattern – the minimum wage isn’t really a “housing wage” anywhere, even at 40 hours a week – hints at the difficulty of being a low-income single parent. And it’s just the most dire expression of an affordable housing crunch affecting renters much further up the income spectrum, too.

Most renter households making 30 percent of the local median income couldn’t afford a fair-market two-bedroom, either. And even median-income renter households can’t in much of the country.

In the District of Columbia, the median renter household makes about $47,000 a year. Fair-market rent for a two bedroom (including utilities) would gobble up about 41 percent of those gross earnings – above what economists would consider “affordable.”

In Philadelphia, a decent two-bedroom would take up 53 percent of the median renter income. In the Bronx, it would take up 66 percent. Median incomes and local rents vary dramatically across the country. But in most of the United States outside the Great Plains, the former isn’t enough to afford the latter.

Of course, people find a way to get by despite these prices. Families crowd into smaller, cheaper units than what they need. Or they wind up paying far more than 30 percent of their income on housing, curbing other expenses such as health care, food and transportation. Or they settle for substandard housing that costs well below what the Department of Housing and Urban Development would consider “fair market.” (The federal agency sets these rates each year to help determine subsidy levels of programs such as housing vouchers.)

Increasingly, lower-income renters in particular are having to make such concessions as rents have risen and wages have stagnated, and as the rental market has grown more crowded. Even a median income isn’t protection against high housing costs in many parts of the country.

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Old Orchard Beach Pier in line for national honor http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/old-orchard-beach-pier-in-line-for-national-honor/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/old-orchard-beach-pier-in-line-for-national-honor/#comments Thu, 26 May 2016 02:36:49 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/old-orchard-beach-pier-in-line-for-national-honor/ The Old Orchard Beach Pier stands to be named this week as one of the nation’s top 10 boardwalks.

Paul Golzbein, who owns the pier, said voting in the national contest closed Monday, and the last time he checked, his pier was ranked seventh. “I expect to be in the top 10, for sure,” he said.

V. Louise Reid, Old Orchard Beach’s assistant town manager, sent out an e-mail blast when she heard about the contest, urging residents and pier lovers to vote.

USA Today, sponsor of the Best Boardwalk contest, will announce the top 10 on Friday, according to its website. The newspaper holds a number of Readers’ Choice contests, ranging from the Best Fourth of July festival to Best Italian Sub/Hoagie in New Jersey.

“I felt kind of proud after hearing how we did,” Golzbein said, “especially when you are going up against some of the biggest boardwalks in the country.”

Other nominees are the Navy Pier in Chicago, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in California, and the Wildwoods boardwalk in New Jersey.

There is no money at stake, only positive publicity for a Maine landmark that is already visited by one million people a year, Golzbein said.

“Every living soul that comes to this town each summer walks on the pier,” he said. “My theory is simple. People come to Old Orchard Beach to have fun. So we provide them with fun.”

Golzein bought the 600-foot-long pier at an auction 35 years ago. It first opened to the public on July 2, 1898.

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Google wins patent for adhesive that sticks struck pedestrians to vehicles http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/google-wins-patent-for-adhesive-that-sticks-struck-pedestrians-to-vehicles/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/google-wins-patent-for-adhesive-that-sticks-struck-pedestrians-to-vehicles/#comments Thu, 26 May 2016 02:17:04 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/google-wins-patent-for-adhesive-that-sticks-struck-pedestrians-to-vehicles/ Google has been granted a patent for an adhesive vehicle front that’s designed to limit the injuries of a pedestrian it strikes.

A pedestrian struck by a vehicle with the adhesive front end would become stuck to the hood and bumper. The idea is to prevent a secondary blow in which the pedestrian might strike the windshield, roof or road after an initial collision with the car’s front.

With fewer impacts, pedestrians should suffer fewer injuries. But there’s one catch – they will end up covered in an adhesive substance.

The Google patent granted this month describes the adhesive coating as being present beneath an outer egg-like shell that would break in the event of a collision with a pedestrian or another object. Some automotive and pedestrian experts contacted for this story wondered whether the adhesive would be effective at a range of vehicle speeds. A Google spokeswoman declined to offer more details on the patent and noted that product announcements should not necessarily be inferred from patents.

“It sounds wacky to me, but who am I to say?” said Bill Visnic, the editorial director of mobility media at the Society of Automotive Engineers. He’s followed the car industry for 25 years and said he’s never seen anything like this. “It’s not something that’s beyond the pale of imagination as having some potential to help.”

Pedestrian safety has become a hot topic, and automakers are looking for ways to design their vehicles to protect not just humans on the inside, according to Visnic. In December, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced plans to expand its safety ratings to assess how well a vehicle protects pedestrians in the event of an accident.

The patent’s authors write that existing car bumpers are generally designed to absorb energy to protect the vehicle but provide little protection for a pedestrian. The thinking echoes that of pedestrian advocates.

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Report: Thirty-one percent of non-retired Americans lack retirement funds http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/report-thirty-one-percent-of-non-retired-americans-lack-retirement-funds/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/report-thirty-one-percent-of-non-retired-americans-lack-retirement-funds/#comments Thu, 26 May 2016 01:46:53 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/report-thirty-one-percent-of-non-retired-americans-lack-retirement-funds/ A substantial share of Americans lacked retirement savings and fewer households were confident in the outlook for their income at the end of last year.

That’s according to a Federal Reserve report on the economic well-being of U.S. households in 2015, released Wednesday. The findings show that while respondents increasingly reported that they are “doing OK” or “living comfortably,” a smaller share said they expected income growth than in the prior year’s survey. Thirty-one percent of non-retired Americans said they had no retirement savings at all, unchanged from 2014.

At a time when presidential candidates including Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have gained ground in part by appealing to a sense of disenfranchisement and disappointment, the findings paint a picture of Americans’ contrasting fortunes.

While households have been facing improving economic prospects, the results show fewer are optimistic about the future. And though the educated are faring well, those who lack a bachelor’s degree or who shoulder student debt continue to struggle.

“Single parents, racial and ethnic minorities, and respondents with lower levels of income or education are all more likely to report that they were having some level of difficulty getting by financially,” the report said. “Economic advancement continues to be experienced to a greater degree for respondents in higher socio-economic circumstances.”

The report shows that among those with a bachelor’s degree or higher, more than twice as many respondents said they were better off financially from the prior year, compared with those who said they were worse off. For people with a high school degree or less, the proportions saying they were better off and worse off were roughly equal.

And “the types of challenges differ greatly by income,” the report found. Rent, food, gas and other bills top the list for those making less than $40,000 annually, whereas higher-income families are more concerned with retirement and education.

While about 47 percent of respondents would have been able to cover an emergency expense of $400 using cash or money in their checking or savings accounts, many would have to resort to other means: 29 percent would have put it on a credit card and paid it off in the next statement, 17 percent would have put it on their card and paid it off over time and 13 percent would have had to borrow.

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Northeast Ocean Plan proposed as guide for coastline and ocean management http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/newly-released-draft-plan-will-guide-coastline-and-ocean-management/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/newly-released-draft-plan-will-guide-coastline-and-ocean-management/#comments Thu, 26 May 2016 00:11:11 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/newly-released-draft-plan-will-guide-coastline-and-ocean-management/ A regional planning group issued a sweeping ecosystem-based ocean draft plan Wednesday to guide federal agencies in New England.

The draft Northeast Ocean Plan has no regulatory power, but since it was developed by a group created by presidential order in 2010, the reams of science behind the plan will guide the federal agencies that help manage the coastline and oceans of New England, according to Betsy Nicholson, a member of the regional group that wrote the plan and regional director for coastal management for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The science is drawn from hundreds of data sources, and often packaged into easy-to-use interactive maps to understand the cumulative effect of disparate industries, such as looking at how marine mammal habitat intersects with regional shipping lanes or the location of marine industry job clusters or beach renourishment projects. Most of the data had existed before the plan’s release, Nicholson said, but not in one place, and not in such an easy to understand and use format.

“This is a huge benefit for people like fishermen, small tourism business owners and others,” said Anne Merwin, director of ocean planning at Ocean Conservancy. They “need to be out on the water, or in their shops, not tracking down the latest ocean development proposals.”

This is the first regional ocean plan to come out of President Obama’s executive order. The Mid-Altantic region is slated to release its draft plan next, in early summer.

The plan calls for the agencies to use the data, which the regional group is making available to the public through an online data portal, and work together with the state, tribal, and local governments in the six-state region. The planning group, which worked on the draft for four years, is made up of members from nine federal agencies, ranging from the Navy to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the six New England states, regional tribes, and advisory members from New York and Canada.

The plan also points out surprising gaps in data, such as how and where lobstermen fish along the sprawling New England coast, even though the fishery is central to the economic health of coastline communities and New England states, especially in Maine, and subject to the impact of development and climate change. Nick Battista, the marine programs director at Island Institute in Rockland, said lobstermen should be involved in decisions that could impact their coast.

“The lobster fishery is the economic backbone of many coastal Maine communities,” Battista said. “Without this fishery, many of these communities might disappear.”

The data portal is available to the public at www.northeastoceandata.org.

The group invites public comment on its website, at neoceanplanning.org/plan, through July 25, and will hold hearings across New England in June and July, including three in Maine. The first Maine hearing is in Rockland on June 6 at 5 p.m. at Rockland Public Library; the second is in Ellsworth on June 20 at 5 p.m. at Ellsworth Public Library; and in Portland on June 30 at 5 p.m., although no location has yet been identified.

 

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Biddeford company competing for $151.8 million military contract http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/biddeford-company-competing-for-151-million-military-contract/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/biddeford-company-competing-for-151-million-military-contract/#comments Thu, 26 May 2016 00:02:47 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/biddeford-company-competing-for-151-million-military-contract/ A Biddeford company is a finalist for a federal contract for up to $151.8 million for a sighting system for the Army’s newest class of grenade launchers.

Vingtech, which opened in Biddeford in 2007, is in competition with Wilcox Industries Corp. of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to win the contract, which will be awarded in three phases through March 2022, according to Peter Rowland, a senior operations specialist with the organization managing the Army’s sighting system programs. This type of contract is often used in a developmental program because it spurs competition, Rowland said.

Jim Lebel, Vingtech’s vice president, said he hopes the Army chooses the Vingtech system.

“We’re still in the developmental stage, our different designs in competition with each other, and we just have to let it play out and see which one the Army likes the best,” said Lebel. “We hope to have some really good news in the coming months, news that could mean more jobs for Maine.”

The government plans to chose one of the finalists to receive the production portion of the contract after evaluating and testing out prototype designs, Rowland said.

The sighting system will be used on the Heckler & Koch M320, a 40-millimeter, single-shot grenade launcher that can fire high explosive, armor piercing and illuminating rounds as well as non-lethal ones.

Vingtech employs about 35 people and is owned by Rheinmetall Defence of Germany.

In other defense contract news, Howell Laboratories Inc. of Bridgton, a water and purification systems maker and an employee-owned business, received a small business set-aside contract for up to $10 million for membrane element assemblies for the U.S. Navy in Maine. The company, founded in 1964, manufacturers chlorinators, dehydrators and measuring equipment found on most U.S. military surface ships and submarines.

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New Marriott hotel in Portland gets Planning Board approval http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/new-marriott-hotel-gets-planning-board-approval/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/new-marriott-hotel-gets-planning-board-approval/#comments Wed, 25 May 2016 22:21:17 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/new-marriott-hotel-gets-planning-board-approval/ The Portland Planning Board has approved a new hotel proposed for the city’s eastern waterfront.

The 150-room AC Hotel by Marriott at Fore, Hancock and Thames streets was approved unanimously by the six board members who voted Tuesday night.

The six-story building will be near the former Portland Co. project, where city officials have established a historic district and plans are in the works for offices, retail space and housing.

The new hotel, which was first proposed last fall, will cost an estimated $20 million and include a restaurant or about 4,000 square feet of retail space. Sixteen condominiums would be built on the top floor.

The lot where it will be built is currently vacant and sits between the Ocean Gateway garage and the Ocean Gateway terminal.

The developer is the Portland Norwich Group, which has offices in Florida and New Hampshire. Calls seeking information about when construction would begin and when the project is expected to be completed were not returned Wednesday.

The AC brand of Marriott hotels are designed with modern European influences like breakfasts that offer egg tarts rather than traditional eggs and an assortment of cheese, meats and fruit. Snacks and tapas plates replace room service. All of the AC hotels offer mobile check-in and check-out services.

The hotel will join several other recent additions to the city’s downtown hospitality sector, including the Press Hotel and the Hyatt. According to the Maine Real Estate and Development Association’s annual forecasting conference in January, downtown hotels reported a 70 percent occupancy rate in 2015, well above the state average of 56.7 percent. Industry observers say the city’s increasing reputation as a food hub is attracting visitors and making it a destination for tourists.

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The Cat expected to start ferry service in Maine in mid-June http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/cat-ferry-expected-to-start-service-mid-june/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/cat-ferry-expected-to-start-service-mid-june/#comments Wed, 25 May 2016 20:33:47 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/cat-ferry-expected-to-start-service-mid-june/ The Cat ferry, which will operate between Portland and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, this summer, was refloated Wednesday after more than a month in drydock for repairs and refitting, Bay Ferries Ltd. said.

The company said the ship is about to exit the drydock in Charleston, South Carolina, and then undergo inspection, some final work and dock and sea trials. The schedule for its trip north from Charleston has not been set, the company said, but it’s expected to enter service on June 15.

The high-speed catamaran is owned by the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command, which took ownership of the vessel after its initial owner, a ferry service in Hawaii, went bankrupt. Bay Ferries is leasing the ship, which will replace the Nova Star, a ferry that operated the Portland-Nova Scotia run the past two summers.

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Alfonds top Forbes list of Maine’s richest residents http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/alfonds-top-list-of-maines-richest-residents/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/alfonds-top-list-of-maines-richest-residents/#comments Wed, 25 May 2016 16:47:17 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/alfonds-top-list-of-maines-richest-residents/ Two of Harold Alfond’s four children are the richest people in Maine, according to Forbes magazine.

The publication has released its annual list of the richest people in each state and Bill and Susan Alfond are listed as Maine’s wealthiest, with a net worth of $1.2 billion. Dan Alexander, the Forbes reporter who wrote the piece accompanying the list, said Alfond’s other two children, Ted and Peter Alfond, do not reside primarily in Maine and so they are not included with their siblings as representing Maine’s wealthiest.

The $1.2 billion figure is the estimated net worth of Bill and Susan Alfond together, he said.

The text accompanying the picture of the two siblings recounts how in 1958, Harold Alfond founded Dexter Shoe Co. in an old mill in Dexter after having previously started Norrwock Shoe Co. and selling it for $1 million in 1944.

Alfond pioneered the concept of a factory outlet store, selling seconds at the log cabin outlets that he had built around the state. He eventually sold Dexter to Berkshire Hathaway in 1993 and gave much of his money and stock to the foundation that carries his name and is also the wealthiest foundation in the state.

In annual letters to shareholders, Berkshire Hathaway’s chairman Warren Buffett regularly called the purchase of Dexter one of his worst decisions ever, saying he overpaid for the company at $433 million, didn’t really understand where the shoe industry was going (specifically, that it was moving away from American-based manufacturing to factories overseas where labor was cheaper) and paid for the purchase in stock, rather than cash.

Berkshire Hathaway stock is now worth nearly 20 times what it was in 1993 and the Harold Alfond Foundation is the largest private foundation in the state, with nearly $745 million in assets as of the end of 2015, much of it in Berkshire Hathaway stock.

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Female CEOs see pay rise, but numbers remain small http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/female-ceos-paid-more-than-male-counterparts-but-very-few-of-them/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/female-ceos-paid-more-than-male-counterparts-but-very-few-of-them/#comments Wed, 25 May 2016 14:30:51 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/female-ceos-paid-more-than-male-counterparts-but-very-few-of-them/ For the second year in a row, female CEOs earned more than their male counterparts and received bigger raises. But only a small sliver of the largest companies are run by women, and experts say gender parity at the top remains way off.

The median pay for a female CEO was nearly $18 million last year, up about 13 percent from 2014. By comparison, male CEOs’ median pay was $10.5 million, up just 3 percent from a year earlier, according to an analysis by executive compensation data firm Equilar and The Associated Press.

A pay hike doesn’t tell the full story though.

The jump is largely due to the small sample size: only 17 of the 341 CEOs analyzed by Equilar and the AP were women. That means any one CEO’s compensation — Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s nearly $36 million package, for example, or Mary Dillon’s 200 percent raise at Ulta — can skew the results.

Of the 10 highest paid CEOs on the list, only one was a woman: Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, whose own position is in jeopardy amid questions about the company’s future.

The next highest-paid woman was Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Inc., who earned $22.2 million. General Dynamics CEO Phebe Novakovic came in third at $20.4 million. The lowest-paid female CEO on the list was Lauralee Martin of HCP, a health care real estate investment trust, whose pay package was valued at $800,000.

The only black woman to make the list — Ursula Burns of Xerox — is giving up her CEO role soon to serve as chairman of the document technology company after the business splits in two.

Women led companies in a variety of industries including technology, defense and aerospace and retail. While there are few women at the helm, they tended to be in higher paying industries or positions — making up 10 of the top 100 highest paid overall.

A recent report by S&P Global Market Intelligence highlights the gulf between words and actions in hiring women as CEOs.

“Despite all of the attention placed on increasing the number of female executives at American companies, the needle on the gender gap has hardly moved,” the report’s author, Pavle Sabic, wrote.

Sabic looked at the entire Standard & Poor’s 500 index from 2006 to 2015 and found the number of female CEOs rose from 16 to 21 — an increase of one new female CEO every two years.

“The gender gap at the CEO level … is not closing,” he wrote.

It’s an issue of both corporate and community culture, says Serena Fong, vice president of governmental affairs at Catalyst, a nonprofit that aims to expand opportunities for women in business. She said there are conscious and unconscious biases against women in the workplace that work their way into hiring and development practices.

Proponents of equality say female CEOs can help the reputation, recruitment and bottom line of businesses.

The data is there to support the hires but change is happening slowly, said Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief reputation strategist at Weber Shandwick, which studied the reputation factor of female CEOs.

“We are going to see … more progress because companies care about their reputations and boards care about their reputations,” Gaines-Ross said. “It’s going to happen, it’s just not going to happen fast enough.”

Equilar only looked at companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index that filed proxy statements with federal regulators between Jan. 1 and April 30, 2016. To avoid the distortions caused by sign-on bonuses, the sample includes only CEOs in place for at least two years.

That methodology means some CEOs, such as Mary Barra of General Motors, were not included.

To calculate pay, Equilar adds salary, bonus, perks, stock awards, stock option awards and other compensation. To determine what stock and option awards are worth, Equilar uses the value of an award on the day it is granted. For options, this includes an estimate of what the award could be worth in the future. Their actual value in the future can vary widely from what the company estimates.

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Ford recalls 271,000 F-150 pickups to fix brake fluid leak http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/ford-recalls-271k-pickups-to-fix-brake-fluid-leak/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/ford-recalls-271k-pickups-to-fix-brake-fluid-leak/#comments Wed, 25 May 2016 13:22:49 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/ford-recalls-271k-pickups-to-fix-brake-fluid-leak/ DETROIT — Ford is recalling some of its top-selling vehicles in the U.S. to fix a fluid leak that can reduce braking power.

The recall covers about 271,000 F-150 pickups in North America from the 2013 and 2014 model years that have 3.5-liter V6 engines.

Ford says brake fluid can leak from the master cylinder. That could reduce the ability of the front brakes to stop the trucks.

The company reports nine crashes with no injuries, but one person was hurt in an unspecified interaction with the brakes.

Dealers will replace the brake master cylinder for free. They’ll also replace the brake booster if they find leaks from the master cylinder.

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In Maine’s last open lobster zone, a feud over limiting newcomers http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/effort-to-close-lobster-zone-divides-fishery/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/effort-to-close-lobster-zone-divides-fishery/#comments Wed, 25 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=895284 In most of Maine, adults who want to make their living trapping lobster must wait until a licensed lobsterman dies or forgets to file a license renewal.

There is only one place in the state, in the waters of eastern Penobscot Bay off Stonington, Vinalhaven and Isle au Haut, where a resident who completes the necessary training and safety classes can get a license to lobster without waiting for at least a decade. But the lobstermen who oversee Maine’s last open lobster territory are now fighting over whether to cap the number of lobstermen who can fish those waters, effectively closing the last open door to the state’s largest commercial fishery.

The debate is pitting islanders who worry that a cap would eliminate an incentive for adult children to return home against mainland fishermen who want to protect this lucrative industry from outside exploitation. After years of debate, the local lobster council has tried to put the issue to a vote twice before, but the meetings have fallen through, with members missing meetings or walking out moments before a closure vote could be held.

The council was scheduled to try again this week, at a meeting where zone closure was the only topic on the agenda, but had to cancel because it lacked the quorum needed for a legal vote. One councilor had other plans. Another councilor had a family emergency. But two island-based councilors told the state Department of Marine Resources they wouldn’t be coming to a meeting as long as zone closure remained on the table.

“Feelings are running really high,” said Sarah Cotnair, the state liaison to the state’s seven lobster councils. “A lot of the lobstermen want to close the zone. They don’t want to share the bay with people from away, who come up from Scarborough or Boothbay just to lobster. Those who want to keep it open, they say an open zone is good for jobs, good for the local economy, especially for the islands. It’s a fight that’s been going on for years.”

ENTRY DIFFICULT IN MANY ZONES

The coastal waters of Maine are divided into seven fishing zones, lettered A through G, that stretch from the border with the Canadian Maritimes down to the New Hampshire state line. Lobstermen must complete 2,000 hours of training over 200 days, or two lobster seasons, 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 for years for a spot to open up.

Maine has 7,280 licensed lobstermen, each assigned to a zone based on their home address, but not all of them are traditional commercial fishermen who set a full run of 800 traps and may employ a sternman or two. One out of four is a recreational fishermen. One in seven is an apprentice or a student. One in 14 is over the age of 70, holding on to the state license to keep a connection to lobstering or to enable an unlicensed relative to keep fishing.

State statistics show that about a thousand of those license holders don’t land a single lobster in a typical year.

Although the fishing community talks about this debate in terms of open or closed, the issue boils down to entrance limitations so strict that people on the waiting list often feel like the zone is simply closed. People can get licenses in a “closed” zone, but they must wait for a spot to open up. In most cases, a spot only becomes available when someone has moved, died or forgotten to renew their license, Cotnair said. Most zones require more than one license-holder to leave before someone new can come in.

And some zones cap the number of lobster traps allowed in the zone rather than the number of lobstermen, since not everyone fishes a full run of 800.

No lobster zone, regardless of how crowded, is closed to a student who has completed a 2,000-hour apprenticeship and gets a high school diploma, or its equivalent, by age 20. A state law adopted in April gave these students more time to put in their hours, giving them two extra years to complete their apprenticeships. Lawmakers and fishermen hailed it as helping to keep the lobstering tradition alive among the upcoming generation of fishermen.

Although it is open, the number of licensed lobstermen in Zone C fell from 904 in 2014 to 830 in 2015, the lowest level since before 1997, when the state’s marine resources zone data was first collected. The number of apprentices, students and those who lobster for fun also fell over the past year, statistics show, lower than only a few years in that same 19-year time span.

BIG DECISION, LONG PROCESS

If the Zone C lobster council ever initiates the process to limit entry, it also would have to set a ratio of how many licenses or traps must become available before someone new can come in. Once that ratio is set, they would send out a survey to all licensed lobstermen in their zone to weigh in on closure and the proposed ratio. The council does not have to abide by the survey results, but most have done so, Cotnair said.

The council’s proposed change then goes to the Lobster Advisory Council and the state’s marine resources commissioner for review.

“If there is a vote (on closing Zone C), it will be very close,” said council member and state Rep. Walter Kumiega of Deer Isle, who chairs the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee. “My hope is if the zone closes, it will have a 1-to-1 or 2-to-1 exit ratio so there will still be reasonable entry. … It is a very big issue. It puts fishermen dealing with very crowded conditions on the water in conflict with a need to allow entry to maintain the population of their communities.”

The last lobster fishery to close in Maine was Zone A, the Bold Coast region that borders the Canadian Maritimes. John Drouin of Cutler, a licensed lobsterman for 37 years, was chairman of the council in 2004 when it voted to close, and still heads up the board today. The closure process there was difficult and slow, stretching out over a three-year period, Drouin said. He held public hearings in every district of the zone to help the council assess the community’s wishes.

“This issue isn’t on the shoulders of the council, it is up to the fishery participants,” he said. “So it was easy for me to vote in favor of closing since the vote in my district was like 72 percent in favor of closing. … You can’t please everyone, but as a representative, you can please the majority of who vote. And that is where you, as a council member, have to leave it. If they don’t have the stomach for it, then they shouldn’t be on the council.”

DIVISIONS KEEP THE STATUS QUO

The Zone C council sent out an unofficial questionnaire to license holders in 2015 that showed a majority wanted to limit entry to the fishery. Some members, such as Chairman Michael Sherman of Brooklin, whose district voted 45-10 in favor of closing the fishery, pointed to those results to explain why they support closure. But members who represent the island communities of North Haven and Isle au Haut want to keep it open.

The council voted in March on whether to keep the fishery open, but it failed along mainland-island lines. Island members walked out before a second vote that would have effectively closed the fishery for at least a year could occur.

Cotnair said the council hasn’t been able to corral the number of members needed to even hold a legal vote on the matter since.

 

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In key step, Cuba legalizing small private businesses http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/in-important-step-cuba-legalizing-small-private-businesses/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/in-important-step-cuba-legalizing-small-private-businesses/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 23:16:34 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/in-important-step-cuba-legalizing-small-private-businesses/ HAVANA — Cuba announced Tuesday that it will legalize small- and medium-sized private businesses in a move that could significantly expand private enterprise in one of the world’s last communist countries.

Cuban business owners and economic experts said they were hopeful the reform would allow private firms to import wholesale supplies and export products to other countries for the first time, removing a major obstacle to private business growth.

“This is a tremendously important step,” said Alfonso Valentin Larrea Barroso, director-general of Scenius, a cooperatively run economic consulting firm in Havana. “They’re creating, legally speaking, the non-state sector of the economy. They’re making that sector official.”

While the government offered no immediate further details, the new business categories appear to be the next stage in reforms initiated by President Raul Castro after he took over from his brother Fidel Castro in 2008. While those reforms have allowed about half a million Cubans to start work in the private sector, the process has been slow and marked by periodic reversals.

The government has regularly cracked down on private businesses that flourish and compete with Cuba’s chronically inefficient state monopolies. The latest backlash came after President Obama met private business owners during his March 20-22 visit to Cuba, prompting hard-line communists to warn that the U.S. wants to turn entrepreneurs into a tool to overturn the island’s socialist revolution.

The Communist Party documents, published in a special tabloid sold at state newsstands Tuesday, said a category of small, mid-sized and “micro” private business was being added to a master plan for social and economic development approved by last month’s Cuban Communist Party Congress. The twice-a-decade meeting, which is closed to the public and media, sets the direction for the single-party state for the coming five years. The 32-page party document published Tuesday is the first comprehensive accounting of the decisions taken by the party congress. State media reported few details of the debate or decisions taken at the meeting but featured harsh rhetoric from leading officials about the continuing threat from U.S. imperialism and the dangers of international capitalism.

That tough talk, it now appears, was accompanied by what could be a major step in Cuba’s ongoing reform of its centrally planned economy.

“Private property in certain means of production contributes to employment, economic efficiency and well-being, in a context in which socialist property relationships predominate,” reads one section of the “Conceptualization of the Cuban Economic and Social Model of Socialist Development.”

Vanessa Arocha, a 56-year-old architect who makes hand-made purses and bags at home under a self-employed worker’s license, said she dreamed of forming a legally recognized small business that could import supplies and machinery and hire neighbors looking for extra income.

“I could import fittings, zippers, vinyl,” she said. “Being a small business would be a new experience, one we know little about, but something very positive.”

The government currently allows private enterprise by self-employed workers in several hundred job categories ranging from restaurant owner to hairdresser. Many of those workers have become de-facto small-business owners employing other Cubans in enterprises providing vital stimulus to Cuba’s stagnant centrally planned economy.

The Cuban government blames the half-century-old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba for strangling the island’s economy. Cuba’s new class of entrepreneurs says the embargo is a major obstacle but also lodges frequent, bitter complaints about the difficulties of running a business in a system that does not officially recognize them.

Low-level officials often engage in crackdowns on successful businesses for supposed violations of the arcane rules on self-employment. And the government maintains a monopoly on imports and export that funnels badly needed products exclusively to state-run enterprises.

Because of its dilapidated state-run economy, Cuba imports most of what it consumes, from rice to air conditioners. Most private businesses are forced to buy scarce supplies from state retail stores or on the black market, increasing the scarcity of basic goods and driving up prices for ordinary Cubans. Many entrepreneurs pay networks of “mules” to import goods in checked airline baggage, adding huge costs and delays.

The latest change will almost certainly take months to become law. Such reforms typically require formal approval by Cuba’s National Assembly, which meets only twice a year.

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Affordable flying is in the summer forecast http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/affordable-flying-in-summer-forecast/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/affordable-flying-in-summer-forecast/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 22:40:04 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/affordable-flying-in-summer-forecast/ DALLAS — Enjoy lower airfares while you can. Airlines are taking steps to push prices higher by next year.

Fares have been dropping for over a year. Taking inflation into account, the average round trip within the U.S. in late 2015 was the lowest since 2010.

Ticket prices have fallen even further this year, according to the airlines. Not only is flying from Boston to Denver cheap, but Europe is more affordable.

Fliers can thank the steep plunge in oil prices since mid-2014. As they saved billions of dollars on fuel, carriers added supply – seats – faster than travel demand was growing. The major airlines have announced steps to rein in the oversupply, but fares will remain affordable for the peak travel season.

One downside: Be prepared to spend a few more hours in a security line.

The number of passengers this summer is expected to rise 4 percent over last year’s record level. That, along with fewer Transportation Security Administration screeners, is expected to create long lines.

American Airlines and United Airlines each plan to spend $4 million on contractors who will help TSA by handling some of the non-screening duties.

Stories about horrific lines might be an opportunity for last-minute deals, according to Pauline Frommer, of the travel guide company Frommer’s.

“If American Airlines is going to spend $4 million of its own money, obviously the airlines are nervous about not being able to sell last-minute seats,” she said.

Signing up for fare alerts from the airlines and price-tracking websites can help consumers spot those deals, many of which lapse quickly.

Last week airfarewatchdog.com spotted $688 round trips on British Airways and American leaving New York on July 6 and returning July 17. George Hobica, the site’s founder, said $1,200 would be more typical for peak season. The sale lasted one day.

If you don’t have kids in school, the easiest way to save money would be delaying a big trip until at least mid-August. “After that, we see fares drop off a cliff,” Hobica said.

Within the U.S., the cost of an average round trip fell 8 percent last year to $363, according to government figures. Fares have fallen faster on international routes, which added a glut of flights.

U.S. airlines now get about $1.1 billion more from baggage and ticket-change fees than they did in 2010, although the percentage of revenue accounted for by airfares is unchanged at 75 percent.

Faced with fuel costs that have gone back up since February, investors are pressuring airlines to reverse the decline in fares by growing more slowly.

Delta Air Lines said this month it will cut its planned growth more sharply as this year goes along. United Airlines squeezed its planned 2016 growth by 0.5 percentage points, and American will slash its planned international growth this year to 2.5 percent from the original 6 percent.

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Spring home sales are off to a robust start http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/spring-home-sales-are-off-to-a-robust-start/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/spring-home-sales-are-off-to-a-robust-start/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 22:07:55 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/spring-home-sales-are-off-to-a-robust-start/ WASHINGTON — Americans ramped up their purchases of new homes in April to the highest level since January 2008, evidence of a strong start to the spring buying season.

The Commerce Department said Tuesday that new home sales jumped 16.6 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted rate of 619,000, up from a revised total of 531,000 in March.

Steady job gains and low mortgage rates have encouraged more Americans to buy new homes. That trend is driving home construction and helping support the economy.

The new home sales figures are notoriously volatile, particularly at the regional level.

Last month, new home purchases leapt 53 percent in the Northeast and 19 percent in the West. They fell 5 percent in the Midwest and jumped 16 percent in the South.

The housing market is still healing from the long-term consequences of the bubble and bust a decade ago. Last month’s sales aren’t far from the historical long-run pace of about 650,000 a year.

Developers have been disproportionately targeting higher-income buyers: The median price of a new home that sold in April was $321,100, a record high, up from $297,900 in March.

Those sharp price gains will likely put many new homes out of reach for some buyers, particularly younger first-time purchasers.

Still, more building is expanding the supply of homes available for sale, which could help relieve some pricing pressure. The number of new homes for sale is 17.4 percent more than a year earlier.

That could help offset a shortage of existing homes for sale, which have fallen 3.6 percent in the past year.

The housing market is showing signs of picking up after a weak start to the year, though growth remains modest.

Lower mortgage rates are helping: The average 30-year fixed rate mortgage was just 3.58 percent last week, according to mortgage buyer Freddie Mac.

Sales of existing homes, which make up 90 percent of the housing market, rose in April for a second straight month to an annual pace of 5.45 million, a figure consistent with a solid economy.

And the construction of new homes rose 6.6 percent in April to an annual rate of 1.17 million houses and apartments.

That mostly reversed a steep drop in March. Builders are breaking ground for new homes at a faster pace than they did last year.

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Portland official says ‘midtown’ land deal on track to close this month http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/portland-official-midtown-land-deal-on-track-to-close-this-month/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/portland-official-midtown-land-deal-on-track-to-close-this-month/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 21:31:56 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/portland-official-midtown-land-deal-on-track-to-close-this-month/ The embattled “midtown” mixed-use development in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood is one step closer to becoming a reality.

A Portland official said the city is on track to sign over a 3.5-acre plot of city-owned land to midtown’s developer, Federated Cos., by the end of the month.

“We are working towards that goal of closing (the sale) on May 31,” said Greg Mitchell, the city’s economic development director.

On May 16, the Portland City Council approved three amendments to the purchase and sale agreement that the Florida-based developer said would allow it to move forward. The amendments:

 Eliminate the requirement that midtown participate in the city’s (now suspended) Park and Shop program.

 Eliminate the city’s right to buy back the property on which housing units will be built. Federated said it could not get financing for the project unless that requirement was eliminated. The city still would have the right to buy back the adjacent parking garage property.

 Require Federated Cos. to commit to building certain structures, including the parking garage.

As planned, midtown will include about 440 market-rate apartments, 90,000 square feet of retail space and an 840-space parking garage. Its estimated cost is $75 million, including nearly $12 million in subsidies, some of which will go toward street improvements.

If the deal closes this month, it will mark the end of a long process for Federated Cos. and the city that has been stalled multiple times by neighborhood opposition and disagreements over the details of the project.

It began back in June 2011, when the council voted unanimously to sell the land, on Somerset Street, to Federated Cos. for $2.3 million.

Since then, the project has been reduced in size from its original plans for up to 850 housing units that would have been built in phases over 10 years. In its current form, midtown is expected to take just three years to build.

 

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Monsanto rejects $62 billion bid from Bayer, but still open to talks http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/monsanto-rejects-62-billion-bid-from-bayer-to-create-global-seed-giant/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/monsanto-rejects-62-billion-bid-from-bayer-to-create-global-seed-giant/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 17:15:53 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/monsanto-rejects-62-billion-bid-from-bayer-to-create-global-seed-giant/ Monsanto Co. rejected a $62 billion takeover offer from Bayer as too low, while saying it remains open to further deal talks, putting pressure on the German company to raise a bid that has already sent its stock tumbling.

“We believe in the substantial benefits an integrated strategy could provide to growers and broader society, and we have long respected Bayer’s business,” Monsanto Chief Executive Officer Hugh Grant said in a statement Tuesday.

“However, the current proposal significantly undervalues our company and also does not adequately address or provide reassurance for some of the potential financing and regulatory execution risks related to the acquisition,” he said.

Bayer will likely come back with a higher bid, Jonas Oxgaard, an analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. in New York, said Tuesday in a note, adding that an offer below $135 per share would be “challenging” for Monsanto to agree to.

Buying Monsanto would create the world’s biggest supplier of farm chemicals and seeds. Monsanto is the largest seed supplier and a pioneer of genetically modified crops, which two decades on from their introduction have come to account for the majority of corn and soybeans grown in the United States. Monsanto also sells seeds in foreign markets including Latin America and India.

The offer from Bayer, which was made May 10 in a letter to Monsanto, marks a reversal of roles for the U.S. company. Monsanto previously sought to buy Swiss pesticide maker Syngenta, abandoning the $43.7 billion bid in August after the other company refused to agree to a deal.

The crop and seed industry is being reshaped by a series of large transactions that may end up leaving just a few global players who can offer a comprehensive range of products and services to farmers. China National Chemical Corp. agreed in February to acquire Syngenta for about $43 billion, months after Monsanto abandoned its own bid for Syngenta. Meanwhile DuPont Co. and Dow Chemical Co. plan to merge and then carve out a new crop-science unit.

Despite its preeminence in seeds, Monsanto has become vulnerable to a takeover as a number of problems piled up this year. The company has cut its earnings forecast, clashed with some of the world’s largest commodity-trading companies and become locked in disputes with the governments of Argentina and India.

Farmers have seen their incomes fall in the last few years amid declining commodity prices, and that’s spurred them to increasingly demand products tailored to their needs, according to Jason Miner, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. Monsanto has become over-reliant on seeds at the expense of crop chemicals such as pesticides, something that spurred the company in its ultimately unsuccessful pursuit of Syngenta, Miner said.

Monsanto was founded in 1901, its first product was the artificial sweetener saccharin. Until the late 1970s, the company produced highly toxic polychlorinated biphenyls, known as PCBs. It was also among companies that manufactured the mixture of herbicides known as Agent Orange and used as a defoliant by the U.S. in the Vietnam War.

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Maine company gets Microsoft grant to help remote area connect to Internet http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/microsoft-grants-to-extend-internet-access-to-remote-areas/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/microsoft-grants-to-extend-internet-access-to-remote-areas/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 17:09:42 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/microsoft-grants-to-extend-internet-access-to-remote-areas/ Washington County found itself Tuesday in the company of Rwanda, Malawi, Indonesia and several other developing nations.

They all were recipients of technology grants from Microsoft, part of a new program launched by the software giant to help remote and economically challenged areas make connections to the Internet. Here in Maine, Machias-based Internet service provider Axiom Technologies landed a $72,800 grant to provide Internet access to more than three dozen rural homes in Washington County, where it makes no economic sense to try to extend wired connections to the web.

“I see this as the beginning of a relationship with Microsoft,” said Mark Ouellette, president and chief operating officer of Axiom Technologies. “It really does open up the world to small businesses.”

The Redmond, Washington-based company on Tuesday awarded 12 grants through its Affordable Access Initiative, part of its commitment to invest $1 billion to bring the power of cloud technology to serve the public good. The grant to Axiom Technologies was the only one in North America. One grant was awarded in South America, one in Europe, five in Africa and four in Asia.

Axiom plans to use the money to wirelessly connect about 40 buildings, mostly homes, to the Internet using “TV white space,” which utilizes a portion of the broadcast spectrum that had been used to broadcast over-the-air television before those transmissions were switched to digital high-definition signals, Ouellette said.

That technology will allow the company to provide wireless Internet access to homes that are far from broadband wired connections. With the help of the Microsoft grant, the cost will be only $9.90 a month – about a quarter or less than the cost of a wired connection via a cable company – and users also will have access to a suite of cloud-based Microsoft programs, such as Excel and Word.

Axiom, which has 14 employees and about 1,200 customers in Washington County, is still trying to decide where to roll out the new connections by this summer, Ouellette said. The hope is that the customers will have home-based businesses that will benefit from the access to the Internet and the software.

Most of the other projects funded under the grant program are aimed at connecting schools to the web for educational programing. One, in Uganda, will support an expansion of a network of small solar fuel cells to provide electricity to villages so they can power computers with connections to the web. A company in Argentina is working on a mobile platform chatbot using artificial intelligence to enable farmers to communicate with their animals and receive alerts and recommendations.

Projects in Philippines, Malawi and Botswana also are using TV white space to expand Internet access in remote parts of those countries.

Using the part of the broadcast spectrum abandoned by television stations is important, said Phil Lindley, the executive director of ConnectME, a state agency that helps expand access to broadband Internet in Maine.

Unlike some other wireless technologies, TV white space doesn’t require line-of-sight corridors to allow connections, Lindley said, which is vital in heavily wooded parts of the state, like Washington County. Although the technology does not provide speeds comparable to the faster wired connections, TV white space offers a significant improvement over other ways of getting online, such as a dial-up connection using a telephone, he said. Axiom’s TV white space routers will connect to the state’s Three Ring Binder backbone, a 1,100-mile, 20 gigabit spine of broadband service that loops through rural parts of western, northern and eastern Maine completed two years ago, Lindley said.

“Using wireless is a good solution” to connecting homes that are so far off the grid that running a wire is prohibitively expensive, he said. Although a wired connection is still preferred because of the speed it offers, the cost and effectiveness of wireless connections is improving and could be very important in helping more Mainers in rural parts of the state get online, Lindley said.

As the technology improves, costs should come down, meaning more parts of Maine could be linked to the web using the wireless connections. That’s important, he said, noting that the state is, at best, in the middle-of-the-pack nationally in terms of home access to the Internet.

Maine has persistently finished in the bottom of broadband speed rankings. A study released last year by ConnectME noted 80 percent of Maine doesn’t have access to high-speed Internet service, which is defined as having 10 megabits per second (Mbps) upload and download speeds.

Ouellette said some of the grant money will go toward classes for the new users, to help teach them the Microsoft programs they will have access to, as well as membership for Axiom in the Dynamic Spectrum Alliance, a international group of companies and organizations focused on improving and expanding the use of the TV white space technology.

That could be a real key to the economic vitality of rural parts of the state, where poverty rates are highest, said Fletcher Kittredge, the chief executive officer and founder of GWI, an Internet service provider based in Biddeford. Kittredge was a key backer of the Three Ring Binder project to expand high-speed Internet access beyond the more developed southern half of Maine.

“There are places in Washington county that are really, really rural and where the connectivity is hard,” he said. “Affordability is so important in those areas.”

 

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Cape Chiropractic to start building office/apartment complex in the fall http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/cape-chiropractic-to-start-building-officeapartment-complex-in-the-fall/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/cape-chiropractic-to-start-building-officeapartment-complex-in-the-fall/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 16:57:38 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/cape-chiropractic-to-start-building-officeapartment-complex-in-the-fall/ CAPE ELIZABETH — The owners of the fast-growing Cape Chiropractic and Acupuncture practice plan to start building an office and apartment complex on Hill Way this fall after receiving Planning Board approval last week.

Zev and Amber Myerowitz sought permission to build two three-story buildings at 12 Hill Way, a short street that forms a land triangle at the intersection of Ocean House and Scott Dyer roads.

The complex, which would be built next to a former Cumberland Farms gas station and convenience store, would feature ground-level office space and a total of 10 townhouse-style apartments on the second and third floors.

The board unanimously approved the project, which is the town’s first proposal for multifamily rental housing in about a decade. The project comes as many Greater Portland communities wrestle with a housing shortage, especially of affordable rentals suitable for families. It also answers the call for small-scale, mixed-use development outlined in the Town Center Plan that was adopted in 2014.

The project is expected to be completed by next summer, said Zev Myerowitz, a third-generation chiropractor who grew up in Bangor and specializes in acupuncture, oriental medicine and sports performance. Amber Myerowitz is a New York native and a certified chiropractic assistant who also practices acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine.

Cape Chiropractic is now located at 2 Davis Point Lane, where the couple also live. The couple plan to move into one of the apartments at 12 Hill Way and be hands-on landlords, carefully screening tenants and making sure neither the commercial nor residential aspects of the complex have an adverse impact on the neighborhood.

The couple said they would preserve as many trees as possible on the 2-acre wooded lot and carefully design and landscape the project to minimize the appearance of the complex. They also agreed to coordinate sidewalk and storm drain construction with roadwork that the town plans to do on the rest of Hill Way.

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New York lawsuit accuses Domino’s Pizza of ‘rampant wage violations’ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/new-york-lawsuit-accuses-dominos-pizza-of-rampant-wage-violations/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/new-york-lawsuit-accuses-dominos-pizza-of-rampant-wage-violations/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 14:02:10 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/new-york-lawsuit-accuses-dominos-pizza-of-rampant-wage-violations/ ALBANY, N.Y. – The state’s attorney general on Tuesday sued Domino’s Pizza Inc., affiliates and three franchisees alleging they underpaid workers based on payroll reports generated by the parent company’s computer system.

“We’ve uncovered rampant wage violations at Domino’s franchise stores, and intensive involvement by Domino’s headquarters that caused many of these violations,” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said. “At some point, a company has to take responsibility for its actions and for its workers’ well-being.”

Schneiderman said the company knew for years that its PULSE system undercalculated gross wages while encouraging franchisees to use it.

The suit in state Supreme Court in Manhatttan alleges the three franchises and the company, as joint employers, underpaid workers at least $565,000 at 10 New York stores. It also seeks to determine full restitution owed to workers, a court finding that Domino’s defrauded its franchisees and violated state law, and a monitor to ensure future compliance.

The attorney general’s office has settled cases with 12 other Domino’s franchisees, who collectively own 61 stores and have agreed to pay about $1.5 million. The company has 136 franchisee-owned stores in New York, along with 54 owned by Domino’s itself.

The Ann Arbor, Michigan-based company called Schneiderman’s lawsuit disappointing, saying it “disregards the nature of franchising and demeans the role of small business owners.” The company said it has worked with his office for three years trying to help franchises comply with New York’s complex wage laws.

“It’s unfortunate that these steps were not enough, and that the attorney general now wants the company to take steps that would not only deprive our independent business owners of the opportunity to make their own employment decisions, but could impact the viability of the franchise model, the many opportunities it offers to those looking to start their own businesses, and the millions of jobs those franchised businesses create,” company spokesman Tim McIntyre said.

In a March letter to Terri Gerstein, chief of Schneiderman’s Labor Bureau, a lawyer for the company wrote that its standard franchise agreement requires complying with all laws and regulations and that the company agreed that every employee not paid the legal wage “should be made whole.” The company would be willing to fund the cost of a monitor and franchise management training on complying with New York’s wage and hour laws, attorney Eric Corngold wrote.

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Ammonia leak inside Portland building contained http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/haz-mat-crews-trying-to-contain-ammonia-leak-in-portland/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/haz-mat-crews-trying-to-contain-ammonia-leak-in-portland/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 12:01:27 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/haz-mat-crews-trying-to-contain-ammonia-leak-in-portland/ The Portland Fire Department stopped an ammonia leak at a cold storage facility in a Portland industrial park five hours after large quantities of the noxious gas began spewing into the building early Tuesday morning.

No one was inside the building at the AdvancePierre Foods cold storage warehouse at 56 Milliken St. when the leak was reported at 5 a.m. by an employee of another business next door who smelled the gas and called 911, said Deputy Fire Chief Keith Gautreau.

What remains unclear is why an AdvancePierre employee did not call the fire department after that person was notified of the leak by a private monitoring company that keeps tabs on the refrigeration system, much like a home security company.

“I have to look into why we weren’t notified immediately,” Gautreau said.

A spokeswoman for AdvancePierre did not answer questions about emergency procedures, and whether a plant manager should have called firefighters immediately.

The leak was stopped about 9:30 a.m. after firefighters from the hazardous materials team entered the plant five times to gather information before isolating the leak and stopping it. Gautreau said a faulty valve was the likely culprit in the leak.

The storage facility was previously owned by Barber Foods, which still operates a plant on St. John Street in Portland. AdvancePierre acquired Barber in 2011.

There is no record of violations on file with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration for the Milliken Street plant, according to the safety agency’s online database.

A spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Labor, which has oversight over public-sector workplace safety in the state, said that since the business is private, it would not be involved, however the federal workplace safety officials could investigate the leak.

Ammonia is used as a common industrial refrigerant. The AdvancePierre facility had 21,000 pounds of ammonia in its refrigeration system, but Gautreau said it is not yet clear how much leaked.

According to OSHA, an acceptable level of ammonia is 50 parts per million averaged over eight hours. During the leak, Portland hazmat teams were measuring between 3,000 parts per million and 5,000 parts per million, with readings peaking at about 9,000 parts per million, Gautrau said.

Ammonia is an extreme skin and eye irritant. At levels above about 12,000 parts per million, it becomes flammable. Prolonged exposure to high concentrations can be fatal because the gas displaces oxygen, causing asphyxiation and pulmonary edema, when fluid accumulates in the lungs.

After the leak, an emergency system automatically vented the gas out of the building. Although typical wind patterns would have brought the pungent smell toward a neighborhood about 250 yards from the plant, a weather system off the Maine coast pushed the odor in the opposite direction.

“The good news is once it’s in fresh air, it dissipates fairly quickly,” Fire Chief David Jackson said.

Jackson said he knows of no prior safety issues at the company’s Portland location.

He also said the alarm system that detects ammonia leaks appears to have functioned properly.

AdvancePierre Foods supplies proteins and sandwich products to schools, food service and retail outlets across the country. In 2011, the company purchased Portland-based Barber Foods. The company is headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio.

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 10:28 a.m. on May 25, 2016 to clarify that Maine Department of Labor would not be involved with investigating the leak for the private business.

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Farmington affordable housing complex seeks to finish renovations http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/23/farmington-affordable-housing-complex-seeks-to-finish-renovations/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/23/farmington-affordable-housing-complex-seeks-to-finish-renovations/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 02:19:54 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/23/farmington-affordable-housing-complex-seeks-to-finish-renovations/ FARMINGTON — An affordable housing complex in Farmington is searching for alternative modular building manufacturers to complete planned renovations after manufacturer Keiser Homes closed recently.

The developers of 82 High Street, a nonprofit affordable housing complex, had planned on buying three modular apartment buildings from Oxford-based Keiser Homes, but with the company’s abrupt closing this month, the complex’s board of directors will review proposals from three other companies in order to stay on track with the project.

The board of directors met Thursday with representatives from Cousineau Inc. of Wilton, the Keiser Homes dealer and construction company that was overseeing the construction of the 82 High Street development.

While 82 High Street had already put down a deposit on the three modular buildings, Cousineau, which has filed a lawsuit in an attempt to get its deposit back, has promised to absorb the cost of the deposit if it’s not repaid, said Rachel Jackson Hodson, the manager of 82 High Street.

“We’re the ones taking the loss,” Randy Cousineau, president of Cousineau Inc., said Monday. “We’re going to honor the original contract.”

Jackson Hodson said the directors will meet again this Thursday with Cousineau representatives to review three proposals from other modular home companies.

Cousineau said the 82 High Street project is the only one the company is working on that was interrupted by Keiser Homes’ closing.

The company announced May 6 it was closing its manufacturing plant in Oxford because parent company Innovative Systems, based in Pennsylvania, is bankrupt and is being forced to liquidate by creditors.

The Farmington complex is still waiting to hear back on whether it has received a $500,000 federal Community Development Block Grant that is needed for the $1.5 million project to be completed.

82 High Street has already secured a $500,000 grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank and a $540,000 loan from Franklin Savings Bank.

The complex consists of 18 mobile homes and three apartment buildings, each with four units.

The apartment buildings on the property “are tired,” Jackson Hodson said. With foundation issues and some of the roofs leaking, she said it would cost more to repair the buildings than to replace them.

Lauren Abbate can be contacted at 861-9252 or at:

labbate@centralmaine.com

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Madison mill produces last roll of paper http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/23/madison-mill-produces-last-roll-of-paper/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/23/madison-mill-produces-last-roll-of-paper/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 01:08:50 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/23/madison-mill-produces-last-roll-of-paper/ MADISON — Some employees left their jobs for good at Madison Paper Industries after the mill’s last day of production Saturday, and others will leave within the next one to two months, according to the mill’s president and CEO.

“Everybody is somber but very professional,” Madison Paper President and CEO Russ Drechsel said Monday.

“Everybody knows what tasks they’re responsible for and have been moving forward and completing those tasks,” Drechsel said

On Saturday the mill, which is owned by UPM Kymmene and SC Paper Corp., produced its last roll of paper after announcing in March that it would close permanently, putting about 215 people out of work.

The mill, a producer of supercalendered paper used for magazine publishing, has been in Madison since 1978 and was producing about 195,000 tons of paper annually at the time the closure was announced.

UPM is continuing to seek a buyer for the mill as well as its hydropower assets.

However, Drechsel said Monday that “nothing has changed” in the company’s search for buyers.

While some employees have already left work, others will remain for up to two months to clean up and shut down the facility, Drechsel said.

Mike Croteau, president of the United Steelworkers Local 36, one of two unions at Madison Paper, did not return a call seeking comment Monday.

In April, the U.S. Department of Labor announced federal funding through the Trade Adjustment Assistance program to help Madison workers search for and secure new jobs.

“We have a lot of workers over the age of 50 who are probably going to end up taking jobs that will be a significant pay cut,” Croteau said at the time. “Part of the TAA program offsets those lost wages.”

In 2014, the tax valuation of Madison Paper – the town’s largest taxpayer – dropped by about $150 million to its current value of $80 million.

Drechsel said last month that the value of the mill has dropped even more since the announcement that it would close, and mill officials are currently in discussions with the town over a further reduction in valuation, something that Town Manager Tim Curtis said would likely not take place until July or August if it happens.

“Any impact moving forward will be pretty minimal,” Curtis said.

“We kind of have to wait and see just like anybody else as to who the new owners are, what they’re going to do with the property.”

 

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Bayer offers to buy Monsanto http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/23/bayer-offers-to-buy-monsanto/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/23/bayer-offers-to-buy-monsanto/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 00:53:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/23/bayer-offers-to-buy-monsanto/ Bayer said Monday that it has offered to buy Monsanto for $62 billion in cash, potentially creating a giant agrochemicals company that would span genetically modified seeds and pesticides to antibiotics.

Bayer, which is based in Germany, is probably best known as a pharmaceutical company with its iconic aspirin a staple of store shelves for more than 100 years.

But it also has a long history in agriculture and said buying Missouri-based Monsanto would strengthen its hand in that market. Monsanto’s history as one of the first companies to create a genetically engineered seed has made it controversial.

“Together we would draw on the collective expertise of both companies to build a leading agriculture player with exceptional innovation capabilities to the benefit of farmers, consumers, our employees and the communities in which we operate,” said Werner Baumann, chief executive of Bayer.

But it is unclear whether Monsanto will accept the offer or whether U.S. regulators would balk at the creation of such a large industry competitor.

Bayer is offering Monsanto shareholders a hefty premium, more than 30 percent, to buy the company. The offer comes amid an industry slump.

It also comes after chemical giants Dow Chemical and DuPont agreed to merge into a $130 billion behemoth, then split again into three companies.

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Keiser Homes closing disrupts Farmington housing complex renovation http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/23/keiser-homes-closing-disrupts-farmington-housing-complex-renovation/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/23/keiser-homes-closing-disrupts-farmington-housing-complex-renovation/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 00:37:03 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/23/keiser-homes-closing-disrupts-farmington-housing-complex-renovation/ FARMINGTON — An affordable housing complex in Farmington is searching for alternative modular building manufacturers to complete planned renovations after manufacturer Keiser Homes closed recently.

The developers of 82 High Street, a nonprofit affordable housing complex, had planned on buying three modular apartment buildings from Oxford-based Keiser Homes, but with the company’s abrupt closing earlier this month, the complex’s board of directors will review proposals from three other companies in order to stay on track with the project.

The board of directors met Thursday with representatives from Cousineau Inc. of Wilton, the Keiser Home dealer and construction company that was overseeing the construction of the 82 High Street development.

While 82 High Street had already put a deposit down on the three modular buildings, Cousineau, which has filed a lawsuit in an attempt to get the deposit back, has promised to absorb the cost of the deposit if it’s not repaid, said Rachel Jackson Hodson, the manager of 82 High Street.

“We’re the ones taking the loss,” Randy Cousineau, president of Cousineau Inc., said Monday. “We’re going to honor the original contract.”

Jackson Hodson said the directors will meet again this Thursday with Cousineau representatives to review three proposals from other modular home companies.

Cousineau said that the 82 High Street project is the only project the company is working on that was interrupted by Keiser Homes closing.

The company announced May 6 it was closing its manufacturing plant in Oxford because parent company Innovative Systems, based in Pennsylvania, is bankrupt and is being forced to liquidate by creditors.

The Farmington complex is still waiting to hear back on whether it has received a $500,000 federal Community Block Development Grant that is needed for the $1.5 million project to be completed.

82 High Street has already secured a $500,000 grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank and a $540,000 loan from Franklin Savings Bank for the project.

The complex consists of 18 mobile homes and three apartment buildings, each with four units. The apartment buildings on the property “are tired,” Jackson Hodson said. With foundation issues and some of the roofs leaking, she said it would cost more to repair the buildings than to replace them.

Lauren Abbate — 861-9252

labbate@centralmaine.com

Twitter: @Lauren_M_Abbate

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UMaine team to track diseased lobsters caught off state’s coast http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/23/umaine-team-to-track-diseased-lobsters/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/23/umaine-team-to-track-diseased-lobsters/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 00:32:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=893433 Every year, the University of Maine fields phone calls from lobstermen who suspect that pockmarked, thin-shelled lobsters they have hauled aboard have epizootic shell disease.

Sometimes, the university can send a researcher out to see if a lobster has the disease, which has ripped through the southern New England fishery and is just beginning to show up in Maine waters.

The university has had no money, however, to hire the staff it would need to collect and study diseased lobsters in real time. Usually, a diseased lobster is long gone, tossed back in the sea, before the researcher can study the specimen or even confirm the diagnosis.

But this spring, thanks to a $127,000 state grant, the University of Maine will create a rapid response team to collect and evaluate sick lobsters harvested in state waters as part of a study on the impacts of rising water temperatures and ocean acidification on the lobster population, said Deborah Bouchard, who runs the university’s animal health lab and the research at its Aquaculture Research Institute.

“We want to get the word out to call us anytime that a lobsterman sees something in their traps that’s not right,” Bouchard said. “For years, all the dollars for this kind of thing went southward, where the highest incidence of shell disease was, but now we are seeing funding to study what’s happening right here. Even though it’s not prevalent in Maine waters now, we need to know what’s creeping up the shoreline.”

The Maine Department of Marine Resources conducts regular sea sampling programs that document shell disease, among many other factors, but the number is limited to about 21 survey runs a month across all state waters during lobster season, which runs from June through October, said Kathleen Reardon, the state’s chief lobster scientist. The new University of Maine study will be the only real-time study of shell disease in state waters, and will flesh out the state’s statistical research to date, she said.

In southern New England, as many as one in every three lobsters trapped has some degree of shell disease, Reardon said. In southern Maine waters, the peak incidence rate was in 2013, when it climbed as high as two lobsters for every 100 sampled, but it dropped last year to less than one in every 100 sampled, she said. In eastern Maine, the state has never found more than half a percent of lobsters surveyed to show evidence of shell disease.

Shell disease was first detected about two decades ago in the waters of Long Island Sound off Connecticut and New York, off Block Island in Rhode Island and Buzzards Bay, the water sound of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The bacterial disease causes the lobster shells to deteriorate, showing pits and eventually thinning out. The disease spreads rapidly, especially among the females, which carry their shells longer. Lobsters carrying the disease are not marketable.

The Maine Department of Marine Resources on Monday announced the shell study grant and three others funded by the sale of specialty lobster license plates, including $82,000 to Colby College to study the post-harvest economic impact of the state lobster industry and $37,500 each to the Maine Lobstermen’s Community Alliance and Penobscot East Resource Center to beef up an industry leadership institute and develop a high school lobster curriculum, respectively.

At Colby, professor Michael Donihue and his six-student team will focus on the jobs created after the lobster is hauled ashore, and the money that those post-harvest employees pump back into the economy with their wages. Most economic impact studies of the state lobster industry focus on the money made, and jobs created, to catch the lobster, by the fishermen, trap makers, buoy makers and even bait suppliers, among others, Donihue said.

“Those are wonderful stories, but the impact of the fishery is felt way down the distribution chain,” Donihue said. “The distributor takes the lobster from pound to processor. That processor picks apart claw meat that will end up in lobster macaroni and cheese. The truck driver hauls the mac and cheese to the packaging plant and another driver hauls it to the cruise ship that will serve it up for dinner. That’s a lot of steps, and a lot of jobs, between the boat and the plate.”

The four awards, which total about $284,000, come out of an education, research and development fund bankrolled by the sale of specialty lobster license plates, a program started in 2003 to support the state’s biggest commercial fishery. This latest round of grants, which were awarded by an appointed board that reviewed 14 grant applications, will leave the fund with $882,262 in it. Although income varies from year to year, state officials say the fund usually grows by about $225,000 a year.

By 2014, Maine had issued about 26,000 lobster plates.

About half of the specialty plate fee, which is $20 for a first-time issuance and $15 for a renewal, goes to the fund.

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Creative Portland director Jennifer Hutchins to lead Maine Association of Nonprofits http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/23/creative-portland-director-jennifer-hutchins-to-lead-maine-association-of-nonprofits/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/23/creative-portland-director-jennifer-hutchins-to-lead-maine-association-of-nonprofits/#comments Mon, 23 May 2016 21:37:22 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/23/creative-portland-director-jennifer-hutchins-to-lead-maine-association-of-nonprofits/ The Maine Association of Nonprofits has chosen Creative Portland Executive Director Jennifer Hutchins to replace its outgoing executive director, Scott Schnapp, who is stepping down in July after 14 years as head of the organization.

Hutchins brings more than 20 years of experience serving the nonprofit community both in Maine and Washington, D.C., the association said in a news release. She will join the organization on July 18.

Hutchins said Monday that she sees the new position as an opportunity to help nonprofit organizations solve problems and capitalize on opportunities throughout the state. She said she plans to tackle issues by bringing together people from the philanthropic, entrepreneurial and government sectors to work collectively.

“The biggest opportunity for me is to broaden my impact by serving all of Maine,” Hutchins said. “I feel very passionately about all of the issues impacting communities in Maine.”

Hutchins has been executive director of Creative Portland, a nonprofit established by the city of Portland in 2008 to capitalize upon and grow Portland’s creative economy, since December 2010. Prior to that, she was director of communications and external affairs for the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service. Hutchins also has served as marketing director of Portland Stage Co. and worked for People For the American Way in Washington, D.C.

“We are thrilled to have Jennifer as our next executive director,” said Doug Woodbury, president of the association’s board of directors, in the release. “Jennifer has a unique blend of experience with the creative economy, workforce development and entrepreneurship, all of which will help (the association) expand its offerings and increase value for the sector. She’s a proven cross-sector leader, a disciplined manager and a champion for Maine.”

As executive director, Hutchins will oversee an organization that is dedicated to advancing, connecting and strengthening Maine’s nonprofits. Founded in 1994, the association is a membership organization that advocates on behalf of the nonprofit sector and provides guidance on best practices, management training, research and assessment tools, and cost-saving programs.

“It is an honor to join the team at the Maine Association of Nonprofits,” Hutchins said. “Maine’s nonprofit sector is not only a significant employer and economic stimulator, it supports all aspects of healthy, happy and prosperous communities. Maine’s future depends on nonprofits being active partners with business, philanthropic and government leaders to find innovative solutions to our most pressing issues.”

Hutchins’ community involvement has included serving as marketing chair of the Greater Portland Economic Development Corp., sitting on the board of the Greater Portland Convention & Visitors Bureau and as a member of the steering committee of Maine Startup and Create Week. In 2015, on behalf of Creative Portland, she received the Creative Economy award from the New England Foundation for the Arts.

Hutchins received her undergraduate degree from Union College and earned her master’s in public policy and management from the Muskie School of Public Service at the USM. She lives in Portland with her husband and two children.

According to tax forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service, Schnapp received an annual salary of $91,860 plus $6,463 in other compensation in 2014, the most recent year available. Hutchins’ salary for that same year was $60,230 plus $15,058 in other compensation.

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Maine hospitality leader Greg Dugal stepping down http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/23/hospitality-leader-stepping-down/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/23/hospitality-leader-stepping-down/#comments Mon, 23 May 2016 20:25:18 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/23/hospitality-leader-stepping-down/ Greg Dugal, one of the most recognizable faces in Maine’s hospitality industry, has submitted his resignation as president and CEO of the Maine Restaurant Association and Maine Innkeepers Association.

Dugal said he has been working with both boards since November, when he notified them that he intended to step back from the job. The groups, which in 2013 formed Hospitality Association Management Services to facilitate their management under a single operating structure and chief executive, have begun advertising for a replacement.

“I’ve been working 70 to 80 hours a week since I was in my early 20s, and at a certain point you step back and look at life and decide you’d like to enjoy more of it,” Dugal said.

The feeling was exacerbated last fall when the person holding Hospitality Association Management Services’ chief operating officer position left, leaving Dugal alone to manage the two groups and lobby for the associations’ positions on numerous minimum wage initiatives that were wending their way through the Legislature.

“I have offered to stay on and help with government affairs,” Dugal said. “My hope is I wouldn’t be working as many hours, but still would serve the restaurant and innkeeping community.”

The two association boards have voted to create a position for a director of government affairs, but have not yet filled the position.

Hospitality Association Management Services says the hospitality industry employs 77,000 people and generates more than $3.6 billion annually.

Dugal notified the boards of his intention to step down months ago, according to Bruce Woodard, a CPA who is treasurer of the restaurant association.

“It was his decision for sure, and the board regretfully accepted his resignation,” Woodard said. “We hope that he will be able to continue in some capacity with us at some point in the future.”

Dugal had been chief executive of the innkeepers’ association since 2003, and of the restaurant association since 2013, following the retirement of Dick Grotton.

The president and CEO reports to the executive board (six board members from the two associations) and oversees a staff of five. The CEO manages the operations of the two associations, which together have almost 1,200 members and combined budgets of $850,000.

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Verso Paper’s first-quarter loss declines from a year ago http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/23/verso-paper-reports-88-million-loss-in-the-first-quarter/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/23/verso-paper-reports-88-million-loss-in-the-first-quarter/#comments Mon, 23 May 2016 18:15:47 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/23/verso-paper-reports-88-million-loss-in-the-first-quarter/ The papermaker with a mill in Jay lost $88 million in the quarter, down from $122 million a year ago.

Verso Paper Holdings LLC, the bankrupt owner of Verso Paper and NewPage, on Monday reported a net loss of $88 million for the first quarter, an improvement from the $122 million loss it reported for the first quarter of 2015.

The Memphis, Tennessee-based company reported $144 million in restructuring charges in the first quarter as its bankruptcy proceeding advanced toward a resolution in which $2.3 billion in unpaid debt would be converted to equity and distributed as shares to creditors.

Once the primary supplier of glossy magazine paper, Verso Paper filed for bankruptcy reorganization in late January, seeking protection from creditors for a business that has been devastated by market shifts and changing consumer habits.

The company, which operates a mill in Jay that employs about 550 people, filed the reorganization papers in Delaware bankruptcy court. Verso is headquartered in Tennessee but incorporated in Delaware.

In its first-quarter earnings statement, Verso Paper reported quarterly revenue of $690 million, down 14.4 percent from $806 million in the first quarter of 2015. However, the cost to produce its products decreased by 15.1 percent, to $618 million from $728 million in the first quarter a year ago.

Verso Paper said it filed a reorganization plan in U.S. Bankruptcy Court on March 26, which, if approved by the court, would allow the company to emerge from bankruptcy. The plan would wipe out nearly all of the company’s outstanding debt by issuing shares of stock to creditors in lieu of debt repayment. Verso Paper said it plans to continue operating as usual during the remainder of the bankruptcy process.

The master list of creditors filed by Verso includes the names of 30,785 businesses and individuals. Two Maine companies are listed among its 30 largest creditors: Catalyst Paper Operations Inc. of Rumford is owed $2.2 million, and Hartt Transportation Systems Inc. of Bangor is owed $1.2 million.

Like many paper companies, Verso Paper faces formidable challenges, both within its own corporate structure and in the global industry as a whole. To stem the loss of revenue, it sold off its unprofitable Bucksport mill in late 2014, eliminating more than 500 jobs. The move was part of a complicated $1.4 billion deal that involved the acquisition and then sale of the former NewPage mill in Rumford in January 2015. That mill is now owned by Canada-based Catalyst Paper.

At the conclusion of the deal, Verso Paper had about $3.5 billion in annual sales and about 5,800 employees in eight mills across six states. In its bankruptcy filing, the company reported gross revenues of about $2.4 billion for the first three quarters of 2015.

The acquisition of NewPage was financed primarily through borrowing. In the days leading up to its bankruptcy filing, the company notified federal securities regulators that it was exercising a five-day grace period on a payment due on a $731 million loan, and a 30-day grace period on interest payments due on $1.3 billion in secured notes.

Verso Paper is an affiliate of Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm based in New York City that purchased the papermaker from Memphis-based International Paper in 2006 for $1.4 billion.

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Obama makes history by lifting Vietnam arms sales embargo http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/23/in-historic-move-u-s-lifts-arms-sales-embargo-to-vietnam/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/23/in-historic-move-u-s-lifts-arms-sales-embargo-to-vietnam/#comments Mon, 23 May 2016 10:51:03 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/23/in-historic-move-u-s-lifts-arms-sales-embargo-to-vietnam/ HANOI, Vietnam – Eager to banish lingering shadows of the Vietnam War, President Barack Obama lifted the U.S. embargo on selling arms to America’s former enemy Monday and made the case for a more trusting and prosperous relationship going forward. Activists said the president was being too quick to gloss over serious human rights abuses in his push to establish warmer ties.

After spending his first day in Vietnam shuttling among meetings with different government leaders, Obama will spend the next two days speaking directly to the Vietnamese people and meeting with civil society groups and young entrepreneurs. It’s all part of his effort to “upgrade” the U.S. relationship with an emerging economic power in Southeast Asia and a nation that the U.S. also hopes can serve as a counterweight to Chinese aggression in the region.

Tracing the arc of the U.S.-Vietnamese relationship through cooperation, conflict, “painful separation” and a long reconciliation, Obama marveled during a news conference with the Vietnamese president that “if you consider where we have been and where we are now, the transformation in the relations between our two countries is remarkable.”

President Tran Dai Quang said later at a lavish state luncheon that he was grateful for the American people’s efforts to put an end to “an unhappy chapter in the two countries’ history,” referring to the 1965-1975 U.S. war with Vietnam’s communists, who now run the country.

The only war America has lost, the conflict killed 57,000 American military personnel and as many as 2 million Vietnamese military and civilians.

Quang added, though, that “the wounds of the war have not been fully healed in both countries.”

Still, Quang said, both sides are determined to have a more cooperative relationship.

That mindset was evident in the friendly crowds that lined the streets as Obama’s motorcade zigzagged around Hanoi on Monday. And when Obama emerged from a tiny Vietnamese restaurant after a $6 dinner with CNN personality Anthony Bourdain, the president shook hands with members of the squealing crowd and waved as if he really didn’t want to get back in the limousine.

Obama was to address the Vietnamese people on Tuesday morning. A White House official said the president would use his address to stress the importance of having a “constructive dialogue” even when the two nations disagree – including on human rights.

But that is unlikely to mollify activists, who said the president had given up his best leverage for pressing Vietnam to improve its rights record by lifting the arms embargo – and done it just when the Vietnamese government had “insulted” him by arresting six activists in recent days, in the words of John Sifton, Asia policy director for the advocacy group Human Rights Watch.

“Today President Obama rewarded Vietnam even though its government has done little to earn it: It has not repealed any repressive laws, nor released any significant number of political prisoners, nor made any substantial pledges,” Sifton added.

Duy Hoang, U.S.-based spokesman for Viet Tan, a pro-democracy party that is banned inside Vietnam, said that until Vietnam makes progress on human rights, the U.S. should not sell it military gear that could be used against the population.

“The U.S. should also reiterate the message that closer security cooperation is to bolster Vietnam’s external security and that the proper role of the Vietnamese military is to protect the nation, not the current political regime,” Hoang said by e-mail.

Bill Wise, senior associate director of the Southeast Asian studies program at John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said the arms embargo was “an anachronism” and the lifting will demonstrate to Communist Party skeptics that engagement with the U.S. is paying off.

The Vietnam Veterans of America hasn’t taken an official position on the president’s action, but Bernard Edelman, deputy director of government affairs for the Vietnam Veterans of America, noted the good cooperation surrounding efforts to account for troops still missing in action.

“The war’s over,” he said.

Obama said there had been “modest progress on some of the areas that we’ve identified as a concern.” He added that the 12-nation trans-Pacific trade deal that he’s pushing could help prompt Vietnam to implement a series of labor reforms “that could end up being extraordinarily significant.”

For Vietnam, lifting the arms embargo was a psychological boost. The United States partially lifted the ban in 2014, but Vietnam pushed for full access as it tries to deal with China’s land reclamation and military construction in nearby seas.

It was unclear whether striking the ban would quickly result in an increase in arms sales. Obama said that each deal would be reviewed case by case, and evaluated based on the equipment’s potential use. But he said he no longer believed a ban based on “ideological” differences was necessary. He added that the U.S. would “continue to speak out on behalf of human rights we believe are universal.”

Vietnam holds about 100 political prisoners and there have been more detentions this year, some in the past week. In March, seven bloggers and activists were sentenced for “abusing democratic freedoms” and “spreading anti-state propaganda.” Hanoi says that only lawbreakers are punished.

Associated Press writers Foster Klug in Hanoi, Tammy Webber in Chicago and Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.

Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nbenac

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Unloved bull market: It’s been a year since latest record http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/22/unloved-bull-market-its-been-a-year-since-latest-record/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/22/unloved-bull-market-its-been-a-year-since-latest-record/#comments Mon, 23 May 2016 02:44:17 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/22/unloved-bull-market-its-been-a-year-since-latest-record/ NEW YORK — Saturday is the one-year anniversary of the stock market’s record high. And no, you didn’t miss the party because no one seems to be in the mood to celebrate.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index reached its latest high of 2,130.82 exactly one year ago. Since then, it’s come close to beating it, only to veer lower, sometimes sharply. Last month it came within about 1 percent of the record, but then more jitters about the economy and fears that the Federal Reserve could raise interest rates in June set in.

After a horrendous start to the year, the worst on record for the market, stocks have shown remarkable resilience and have clawed back the ground they lost since 2016 began. As of Friday, the S&P 500 was barely positive for 2016. It would need to gain another 4 percent to match the high it reached a year ago.

More gains may be on the way, strategists along Wall Street say, though the forecasts are largely for only modest gains, and rocky ones at that. But even with the good news for 401(k) accounts, the excitement that pulsed during past peaks is lacking now from the market.

“There is no euphoria,” says John Manley, chief equity strategist at Wells Fargo Funds Management. “There isn’t even contentment.”

A big reason is how fresh the memory still remains of the stock market’s crash during the 2008 financial crisis. The S&P 500 lost 55 percent from top to bottom from Oct. 9, 2007, through March 9, 2009, even after including dividends. That steep drop has led to a lasting skepticism about stocks, and the scars are affecting not only individual investors but also financial advisers whose job it is to counsel them, says Linda Duessel, senior equity strategist at Federated Investors.

“This is the most hated rally since it began,” she says. “If you’re an adviser, you’re afraid that if you get too bullish on stocks that you’ll lose your client if you get another downdraft.”

Such hesitancy is actually an encouraging sign to contrarians, particularly when few economists are predicting an imminent recession. But investors see many reasons to stay on the sidelines, and they’re showing it in several ways. Among the signs of and causes for concern that still envelop the market:

Defensive stocks are leading the way. The best-performing areas of the market over the last year aren’t hot, high-growth stocks. They’re the old-line companies that traditionally do best when the market is struggling.

Utilities, telecoms and companies that make everyday items for consumers have had the strongest returns. These companies tend to have the most stable profits, and thus the most stable stock prices.

Part of it is likely a result of demographics. Baby boomers are nearing or in retirement, and they’re looking for more stable investments that also produce income. That’s a good description for defensive stocks: Utilities in the S&P 500 have a dividend yield of 3.7 percent, for example, well above the 1.85 percent yield for a 10-year Treasury.

The strong run means dividend-paying defensive stocks are more expensive, relative to their earnings. But they should continue to attract buyers because they still look better than many alternatives, such as low-yielding Treasurys, says Federated’s Duessel.

Investors are more fearful than greedy. Nearly $18 billion left U.S. stock mutual funds and exchange-traded funds during the first quarter, according to Morningstar. Much of that was because of the scary 5 percent loss for the S&P 500 in January, and it fits with the longstanding hesitancy investors have had about the U.S. stock market.

Over the 12 months through March, investors pulled a net $69 billion from U.S. stock funds. And it’s not like investors have been fleeing all types of investments. They put $163 billion into foreign stock funds and $7.5 billion into taxable bond funds over that same time.

The global economy is scuffling. Even though central banks around the world have piled on unprecedented amounts of stimulus, growth around the world remains weak.

The U.S. economy appears to be in the best shape, relatively speaking, as job growth continues. But it expanded at just a 0.5 percent annualized rate last quarter, its weakest pace in two years.

Other economies around the world look to be in worse shape, highlighted by Europe and Japan. The International Monetary Fund recently cut its forecast for global growth this year and warned that global financial stability risks have increased.

Corporate earnings are sinking. Stock prices generally follow corporate profits over the long term, and the recent trend has been downward.

Most companies have given their report cards for how they fared from January through March, and S&P 500 earnings per share look to be 5.8 percent lower than a year ago, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. That would be the worst performance since the spring of 2009, when the economy was in the last throes of recession.

It would also be the third straight quarter where earnings have dropped. Much of the weakness has come from the energy sector, where falling oil prices have decimated profits, but other sectors are also seeing weakness. S&P 500 earnings fell 1.1 percent last quarter, even after excluding energy companies.

Forecasts are for this reporting season to mark the bottom. Analysts expect to see more modest declines and even slight growth as the year progresses.

“On the whole, I think it will get better,” Wells Fargo’s Manley says about his expectations for both corporate earnings and the stock market. But “I’m looking over my shoulder like everyone else until earnings get better.”

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Week in review: New overtime law looms; busy travel season expected http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/22/week-in-review-new-overtime-law-looms-busy-travel-season-expected/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/22/week-in-review-new-overtime-law-looms-busy-travel-season-expected/#comments Sun, 22 May 2016 08:00:56 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/20/week-in-review-new-overtime-law-looms-busy-travel-season-expected/ LABOR

New OT law sets managers scrambling

Local employers and law firms are beginning to wrestle with the impact of a labor law change that will require overtime pay for thousands of salaried Maine workers. The new overtime rules, which the Obama administration announced Wednesday, will go into effect Dec. 1. Under the rules, salaried workers must get overtime pay – time-and-a-half after 40 hours – if they earn up to $47,476 a year, double the previous threshold of $23,660. People making more than $47,476 annually, along with managers, professionals and administrators, will not have to be paid overtime. The change will affect an estimated 16,000 workers in Maine, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That’s about 3 percent of the state’s workforce, and represents only the second increase in the overtime salary ceiling since the 1970s. Read the story.

Unemployment rate holds at 3.4 percent

Maine’s unemployment rate held steady at 3.4 percent in April, according to preliminary data from the state Department of Labor. The unemployment rate was unchanged from March and was down 1.1 percentage points from 4.5 percent in April 2015, the department said. The number of unemployed job-seekers in Maine declined by 8,000 over the previous year to 22,800. The U.S. preliminary unemployment rate of 5 percent was unchanged from March and down from 5.4 percent a year earlier, the department said. Read the story.

ENERGY

Wind farm plans expected to proceed

A proposed 26-turbine wind farm near Moosehead Lake won’t be affected by a change in zoning regulations in the area that allow communities to opt out of a fast-track wind development zone, according to the company proposing the wind farm. Energy company SunEdison, which filed for bankruptcy in April, is still determining the next steps for its proposed Somerset Wind project in the Misery Ridge area near Moosehead Lake, said a company spokesman Thursday. On Tuesday, landowner Weyerhaeuser, a timber company that had agreed to lease land to SunEdison for the project, withdrew its opposition to the community opting out of the state’s expedited wind permitting area, where there are fewer regulations covering wind farms under the Maine Wind Energy Act. An anti-wind energy group that has opposed the project said in a news release Wednesday that Weyerhaeuser’s decision is good news for the area, although a spokesman for the forest management company said it will not have an impact on the proposed wind farm. Read the story.

Failed solar power reforms slow progress on projects

Several Maine communities are reconsidering or shelving plans to build large-scale solar energy projects in the aftermath of a failed bid to reform Maine’s solar regulations. A handful of cities and towns, including Falmouth, Portland, South Portland and Rockland, were planning to install photoelectric panels on top of capped landfills that otherwise have no use. The installations could provide renewable power to municipal buildings, schools and streetlights and reduce municipal electricity costs. However, the projects needed the Legislature to change the way solar producers are compensated for the power they generate and allow larger projects to offset their construction costs. Gov. Paul LePage vetoed that legislation last month, and the Maine Public Utilities Commission will soon consider whether to change the existing system for crediting small-scale solar power generators who feed energy back into the grid. The regulatory challenges and uncertainty about the future have stopped at least one municipal solar project before it got off the ground, and thrown others into limbo. Read the story.

TRANSPORTATION

Gas prices expected to spur summer travel

With gasoline prices down over last summer, Americans are planning to hit the road this summer, which is good news for the Maine tourism industry. In a survey of more than 65,000 of its members, GasBuddy, a website and smartphone app that helps consumers find cheap gas, found that more than 75 percent were planning to travel this summer, up 2.2 percent from last year. Not surprisingly, 79 percent of respondents planned to travel by car, according to the company’s annual summer travel study. The local chapter of the American Automobile Association, AAA Northern New England, agreed that gas prices that are lower than last summer will likely spur an increase in people driving to Maine for day trips and overnight vacations. Maine’s price last week was $2.30 per gallon, according to AAA – close to the 2016 high, but 35 cents lower than the $2.65 per gallon of a year ago. Read the story.

HEALTH

Health co-op’s finances improving

Community Health Options, the Maine-based health insurance cooperative, drew down more than $8 million from reserves to cover losses during the first three months of the year, but it was a smaller withdrawal than had been anticipated. The cooperative withdrew $8.4 million from the $43 million it set aside to cover potential losses in 2016 after losing $31 million in 2015, according to a filing with the state. That’s nearly 13 percent less than it expected for the first quarter of the year, said Eric Cioppa, superintendent of the Maine Bureau of Insurance, who has the insurer under enhanced scrutiny after last year’s losses. Community Health Options was the only nonprofit cooperative insurer in the nation among those set up as part of the Affordable Care Act to post a profit in 2014, taking in $7 million more than expenses. But it suffered a sharp turnaround last year, posting a loss of $31 million and having to set aside millions in reserves for potential losses this year. Read the story.

REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION

Commercial activity index drops

The Maine Real Estate & Development Association’s MEREDA Index, a semi-annual measure of the strength of Maine’s commercial real estate market, is down compared with the fall and spring of 2015, the association said Tuesday. The MEREDA Index for spring 2016 is 91, compared with 100 in fall 2015 and 110 in spring 2015, the association said. Prior to that, the index, which was first published in spring 2013, had not topped 80, MEREDA said. An index score of 100 would be roughly equal to the market’s 2006 peak in terms of construction employment and the total value and square footage of properties sold. MEREDA said in a news release that the index was unusually high during the two prior periods because of two huge commercial real estate deals in downtown Portland: the $35 million sale of 100 Middle St. in March 2015 and the $66 million sale of One and Two Portland Square in April 2015. Read the story.

MANUFACTURING

Engineering firm helps build battle bot

The twins who co-founded Howe & Howe Technologies in Waterboro say their contribution to a 16-foot-tall, chainsaw-wielding, cigar-chomping battle robot will help the United States achieve a glorious victory in its first-ever clash with a metal monster from Japan. The company will be creating the mobility system of the device – which looks like its part Transformer, part tank – to achieve speeds of up to 15 mph, a five-fold increase over the bot’s first prototype. The metal monster is expected to engage in distance and hand-to-hand battle with a competitor from Japanese robotics firm, Suidobashi Heavy Industry, later this year. Read the story.

GENERAL BUSINESS

Maine’s population remains essentially unchanged

New census estimates show the population of Maine is staying essentially flat, with small gains in the southern suburbs offsetting losses in the northern cities. The estimated population of Maine was 1,329,328 in July 2015, a year-over-year decline of 928 people, according to the American Community Survey, an annual statistical snapshot conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. But that is 967 more people, about one-tenth of 1 percent, than Maine had in 2010, the last time the government did a hard-count census of its residents. Cumberland County, which hosts Portland and its suburbs, accounted for eight out of the 10 Maine communities with populations that grew the most, numerically. Windham added the most – 815 people – from 2010 to 2015, a 4.8 percent increase that raised its total count to 17,816. Falmouth, Gorham, Scarborough and Portland round out the list of five communities that added the most people over the five-year period. Read the story.

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Michelle Singletary: To prosper, set financial rules for yourself http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/22/michelle-singletary-to-prosper-set-financial-rules-for-yourself/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/22/michelle-singletary-to-prosper-set-financial-rules-for-yourself/#comments Sun, 22 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=889281 Many of the mistakes we make with our money stem from not having guidelines and sticking to them.

In recent columns, I’ve given advice to college graduates and young adults on investing early for retirement and making the most of their earnings as they start working. Now I want to address something equally vital to avoiding financial crashes and clashes.

You want to prosper? Create a financial rulebook. And, if I may, here are five financial rules to get you started as you begin your career.

I will not lend money. You would think requests to borrow may come only from family, but you will be spending a lot of your time with another group of folks: your co-workers. And you may get so close that an officemate will ask you for a loan. I don’t care if it’s $5 for lunch because she left her wallet at home or $500 for an unexpected car repair. Don’t do it. Ever.

If asked, you can just say: “I have a rule. I don’t lend people money. But I’ll give it to you if I have it.” (And then only if it’s a very small amount.)

Family and friends can act really funky when the time comes to repay a loan. A $5 loan is forgotten by the recipient. But you remember. You feel funny or petty asking for it. So you don’t. But you become resentful. Then you may clash and the relationship becomes strained or broken.

 I will not co-sign. It’s not likely that, starting out in your career, you’ll be asked to co-sign on a loan. But you will save yourself a lot of grief by never doing it. Co-signing with your spouse is the only exception.

As you strengthen your financial situation, you’ll gain the credit rating to be a co-signer. So friends or family members may come to you to help them establish credit or get a car or apartment. Don’t do it. Not for your child, cousin or co-worker.

Please understand what co-signing means. You are not the backup if the primary borrower fails to pay. Upon signing for the loan, you become equally responsible for repaying it, even if the person dies. And the loan will show up on your credit report. Let’s say the primary borrower pays the loan but is often late. Those late payments negatively impact your credit history. The loan can also reduce your ability to borrow.

By the way, a survey by the credit bureau Experian found that many young adults would ask their parents to co-sign. And 77 percent said their parents would probably do it. As the survey showed, many millennials are responsible borrowers. But don’t put your parents or anyone else in a position to pay if you can’t.

I will not carry a balance on my credit card. You might have heard that you need to accumulate debt on your credit card to build up a good credit history. That’s just not true.

You only need to pay off your charges on time. You boost your credit rating by reducing the amount you owe.

 I will live below my means. The fastest way to crash financially is to spend every dollar you make. Now is the time to learn how to live on less, even as your income increases, which typically results in an increase in your wants.

Hopefully, you’ll see your income bump up over time. As that happens, don’t incorporate all of that added money into your budget. Decide on a percentage that you will automatically save from every raise.

 I will give regularly. Fifty percent of millennials don’t donate any money to a charity, according to a survey by BBB Wise Giving Alliance.

I know. You may not be making a lot of money, so you don’t see how you can afford to give. But you should. Participate in your workplace giving campaign or choose a charity to support. Or tithe, if that’s what you believe. If you wait to give after paying all your bills, giving gets forgotten. So make it a priority.

My life wouldn’t be what it is if I hadn’t been taken in by my grandmother, won a scholarship to college and been helped by so many people. So my personal money maxim has always been – even when I wasn’t earning much – to whom much is given, much is required.

Every day we live by various rules. Yet when it comes to our financial lives, we often don’t develop personal guiding principles to help deal with the financial issues that come up. As you start out in the real world, develop rules to dictate how to use your dollars.

Michelle Singletary can be contacted at:

michelle.singletary@washpost.com

Twitter: SingletaryM

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In Cuba, a cultural backlash rises up http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/20/in-cuba-a-cultural-backlash-rises-up/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/20/in-cuba-a-cultural-backlash-rises-up/#comments Sat, 21 May 2016 00:53:48 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/20/in-cuba-a-cultural-backlash-rises-up/ HAVANA — “Fast and Furious.” U.S. cruise ships. A star-studded private celebration of Chanel.

The triple tsunami of global capitalism that pounded socialist Cuba this month has spawned a fierce debate about the downside of detente with the United States. Artists, writers and intellectuals who believe deeply in Cuba’s opening to the world are questioning their government’s management of an onslaught of big-money pop culture.

On an island that prides itself on egalitarianism, sovereignty and its long record of outsize accomplishments in the arts, many are openly critiquing opaque deals with multinational corporations seeking picturesque backdrops for car chases and summer frocks.

“The essence of the thing is that we’re a country with a particular history that has a particular culture. We have to be conscious of those values and keep them in mind when it’s time to negotiate,” said Graziella Pogolotti, an 84-year-old cultural critic who wrote a long editorial in state media calling for deeper thinking about Cuba’s dealing with international entertainment brands.

Cubans began complaining soon after the eighth installment of the hugely profitable action movie franchise “Fast and Furious” began filming in Havana. On street corners and in living rooms, working men and women questioned how they would benefit from a production that was causing seemingly endless traffic jams – a new phenomenon in a city where relatively few people own cars.

Then came the arrival of the Adonia, the first U.S. cruise ship in Cuba in nearly 40 years. Around the world, television viewers watched prosperous-looking Americans greeted by trays of rum drinks and Afro-Cuban dancers in skimpy Cuban flag-patterned bathing suits. For many Cubans, it was a spectacle uniting the worst exotic stereotypes about their country with disrespect for a symbol of independence.

Within 24 hours, the world’s rich and famous were lounging on park benches on the majestic, colonial Prado boulevard as slender models showed off outfits by the French luxury label Chanel that seemed inspired by pre-revolutionary Cuba. The mostly foreign audience arrived in specially hired classic American cars. Havana residents had to watch from behind police lines more than a block away.

COMMERCE LANDS ON CUBA WITH FULL FORCE

A year and a half after the U.S. and Cuba declared detente, and a month after President Barack Obama visited Havana, it seemed as if the world of global commerce and entertainment had finally landed on Cuba with full force.

Many Cubans were exuberant. Avid consumers of U.S. culture in pirated TV and films, they welcomed the sight of movie stars walking the streets of a country that often feels cut off from the outside world. Many said they were hopeful that the millions spent on the productions would improve life for those who haven’t yet benefited from the post-detente surge in tourism.

But people’s personal offense at being held far from the events began translating into skepticism about whether their country’s hot new status would help improve their lives.

“I love that the world is looking at us, that the world is fixing its eyes on Cuba, but up until now I don’t see that it’s really bringing real, concrete benefits,” said Alberto O’Reilly, a 22-year-old librarian who was kicked off a street corner by police as he tried to watch the Chanel show.

For some Cubans, the flashy spectacles recalled the pre-revolutionary days when wealthy Americans viewed Cuba as a sexy tropical playground, ignoring the problems of the people who lived on the island. Fidel Castro famously shut down the country’s casinos and most sordid nightclubs when he came to power.

“It’s very important that we don’t give the “Ugly American” reason to come back,” said Desiderio Navarro, a widely respected critic and editor. “We’re not in the 1930s or ’40s and we mustn’t repeat the errors of the past.”

The public backlash began the day after Chanel’s show, with a remarkable blog post by Sergio Gomez, the international editor of Granma, the Cuban Communist Party’s official newspaper.

Gomez, 28, took to the blogging website Medium with a lacerating post that called on Cuba’s leaders to better explain their dealings with the likes of Chanel and NBCUniversal, the entertainment giant that shot “Fast and Furious” in Havana.

“It would be hard to overturn a revolution, much less Cuba’s revolution, by filming of a Hollywood blockbuster, helicopter included, or by closing the Prado boulevard to show off the cruise collection of a famous French brand,” he wrote. “But the way in which these events are interpreted, in the context of a process of change that will define the destiny of 11 million people, can subvert the social consensus that the country has maintained for more than half a century.”

“There were many people on the Prado trying to see the show,” he wrote. “But even more in the stores trying to find basic goods with recently reduced prices, like chicken and cooking oil.”

‘FIGHT FOR NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY’

Pogolotti was next. In an open letter in the state newspaper Juventud Rebelde, or Rebel Youth, she acknowledged that Cuba needs “commerce, investment and tourism in order to confront the economic difficulties that afflict us.”

“But the demands of reality can’t make us forget that we must, above all, fight for national sovereignty,” she wrote. “That means we must, in every case, set the rules of the game. It’s everyone’s responsibility to demand respect for the dignity of our citizens.”

Cuba’s official Union of Writers and Artists also complained that the cruise ship reception offered “a deplorable sight to those visiting our country for the first time.”

Still, Cuba doesn’t appear to be running out of chances to get it right.

Michael Bay, director of the “Transformers” movie series based on the popular 1980s robot toys, said on his blog this week that work on the fifth installment was about to begin.

“It’s been an amazing journey,” he wrote over a picture of a glowering computer-generated robot. “Transformers starts production this week in Cuba.”

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Maine home sales went through the roof in April, but prices flat http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/20/maine-home-sales-up-nearly-25-percent-in-april/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/20/maine-home-sales-up-nearly-25-percent-in-april/#comments Fri, 20 May 2016 18:39:29 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/20/maine-home-sales-up-nearly-25-percent-in-april/ Sales of existing, single-family homes in Maine increased by nearly 25 percent in April compared with a year earlier, a huge improvement over the year-over-year performance in April 2015.

According to the Maine Association of Realtors, 1,285 homes were sold in April – an increase of 24.5 percent from the same month a year before, although prices remained relatively flat. In April 2015, sales were hampered by a relentless winter that dampened home-buying activity. At the end of the month, there was only a 1.7 percent increase over April 2014 sales.

Greg Gosselin, owner and broker of Gosselin Realty Group in York, said low interest rates combined with a limited inventory of homes for sale has motivated buyers to get into the market this year. Another catalyst has been the state’s unusually warm winter, he said.

“Did the weather have an impact? It absolutely had an impact,” said Gosselin, who is president-elect of the Maine Association of Realtors.

A sign announces that a house is under contract at 240 Ferry Road in Saco on Friday.  York County home sales for April jumped nearly 30 percent from a year ago – from 479 homes to 620 – while median price landed at $219,550.

A sign announces that a house is under contract at 240 Ferry Road in Saco on Friday. York County home sales for April jumped nearly 30 percent from a year ago – from 479 homes to 620 – while median price landed at $219,550. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

York County saw a significant jump in home sales this year, posting a 29.44 percent increase to 620 homes during the three-month period ending April 30 compared with the same quarter in 2015. The median price increased by 5.3 percent to $219,550, the second-highest in the state behind Cumberland’s $252,550. Maine’s most populous county had a 12.55 percent increase in sales volume over the quarter.

Saco-based Realtor Jane Frankland said one reason for the robust sales activity is that there are still foreclosed homes and short sales coming on the market in York County. In a short sale, the mortgage lender agrees to let the home sell for less than what the buyer still owes on the mortgage. It is often considered a more desirable alternative to foreclosure.

Many of those homes are being listed at prices of $200,000 or less, which is what the typical York County buyer can afford, said Frankland, manager of Maine Real Estate Network and president-elect of the York County Council of Realtors.

“A lot of them are first-time buyers,” she said.

PRICES INCREASE MARGINALLY

Prices overall have not kept pace with the increased volume of sales. The statewide median sale price of $180,000 reflected only a 1.1 percent increase from a year earlier. The median price indicates that half of the homes sold for more and half sold for less.

Gosselin said the fact that home prices have not increased much overall also is motivating people to buy.

889128_162608 HomeSalesYearToYear0.jpg

Competition for home-buying is keen, though, according to Ed Gardner, owner and broker of Ocean Gate Realty LLC in Portland and president of the Maine Association of Realtors. He said buyers should not be discouraged by losing out in a multiple-offer situation, as more homes are being listed for sale daily.

“Maine Realtors report active markets with multiple-offer situations, the norm for appropriately priced and well-presented homes, in many areas of Maine,” he said in a news release. “Inventory levels at all price points are low, and continued low mortgage rates are fueling action by qualified buyers.”

Nationally, existing home sales were up 6.2 percent from a year earlier, according to the National Association of Realtors. The median sale price for those homes reached $233,700 in April, also a 6.2 percent increase from April 2015. Regionally, the Northeast experienced a 17.5 percent increase in home sales, while the regional median sale price was up 4.1 percent to $263,600.

In Maine, sales for the three-month period ending April 30 were up 20.3 percent to 3,265 sales, and the median sale price was up 3.5 percent to $176,000. Many real estate agents think three-month statistics more accurately reflect the market because of the larger sample size.

Washington County had the largest percent increase in sales for the three-month period, with the 68 sales representing a 94.3 percent jump over the same period in 2015. However, the median sale price fell by 29.1 percent to $70,950.

The biggest jump in median sale price for the three-month period was in Lincoln County, where the median increased by 17.3 percent to $208,250. Home sales in Lincoln County increased by 30.1 percent from a year earlier to 108 homes.

 

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GM offers SUV buyers debit cards, longer warranties for overstated mileage http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/20/gm-offers-suv-buyers-debit-cards-longer-warranties-for-overstated-mileage/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/20/gm-offers-suv-buyers-debit-cards-longer-warranties-for-overstated-mileage/#comments Fri, 20 May 2016 18:05:30 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/20/gm-offers-suv-buyers-debit-cards-longer-warranties-for-overstated-mileage/ DETROIT — People who bought or leased 2016 General Motors SUVs with overstated gas mileage on the window sticker will be getting compensated, the automaker said Friday.

Those who purchased their SUV will get to choose a debit card or an extended warranty, while lessees will receive the debit card.

For most people, the compensation will be worth $450 to $900, but owners of some all-wheel-drive SUVs could get as much as $1,500. The payments will vary with lease terms and mileage differences between models.

About 135,000 customers will get letters stating their amounts starting May 25. GM says another 35,000 fleet customers will be handled individually.

“We designed this reimbursement program to provide full and fair compensation,” GM spokesman Jim Cain said.

The Detroit automaker announced last week that fuel economy was overstated by one-to-two miles per gallon on the 2016 GMC Acadia, Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave. GM blamed the discrepancy on new emissions control hardware and said the error was inadvertent. The mileage was recalculated for 2016 but the new figures never made it onto the window stickers, the company said.

GM wouldn’t say why the hardware was changed but said all previous model years of the SUVs met emissions standards.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which monitors the gas mileage window stickers, said it has asked GM for information in the case.

Owners who go for the extended warranty will get coverage for four years or 60,000 miles, which is longer than the standard warranty of three years or 36,000 miles.

The reimbursement is based on the same formula that the EPA uses to calculate future fuel costs, with a gas price of $3 per gallon and annual driving mileage of 15,000, for a period of five years, GM said in a statement.

The company wouldn’t reveal the total cost of the payments and warranties but said it will not materially affect GM’s earnings.

The mileage mistake was discovered recently by engineers who were working on the 2017 model stickers. The company said it informed the EPA.

For a front-wheel-drive version, the 2016 fuel economy of the SUVs was revised to 15 mpg city, 22 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined. The 2015 models got 17 mpg in the city, 24 on the highway and 19 combined.

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Navy assumes ownership of BIW-built Zumwalt http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/20/navy-assumes-ownership-of-biw-built-zumwalt/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/20/navy-assumes-ownership-of-biw-built-zumwalt/#comments Fri, 20 May 2016 16:23:05 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/20/navy-assumes-ownership-of-biw-built-zumwalt/ BATH — The stealthy Zumwalt destroyer is now property of the U.S. Navy.

Sailors can begin moving aboard the 610-foot destroyer after the Navy assumed ownership Friday after signing off on extensive inspections, tests and builder sea trials.

Rear Adm. James Downey, program manager, called it “a significant achievement” both for the Navy and the shipbuilding team led by Bath Iron Works. The ship will be commissioned in the fall.

“What we deliver today is more than a tool. It’s more than a capability. It’s a promise of protection and an assurance in a long-standing tradition of maritime power,” he said.

The futuristic-looking Zumwalt is the largest and most technologically sophisticated destroyer ever built for the U.S. Navy. It’s also the most expensive. The Navy’s latest budget submission suggests the cost of the first-in-class ship will be at least $4.5 billion.

The destroyer features an angular shape to minimize its radar signature, new guns to boost the Navy’s land attack capability, and a hull designed for sustained operations close to shore. Thanks to unprecedented automation, it’ll have a crew that’s nearly half the size of the complement on existing destroyers.

It’s named after the late Adm. Elmo “Bud” Zumwalt, who earned the Bronze Star in World War II and commanded small boats that patrolled the Mekong Delta in Vietnam.

He later became the youngest chief of naval operations and earned a reputation as a reformer who fought racism and sexism. He promoted the first female and African-American officers to admirals and opened the door for women to become naval aviators and serve on warships. He died at age 79 in 2000.

This story has been corrected to fix the spelling of last name of Rear Adm. James Downey.

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Union sues Bath Iron Works over arbitrator’s outsourcing decision http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/20/machinist-union-sues-bath-iron-works-over-arbitrators-decision/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/20/machinist-union-sues-bath-iron-works-over-arbitrators-decision/#comments Fri, 20 May 2016 16:01:50 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/20/machinist-union-sues-bath-iron-works-over-arbitrators-decision/ The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents thousands of workers at Bath Iron Works, is asking a federal judge to vacate an arbitrator’s recent decision in a contract dispute over the outsourcing of certain jobs.

In a complaint filed Thursday in U.S. District Court, the union alleges that arbitrator James Cooper sided with the company in order to secure future arbitration work.

BIW spokesman Matt Wickenheiser said in a written statement that Cooper’s decision was issued properly.

The contract dispute centers on the question of whether BIW can purchase certain ship components from third parties, rather than having them manufactured on site by BIW employees. The union has argued that purchasing the already-made components would violate a provision of the collective bargaining agreement between BIW and the union that prohibits the outsourcing of labor.

However, in February, Cooper presided over an arbitration proceeding to resolve the dispute and ultimately sided with the company.

The union alleges in its complaint that Cooper made a statement during the proceeding that indicated he was concerned about not being given any arbitration work by BIW since he sided with the union in a company smoking policy dispute in 2009.

Neither Cooper nor BIW had filed a response to the complaint in court as of noon Friday. Wickenheiser said via email that BIW should have the right to buy components instead of producing them if it makes the company more competitive.

The shipyard has been trying to streamline production costs to bid more competitively on a $10 billion contract for U.S. Coast Guard cutters. The bid is expected to be awarded in August.

 

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EPA awards more than $7 million to mitigate Maine brownfields http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/20/more-than-7-million-in-brownfield-grants-awarded/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/20/more-than-7-million-in-brownfield-grants-awarded/#comments Fri, 20 May 2016 15:48:46 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/20/more-than-7-million-in-brownfield-grants-awarded/ More than $7 million in federal money has been awarded to 16 Maine municipalities and organizations to redevelop contaminated sites.

The money is being directed to assess and clean up brownfield sites so those properties can be used for future economic investment and to mitigate environmental damage caused by past contamination. A brownfield site is property that contains a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant, which hinders its potential reuse.

The $7,340,000 award was announced Friday by U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which awarded the grants, will assist local communities to redevelop the contaminated sites, according to a release from the senators’ offices.

Receiving grants are:

• Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission: $820,000 (revolving loan fund) and $300,000 (assessment)

• Town of Berwick: $600,000 (cleanup for Prime Tanning)

• Marble Block Redevelopment Corp.: $200,000 (cleanup)

• Greater Portland Council of Governments: $400,000 (assessment)

• City of Portland: $800,000 (revolving loan fund)

• Town of Lisbon: $200,000 (assessment)

• City of Gardiner: $200,000 (assessment) and $200,000 (cleanup)

• Town of Wilton: $200,000 (cleanup)

• Midcoast Economic Development District: $820,000 (revolving loan fund)

• City of Belfast: $400,000 (assessment)

• City of Old Town: $400,000 (assessment)

• Eastern Maine Development Corp.: $400,000 (assessment)

• Hancock County Planning Commission: $400,000 (assessment)

• Piscataquis County Economic Development Council: $400,000 (assessment)

• Northern Maine Development Commission: $200,000 (assessment)

• Washington County Council of Governments: $400,000 (assessment)

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Maine unemployment rate held steady at 3.4 percent in April http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/20/maine-unemplyment-rate-held-steady-at-3-4-percent-in-april/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/20/maine-unemplyment-rate-held-steady-at-3-4-percent-in-april/#comments Fri, 20 May 2016 14:57:09 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/20/maine-unemplyment-rate-held-steady-at-3-4-percent-in-april/ Maine’s unemployment rate held steady at 3.4 percent in April, unchanged from March and down 1.1 percentage points from 4.5 percent a year ago.

The number of unemployed job-seekers in Maine declined by 8,000 over the previous year to 22,800, according to preliminary data from the state Department of Labor.

The U.S. preliminary unemployment rate of 5 percent was unchanged from March and down from 5.4 percent a year earlier, the department said.

The employment-to-population ratio estimate of 59.7 percent in Maine was the same as the U.S. average.

The New England unemployment rate averaged 4.4 percent. Rates for other states were 2.6 percent in New Hampshire, 3.2 percent in Vermont, 4.2 percent in Massachusetts, 5.3 percent in Rhode Island and 5.7 percent in Connecticut.

Maine’s preliminary nonfarm payroll jobs estimate of 612,700 for April was up 2,900 from a year earlier, the department said. The gains were primarily in the hospitality, health care and education sectors. The estimate of 98,400 government jobs was down 1,100 jobs from April 2015, bringing it to the lowest level since 1999.

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Maine tech firm provides ‘feet’ for robot warrior http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/20/waterboro-company-doing-its-part-to-win-battle-of-the-bots/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/20/waterboro-company-doing-its-part-to-win-battle-of-the-bots/#comments Fri, 20 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=888426 The twins who co-founded Howe & Howe Technologies in Waterboro say their contribution to a 16-foot-tall, chainsaw-wielding, cigar-chomping battle robot will help the United States achieve a glorious victory in its first-ever clash with a metal monster from Japan.

In the summer of 2015, a California startup called MegaBots Inc. announced that it had challenged a Japanese robotics firm, Suidobashi Heavy Industry, to a one-on-one robot battle, and that Suidobashi had accepted the challenge.

MegaBots built a prototype called the Mk. II, but decided that the robot wasn’t as fast, agile or strong as it needed it to be in order to crush the Japanese firm’s powerful Kuratas robot.

It decided to raise money through a Kickstarter campaign for a complete redesign that would involve some of the country’s best robotics engineers. The campaign was a success, raising about $555,000. That’s when Howe & Howe got involved.

“We knew that we needed at least an order of magnitude more power than we had,” said Gui Cavalcanti, co-founder and CEO of MegaBots.

Cavalcanti said he and the other co-founders had been aware of Howe & Howe through its many high-profile tracked-vehicle projects including the Ripsaw, a light tank that can achieve speeds approaching 100 mph.

“We wanted to bring that energy and that mobility (to the Mk. II),” Cavalcanti said.

TECHNICALLY, IT’S A ‘PILOTED ROBOT’

The original MegaBots robot, which is 15 feet tall and weighs about 12,000 pounds, tops out at a speed of 2.5 mph and is built for long-range paintball combat. However, the Japanese firm said that in order for it to accept the challenge, the battle must also involve close-quarters combat.

That means adding weaponry, such as a chainsaw arm, and heavy armor plating in addition to higher-powered hydraulics, more speed and greater stability. To build the required upgrades, MegaBots estimated that it would need about $1.5 million, which it has raised from private investors and Kickstarter backers. When completed, the robot will stand 16 feet tall, weigh about 16,000 pounds and seat two people, a pilot and a paintball gunner, Cavalcanti said.

Technically, neither Mk. II nor Kuratas is a robot, because both are being manned by humans. Megabots refers to its machine as a “piloted robot.”

Howe & Howe is responsible for building the new Mk. II’s track base, which resembles a small tank. Its frame is made of steel I-beams and is outfitted with 10 pairs of 20-inch wheels, five on each side, surrounded by two 26-foot lengths of tank tread. The track base is powered by a 400-horsepower V8 engine.

“We chose an American V8,” said Howe & Howe President and Chief Engineer Michael Howe, who runs the company with his twin, Geoffrey. “It’s going to sound American-made. It’s going to sound like a monster truck.”

Geoffrey Howe, the company’s CEO and manager, said he and his brother jumped at the chance to work with MegaBots. Howe & Howe has designed and built many vehicles for the military, Hollywood studios and private individuals, but it has never worked on a human-piloted battle robot. Two or three of the company’s 20 employees are involved in the project.

Howe & Howe used to focus more heavily on military contracts, he said, but after losing some of that business to budget cuts, the company shifted its attention toward entertainment and recreation. Last year, one of its vehicles, dubbed The Peacemaker, appeared in the Mad Max: Fury Road movie. In 2010 and 2011, the Howes starred in their own Discovery Channel reality show, called “Black Ops Brothers: Howe & Howe Tech.”

“Mike and I have always wanted to build this style robot, which is not really a robot,” Geoffrey Howe said. “It’s a human-controlled monster.”

‘WE’RE NOT USING JUNKYARD PARTS’

The track base is on schedule to be completed in June, at which time it will be shipped to California to be combined with the robot’s torso, arms, legs and cockpit “head.” The Howe brothers said they are doing the project at cost and are sparing no expense to provide the best possible speed and stability.

“We’re going to give them a base that’s going to outperform anything they could get anywhere else,” Michael Howe said. “We’re not using junkyard parts. The hydraulics alone are in the tens of thousands of dollars.”

When completed, the Mk. II will be capable of speeds up to 15 mph, he said. “For a robot this huge, that’s hauling ass.”

Cavalcanti said MegaBots plans to stage its inaugural robot battle sometime this year, although he would not provide specifics. He said his ultimate goal is to turn giant robot fighting into an international sport.

“You will be able to watch it,” Cavalcanti said. “We will let people know (how and when) as soon as we know.”

Cavalcanti provided an artist’s rendering of the completed Mk. II redesign that is rife with symbols of American patriotism and bravado, including a red, white and blue paint job, bald eagle heads with Gatling guns sticking out of their mouths, and a pair of bull’s horns atop the robot’s head. It even has a flame-spewing “cigar” between its “teeth.”

“There’s more going into this robot than just form and function,” Geoffrey Howe said. “It’s also showmanship.”

 

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Startup firm Theranos forced to correct thousands of blood test results http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/19/startup-firm-theranos-forced-to-correct-thousands-of-blood-test-results/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/19/startup-firm-theranos-forced-to-correct-thousands-of-blood-test-results/#comments Fri, 20 May 2016 00:50:47 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/19/startup-firm-theranos-forced-to-correct-thousands-of-blood-test-results/ Blood-testing startup Theranos said it sent doctors and patients tens of thousands of corrected test results and voided data from its devices for 2014 and 2015, a devastating blow for the company that has come under scrutiny over the accuracy of its technology.

The Silicon Valley startup reported its testing-device problems to federal health regulators at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Wall Street Journal reported. A company spokeswoman confirmed the report.

Theranos is developing a technology that, the company has said, can run scores of diagnostic tests using only a few drops of blood. But the California-based startup has faced questions about whether its technology works, has endured multiple investigations, and its president has left the company.

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Measure that would help Maine’s shoe industry appears headed for approval http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/19/measure-that-would-help-maines-shoe-industry-appears-headed-for-approval/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/19/measure-that-would-help-maines-shoe-industry-appears-headed-for-approval/#comments Fri, 20 May 2016 00:35:19 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/19/measure-that-would-help-maines-shoe-industry-appears-headed-for-approval/ A defense budget bill containing an amendment that would protect shoe manufacturing jobs in Maine appears headed for approval following passage in the House late Wednesday..

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District pushed to add language to the National Defense Authorization Act that would ensure the Defense Department fully complies with the Berry Amendment, which requires the military to buy U.S.-made apparel for recruits, according to a news release Thursday from Poliquin’s office.

The amendment would provide a boost to Boston-based New Balance, which makes the only athletic shoe expected to meet the Berry Amendment’s requirements. The company manufactures shoes at three factories in Maine.

The Senate’s version of the defense bill was passed by the Senate Armed Services Committee last week and is expected to go to the full Senate next week.

The Defense Department has been giving military recruits vouchers to buy athletic shoes of their choosing rather than U.S.-made athletic shoes because no American manufacturer was making shoes that comply with Berry requirements. The new language would require the military to buy athletic shoes for military recruits, something the Pentagon had agreed to in 2014 but had yet to comply with.

Maine’s congressional delegation, including Poliquin’s predecessor, Democrat Mike Michaud, has pushed for the change for years.

Boston-based New Balance has shoe manufacturing operations in Skowhegan, Norridgewock and Norway that employ about 900 workers. New Balance developed a shoe last year that the company says is made from the required amount of U.S.-supplied materials. While New Balance is one of the few athletic shoe manufacturers that makes shoes in the U.S., much of the material used is from other countries.

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, last week announced he had secured the provision in the Senate’s version of the authorization act. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, had introduced standalone legislation earlier aimed at passing the same language.

“This amendment is a huge victory for the hardworking men and women in Skowhegan, Norridgewock, and Norway who have worked day in and day out to make some of the best, highest-quality athletic shoes available,” King said in a statement at the time. “Our government should be doing all it can to advance policies that support them – not ship their jobs overseas.”

Matt LeBretton, vice president of public affairs for New Balance, could not be reached for comment Thursday. But in a statement last week released jointly with King, LeBretton called the provision “a monumental victory for New Balance and for Maine.”

“At the end of the day, this will mean jobs for Maine people,” he said.

Poliquin’s language in the House bill will “help American manufacturers, providing our military recruits with the best equipment available, and ensuring that U.S. tax dollars go to U.S. workers and families, and not to workers overseas,” a statement from Poliquin’s office said Thursday morning.

Poliquin said in the release that he worked for months with colleagues from both parties, particularly Democratic Rep. Niki Tsongas, of Massachusetts, “tirelessly pushing the Pentagon to purchase American-made training shoes.” Poliquin had co-sponsored a separate bill to enforce the Berry amendment with Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District.

Poliquin and Tsongas instead had the language included in the defense bill last month.

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Early travel data hints of blockbuster summer for businesses http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/19/early-travel-data-hints-of-blockbuster-summer-for-businesses/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/19/early-travel-data-hints-of-blockbuster-summer-for-businesses/#comments Fri, 20 May 2016 00:29:46 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/19/early-travel-data-hints-of-blockbuster-summer-for-businesses/ NEW YORK — Grab your sunglasses, a giant cup of coffee and prepare to hit the highway: 2016 is shaping up to be the summer of the road trip.

Cheap fuel prices have left many American families flush with spare cash, which they now can spend on vacations. And with summertime gas prices predicted to be the lowest in 13 years, the travel industry is looking forward to a blockbuster July and August.

“We’re pretty excited,” said Steve Joyce, CEO of Choice Hotels, which includes Comfort Inn and Econo Lodge. “Last year was a record summer for us. We’re going to be a lot stronger this year.”

The hotel chain is seeing an increase in bookings. And low gas prices throughout the winter means that Americans had cheaper commutes and more disposable income.

“That’s a raise in our guys’ pockets, which means they are going to take another trip,” Joyce said.

The job market is also giving Americans a reason to take a vacation: The economy created about 2.4 million jobs between last Memorial Day and the end of April.

Initial data for the Memorial Day holiday weekend, the start of the travel season, is already signaling a strong summer for the tourism industry.

Enterprise Rent-A-Car is seeing a 44 percent spike in reservations for the holiday weekend compared with last year.

And AAA, one of the nation’s largest travel agencies and a car lobbying group, is predicting 38 million people will travel for the holiday, the most since 2005. That’s 700,000, or 1.9 percent, more travelers than last year.

The overwhelming majority of Memorial Day travelers – 89 percent – plan to go by car. That’s the highest percent of drivers since AAA began tracking holiday travel in 2000.

“The great American road trip is officially back, thanks to low gas prices,” said Marshall Doney, CEO of AAA.

The average price for a gallon of gas is expected to be $2.24 by July and $2.20 in August, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Adjusted for inflation, that would be the lowest summer prices since 2003.

U.S. theme parks are predicting 376 million visitors this year, up 3 percent from last year.

The National Park Service saw a record 307 million visitors last year and expects to match that high level of attendance this year.

That’s great news for Geoff Ballotti, CEO of Wyndham Hotel Group. Half of his company’s Travelodge properties are within 25 miles of a national park.

“We believe it’s going to be a hot summer for us,” Ballotti said.

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Wind project near Moosehead Lake still on despite new law http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/19/wind-project-near-moosehead-lake-still-on-despite-new-law/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/19/wind-project-near-moosehead-lake-still-on-despite-new-law/#comments Fri, 20 May 2016 00:03:29 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/19/wind-project-near-moosehead-lake-still-on-despite-new-law/ A proposed 26-turbine wind farm near Moosehead Lake won’t be affected by a change in zoning regulations in the area that allow communities to opt out of a fast-track wind development zone, according to the company proposing the wind farm.

Energy company SunEdison, which filed for bankruptcy in April, is still determining the next steps for its proposed Somerset Wind project in the Misery Ridge area near Moosehead Lake, SunEdison spokesman John Lamontagne said Thursday.

On Tuesday, landowner Weyerhaeuser, a timber company that had agreed to lease land to SunEdison for the project, withdrew its opposition to the community opting out of the state’s expedited wind permitting area, where there are fewer regulations covering wind farms under the Maine Wind Energy Act.

An anti-wind energy group that has opposed the project said in a news release Wednesday that Weyerhaeuser’s decision is good news for the area, although a spokesman for the forest management company said it will not have an impact on the proposed wind farm.

“If Weyerhaeuser is pulling the plug on the Misery Ridge project, it’s a great day for the Moosehead region,” John Willard, president of the Moosehead Region Futures Committee, said in the news release. “The negative impact of this project on the region’s tourism-based economy and quality of place is obvious.”

Mark Doty, public affairs manager for Weyerhaeuser in the Northeast, said the decision to end its opposition to community opt-outs from the expedited zoning area is not related to the development of the Somerset Wind project.

No application for the proposed SunEdison project has been filed with the state Department of Environmental Protection, but the company has been testing wind conditions in the area since August 2015, when meteorological towers were installed in Johnson Mountain Township, Chase Stream Township, Misery Township and Misery Gore Township.

More than 20 communities in Maine have petitioned the state for exemptions from the expedited permitting areas. Weyerhaeuser, one of the world’s largest private owners of timberlands, according to its website, acquired Plum Creek and its Maine holdings earlier this year. It generally opposes the exemptions and filed several requests that the state undergo a review process before granting them.

Under the Maine Wind Energy Act, communities have the right to be automatically exempt from the expedited areas unless their request is challenged and the state finds reason to deny the exemption.

On Tuesday, Weyerhaeuser withdrew its request that the state review exemption applications from Sapling and Long Pond townships; Taunton-Raynham Academy Grant, part of the unorganized territory; and Misery Gore Township, Doty said.

“We re-evaluated and looked at the fact that we don’t currently have a partner for wind in the area, so we decided to hold off on requesting the review,” Doty said. “We consulted with SunEdison, and they told us these townships were not part of their current plan.”

Lamontagne did not respond to a question about which communities the proposed wind farm would be located in.

More than a dozen communities have successfully left the expedited wind permitting area since Jan. 1, when a new law went into effect allowing communities to opt out. Leaving the expedited area doesn’t mean that wind development can’t happen, but it allows for more public input in the process and adds regulations on developers.

Rep. Larry Dunphy, an unenrolled legislator from Embden who sponsored the law allowing communities to opt-out of the expedited areas, told the Morning Sentinel in February that the change wasn’t about stopping wind development, but about allowing residents in Maine’s unorganized territories to have a say in development in their area.

“So many people had been disenfranchised by (the Wind Energy Act),” Dunphy said. “They wanted their voices heard. That was my whole contention. The citizens wanted to be heard and wanted a right to a public hearing.”

SunEdison is already constructing the 56-turbine Bingham Wind Project, in Somerset County, which the company acquired when it took over Boston-based First Wind Holdings Inc. in November.

The DEP approved that project in March 2015, and construction began last summer.

 

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Gap closing 75 stores outside North America http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/19/gap-closing-75-stores-outside-north-america/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/19/gap-closing-75-stores-outside-north-america/#comments Thu, 19 May 2016 23:49:59 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/19/gap-closing-75-stores-outside-north-america/ NEW YORK — Gap Inc. said Thursday that it is shuttering 75 Old Navy and Banana Republic stores outside North America as the struggling company looks to focus on regions where it sees it has the greatest potential for success.

The closures represent just a fraction of the over 3,700 stores it operates globally. But the San Francisco-based retailer says it should save about $275 million a year before taxes.

Gap also indicated it might not meet its earlier profit forecast for the year, noting the clothing business would need to improve in order to achieve that goal.

The announcement comes as Gap reported a 47 percent drop in first-quarter profits, with revenue falling nearly 6 percent. All three brands – Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic – suffered declines for a key sales measure.

Gap has long been struggling, unable to get shoppers to buy its clothes without offering big discounts. CEO Art Peck, who came to the helm in February 2015, has been trying to overhaul the business.

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Whatever happened to the empty nest? http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/19/whatever-happened-to-the-empty-nest/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/19/whatever-happened-to-the-empty-nest/#comments Thu, 19 May 2016 23:48:36 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/19/whatever-happened-to-the-empty-nest/ CHICAGO — After graduating from college in 2014, Dean Pearce, 24, weighed why he should or shouldn’t continue to live with his parents. His conclusion: “The ‘pro’ is: You’re never alone. The ‘con’ is: You’re never alone.”

Ten years from now, Pearce hopes to have a law degree and be a New York City attorney living with his girlfriend, who is in law school now. Meantime, Pearce is studying for his LSATs and working full-time at a coffee shop, while living with his parents in suburban Chicago.

Pearce is not alone. More than 20 percent of millennials (born 1981 to 1996) are living with mom and dad, even though they have graduated from high school or college, according to the National Association of Home Builders’ 2016 “Missing Young Adult Households” study. That’s up from 12 percent in 2000.

“We call it the ‘Great Delay,'” said Stephen Melman, the NAHB’s director of economic services. “Instead of buying their own homes like their parents did at this age, they’re living at home until they get married, at least.”

Not all millennials who move out, stay out. About 55 percent of them “boomerang” back to their parents’ home by age 27, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ National Longitudinal Surveys program, which has been tracking a group of 9,000 people from this generation since 1997. Most likely to boomerang are women, Caucasians and college grads.

“I had an apartment in Chicago,” said Meghan Kennihan, 34, a running coach and personal trainer who lives in her folks’ finished basement in the suburbs. “It was tiny and expensive. I was miserable. I moved back. Now, I have a bedroom plus an area for my scrapbooking hobby and another for my exercise equipment. It’s like having my own apartment except I have more space than I can afford to have in an apartment.”

The more millennials become fixtures in their parents’ homes, the more homebuilders and real estate agents see them influencing home purchases.

“One of out six of our buyers have or plan to have a grown child at home,” said Richard Bridges, Chicago division sales manager at David Weekley Homes, which is building single-family homes and town homes in the Chicago suburbs. “They’re not kicking them out. Many anticipate their aging parents moving in at some point, too. They want a premium location – near public transportation and employers – and don’t want to have to move again when the family changes.”

For a minimal added cost, these buyers put one of their bedrooms on the first floor so the grown child or grandparent is separate from the rest of the family, Bridges said.

About 10 percent of PulteGroup’s 2015 buyers have multiple generations under one roof. This includes millennials, aging parents or both. PulteGroup is building in several Chicago-area communities.

In a PulteGroup single-family house, the kid enjoys his or her own bed-and-bath suite, sometimes with a kitchenette, separate entrance or living space too. In a town home, the young adult has the lower level, while the buyers sleep on the second level and the family shares the kitchen and family room on the main level.

“Our NextGen option is the greatest thing in housing since indoor plumbing,” said Jeff Roos, western regional president at Lennar Corp., a national homebuilder. It features include a bed-and-bath suite, small living area, separate entrance, small refrigerator and counter space.

The only thing that differentiates the suite from an apartment is it has no oven. In many municipalities, that’s a no-no because that defines it as a “rental” where a rental is not allowed. “So we use a microwave-convection oven combination,” said Roos. “If they want to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving, they use the family kitchen.”

The demand for Lennar’s NextGen homes increased from 2 percent in 2012 to 5 percent in 2015.

Other families with millennials shop existing homes for one that’s better-suited for multiple adults. In Chicago proper and its inner-ring suburbs, for example, the 1920s first-floor maid’s room gets repurposed as a millennial’s bedroom.

“Other families turn a ‘museum’ room (that no one ever uses) on their first floor into a bedroom,” said Allyson Hoffman, a real estate agent at RE/MAX Villager in suburban Chicago. “In a split-level, (the millennial) can have the whole lower level. Some of the newer ranches have dual masters, so you’re at opposite sides of the house. For maximum privacy, the millennial lives in a coach house or bedroom over the garage.”

IT HELPS TO GET ALONG

No matter the floor plan, it helps when parents and their millennials get along.

“My parents have done so much for me, and now they’re letting me live here rent-free, so I try to help out,” said Pearce. “I pick up my sister from school, do the dishes or whatever chore needs to be done. My mom makes dinner. We all work as a team.”

Kennihan contributes toward household expenses by paying rent. She does the laundry and keeps the fridge stocked. “And I ‘baby-sit’ the house while my parents visit my twin sister in Pennsylvania or my brother in Ireland,” she said.

The No. 1 reason kids return to the pads from which they were launched: money.

Since 2006, a millennial’s median annual income increased only $700, said the “Missing” report. At the same time, home prices continued to climb.

Many a millennial doesn’t want to get a mortgage until the college loans are paid back.

Self-employed millennials like Kennihan are handcuffed by hefty health insurance premiums and high deductibles. “To be able to buy my own place, I would need to work for an employer that would cover insurance for me,” she said.

Marriage has long been impetus to form a new household, but millennials are in no hurry to jump the broom.

The study also cites diversity as a reason more millennials are still home. That is, living at home until you marry is the norm in some cultures.

Another reason: caution. “Many millennials have seen their parents lose their homes or jobs,” said Melman. “So, they’re gun-shy.”

Continuing to live at home doesn’t mean millennials don’t want their own homes, said Melman. Instead of buying a starter home, though, millennials want to skip ahead to the “super-duper, move-up house,” he said.

Instead of a mass exodus, Melman predicts the kids will move out one by one after they find partners. “Then, they want privacy,” he said.

If nothing else, the trend strengthens family bonds that will be tested again when the aging boomer parents are unable to be independent.

Said Pearce of his folks: “When they need help, I hope they can move in with me.”

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Five organizations get Maine technology awards http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/19/technology-awards-made-to-five-organizations/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/19/technology-awards-made-to-five-organizations/#comments Thu, 19 May 2016 20:59:49 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/19/technology-awards-made-to-five-organizations/ Three organizations received awards totaling $658,756 from the Maine Technology Institute’s Cluster Initiative Program for projects intended to boost technology-intensive clusters in the state.

The awards will leverage $895,229 in matching contributions from private donations.

MTI also approved two “Tech Start” grants totaling $5,900 to help advance new products and processes in biotechnology, information technology and precision manufacturing. Those awards will be matched by equal contributions from the award recipients.

The CIP awards went to:

Coastal Enterprises Inc. received $134,189 for the Maine Scallop Aquaculture Cluster Project. The project, which provided a $134,310 match, supports efforts to enhance Maine’s scallop aquaculture by using techniques developed in Japan.

The Gulf of Maine Research Institute received $398,306 for continuing its Sustainable Seafood Cluster Initiative. GMRI works with seafood harvesting, processing, distribution and sales companies to enhance the benefits from an economically and ecologically sustainable Gulf of Maine fishery. The award triggered an equal match from industry, grants and individuals.

The city of Ellsworth’s Union River Center for Innovation received $126,270 to support a bioscience cluster. The money will be used to help develop an incubator to assist bioscience entrepreneurs in the region. The funding was matched with $376,802 from city and private industry supporters.

The Tech Start grants went to Traps Eyeware in Portland, which was awarded $2,100 to be matched by an equal amount from the company, and MedRhythms of Cape Elizabeth, which was awarded $3,800, to be matched by an equal amount from the company.

Tech Start grants are intended to help entrepreneurs and companies across Maine develop their ideas into new, innovative products or services.

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Press Herald series on abuse of tax credits is finalist for Loeb Award http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/19/press-herald-series-on-tax-credit-abuses-a-finalist-in-loeb-awards/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/19/press-herald-series-on-tax-credit-abuses-a-finalist-in-loeb-awards/#comments Thu, 19 May 2016 18:29:47 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/19/press-herald-series-on-tax-credit-abuses-a-finalist-in-loeb-awards/ A five-month investigation that revealed how sophisticated financiers used an investment program to wring millions of dollars in risk-free returns at taxpayer expense has been named a finalist for the prestigious Loeb Award.

Finalists for the Gerald Loeb Awards, considered the Pulitzer Prizes of business journalism, were announced Thursday. More than 490 entries were submitted for consideration.

The Press Herald series, “Payday at the Mill” by Whit Richardson, started with a simple question: How could a mill that had just landed $40 million in investments and tax breaks shut down a year later? That question launched the investigation into the complex world of New Market tax credits in the wake of the bankruptcy and closure of the Great Northern Paper mill in East Millinocket.

Following publication of the series, state legislators quickly submitted bills to reform the tax credit program, and six months after the series was published, the federal government issued new guidelines prohibiting New Market tax credits from being used to pay off old debt and other questionable practices. The agency that administers the program, the Finance Authority of Maine, also revised its rules to ensure greater accountability by future recipients of the tax credits.

Political reporters Steve Mistler and Kevin Miller contributed to the continuing coverage of the tax credit program as it underwent legislative scrutiny.

The Loeb Awards were established in 1957 by the late Gerald Loeb, a founding partner of E.F. Hutton. His intention was to encourage reporting on business and finance that would inform and protect the private investor and the general public.

Winners will be announced in June.

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Business Breakfast Forum: Exit Strategies: How do you know when it’s time to go…and then what? http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/19/business-breakfast-forum-exit-strategies/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/19/business-breakfast-forum-exit-strategies/#comments Thu, 19 May 2016 16:13:58 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=887289 Entrepreneurs focus relentlessly on starting a company and managing early growth, a process that (hopefully) leads to success. But at some point, they stop and ask what’s next?
Exit strategies define the payoff for all that hard work.

Join us on June 22 as Corky Ellis, founder of Kepware Technologies, and Pamela Hurley-Moser, founder of Hurley Travel, share their stories about building successful companies and how they navigated the process of letting go.

RSVP required. Breakfast provided.

On the panel

MODERATOR:
Craig Anderson, Business Reporter

Corky Ellis
Founder of Kepware Technologies

Pamela Hurley-Moser
Founder of Hurley Travel

Forum Registration

Complete the form to sign up to attend the Business Breakfast Forum on June 22 from 7:30 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. at the Portland Public Library.


Sponsored By

CBREcignaCross Insurance

PretiFlaherty

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