The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Business http://www.pressherald.com Sun, 11 Dec 2016 04:38:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.3.6 In merger with FairPoint, Consolidated sees opportunity http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/10/in-merger-with-fairpoint-consolidated-sees-opportunity/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/10/in-merger-with-fairpoint-consolidated-sees-opportunity/#comments Sat, 10 Dec 2016 23:10:34 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/10/in-merger-with-fairpoint-consolidated-sees-opportunity/ FairPoint Communications has struggled with the loss of traditional telephone customers, labor unrest and customer service problems in northern New England. But Consolidated Communications sees an opportunity.

Consolidated Communications will begin laying out its plans for the merged company during meetings with federal and state entities that oversee and regulate its activities in coming weeks and months.

The company plans to submit documents with federal officials this coming week, and will file with regulators in 13 states including Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont by month’s end. The filings will include some details based on initial discussions with regulators, said Jennifer Spaude, company spokeswoman.

In northern New England, regulators stung by FairPoint’s performance when it took over Verizon’s landlines will give close scrutiny to details.

FairPoint bought Verizon’s landline holdings in northern New England for $2.3 billion in 2007 and filed for bankruptcy 18 months later after losing customers because of operational and integration problems. It has continued to struggle since emerging from bankruptcy in 2011. Federal entities regulating it sought to make FairPoint stick to promises to expand broadband and to meet customer expectations.

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‘Shock and awe’ signaled by new OPEC oil production cuts http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/10/shock-and-awe-signaled-by-new-opec-cuts/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/10/shock-and-awe-signaled-by-new-opec-cuts/#comments Sat, 10 Dec 2016 21:16:07 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1121979 Saudi Arabia signaled it’s ready to cut oil production more than expected, a surprise announcement made minutes after Russia and several non-other OPEC countries pledged to curb oil production next year.

Taken together, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ first deal with its rivals since 2001 and the Saudi comments represent a forceful effort by producers to wrest back control of the global oil market, depressed by persistent oversupply and record inventories.

“This is shock and awe by Saudi Arabia,” said Amrita Sen, chief oil analyst at Energy Aspects in London. “It shows the commitment of Riyadh to rebalance the market and should end concerns about OPEC delivering the deal.”

Oil prices have surged more than 15 percent since OPEC announced Nov. 30 it will cut production for the first time in eight years, rising this week briefly above $55, more than double their January low. The price rise has propelled the share prices of energy groups from major companies such as Exxon Mobil Corp. to shale firms such as Continental Resources Inc.

Riyadh agreed with OPEC on Nov. 30 to cut its production to 10.06 million barrels a day, down from a record high of nearly 10.7 million barrels a day in July. The country, the world’s largest oil exporter, has been pumping above the 10 million mark since March 2015.

“I can tell you with absolute certainty that effective Jan. 1 we’re going to cut and cut substantially to be below the level that we have committed to on Nov. 30,” Saudi oil minister Khalid al-Falih said after today’s meeting.

Al-Falih made his announcement after 11 non-OPEC countries agreed to reduce production by 558,000 barrels a day, suggesting that Saudi Arabia had been waiting for the first global petroleum deal in 15 years before committing to further cuts. The non-OPEC reduction is equal to the anticipated demand growth next year in China and India, according to data from the International Energy Agency.

The OPEC and non-OPEC deal encompasses countries that pump 60 percent of the world’s oil, but excludes major producers such as the U.S., China, Canada, Norway and Brazil.

Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s de facto leader, has long insisted that any reductions from the group should be accompanied by action from other suppliers. OPEC two weeks ago agreed to reduce its own production by 1.2 million barrels a day.

Russia had already announced it plans to cut output by 300,000 barrels a day next year, down from a 30-year high last month of 11.2 million barrels a day. At the meeting in Vienna on Saturday, Mexico pledged to cut 100,000 barrels, Azerbaijan by 35,000 barrels and Oman by 40,000 barrels, a delegate said.

Oil officials said Mexico’s contributions would be made through “managed natural decline,” meaning the Latin American nation will not cut output deliberately, but will let production fall as its aging fields yield less. Other countries such as Azerbaijan are likely to follow the same route for their cuts.

In a surprise move, Kazakhstan pledged a 20,000 barrels a day cut after coming under strong diplomatic pressure, the minister. The Kazakh cut is particularly important because the International Energy Agency had expected the Asian nation to boost production in 2017 by 160,000 barrels a day after a giant oilfield started pumping.

For analysis on how the deal may impact oil markets, click here.

OPEC production reached an all-time high of nearly 34.2 million barrels a day, well above the group’s target of 32.5 million barrels a day from January. Libya and Nigeria are exempted from the OPEC output cuts, while Iran has some room to boost its output.

Riyadh this week informed customers in Europe and North America it would supply less oil in January than December.

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For 80 years, Massachusetts family has made candy canes http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/09/for-80-years-massachusetts-family-has-made-candy-canes/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/09/for-80-years-massachusetts-family-has-made-candy-canes/#comments Sat, 10 Dec 2016 04:07:24 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/09/for-80-years-massachusetts-family-has-made-candy-canes/ GARDNER, Mass. — It is a tradition 80 years in the making, but the Priscilla Candy Shop candy canes are only made once a year over the three-day weekend after Thanksgiving.

This year was no exception, with owner James Gallant and his assistant Josh Stephano, joined by Gallant’s son Sam Gallant, Brandon William and Tim Horrigan to mix, color, twist, pull, cut and bend each batch into 180 or so candy canes. It is a process followed since Charles Stephano started the business in 1936 and continued for decades by Stephano’s son-in-law Robert V. “Pete” Trudel and his wife, Virginia. It is now literally in the hands of Gallant, Trudel’s son-in-law and his wife, Maureen, who took over the business three years ago when the Trudels retired. They also run a Priscilla Candy Shop on Concord, which sells candy made in the Gardner store.

It is a family thing at the downtown Gardner candy shop. Josh Stephano is the great-grandson of the founder of the company. He never met his great-grandfather but left the restaurant business for a chance to create candy found in the older Stephano’s well-worn recipe book. He also helps Gallant with special orders and flavors, including a special candy cane created for Wachusett Brewing Co.

The tradition of making the candy canes the weekend after Thanksgiving began in the 1990s. When Gallant joined the business 31 years ago, candy canes were made after the store closed for the evening and they made many fewer than 3,300 made last year.

“It really got started when ‘Chronicle’ did a feature on it in 1996,” Gallant said.

After the television newsmagazine featured the candy shop, sales took off. Customers came from all over to visit the tiny home-made candy shop at 4 Main St. The candy-cane weekend helps kick off the holiday season in Gardner. Its candy canes last about 10 days before they are all sold out. The flavors include peppermint, wintergreen, spearmint, vanilla, molasses, maple, and the latest addition, mulled apple cider, made with cider from Pease Orchard in Templeton.

Gallant said his favorite is maple because it reminds him of Christmas morning. He should know. He estimates that he has made 50,000 candy canes over the years. Employee Skyla Johnson said her favorite flavor is the mulled apple cider. Johnson, a student at the University of Massachusetts, works at the store over the holidays. She has worked for the store for four years.

“I had a friend who worked here and got me a job when I was in high school,” she said.

Johnson was part of a busy crew waiting on customers and helping out Diane Dack pack the candy canes and other candies for sale and shipment. Dack has been with the business almost 30 years. She was a waitress at a diner that Pete and Virginia Trudel frequented. They liked her and asked her to come to work for them.

The making of the candy canes is a visual delight for customers who crowd into the kitchen area, standing around the edges to give the workers space. On a counter, there is often a small box of broken candy-cane pieces marked free. As parents watched the process Saturday, their children delighted by the discovery, picked up a few pieces to nibble on.

The canes are made with 25 pounds of sugar and cream of tartar.

It is first heated and worked into a block, which is then colored, flavored and placed on a hook to be pulled. Pulling the taffy is the big job, and the most popular part of the process for visitors. Gallant has had the honor since 1994, having inherited it from Trudel who inherited it from Stephano. He makes it look easy, but he said it took a long time for him to perfect the art.

Once the taffy is properly twisted and pulled, it is rolled and then a line of candy-cane material is pulled out, cut, packaged in plastic, bent like a shepherd’s crook and boxed or placed on the shelf, where they are quickly scooped up by customers and taken home to place in stockings or hang on Christmas trees.

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Murdoch makes bid for full control of British pay-TV giant Sky http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/09/murdoch-makes-bid-for-full-control-of-british-pay-tv-giant-sky/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/09/murdoch-makes-bid-for-full-control-of-british-pay-tv-giant-sky/#comments Sat, 10 Dec 2016 01:07:11 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1121659 Five years after abandoning its bid for a British crown jewel amid a corporate scandal, Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox is making another run for full control of Sky, the European pay-TV giant.

Fox on Friday disclosed its $14.1 billion offer for Sky, saying the company had agreed in principal to pay stockholders 10.75 British pounds for each share of Sky that Fox currently does not own. Sky is based in London.

The New York-based Murdoch family-controlled media company has long had ambitions to control Sky, Britain’s satellite pay-television juggernaut that boasts exclusive rights to soccer and other sporting events. Sky also sells broadband internet service, an online streaming plan and a Sky-branded phone service.

Fox currently holds a 39.1 percent interest in Sky, but Murdoch and his sons are determined to consolidate Fox’s ownership.

“A proposed transaction between 21st Century Fox and Sky would bring together 21st Century Fox’s global content business with Sky’s world-class direct-to-consumer capabilities, which have made it the No. 1 premium pay-TV provider in all its markets,” Fox said in a statement.

The bid values Sky at $23 billion. Fox cautioned there was no certainty that the transaction would occur. Under British law, Fox must finalize its deal with Sky’s board within 28 days.

Fox’s proposed purchase comes at a good time as the U.S. dollar is particularly strong, following Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, a move known as “Brexit.”

Fox has $3.8 billion cash on hand. The move also would help Fox diversify its revenue as its main source of profit – cable affiliate fees – is threatened because of cord-cutting in the U.S. In addition, cable TV ratings for sports and entertainment channels have been down, leading to lower ad revenue.

“The deal would not only be an accretive use of the current cash holdings of Fox, but more importantly continue to diversify the company away from U.S. cable advertising,” Stifel media analyst Benjamin Mogil wrote in a report.

Fox Chief Executive James Murdoch ran Sky from 2003 to 2007. Now the scion, along with his brother, Lachlan Murdoch, manage all of Fox, with their 85-year-old father. James Murdoch also is chairman of Sky, a position he regained earlier this year.

Fox, then known as News Corp., made its first attempt to buy Sky in 2010 for $12 billion, but pulled back following revelations that reporters and operatives for its London tabloids had hacked into cellphone messages left for members of the royal family, celebrities such as Hugh Grant and even crime victims.

This week’s deal – which must be approved by the European Union – represents how far Murdoch and his sons have come to repair their reputation after the phone hacking scandal, which was hugely costly to their company.

In 2011, James Murdoch was forced to resign as chairman of Sky, the company shuttered the News of the World tabloid and abandoned its bid for Sky. Critics figured James Murdoch’s career was doomed because he had been running Fox’s operations in Britain.

Rupert and James Murdoch appeared before members of Britain’s Parliament as the furor grew in Britain over the company’s ethical lapses, including hacking the cellphone of a young murder victim, Milly Dowler. Her parents harbored false hopes the 13-year-old was alive after realizing that someone had listened to phone messages left for her. Rupert Murdoch personally apologized to the family.

The Sky deal has echoes of a pending major U.S. merger, AT&T’s proposed takeover of Time Warner Inc. Two years ago, Fox also tried to buy Time Warner but withdrew its offer when its stock began to slide. Fox executives have long maintained that not owning all of Sky was the biggest hole in the company’s portfolio.

Fox is hoping to glean consumer insights from Sky’s customers to expand globally.

“It is certainly clear that the user experience is kind of a dimension of competition that is really important and we look at,” James Murdoch said last month during an earnings call. Sky has been able to create “a user experience that’s really second to none I think globally,” he said.

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Revenue fizzling, Coca-Cola plans change at the top http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/09/revenue-fizzling-coca-cola-plans-change-at-the-top/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/09/revenue-fizzling-coca-cola-plans-change-at-the-top/#comments Sat, 10 Dec 2016 00:32:19 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/09/revenue-fizzling-coca-cola-plans-change-at-the-top/ NEW YORK — Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent will step down from that role next year and be succeeded by the company’s No. 2 executive, at a time when people are drinking less sugary soda including its flagship Coke.

Chief Operating Officer James Quincey, long expected to become the next CEO, will take over leadership of the world’s largest beverage maker on May 1, the company said Friday. Kent will remain as chairman of the board.

Quincey, who’s worked at Coca-Cola for about two decades, has led its drive to cut down the sugar in its drinks and said Friday that he’ll continue to do that as CEO. He also said he’ll keep pushing for more low-calorie beverages and for offering soda in smaller cans and bottles.

He said he wants to “stay relevant” with customers by continuing to “digitize” the business, selling drinks online, through food delivery companies and any other platform customers go to in the future.

“The iPhone didn’t exist when Muhtar became CEO,” Quincey said.

The Atlanta-based company has been diversifying its drinks to try to adapt to changing tastes. U.S. sales volume for regular Coke is down 14 percent over the past decade, according to the industry tracker Beverage Digest, while Diet Coke’s volume is down 29 percent.

So last year Coca-Cola rolled out nationwide a milk drink called Fairlife that it said had more protein and less sugar than regular milk. It also makes Sprite, Fanta and Dasani water, and has invested in options like bottled teas that have bigger growth potential.

The company is in the midst of selling off its bottling businesses to independent companies who will handle the bottling of sodas and its other drinks. This means less revenue, but fewer costs, for Coca-Cola as it focuses on selling syrups and concentrates to the bottlers as well as expanding its brands. Coca-Cola’s annual revenue has fallen in the past four years and Wall Street analysts expect revenue for the current year to fall about 5 percent from the year before. In October, the company said its third-quarter profit fell 28 percent.

Quincey, 51, spent much of his career with the company in Latin America and was named president and chief operating officer last year.

Analysts at Stifel said “job one” for Quincey is to improve revenue growth.

Shares of The Coca-Cola Co. rose $1.06, or 2.6 percent, to $42.04 in afternoon trading Friday.

Kent, 64, will continue as chairman of the board after he steps down as CEO. He has been CEO for more than eight years and first joined the company nearly 40 years ago.

Coca-Cola is the second beverage company to announce a CEO change in the past several days. Last week, Starbucks Corp. said Howard Schultz will step down as CEO next year and stay on as the coffee chain’s executive chairman.

Change is also coming to Coca-Cola’s board. It had said Thursday that Howard Buffett, the son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, would retire from the board and not seek re-election next year. Analysts at Bernstein were concerned it could signal that Warren Buffett, whose holding company Berkshire Hathaway Inc. is Coca-Cola’s largest shareholder, could sell Coke stock.

Warren Buffett didn’t mention his stake Friday but said he was pleased with the CEO succession plans.

“I know James and like him,” Buffett said in a statement, “and believe the company has made a smart investment in its future with his selection.”

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Washington state sues Monsanto over chemicals known as PCBs http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/09/washington-sues-over-pcbs/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/09/washington-sues-over-pcbs/#comments Sat, 10 Dec 2016 00:01:04 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1121599 SEATTLE — Washington has become the first U.S. state to sue the agrochemical giant Monsanto over pervasive pollution from PCBs, the toxic industrial chemicals that have accumulated in plants, fish and people around the globe for decades. The company said the case “lacks merit.”

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced the lawsuit at a news conference in downtown Seattle on Thursday, saying they expect to win hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars.

“It is time to hold the sole U.S. manufacturer of PCBs accountable for the significant harm they have caused to our state,” Ferguson said, noting that the chemicals continue to imperil the health of protected salmon and orcas despite the tens of millions of dollars Washington has spent to clean up the pollution. “Monsanto produced PCBs for decades while hiding what they knew about the toxic chemicals’ harm to human health and the environment.”

The suit arrives just days before Monsanto shareholders vote whether to accept a $57 billion buyout offer from Germany’s Bayer. The extraordinary meeting of shareholders takes place just outside of St. Louis on Tuesday.

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, were used in many industrial and commercial applications, including in paint, coolants, sealants and hydraulic fluids. Monsanto, based in St. Louis, produced them from 1935 until Congress banned them in 1979.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, PCBs have been shown to cause a variety of health problems, including cancer in animals as well as effects on the immune, nervous and reproductive systems.

In a company release, Monsanto spokesman Scott S. Partridge said that the “case is experimental because it seeks to target a product manufacturer for selling a lawful and useful chemical four to eight decades ago that was applied by the U.S. government, Washington state, local cities, and industries into many products to make them safer. … Most of the prior cases filed by the same contingency fee lawyers have been dismissed, and Monsanto believes this case similarly lacks merit.”

Several other cities – including Seattle, Portland, Oregon, and Oakland, Berkeley, San Jose, Long Beach and San Diego, California – have also sued Monsanto over PCB pollution. Those cases are ongoing.

Ferguson, a Democrat, pointed to internal Monsanto documents that show the company long knew about the danger the chemicals posed. In 1937, an internal memo said testing on animals showed “systemic toxic effects” from prolonged exposure by inhaling PCB fumes or ingestion.

Nevertheless, Monsanto told officials around the country the contrary. In a letter to New Jersey’s Department of Conservation that year, Monsanto wrote, “Based on available data, manufacturing and use experience, we do not believe PCBs to be seriously toxic.”

Washington’s suit seeks damages on several grounds, including product liability for what it described as Monsanto’s failure to warn about the danger of PCBs; negligence; and even trespass, for injuring the state’s natural resources.

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Data skimming is occurring at some Maine gas stations, state officials say http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/09/data-skimming-is-occurring-at-some-maine-gas-stations-state-officials-say/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/09/data-skimming-is-occurring-at-some-maine-gas-stations-state-officials-say/#comments Fri, 09 Dec 2016 20:18:34 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/09/data-skimming-is-occurring-at-some-maine-gas-stations-state-officials-say/ AUGUSTA – Maine state officials say credit card data skimming is taking place at gas stations throughout the state.

The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s Division of Quality Assurance says it is alerting the public in the wake of illegal skimming devices found at gas stations by investigators in Brewer this week.

The agency says similar reports have also implicated drive-thru tellers at banks, ATMs and restaurants.

The agency’s inspectors who check gas pumps for accuracy also search for skimmers, which the state says is a growing problem in Maine.

Agriculture Commissioner Walt Whitcomb says inspectors are also working with gas station owners to prevent skimming.

Skimming devices are small and can be fastened near credit card readers by criminals to capture data from the magnetic strip on the cards.

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New net opens a way to help fishermen and protect cod http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/09/new-fishing-net-provides-hope-for-maine-groundfishermen/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/09/new-fishing-net-provides-hope-for-maine-groundfishermen/#comments Fri, 09 Dec 2016 15:47:32 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/09/new-fishing-net-provides-hope-for-maine-groundfishermen/ A team of scientists and fishermen led by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute has created a new kind of fishing net that can catch popular flatfish like yellowtail flounder without busting strict quotas set to protect the Atlantic cod from overfishing.

The new design shrinks the height of this cone-shaped, bottom-dragged net from 5 or 6 feet to about 2, and cuts away much of the top, allowing about half of the cod that would be caught in a traditional trawl to swim to freedom over the top of the smaller, cut-away net.

The ultra low opening trawl net, as seen in the water recirculating tank at the Marine Institute of Newfoundland. Note the headrope is longer than the groundgear, or sweep. Usually the headrope is shorter than the sweep. This enables cod to swim up and over the net, escaping capture, while bottom fish like the flounder are caught.

The ultra low-opening trawl net, seen in the water recirculating tank at the Marine Institute of Newfoundland. The headrope is longer than the groundgear, or sweep. Usually, the headrope is shorter than the sweep. The design enables cod to swim up and over the net, escaping capture, while bottom fish like the flounder are caught. Photo courtesy of Gulf of Maine Research Institute

Field tests show that the ultra low-opening trawl reduced the amount of cod caught by about 45 percent, but landed just as many flatfish, like yellowtail or dabs, as a traditional net dragged over the same area by the same fisherman, said research scientist Steve Eayrs, who joined the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in 2007 to head up its efforts to develop environmentally friendly fishing gear. It also reduced fuel consumption by about 7 percent.

“For the first time, fishermen in New England have to avoid cod as best they can, which is a reversal of 400 years worth of tradition,” Eayrs said. “Yet here we are, having some very good success pretty much straight off the bat. In effect, fishermen can fish almost twice as long using this trawl without being limited by their cod quota or losing other valuable fish.”

Catching the wrong fish, or catching too much of a low-quota fish like cod, can end a season for a commercial fisherman. In recent years, the interstate New England Fishery Management Council has slashed the number of cod that can be landed from the Gulf of Maine from about 1,550 metric tons in 2014 to 280 metric tons now. Fishermen who catch too many, even by accident, can be shut down for the season.

Regulators are trying various methods, including quotas, trip limits and gear restrictions, to help fishermen catch the right fish and avoid what’s known as bycatch, which can lead to overfishing low-quota species like cod or the discard of food fish such as haddock. The industry is trying to modify gear and techniques to better target some species while avoiding others to avoid burdensome quotas or closures.

Fishermen who trawl for herring off Georges Bank cited their fear of haddock bycatch – at certain times of the year, schools of haddock and herring swim together, making it hard for herring trawlers to avoid haddock, which is not a vulnerable species but an economically important one with its own markets, fleet and quotas – as a reason they didn’t land enough of the popular baitfish to supply Maine’s $500 million annual lobster industry.

Atlantic cod and the flounder family are considered groundfish, and Maine’s once sizable groundfish fleet has practically disappeared, falling from more than 300 boats in 1982 to about 50 today. In 2015, all the groundfish landed in Maine totaled less than 5 million pounds, and was valued at about $7.1 million, which is a little more than 1 percent of Maine’s total 2015 catch of all species, according to state data.

Researchers, fishermen and gear manufacturers would like to find a way to bring back Maine’s storied groundfishing fleet.

The ultra low-opening trawl test results bode well for future collaborations among fishermen, scientists and gear manufacturers to develop new ways to protect vulnerable fish without killing off the fisherman’s livelihood, reducing the availability of the flounder that remain both plentiful and popular with the consumer, or taking a bite out of an iconic sector of the New England economy.

The net redesign team was led by Eayrs, himself a former commercial fisherman in Australia, and Massachusetts state fisheries biologist Michael Pol. The team included four commercial fishermen from Massachusetts and New Hampshire, two other scientists and a Rhode Island netmaker. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Saltonstall-Kennedy program funded the $265,000 project in 2015, when it awarded $22 million in fisheries grants.

Gulf of Maine Research Institute scientist Steve Eayrs samples the catch landed aboard the Lisa Ann III. The new net caught as much flatfish as a traditional trawl, but cut the number of cod caught in half and vessel fuel use by 7 percent.

Gulf of Maine Research Institute scientist Steve Eayrs samples the catch landed aboard the Lisa Ann III. The new net caught as much flatfish as a traditional trawl, but cut the number of cod caught in half and vessel fuel use by 7 percent. Photo courtesy of Gulf of Maine Research Institute

NEW MODEL FOR TRADITIONAL INDUSTRY

Over the course of a year, the team came up with several prototype trawls intended to avoid cod, but chose this low-opening design for computer modeling, then a scale model of the same net for testing in a large recirculating water tank at the Marine Institute in Newfoundland. Based on those results, they commissioned the net maker to build a full-scale trawl for field tests.

Massachusetts fishing captain Jim Ford tested the low-opening net, alternately dragging it and a traditional trawl behind his boat, the Lisa Ann III, for two weeks in May just east of Newburyport. Ford liked the net enough to ask to keep it for his own use for the rest of the fishing season. Eayrs hopes he will tell his friends all about it.

The netmaker is building three more ultra low-opening nets that will be available for loan to Gulf of Maine fishermen at no cost in 2017.

“We only ask that fishermen share the landing and fuel results with the team,” Eayrs said.

If the fishermen like it, Eayrs is hopeful they will order nets like it from their net makers when it is time to replace their traditional trawl nets. The average trawl net usually has a lifespan of about five years for a typical fisherman, unless it becomes snagged on something when dragging the flat ocean bed and rips, Eayrs said. That means widespread change to this net would take time, and only happen if fishermen want it.

Although they have sometimes used gear restrictions to protect species, Eayrs said regulators would be unlikely to ever require flounder fishermen to use this new kind of net, because it would be considered redundant when cod is already managed by a strict quota system. Both regulators and researchers want fishermen to embrace a cod-aversion net like this one on their own rather than have it forced on them.

While fishermen are reluctant to invest in new technology, the savings promised by the new net is persuasive, Eayrs said. Not only is it cheaper, costing between $8,000 and $10,000 compared to the average $10,000 to $12,000 cost of a similarly sized traditional trawl, and easier on a fisherman’s gas budget, but the cod reduction means a fisherman can land more flounder without having to worry about buying extra cod quota.

“With numbers like that, we think the idea will catch on,” Eayrs said.

 

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Farmers, police perplexed by rash of cattle releases in central Maine http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/08/farmers-police-perplexed-by-rash-of-cattle-releases/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/08/farmers-police-perplexed-by-rash-of-cattle-releases/#comments Fri, 09 Dec 2016 02:31:27 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/08/farmers-police-perplexed-by-rash-of-cattle-releases/ It was around 7:30 a.m. Tuesday when Mike Brown got a call from a neighbor concerning his cows.

Brown, the owner of Meadowbrook Farm on Stanley Hill Road in China, discovered someone had vandalized his gates earlier that morning and let his cows out of their holding pen. The cows then made their way out into the road.

“We’ve never had anything like this happen before,” Brown said Thursday afternoon as his cattle grazed back in their holding pen.

Brown’s farm has 45 black Angus cows, and some 18 of the adult females had gotten out, as well as 15 of the younger animals, most of them making their way onto the road. Brown, who works at Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Winslow, said they probably had been out for about 15 minutes when he got there.

“No one got hurt, but there was a lot of potential,” he said.

Brown said it took about 45 minutes to an hour to get the cattle back into their pens. He said he isn’t sure why anyone would have released them. The farm is Animal Welfare Approved, Brown said, meaning it is audited and certified that it treats its animals humanely.

“I’m not sure what the purpose is,” he said. The incident at Brown’s farm was one of a handful of recent bovine-related acts of vandalism. A short distance away, on Maple Ridge Road, a padlock on a cattle fence at the McPherson Farm was broken. And two recent incidents in Clinton also have attracted attention.

The release of hundreds of cows from a large Clinton dairy farm drew a phone call from the FBI, which offered to assist in the investigation in case the incidents were the work of environmental extremists. Representatives from the FBI did not respond Thursday to calls seeking comment.

The Clinton police said they were contacted by the FBI Wednesday, following news reports about the incident at Misty Meadows Farm on Mckenney Road. Clinton police officer Karl Roy said Thursday he couldn’t remember the FBI offering to help in a Clinton investigation before, but he appreciated the offer.

“It’s very wise on their part,” Roy said. “Anytime you’re dealing with a crime, you want to have that information early.”

But Roy said Wednesday that the culprits in the cow releases were more likely to be juveniles than animal rights extremists.

“Quite often when you’re dealing with these extreme groups, they’ll want you to know they did it,” he said Wednesday.

There was no spray paint or propaganda left on the property, which Roy said would have been typical of an organization trying to bring attention to a cause.

“We’ve told them there’s nothing here in Clinton that suggests it’s terrorism,” Roy said.

Deputy Aaron Moody of the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office said there had been no new developments in the China investigation and that his agency had not been contacted by the FBI. He did say that a farm in Albion also might have been targeted, though he did not have details Thursday.

TWO INCIDENTS AT ONE FARM

At Misty Meadows Farm in Clinton, there were two separate incidents of cows being released in the same night last month, and one cow died of a broken neck when it fell into a drainage hole. The rest of the released animals were returned to their pens.

Roy said police think the culprits have knowledge of farm equipment. At Misty Meadows, a stainless steel cooling tank filled with milk had been shut off, but the tanks were turned back on before about $10,000 worth of milk spoiled. From there, the vandals went to nearby Wright Place Farm, but the damage there was much less significant. No cows were released or injured.

Brown’s theory is that it was “someone who cared a little bit” about animals. The gates to the interior of the farm had been opened but another gate that opened toward the road had been left alone, he said.

He said it could have been “someone concerned about animals used for food consumption.”

But Brown said if that was the case, the person probably didn’t know Meadowbrook is certified as humane.

“They all have names,” he said, gesturing to the cows behind him. One, standing behind him with a tag on its ear reading “309” is named May. The “09” in the tag means the cow came to the farm in 2009. “It’s not like we don’t care for them.”

While Clinton and the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office are exchanging information on the incidents, Roy does not think the one at Meadowbrook is connected to the events in Clinton. Roy said no other Clinton farms have been targeted and that police are investigating people of interest and a vehicle of interest in those incidents.

Matt Randall, the agricultural compliance supervisor at the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, said acts of vandalism at cattle and dairy farms are unusual, but they put both animals and humans at risk.

“The stress on humans and animals alike can be hard to measure,” Randall said. “Innocent motorists use these roads, and collisions can be detrimental and certainly fatal.”

Randall said that while some might consider these to be pranks, they can turn do real harm. He said the death of the cow in Clinton is a prime example.

“This is serious,” Randall said. “We would like to see the mystery solved.”

 

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Smartphone apps threaten to give banks a run for their money http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/08/smartphone-apps-threaten-to-give-banks-a-run-for-their-money/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/08/smartphone-apps-threaten-to-give-banks-a-run-for-their-money/#comments Fri, 09 Dec 2016 01:15:30 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/08/smartphone-apps-threaten-to-give-banks-a-run-for-their-money/ SAN FRANCISCO — It may not be much longer before bank branches join video-rental stores and record shops as relics of a bygone era.

Silicon Valley is pressuring banks to change their ways or risk becoming the latest industry overtaken by technology. Hundreds of startups are offering easier and cheaper ways to save, borrow, spend and invest. They are doing it by shifting the battleground to smartphone apps and websites, which function as digital offices that are accessible around the clock with minimal staffing, and by lowering fees.

Given how much customers dislike it, the financial services industry seems ripe for “disruption,” as Silicon Valley likes to call industry upheaval. These financial technology, or “fintech,” startups may also soon get further validation from a key banking regulator. Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry last week announced plans for a special national bank charter that would allow fintechs to offer their products without having to get regulatory approval state to state. Part of Curry’s motivation lies in his belief that fintech can help consumers who don’t want or can’t afford to establish accounts with traditional banks.

At this point, the fintech sector hasn’t proven it can be a viable or trustworthy alternative to traditional banks and stock brokerages. Few of the startups have ever posted a profit, and one of the biggest, the Lending Club, is trying to recover from a breakdown that triggered the resignation of CEO Renaud Laplanche earlier this year. The Justice Department is investigating the events that led to Laplanche’s departure.

“The disruption in banking is coming later than other areas because of the complexity of the regulations and the amount of trust required,” Laplanche said in an interview earlier this year, while he was still CEO. “Trusting you with my savings is not like booking a trip online.”

Banks, meanwhile, have demonstrated their resiliency and resourcefulness. With the help of taxpayer-backed bailouts, the industry has survived a financial crisis of its own making, and now appears to be tackling the fintech threat. They are closing branches, laying off workers, pouring money into their own technology departments and even buying or teaming up with fintech startups.

TAKING THE THREAT SERIOUSLY

“Whenever I talk to big banks, they ask, ‘What are the disruptors doing? Which of their ideas can I copy?'” says Forrester Research analyst Oliwia Berdak.

A recent survey of the financial services industry by the research firm Gartner Inc. found that 70 percent of respondents considered fintech startups to be a bigger threat than their traditional rivals.

With their guard up, the much bigger banks are more likely to drive many of the fintech startups out of business if they don’t acquire them first, says Gartner analyst Rajesh Kandaswamy. But even in that scenario, he predicts “many of the ideas coming out of fintech will survive ….”

About $850 billion in consumer banking revenue in the U.S. alone is at stake. Fintech captured just 1 percent of that last year, according to a Citibank study. By 2023, though, Citibank expects fintech to control 17 percent of a $1.2 trillion market. Emboldened by predictions like that, fintechnologists tend to be brash, like many of the entrepreneurs who have reshaped other industries.

A BIG, BOLD APPROACH

“During the next 10 years, we are going to create an international company that will be like nothing the financial services industry has ever seen,” boasts Baiju Bhatt of Robinhood, a stock brokerage that does not charge any commissions for its more than 1 million customers to buy and sell shares. To make money, Robinhood recently introduced a $10 monthly service that allows trading when the stock market is closed and offers higher borrowing limits.

At Affirm, an online lender, CEO Max Levchin is attempting to reshape finance for a second time after making his first big splash in Silicon Valley as a co-founder of PayPal.

Levchin has raised $525 million to back Affirm’s focus on consumers who do not like or cannot get credit cards. Instead of providing a revolving line of credit with high interest rates that compound, Affirm has developed a way to identify borrowers able to repay loans in equal installments in time frames ranging from three months to one year.

Affirm also refuses to charge fees for late payments, to further distinguish itself from banks and other credit card issuers.

“I just don’t think you can run a business by screwing your customers these days,” Levchin says. “I would like to think we are returning to what lenders are supposed to do.”

CUSTOMERS AREN’T TOTALLY SOLD

Although many consumers rarely expect big banks to act in their best interests, they typically consider them to be a safer place to keep money, says Forrester’s Berdak. Like the big traditional banks, most digital-only banks also offer government-backed insurance on deposits, but Berdak says that is not enough to overcome lingering doubts about their long-term prospects.

Lending Club, for instance, has been operating under a cloud since revealing that paperwork for $3 million in loans had been falsified under Laplanche’s leadership.

INVESTORS ARE SKEPTICAL, TOO

Although Lending Club was considered one of the most promising fintech companies, its stock has been hammered. The shares are hovering about 60 percent below their IPO in 2014.

Most fintechs are still mining venture capitalists and other financiers as they try to gain a foothold. More than $50 billion has been invested in the sector since 2010, with all but $10 billion coming in the last two-and-a-half years. Even some of those investors believe fintechs may be underestimating the degree of difficulty facing them.

“I am a believer that the bank of the future will be a collection of apps on your phone, but I also believe there is a lot of hubris underlying the idea that it’s easy to create a bank,” says Savneet Singh, is founder and president of GBI, an online exchange for trading gold and silver.

UNLOCKING A YOUNG MARKET

Fintech’s target market so far has been the millennial generation, the 18- to 34-year-olds who typically have a deeper attachment to their smartphones.

They are customers like Fred Miller, who opened his first account as a teenager a decade ago and quickly became disillusioned with the array of fees charged for everything from late payments to ATM withdrawals.

After years of frustration, Miller defected to Simple, a digital bank started in 2010.

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Delta Air Lines raises the bar on free in-flight snacks http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/08/delta-air-lines-raises-the-bar-on-free-in-flight-snacks/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/08/delta-air-lines-raises-the-bar-on-free-in-flight-snacks/#comments Fri, 09 Dec 2016 00:49:47 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/08/delta-air-lines-raises-the-bar-on-free-in-flight-snacks/ ATLANTA — Delta Air Lines is upgrading its free snacks on flights and switching to yogurt bars, honey-roasted peanuts and brand-name pretzels.

One thing that isn’t changing in the snack lineup: The well-known Biscoff cookies, which are staying.

The free snacks are for flights longer than 250 miles. Depending on the length of the flight, travelers might get either Snyder’s of Hanover pretzels or Squirrel brand honey-roasted peanuts, or also have a choice of NatureBox apple cinnamon yogurt bars or Biscoff. The changes take effect next Wednesday.

The Atlanta-based airline said the new offerings have “larger portions and more variety.” Delta also plans to change its mix of snacks more often in the future based on customer feedback.

The carrier had tested cashews and yogurt bars as snacks on some flights earlier this year. Delta said it has set up vending machines in New York, Los Angeles and Seattle to offer free samples of the new snacks.

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Young adults now far less likely to out-earn parents at age 30 mark http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/08/young-adults-now-far-less-likely-to-out-earn-parents-at-age-30-mark/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/08/young-adults-now-far-less-likely-to-out-earn-parents-at-age-30-mark/#comments Fri, 09 Dec 2016 00:40:16 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/08/young-adults-now-far-less-likely-to-out-earn-parents-at-age-30-mark/ WASHINGTON — The likelihood that young adults will earn more than their parents has plummeted in recent decades, a study has found, fueling concerns that the American dream of steady upward mobility is foundering amid a widening wealth gap.

Just half of Americans born in 1984 earned more at age 30 than their parents did at that age, down from 92 percent in 1940, according to research released Thursday by Stanford economist Raj Chetty and five colleagues.

The study found two reasons for the drop: Income inequality has widened, so that even when the economy has grown, fewer Americans have received enough income gains to overtake their parents. And average annual economic growth has slowed since 1980, compared with the 35 years after World War II.

“Reviving the ‘American Dream’ of high rates of mobility will require economic growth that is spread more evenly across the income distribution,” Chetty and his co-authors wrote.

Anxieties about status and economic opportunity formed a backdrop to the 2016 election campaign, with many voters concerned that their children wouldn’t fare as well as they had. Conversely, many younger voters worry that they won’t do as well as their parents, largely because of sluggish income growth and higher costs for housing, health care and student debt.

Chetty’s research suggests that those concerns are well-founded. The decline in mobility occurred across all states but was worse in Rust Belt states such as Michigan and Indiana, both of which backed Donald Trump for president.

Trump has indicated that his administration will focus on accelerating economic growth, but has said less about income inequality. His choice for Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, has said the administration’s policies will increase the economy’s growth to as high as 4 percent annually, from the roughly 2.2 percent pace that’s prevailed since the recession ended. The U.S. economy hasn’t posted 3 percent growth for a full year since 2005.

Chetty’s study underscores how much faster and more evenly distributed economic growth was after World War II. By 1970, when those born in 1940 were 30 years old, 92 percent – nearly all Americans, across all income levels – were earning more than their parents had at that age.

“Growth patterns after the war were magnificent,” said Nathaniel Hendren, an economist at Harvard and co-author of the study. “They were high, but also broadly shared across the income distribution.”

Among the poorest 10 percent of Americans, 94 percent of those born in 1940 had surpassed their parents’ income 30 years later. That fell to 70 percent for those born in 1980 and who reached 30 years of age in 2010.

The middle class suffered a sharper drop: 93 percent of those born in 1940 into families with median household incomes – halfway between the top and bottom – had fared better than their parents by 1970. By 1980, only 45 percent of those born into the middle class did better than their parents 30 years later.

And for children born into the richest 10 percent in 1940, nearly 90 percent did better than their parents. That figure plunged to 33 percent in 1980, partly because it became harder for children of wealthy families to surpass their parents.

Those figures show that mobility has fallen for everyone – rich and poor. Hendren suggested that that might, in fact, make it a less polarizing problem.

“This is something that everybody shares,” Hendren said. “It is perhaps a little less divisive than what one might have thought.”

The study follows separate research released this week by Thomas Piketty at the Paris School of Economics and two colleagues that documented worsening income inequality since 1980. That study found that Americans in the bottom half of the income scale have experienced stagnant income since 1980.

Adjusted for inflation, the bottom 50 percent earned about $16,000 in 1980 and earns about the same now, the paper concluded.

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Campaign to draw workers to Maine gets $100,000 boost http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/08/workforce-attraction-campaign-gets-100000-boost/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/08/workforce-attraction-campaign-gets-100000-boost/#comments Thu, 08 Dec 2016 23:07:34 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/08/workforce-attraction-campaign-gets-100000-boost/ A campaign to attract more workers to Maine got a $100,000 boost Thursday from the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.

Live and Work in Maine, an online collaborative that promotes Maine’s regional quality of life and employment opportunities at more than 100 partner companies, won the award in a competitive bidding process, according to a release from the state. It will use the money to expand marketing efforts.

“This partnership will accelerate efforts to engage the estimated 34 million visitors to Maine each year and expand resources and opportunities to Maine employers pertaining to workforce attraction and retention,” said George Gervais, DECD commissioner, in the release.

Last summer, the organization established kiosks in the state’s visitor centers to introduce tourists to the notion of living and working in Maine.

It expects to launch a new job board in 2017, where job seekers can learn more about specific employment opportunities, send resumes directly to employers, and find more information about the culture and mission of Maine businesses. The site also includes testimonials from professionals who have relocated to Maine, details on internships and first career options for college students and new graduates, and information on the lifestyle offered by each of Maine’s eight geographic regions.

Additionally, the DECD expects to work with Digital Research Group of Kennebunk to gather more workforce attraction-related data. The company has previously conducted tourism studies for the Maine Office of Tourism. A profile of overnight visitors in 2015 showed that 36 percent of visiting business owners or CEOs indicated they would be very likely to relocate, expand, or start a business in Maine at some point in the future.

“Maine’s labor market will continue to tighten as baby boomers retire,” said Maine Department of Labor Commissioner Jeanne Paquette in the release. “Recruiting new workers to move to our state, and bring their families, is a critical element of our long-term workforce development strategy. We will need workers now and in the future to sustain economic growth. This is a high priority for both DECD and the Department of Labor as we work together to build a brighter future for Mainers.”

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Community Health Options has fewer claims, higher losses in October http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/08/health-insurance-cooperative-sees-fewer-claims-higher-losses-in-october/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/08/health-insurance-cooperative-sees-fewer-claims-higher-losses-in-october/#comments Thu, 08 Dec 2016 16:30:03 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1120821 Claims were down but losses were up at Community Health Options in October, the Maine Bureau of Insurance said this week.

The bureau has been monitoring the cooperative health insurer this year after it racked up $31 million in losses in 2015 and set aside $43 million in reserves to cover anticipated losses for 2016.

The Lewiston-based insurer – which has more than 80,000 customers, mostly in Maine – had been the only bright spot among the insurance cooperatives that sprung up in the wake of the Affordable Care Act. It turned a $7 million profit in 2014, but then saw losses snowball last year as new customers signed up and accessed health care under the insurance cooperative, some for the first time in years. As the customers saw doctors and treated medical issues that some had previously ignored, they met annual deductible limits and the bills went to CHO for full payment, leading to increasing losses as the year went on.

The Bureau of Insurance had considered putting the cooperative into receivership in order to trim the ranks of customers and cut losses, but federal officials blocked that effort, saying the ACA required insurers to renew policies for customers. Instead, the bureau worked on a financial plan with CHO and said it would monitor the insurer’s finances on a monthly basis.

In its report for October, the bureau said claims were 12 percent lower than CHO’s financial plan, but the net loss for the month was 31.3 percent worse than forecast. For the year to date, the bureau said, net losses are 6.9 percent worse than what CHO planned for, but the drawdown from the reserve fund was slightly better than the plan.

The bureau also said CHO has done a good job of controlling its costs, with expenses 10.7 percent below what the plan anticipated for October and year-to-date expenses 1.9 percent lower than the plan.

CHO’s bonds, cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments also were lower than expected in October. The bureau said that was largely because CHO paid claims faster and had lower-than-expected premium income as it stabilized its customer base.

The bureau said CHO’s year-to-date financial performance has been “generally consistent with its plan, and October’s results were in line with the company’s most recent fourth-quarter projections.”

CHO’s finances are also likely to be affected by a lawsuit it has filed against the federal government, seeking $23 million from a pool created to help insurers cope with unexpected financial issues during the first few years of the ACA. A federal judge last week ruled that the lawsuit could continue, despite a federal government request for a delay.

 

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Fishing groups seek Atlantic wind farm delay http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/08/fishing-groups-seek-atlantic-wind-farm-delay/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/08/fishing-groups-seek-atlantic-wind-farm-delay/#comments Thu, 08 Dec 2016 16:06:21 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/08/fishing-groups-seek-atlantic-wind-farm-delay/ MINEOLA, N.Y. — Commercial fishing companies, trade groups and three fishing-based municipalities are seeking to delay the lease sale of an Atlantic Ocean site between New York and New Jersey that federal officials envision as the home of a massive offshore wind energy project.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of a 45-page motion ahead of its filing Thursday in federal court in Washington, D.C. It seeks a temporary restraining order halting the Dec. 15 lease sale. Those seeking a delay include groups representing scallop and squid fishermen, the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association and the city of New Bedford, Massachusetts.

The motion seeks to delay the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s plans for developers to build a 127-square-mile, 194-turbine offshore wind farm. The United States still has no offshore wind projects online, though BOEM has awarded 11 commercial offshore wind leases for sites in the Atlantic. Some major projects have been delayed by political opposition.

The country’s first offshore wind farm, a tiny project off Rhode Island with just a few turbines, is expected to debut this month.

The court motion argues that BOEM failed to consider alternative sites and contends that besides negative impacts on scallop and squid fishing, others who harvest fish species including summer flounder, mackerel, black sea bass and monkfish also would be negatively affected. When it announced final plans for the lease sale earlier this fall, BOEM said it had removed about 1,780 acres from the initial proposal because of environmental concerns.

The plaintiffs referred to that as a “diminutive change” in their motion. The fishing groups said they aren’t opposed to wind farms. But they argue that site alternatives weren’t considered and that conducting site analysis after a lease sale is completed will be too late.

“BOEM must carry out the proper analysis prior to officially leasing out areas to companies for construction, due to the importance of this fishery area,” said James Gutowski, president of the Fisheries Survival Fund, who is a scallop fisherman from Barnegat Light, New Jersey; the group is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit.

“It must adequately and accurately characterize the potential impacts to the industry from construction on this site,” Gutowski said.

If the lease sale proceeds as scheduled, “the site encompassing historical fishing grounds, as well as fish and protected species habitat, will become irreparably encumbered by … development rights,” the motion argued. “The loss of these grounds to the fishermen, and this habitat for scallops, squid, fish, protected species, and other living marine resources, yields both great and actual harm.”

Other plaintiffs in the motion included squid fishing processing companies; the town of Narragansett, Rhode Island; the borough of Barnegat Light, New Jersey; and the Garden State Seafood Association.

A hearing on the motion was expected in coming days.

The proposed wind energy project begins about 11 miles south of Long Island’s popular Jones Beach and spreads out across an area sandwiched between major shipping lanes, where trawlers harvest at least $3.3 million worth of sea scallops each year, as well as smaller amounts of mackerel, squid and other species, according to a BOEM study.

U.S. officials have been reviewing plans for a wind farm in New York’s coastal waters since 2011. A dozen private companies have registered to bid in the auction, as well as the state of New York’s Energy Research Development Agency.

The agency says if it wins, it will facilitate development studies and analysis and arrange power purchase agreements, steps that are expected to save money for any company that eventually builds and operates the wind farm.

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Weekly claims for U.S. unemployment benefits continue to fall http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/08/weekly-claims-for-u-s-unemployment-benefits-continue-to-fall/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/08/weekly-claims-for-u-s-unemployment-benefits-continue-to-fall/#comments Thu, 08 Dec 2016 13:47:44 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/08/weekly-claims-for-u-s-unemployment-benefits-continue-to-fall/ WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON — Fewer Americans signed up for unemployment benefits last week, another sign the U.S. job market remains healthy.

The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly claims for jobless aid slid by 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 258,000. The less-volatile four-week average rose by 1,000 to 252,500. Overall, 2.01 million Americans are collecting unemployment checks, down 10 percent from a year ago.

Claims have come in below 300,000 for 92 straight weeks, longest such streak since 1970 when the population and labor force were much smaller. The applications are a proxy for layoffs, and the low numbers suggest that employers are hanging onto their workers and that most Americans enjoy job security. “Firms know how hard it is to find qualified staff, so they are reluctant to let people go unless they have no choice,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.

The job market is robust. The Labor Department reported last week that the economy generated a solid 178,000 jobs in November. The unemployment rate dropped to a nine-year low 4.6 percent. But joblessness rate fell largely because so many Americans stopped looking for work and were no longer counted as unemployed.

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Union president challenges Trump on Twitter over Carrier jobs http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/08/union-president-challenges-trump-on-twitter-over-carrier-jobs/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/08/union-president-challenges-trump-on-twitter-over-carrier-jobs/#comments Thu, 08 Dec 2016 13:34:56 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/08/union-president-challenges-trump-on-twitter-over-carrier-jobs/ WASHINGTON — The union president slammed by Donald Trump on Twitter challenged the president-elect Thursday to back up his claim that a deal to discourage Carrier Corp. from closing an Indiana factory would save 1,100 American jobs.

“He overreacted, President-elect Trump did,” United Steelworkers 1999 President Chuck Jones told CNN. “He should have come out and tried to justify his numbers.”

Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence — governor of Indiana — visited Carrier’s Indianapolis factory Dec. 1 to celebrate the deal. Trump suggested then that the number of jobs saved could top 1,100. Jones says the total is much less because more than 400 jobs will still be lost from the Indianapolis plant.

“A lot of the people thought at that time thought that they were going to have a job” who might not, Jones said Thursday.

Late Wednesday, Trump tweeted: “Chuck Jones, who is President of United Steelworkers 1999, has done a terrible job representing workers.”

That local union branch represents workers at Carrier’s Indianapolis plant.

In a second tweet, Trump suggested Jones should “Spend more time working — less time talking” and the union should “Reduce dues.”

About 30 minutes after Trump tweeted about Jones, the union leader started getting harassing phone calls, he told MSNBC.

He said one caller asked: “What kind of car do you drive?” Another said: “We’re coming for you.”

He told the cable news outlet he wasn’t sure how the callers found his number.

“Nothing that says they’re going to kill me, but, you know, you better keep your eye on your kids,” Jones told MSNBC. “I’ve been doing this job for 30 years, and I’ve heard everything from people who want to burn my house down or shoot me … I can deal with people that make stupid statements and move on.”

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Michael Jordan wins China court ruling in trademark case http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/08/michael-jordan-wins-china-court-ruling-in-trademark-case/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/08/michael-jordan-wins-china-court-ruling-in-trademark-case/#comments Thu, 08 Dec 2016 10:46:41 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/08/michael-jordan-wins-china-court-ruling-in-trademark-case/ BEIJING — China’s highest court on Thursday ruled in favor of basketball legend Michael Jordan at the culmination of a years-long case over use of the Chinese rendering of his globally-known name and trademark.

The former NBA star has been in a dispute with a sportswear company based in southern China called Qiaodan Sports since 2012. He had previously argued unsuccessfully in Beijing courts that they had used his Chinese name “Qiaodan” by which he has been known since he gained widespread popularity in the mid-1980s, his old jersey number 23 and basketball player logo to make it look like he was associated with their brand.

The Supreme People’s Court on Thursday announced that it was overturning two rulings by Beijing courts against Jordan from 2014 and 2015 that had found there wasn’t sufficient evidence to support the athlete’s allegations over the use of his image. It also ordered the trademark bureau to issue a new ruling on the use of the Chinese characters in the brand name “Qiaodan.”

Pronounced “CHEEOW-dan,” it is the transliteration of “Jordan” in Mandarin.

The court’s judgment was broadcast live on its website.

Jordan said in a statement that millions of Chinese fans and consumers had always known him by the name Qiaodan and that he was happy the court had recognized his right to protect his name.

A man shops for shoes at a Qiaodan Sports retail shop in Beijing Thursday. Associated Press/Ng Han Guan

A man shops for shoes at a Qiaodan Sports retail shop in Beijing Thursday. Numerous Chinese companies sell products with names that sound suspiciously similar to well-known foreign brands, often with only one or two letters changed.Associated Press/Ng Han Guan

“Chinese consumers deserve to know that Qiaodan Sports and its products have no connection to me. Nothing is more important than protecting your own name, and today’s decision shows the importance of that principle,” Jordan said.

In a twist to the legal saga, Qiaodan Sports successfully counter-sued Jordan in 2013 for preventing it from pursuing a stock market listing because of the trademark lawsuit.

The Beijing law firm representing Qiaodan Sports Co. Ltd. declined to comment.

The case reflects the difficulties faced by foreign individuals and companies in protecting their copyrights in China, where domestic firms have long taken a cavalier attitude toward intellectual property.

Numerous Chinese companies sell products with names that sound suspiciously similar to well-known foreign brands, often with only one or two letters changed.

Chinese law protects foreign companies in cases where their brand was already famous in China before being registered by a Chinese firm seeking to capitalize on its notoriety.

However, Apple Inc. lost a legal battle earlier this year when a Beijing court ruled the company had failed to prove that iPhone was a famous brand in China before a Chinese company applied for the “iPhone” trademark in 2007. The Chinese company uses “iPhone” on its handbags and mobile phone cases.

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Even ‘foodie’ Maine has an appetite for delivered meal kits http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/08/even-foodie-maine-has-an-appetite-for-delivered-meal-kits/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/08/even-foodie-maine-has-an-appetite-for-delivered-meal-kits/#comments Thu, 08 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1120475 Emily Griffin likes to cook, but the working wife and mother of a 2-year-old found planning meals on Sunday for the coming week and then shopping for the ingredients onerous.

So when a family member gave her a free trial to Blue Apron, one of the many meal kit companies that have come on the scene since 2012, she jumped on it.

“It’s the convenience factor,” she said. “I don’t have to create a whole meal plan and there’s little food waste. And it’s good if you like to cook because you can explore different things.”

The food kits, which include everything needed to make a meal in about 45 minutes, seem to run counter to the farm-to-fork foodie movement for which Maine is known. But Griffin says Blue Apron supports local agriculture in the areas where it packages. It also will take back, with a prepaid label, any packaging, although she says it tries to package using recyclable items.

“The food may not be local to here, but a lot of it is local,” said Griffin, 34, of Lisbon Falls. “I’m a huge fan of it. And we did a (farm product share program) out of Freeport this summer with salad to supplement Blue Apron.”

Meal kit makers emerged in 2012 and quickly grew into what is expected to be a $1.5 billion market this year, with more than 150 companies competing nationally, regionally and locally, including Blue Apron, HelloFresh and Plated, according to market research firm Packaged Facts of Rockville, Maryland. A Brunswick company, Local Market, had so much success this summer with meal kits made from local farm fare that it plans to resume the service in the spring.

Griffin has used the service weekly, getting three, two-person meals every Saturday. She’s been so satisfied that others in her family have joined in. Her mother, 62, lives alone in Brunswick and uses Blue Apron, as does her uncle, 52, a priest in Bath who has odd hours and likes the convenience, she says.

Griffin works full time at a software company and runs a second business on the side selling LuLaRoe clothing for about 25 hours a week on nights and weekends. Her husband drives more than 700 miles a week as a sales representative for Federal Distributors Inc., a beer distributor in Lewiston. So the time saved on planning and running to the stores, let alone buying ingredients like spices that she’ll only use a few times, has made the $10 meals worth the cost.

“You can’t even get takeout for under $35,” she said. “I think the kits will grow. People can’t afford to go to (restaurants like TIQA in Portland) once a month for farm-to-table. They’re awesome, but they’re expensive.

“This is super-attractive for people who aren’t in Portland proper,” she said. “You have a well-rounded palate without breaking the bank.”

Griffin said some meal kits mix ingredients in ways that never would have occurred to her, such as kale with couscous and vinegar dressing.

1120475_777764 201611206_BlueApro#5.jpg

Blue Apron has been providing meal kits since 2012.

BOXED GOURMETS CATCH ON

Meal kits still are in their infancy, and cost is one of the main drawbacks, according to the Chicago market research firm NPD Group. The average cost of a standard in-home dinner is $4 per person, but it’s $10 for a single meal using a kit, closer in price to a take-out meal. Although $10 might be a bargain for residents of large cities, those in rural areas might find it steep. Still, NPD Group says about 3 percent of U.S. adults, about 8 million people, have tried a meal kit over the past year, and two-thirds were satisfied with the service.

The kits typically are sold by monthly subscription and come in boxes complete with all ingredients and recipe cards for making the meals. In July, The New York Times started selling boxed versions of its printed recipes to be delivered by Chef’d, including with meal ingredients for making braised halibut with asparagus, baby potatoes and saffron.

Even the big food companies are jumping in. Tyson Foods said earlier this year that it will launch a curated line of dinners called Tyson Tastemakers. And Martha Stewart has started Martha & Marley Spoon.

A Packaged Facts study estimated that meal kit delivery startups have raised more than $650 million in venture capital, but still haven’t turned a profit because they are in growth mode, setting up new facilities, hiring workers and bringing in new customers with deep discounts.

FAD OR PARADIGM SHIFT?

So, do meal kit companies represent a major shift in the way we eat, like TV dinners did 50 or 60 years ago, or are they just a fad?

It’s probably too early to say for sure, but Sharon Smiley, co-owner of Local Market in Brunswick, thinks meal kits are here to stay. “Once (customers) buy one, a lot of them reorder,” she said. “People like quick and healthy meals.”

The market first tried offering meal boxes with food sourced from local Maine farms last May to October, during the height of the growing season. Boxes ranged from $30 to $38 and fed two people.

She stocked the boxes, based on recipes from the store’s chef, with vegetables from Left Field Farm in Bowdoinham, White Oak Farm in Warren and Farm Fresh Connection, a Freeport-based collaborative of some 20 farms. She also used pasta from Blue Ribbon Farm in Mercer and bread from Standard Baking Co. in Portland. Each boxed meal came with a recipe card and photo of how to plate it. Added to that were spice rubs and other items needed for flavor.

Recipes were based on prepared food already sold in the store, then advertised on social media. “Instead of shopping at two or three different places, customers could pick up everything here,” Smiley said. She plans to sell the boxes again starting in the spring.

Boxes were made-to-order and sold only on Thursdays, primarily to young professionals and older couples, Smiley says.

OPTIONS ABOUND

Jessica Simpson, 36, a single working mom from Cape Elizabeth, has tried several of the boxed meals. A manager at her family’s Shoppers True Value Hardware store in South Portland, she has ordered the meals once or twice a month for six months at a time over the past five years. The ordering is flexible, and she can choose from different meal options each week, including vegetarian meals.

Simpson says she started ordering the meal kits when free offers appeared on her Facebook account. So far she’s tried Blue Apron, HelloFresh, and most recently, Sun Basket out of San Francisco.

“It’s a way to get different foods that you wouldn’t necessarily get at the restaurant,” she said, adding that sometimes she gets more out of two meals because her 6-year-old son only eats part of his meal. She thinks there’s less food waste overall.

“The food quality is really good. The portions are good,” she said.

Simpson especially likes the quinoa black bean chili, which she says she’d never made before, but her son picked out the “round things,” meaning the quinoa.

Seafood and meat come in frozen packs, and the meal packs are shipped mainly through overnight services.

Simpson says she likes Sun Basket because it has a lot of meals from different parts of the world, and cards that come in the box tell about the food.

“The cards also tell you the amount of calories, protein, fiber and other information,” she said. “The concept is really good for people who like to try different things.”

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Federal contracts and patents http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/08/federal-contracts-and-patents-2/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/08/federal-contracts-and-patents-2/#comments Thu, 08 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1120566 Federal contracts and patents recently awarded in Maine:

PATENTS:

PROCK MARINE CO.: The Rockland company won a $542,970 contract set aside for small business from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for maintenance dredging at Sagamore Creek. The work will occur in Portsmouth and Rye, New Hampshire.

COMPOTECH INC.: The Brewer company won a $208,060 contract set aside for small business from the U.S. Army for the design, fabrication and testing of modular shelters.

WARDWELL PIPING INC.: The Windham company won a $62,250 contract set aside for service-disabled veteran-owned small business from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for the replacement of boiler tubes. The work will occur in the Togus VA Medical Center in Augusta.

MCGEE CONSTRUCTION: The Gardiner company won a $319,025 contract set aside for small business from the U.S. General Services Administration’s Public Buildings Service for snow removal services at the E.S. Muskie Federal Building in Augusta.

SOMATEX INC.: The Detroit company won a $36,620 contract set aside for small business from the U.S. Air Force Material Command for rails and hoists.

COLBY CO.: The Portland company won a contract valued at up to $500,000 from the U.S. Postal Service for architectural and engineering services for repair and alteration projects, building expansions and new construction of lease and owned facilities in Maine.

MEGA INDUSTRIES LLC: The Gorham company won a $39,815 contract from the Defense Logistics Agency for waveguide adapters.

DOWNEAST LOGISTICS LLC: The Scarborough company won a $33,233 contract set aside for service-disabled veteran-owned small business from the Defense Logistics Agency for specimen bags.

HOWELL LABORATORIES INC.: The Bridgton company won a $25,500 contract from the Defense Logistics Agency for centrifugal pump units.

ENGINEERED CONSTRUCTION SERVICES INC.: The Raymond company won a $1,070,311 contract set aside for small business from the U.S. Naval Facilities Engineering Command Mid-Atlantic for the replacement of compressed air dryers.

N.H. BRAGG & SONS: The Bangor company won a $49,940 contract set aside for service-disabled veteran-owned small business from the Defense Logistics Agency for storage batteries.

CONTRACTS:

PROCK MARINE CO.: The Rockland company won a $542,970 contract set aside for small business from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for maintenance dredging at Sagamore Creek. The work will occur in Portsmouth and Rye, New Hampshire.

COMPOTECH INC.: The Brewer company won a $208,060 contract set aside for small business from the U.S. Army for the design, fabrication and testing of modular shelters.

WARDWELL PIPING INC.: The Windham company won a $62,250 contract set aside for service-disabled veteran-owned small business from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for the replacement of boiler tubes. The work will occur in the Togus VA Medical Center in Augusta.

MCGEE CONSTRUCTION: The Gardiner company won a $319,025 contract set aside for small business from the U.S. General Services Administration’s Public Buildings Service for snow removal services at the E.S. Muskie Federal Building in Augusta.

SOMATEX INC.: The Detroit company won a $36,620 contract set aside for small business from the U.S. Air Force Material Command for rails and hoists.

COLBY CO.: The Portland company won a contract valued at up to $500,000 from the U.S. Postal Service for architectural and engineering services for repair and alteration projects, building expansions and new construction of lease and owned facilities in Maine.

MEGA INDUSTRIES LLC: The Gorham company won a $39,815 contract from the Defense Logistics Agency for waveguide adapters.

DOWNEAST LOGISTICS LLC: The Scarborough company won a $33,233 contract set aside for service-disabled veteran-owned small business from the Defense Logistics Agency for specimen bags.

HOWELL LABORATORIES INC.: The Bridgton company won a $25,500 contract from the Defense Logistics Agency for centrifugal pump units.

ENGINEERED CONSTRUCTION SERVICES INC.: The Raymond company won a $1,070,311 contract set aside for small business from the U.S. Naval Facilities Engineering Command Mid-Atlantic for the replacement of compressed air dryers.

N.H. BRAGG & SONS: The Bangor company won a $49,940 contract set aside for service-disabled veteran-owned small business from the Defense Logistics Agency for storage batteries.

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BIW wins destroyer contract modification worth $59.4 million http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/07/biw-wins-destroyer-contract-modification-worth-59-4-million/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/07/biw-wins-destroyer-contract-modification-worth-59-4-million/#comments Thu, 08 Dec 2016 01:15:39 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/07/biw-wins-destroyer-contract-modification-worth-59-4-million/ The Navy has awarded Bath Iron Works a contract modification worth $59.4 million to provide engineering and technical assistance in building new Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers, U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King announced Wednesday.

The expanded contract funds a variety of services and design improvements related to the Flight III upgrade, which adds an air and missile defense radar to the DDG-51 class ships, according to Navy reports.

BIW is in the midst of a building boom as crews work on the final two destroyers in the three-ship Zumwalt class as well as four more Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers. While at least three additional Arleigh Burke destroyers will be built in Bath as part of a multi-year contract awarded by the Navy in 2013.

Collins is a member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and King is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

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Trump takes aim at drug makers http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/07/trump-takes-aim-at-drug-makers/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/07/trump-takes-aim-at-drug-makers/#comments Thu, 08 Dec 2016 00:53:04 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1120468 Biotech and pharmaceutical stocks rose after the November election, reflecting investor optimism that a Trump presidency would mean less focus on drug prices.

Not so fast, President-elect Trump said in his interview for Time magazine’s “Person of the Year.”

“I’m going to bring down drug prices,” Trump told Time during an interview in his dining room after the election. “I don’t like what has happened with drug prices.”

Trump didn’t elaborate on what he would do to lower drug prices, and his transition team did not respond to requests for more information.

Drug companies and investors could see Trump’s words as a threat. Biotech and pharmaceutical company stocks closed slightly down Wednesday. The S&P Pharmaceuticals Select Industry Index closed down 1.9 percent and the NASDAQ Biotechnology Index closed down 2.9 percent.

Adam Fein, president of Pembroke Consulting, a firm focused on pharmaceutical economics, said that Trump may be sending a signal to the industry.

“Historically, a lot of manufacturers have increased the prices of their products at the beginning of the year,” Fein said. “He may be trying to use his bully pulpit to signal, ‘You should change the system’ – without necessarily saying how he’s going to change the system, or what should be done.”

Drug companies have been under intense scrutiny from lawmakers for large price increases after a series of high-profile cases sparked public outrage. Last year, Turing Pharmaceuticals chief executive Martin Shkreli stirred controversy after hiking the price of the drug Daraprim 4,000 percent. And earlier this year, lawmakers called the chief executive of drug company Mylan to a congressional hearing to defend the 500 percent increase on the price of the lifesaving allergy treatment EpiPen over a decade.

Some pharmaceutical executives, believing that the drug price debate isn’t likely to recede, have pressed the industry to get in front of the issue to avoid government intervention. In some cases, companies have taken steps to show they can keep prices in check without federal action. Brent Saunders, chief executive of Allergan, wrote a blog post in September vowing to limit drug prices to single-digit percentage price hikes, once a year. Danish diabetes giant Novo Nordisk followed suit with a similar pledge last week.

“We hear from more and more people living with diabetes about the challenges they face affording healthcare, including the medicines we make,” wrote Jakob Riis, Novo Nordisk’s U.S. president.

“This has become a responsibility that needs to be shared among all those involved in healthcare and we’re going to do our part.”

President-elect Trump’s unpredictability has already made companies in multiple industries nervous. Drug companies may refrain from big price hikes simply to stay out of his crosshairs, since the pharmaceutical industry – already under intense scrutiny because of price hikes – could be an easy target.

Fein also noted that Trump may have industry tailwinds — drug companies have increasingly begun to talk publicly about pricing and the warped incentives that exist in the current system.

Drug companies have argued that list prices are fiction. Traditionally, list prices do not reflect what anyone in the system pays for a drug — or what drug companies receive — due to a complex system of payments to middlemen and secret rebates and discounts. But as health plans have shifted toward high-deductible plans or coinsurance, patients are being affected by the list prices of drugs, and drug companies have increasingly begun to acknowledge and focus on the problem.

It’s hard to know whether the Trump administration would support other policy levers to rein in drug prices. But a signal might be in his choice of Tom Price to head the Department of Health and Human Services.

In 2007, Price said that allowing Medicare to negotiate on drug prices, for example, was a “solution in search of a problem,” according to the New York Times.

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Gadget could keep drivers’ eyes on the road http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/07/gadget-could-keep-eyes-on-the-road/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/07/gadget-could-keep-eyes-on-the-road/#comments Thu, 08 Dec 2016 00:31:11 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/07/gadget-could-keep-eyes-on-the-road/ An engineer has invented a device he believes could eliminate distracted driving. He also says at least one mobile phone provider appears close to rolling out the gadget to its users and that another provider has shown an interest in the technology.

But, then again, Scott Tibbitts and his colleagues at a company called Katasi have been trying to persuade cellphone providers, automakers and the federal government to deploy his gadget for half a decade now.

“How do you get to the top executives to say: ‘This is insane. You’ve got a solution right under your hood. You could be heroes. Let’s just do this thing and save a bunch of lives.'” Tibbitts asked. “But at the end of the day, everything seems to slow down, right at the point they say let’s do this.”

Tibbitts, who also developed motors used on NASA space missions, came up with a temporary blocking device that can be plugged into a port on a vehicle’s steering wheel about as easily as a thumb drive. The technology – called Groove – is designed to halt incoming texts and other potential wireless distractions as soon as the vehicle moves at 5 mph or faster. Only data for GPS navigational systems and music are allowed to reach the driver’s smartphone. The device blocks other data by alerting the driver’s mobile phone service provider that the vehicle is in motion. Once the vehicle comes to a stop, the device ceases blocking. It can also distinguish the phone of the person who’s driving, so that passengers’ phones aren’t affected.

Sprint, which has been using the technology on a pilot basis, could make it available as early as next year, Tibbitts said. After a clever social media campaign by Tibbitts and supporters last month, T-Mobile is also exploring the technology, Tibbitts said.

“It’s a horse race, with two thoroughbreds, to see which one will go over the line,” Tibbitts said.

Tibbitts is, of course, peddling a product. But if Groove does what Tibbitts says it does, it’s a wonder the technology doesn’t come with every new car.

It’s not that Tibbitts’s device has been languishing in obscurity, either. The New York Times wrote about the technology a couple of years ago. Yahoo! News global anchor Katie Couric took a spin with Tibbitts to see whether his device would block texts from reaching her while she was driving. (It did.) Couric also admitted to sneaking off a text while driving on occasion — and who hasn’t?

That’s why, as Tibbitts argues, only technology is going to fix the problem of being distracted by technology.

For him, the terrible consequences of distracted driving hit close to home. In 2008, he arrived at a Denver firm for his first business meeting with another engineer to talk about working together. He learned instead that the man had been killed in a crash that day by a teenage driver who was texting and ran a red light.

A year later, Tibbitts and others formed Katasi, the Boulder, Colo.-based company that developed Groove. Tibbitts, who is chief executive, said it had already become clear that distracted driving could not be stopped through public service campaigns or legislative fiat. “Legislation would fail because of the nature of human beings,” he said. “Everyone thinks, ‘One text won’t kill anybody. . . How are they ever doing to see me sneaking this text message? And if they do, all I’ll say is I was looking at my navigation.'”

In other words, not much has worked so far to reduce texting and driving. If anything, it seems as if every other driver these days is steering with one hand while texting or talking with the other.

Tibbitts said members of Congress have expressed enthusiasm about the technology but told him it would be better to persuade mobile phone providers to adopt it rather than embark on a legislative fix. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave him a thumbs-up but offered similar advice. Automobile executives seemed more interested in packing new vehicles with more technology to pump data at drivers in ways that would be less distracting, Tibbitts said. And some mobile phone providers expressed interest in blocking texts with his device, but none wanted to be the first, he said.

So Tibbitts and his company tried a different tack: using social media to attack a problem caused at least partly by social media. In November, they targeted T-Mobile’s president and chief executive, John J. Legere, through Twitter.

Legere happens to be an energetic tweeter. His 3.35 million followers have been treated to postings about monkeys recognizing each other’s posteriors, a cheese gun and what’s happening with his slow cooker.

So Katasi staff, with some help from safety advocates, started peppering the T-Mobile boss with tweets urging his company to consider using Groove.

Eventually, Legere responded, and now they are talking.

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CEO says AT&T will not hoard content http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/07/ceo-says-att-will-not-hoard-content/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/07/ceo-says-att-will-not-hoard-content/#comments Wed, 07 Dec 2016 23:42:17 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/07/ceo-says-att-will-not-hoard-content/ WASHINGTON — AT&T chief executive Randall Stephenson vowed Wednesday not to restrict Time Warner’s television content from competitors once the two companies close their massive $85 billion merger.

“We will not withhold content to disadvantage someone else,” Stephenson said at a Senate subcommittee hearing.

That promise could prove vitally important to thousands of TV viewers, small businesses and independent programmers that could be affected by a bigger AT&T.

Under the deal, which will see AT&T acquire a deep trove of content rights ranging from HBO’s TV shows to Warner Bros. films, the telecom giant could wield its expanded power as a cudgel against other businesses. That could raise costs to other TV companies or potentially allow AT&T to prioritize its own services, such as DirecTV, according to critics.

It could do this by forcing other companies to pay higher license fees to air its programming, for example, or by restricting other companies’ ability to show that content if they do not agree to AT&T’s terms.

“There’s concern this acquisition will concentrate too much power in one conglomerate, resulting in higher prices and fewer programming options for consumers,” said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa.

Consumer advocates argue that any discriminatory behavior on the part of AT&T would disproportionately hurt smaller TV companies.

“I’m not worried about Comcast getting access to content,” said Gene Kimmelman, president of the consumer group Public Knowledge. “I’m worried about the online distribution that would be competing with AT&T,” such as Netflix.

There is some precedent for these concerns.

In 1992, Congress passed a law that, among other things, required cable companies to make any content they owned available to competing technologies as well – specifically, satellite TV. The worry was that cable channels would find ways to cut satellite providers out of the content market and ultimately hurt the industry.

Despite the rules, some content owners still found ways to discriminate by taking advantage of loopholes in the law, said Harold Feld, a senior vice president at Public Knowledge.

“This led to Comcast and Time Warner actively buying up all local sports rights and creating ‘regional sports networks’ that they denied to [satellite] and other competitors,” said Feld. The Federal Communications Commission closed that loophole in 2010.

After 20 years, federal regulators allowed those rules to expire in 2012.

Pay-TV providers such as satellite companies can still file a complaint if they believe a cable company is negotiating unfairly over content rights. But in general, the rules are a little looser than before.

Time Warner chief executive Jeff Bewkes told lawmakers Wednesday that it would not be in the company’s interest to deny content to other companies – not when cord-cutting is forcing TV providers to distribute their programs on as many platforms as possible.

“We would be cutting off meaningful revenue for our company,” he said.

“There’s no incentive to do that … it would hurt our business.”

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On the Move http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/07/on-the-move-132/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/07/on-the-move-132/#comments Wed, 07 Dec 2016 22:58:10 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1120376 NEW HIRES

n Michael McAllister joined SailMaine as interim executive director.

An avid sailor, McAllister brings extensive experience in sailing, coaching, racing and teaching.

n Diversified Communications hired the following individuals to its team.

Emily Koncz joined as a project manager.

Koncz was previously employed by iBec Creative in Portland.

Liz Decker joined as an executive assistant. She previously worked for UNUM in Portland.

Katherine Rushlau was hired as a digital editor. She was previously employed by BLR Healthcare in Middleton, Massachusetts.

n The Animal Welfare Society hired Kevin Ward as director of community programs.

Ward, of Kennebunk previously worked for Community Partners, Inc. as a regional director. He has more than 19 years experience in program management working with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and acquired brain injury.

n Stephanie Keith joined Winxnet, a Portland-based IT outsourcing and consulting firm, as a project manager in the Portland office.

Keith brings more than 17 years of project management experience. Most recently, she worked at The Computer Merchant and worked many years at Unum as a project manager.

n Islandport Press has hired Anna Jordan as an editor and special projects coordinator.

Jordan, of Brunswick, brings extensive experience in publishing and education, as well as event planning.

PROMOTIONS

n Jim Cyr was promoted to director of sales at Connectivity Point Design and Installation.

Cyr joined the company in 2010. In his previous position, he was instrumental in adding many new customers to its client list.

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Broad rally drives Dow, S&P to record highs http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/07/broad-rally-drives-dow-sp-to-record-highs/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/07/broad-rally-drives-dow-sp-to-record-highs/#comments Wed, 07 Dec 2016 22:16:31 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/07/broad-rally-drives-dow-sp-to-record-highs/ NEW YORK – The Dow Jones industrial average and Standard & Poor’s 500 indexes soared to their biggest gains since the presidential election on Wednesday and set all-time highs. Investors bought stocks that do well in times of faster economic growth, like technology and industrial companies, but they also snapped up stocks that pay large dividends.

Stocks moved steadily higher throughout the day after a mixed open. Phone and real estate companies made the largest gains, but the rally moved into high gear in the afternoon, as airlines, railroads and trucking companies soared.

Investors took the rally in transportation stocks as a sign of optimism about economic growth. Technology and consumer-focused companies also jumped. Biotech drug companies took steep losses after President-elect Donald Trump said he wants to reduce drug prices.

The transportation sector reached an all-time high for the first time in two years. Julian Emanuel, an equity strategist for UBS, said investors were pleased to see that record because they see it as a sign businesses will start spending more, which would bolster economic growth.

“The consumer has really been the engine of the economy,” he said. “The missing piece has been the corporate side, the industrial side.”

The Dow Jones industrial average jumped 297.84 points, or 1.5 percent, to 19,549.62. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 29.12 points, or 1.3 percent, to 2,241.35. The Nasdaq composite recovered from an early loss to rise 60.76 points, or 1.1 percent, to 5,393.76. That was about five points short of its all-time high.

The Russell 2000 index of small-company stocks also recovered from an early loss and set its own a record as it gained 11.84 points, or 0.9 percent, to 1,364.51.

U.S. government bond prices rose, sending yields lower. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.34 percent from 2.39 percent. Bond yields have risen sharply since the summer but have slipped in the last few days.

The lower bond yields have helped stocks that are seen as bond substitutes, like real estate investment trusts. Their big dividends are attractive to investors who want income, so when bond yields fall, investors often turn to those stocks. Industrial real estate company Prologis rose $1.62, or 3.2 percent, to $52.32 and Verizon picked up $1.02, or 2 percent, to $51.38.

AT&T also jumped as a Senate antitrust panel scrutinized its planned $85.4 billion purchase of Time Warner, the parent of HBO. Legislators asked if the deal would improve competition and reduce prices for consumers, as the companies say it will. AT&T gained $1.10, or 2.8 percent, to $40.45 and Time Warner edged up 8 cents to $93.98.

A wide array of companies that stand to benefit from faster economic growth also climbed. Home improvement retailer Lowe’s rose $3.94, or 5.4 percent, to $76.40 and truck maker Paccar jumped $3.20, or 5 percent, to $67.63. U.S. Steel added $1.54, or 4.3 percent, to $37.49.

IBM led technology companies higher as it rose $4.44, or 2.8 percent, to $164.79. Hard drive maker Western Digital climbed $5.30, or 8.3 percent, to $69.15 after it extended a patient licensing deal with Samsung.

In an interview with Time magazine, which named him Person of the Year, the president-elect said he wants to reduce drug prices. He did not say how his administration plans to do that. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton campaigned on reducing drug prices, and drug company stocks had rallied since the election as investors felt that was less likely to happen under Trump.

The Nasdaq biotechnology index tumbled 2.9 percent, as those companies make costly medications and might stand to lose the most under tighter price regulations. Amgen lost $3.92, or 2.7 percent, to $141.19 and Vertex Pharmaceuticals sank $2.80, or 3.6 percent, to $75.32.

Abbott Laboratories moved to terminate its purchase of diagnostic test maker Alere. Abbott agreed to buy Alere in February for about $5.8 billion, or $56 per share. But since then, Alere has recalled a key monitoring device and delayed a financial statement, and it’s being investigated over its overseas business. Alere said Abbott’s lawsuit is without merit.

Alere stock dropped $3.19, or 8 percent, to $36.67 and Abbott stock added 6 cents to $38.48.

Benchmark U.S. crude oil lost $1.16, or 2.3 percent, to $49.77 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the international standard, slid 93 cents, or 1.7 percent, to $53 a barrel in London. Energy companies traded higher Wednesday, although they rose less than the rest of the market.

European stock indexes jumped as investors anticipated that the European Central Bank will extend its bond-buying stimulus program Thursday. The stimulus is designed to boost growth and inflation. European stock indexes climbed. Germany’s DAX gained 2 percent and the FTSE 100 in Britain rose 1.8 percent. The CAC 40 of France picked up 1.4 percent.

The dollar fell to 113.85 yen from 114.05 yen. The euro rose to $1.0759 from $1.0715.

In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline lost 3 cents to $1.51 per gallon. Heating oil slipped 2 cents to $1.62 a gallon. Natural gas fell 3 cents to $3.60 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gold rose $7.40 to $1,177.50 an ounce. Silver jumped 47 cents to $17.28 an ounce. Copper dipped 4 cents to $2.64 a pound.

Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 rose 0.7 percent and the South Korean Kospi inched up 0.1 percent. The Hang Seng in Hong Kong gained 0.5 percent.

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That overhead bin is now going to cost United passengers http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/07/that-overhead-bin-is-now-going-to-cost-united-passengers/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/07/that-overhead-bin-is-now-going-to-cost-united-passengers/#comments Wed, 07 Dec 2016 19:02:26 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/07/that-overhead-bin-is-now-going-to-cost-united-passengers/ Gone are the days of the free sandwiches, the complimentary pillows, the headphones that didn’t cost $5. The in-flight comforts that were once a given are now nothing more than a nostalgic reminder of decades past.

Out went the free checked bag, in came the fees for those few extra inches of leg room. Want to make sure you sit next to your children on a flight? On some airlines, there’s a fee for that.

Now, on United Airlines, you won’t necessarily get the use of an overhead bin without paying more money.

The overhead bin: “one of the last sacred conveniences of air travel,” as an angry Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., put it Sunday as he denounced the move.

Of course, the airlines, when they come up with a new fee for something that was once free, always say that’s not what they’re doing. They’re just creating a fare tier that does not include it.

As part of the company’s new pricing tier, Basic Economy, passengers who purchase the airline’s cheapest fares will only be allowed one personal item that must fit under a seat. Additionally, customers will not be assigned seats until the day of departure, meaning people on the same ticket could be separated.

The move marks the first time a large U.S. airline limits low-fare customers to one carry-on bag that fits under a seat, Reuters reported. The company expects such fare initiatives to add $1 billion to its annual operating income by 2020, as more customers pay to check luggage or select higher fares for two carry-on bags.

The continual accretion of extra fees has led passengers to ask: What will airlines begin to charge for next? Cushions? Oxygen masks?Shutterstock photo

The steady accretion of extra fees has led some passengers to ask: What will they charge for next? Cushions? Oxygen masks? Shutterstock photo

Of course, next to cable providers, airlines are the companies Americans love the most to hate. Many on Twitter saw United’s new tier as a mere invention.

And the constant nickel-and-diming has led passengers to ask: What will airlines begin to charge for next? Cushions? Oxygen masks?

“Maybe it will be extra for sitting soon,” tweeted one disgruntled flyer.

“Seriously!?! When will it end?” said Sandra Cochrane. “Which airline will join next?”

From WHO radio: “How long before we have to pay for oxygen? Discuss.”

“We need to boycott United Airlines,” tweeted a woman identifying herself as Sandra Lespinasse.

Schumer called the proposed fare structure “one of the most restrictive policies on airline passengers we have seen in a long time.”

“The overhead bin is one of the last sacred conveniences of air travel and the fact that United Airlines – and potentially others – plan to take that convenience away unless you pay up is really troubling,” Schumer wrote. “It seems like each year, airlines devise a new, ill-conceived plan to hit consumers and it has simply got to stop.”

The clamor sent United Airlines marketers into a frenzy, responding to frustrated customers on Twitter to clarify the policy. The phrase “We are not charging a fee for overhead bin space” was repeated dozens of times on the airline’s account in response to complaints.

United explained that this is all for the benefit of passengers. United’s President Scott Kirby told Reuters that surveys indicated travelers and employees do not like scrambling to store carry-on bags in the limited overhead bins.

The purpose of the new fare structure is to create more options for customers, according to the company’s website. The new fares, which will be comparable to the low fares the airline now charges for economy cabin, will begin selling in the first quarter of 2017 for travel starting in the second quarter, according to Reuters.

It was not immediately clear whether United’s announcement would prompt rivals to make similar moves. Airlines have previously copied each other on pricing strategies, such as adding fees for checked luggage.

For some, the announcement called for a new approach to flying: Wear plenty of layers.

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Maine records lackluster growth in second quarter http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/07/lackluster-gdp-growth-in-second-quarter/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/07/lackluster-gdp-growth-in-second-quarter/#comments Wed, 07 Dec 2016 15:25:32 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/07/lackluster-gdp-growth-in-second-quarter/ Maine’s economy grew a lackluster 0.6 percent during the second quarter this year, lagging behind much of the nation and the region during the April-June period.

The federal Bureau of Economic Analysis said Wednesday that the U.S. economy as a whole grew 1.2 percent during the quarter. New England’s regional economy expanded at a 1.5 percent rate during the period.

Maine’s growth in gross domestic product, a measure of the output of all goods and services in the state, was 35th among the states nationally and exceed only Rhode Island – up 0.2 percent – in the six-state New England region during the quarter.

The BEA said the state’s economic output was led by the agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting and the health care and social assistance sectors, both of which contributed 0.4 percentage points to Maine’s economic growth during the quarter.

Major drags on the economy were construction, which accounted for a 0.68 percentage point decline in economic output, and the retail trade, which accounted for a drop of 0.29 percentage points in the GDP.

The second quarter’s performance was in contrast to the first quarter, when a milder-than-usual winter helped propel Maine’s economy in the first three months of the year. Then, Maine’s 2.3 percent growth was enough to put it into the nation’s top 10 in economic performance.

Overall, the Maine economy grew from $58.7 billion during the first three months of 2016 to $59.1 billion during the second quarter.

Nationally, Nebraska posted the biggest increase in GDP, growing by 4.3 percent, while North Dakota had the biggest decline of 5.6 percent.

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Group seeks private donations to help South Portland fight pipeline lawsuit http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/07/protect-south-portland-launches-crowdfunding-campaign-to-fight-pipeline-lawsuit/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/07/protect-south-portland-launches-crowdfunding-campaign-to-fight-pipeline-lawsuit/#comments Wed, 07 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1120018 SOUTH PORTLAND — A local environmental group has ramped up efforts to help the city defend its so-called Clear Skies ordinance in federal court, launching a crowdfunding video campaign Tuesday to raise at least $25,000 toward legal costs that are nearing $1 million.

The professionally produced video, posted on Fundrazr.com and shared on Protect South Portland’s Facebook page, had raised more than $1,700 by Tuesday evening, drawing support from donors outside the city who favor the ordinance banning oil exports from South Portland.

The unusual appeal for private donations to defend a city in court intends to tap broader concern that the Portland Pipe Line Corp. might reverse its 236-mile pipeline to export Canadian crude oil known as tar sands.

Meanwhile, the city is preparing for oral arguments next week before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on an appeal aimed at forcing its insurer, a risk pool of Maine Municipal Association members, to cover its legal costs in defending the ordinance against the pipeline company’s lawsuit.

The video campaign comes at a critical and opportune time as the city braces for the pro-petroleum policy changes indicated by President-elect Donald Trump and following the decision this week by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deny an easement for the nearly complete Dakota Access oil pipeline in North Dakota.

The timing of the video campaign, on the heels of victory for thousands of pipeline protesters who camped out for months on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, is a “happy coincidence” that Protect South Portland hopes to build on, said Mary Jane Ferrier, spokeswoman for the grassroots group.

“We have two goals,” Ferrier said Tuesday. “To mobilize support, financial and otherwise, for our efforts and to help people realize just how wide that support is. A lot of people believe in our cause.”

VIDEO TARGETS OIL COMPANIES

Approved by the City Council in July 2014, the Clear Skies ordinance banned the loading of crude oil into tankers on South Portland’s waterfront and effectively blocked the Portland Pipe Line Corp. from potentially reversing the flow of its South Portland-to-Montreal pipeline.

The company filed a lawsuit in February 2015, claiming that the ban is unconstitutional because it interferes with interstate trade, discriminates against Canadian interests, devalues the pipeline and infringes on areas of regulation.

The fundraising video, titled “Big Oil’s Wealth vs. Community Health,” targets the Canadian-owned pipeline as a subsidiary of ExxonMobil and Suncor Energy, which operates a refinery in Montreal. The 75-year-old pipeline has been largely dormant for about a year because Canadian refineries have had little demand for foreign crude in the wake of increased tar sands oil production in Alberta. The pipeline’s inactivity has heightened local concern that the company might try to reverse its flow to allow the export of Canadian tar sands oil through South Portland.

Protect South Portland created this video to help support the Clear Skies Legal Defense Fund

 

The Fundrazr page seeks donations to the city’s Clear Skies Legal Defense Fund, saying “We wish to send a strong message to the courageous city of South Portland that people support the battle to protect our air, water and health.”

The page claims that the company “is suing to overturn an airtight ordinance South Portland passed to protect our air from the toxic fumes that would be spewed out during the burning off of chemicals needed to move tar sands through South Portland for export.”

The company didn’t respond to a call for comment Tuesday.

The city is acting “to protect the health and welfare of its residents and visitors and traditional land use authority to promote future development consistent with the comprehensive plan,” according to court documents. The Clear Skies ordinance cites concerns about air pollution associated with the bulk loading of crude oil into tankers.

DISPUTE OVER IMPACT OF TAR SANDS

Environmentalists have argued that exporting oil from the United States would accelerate global climate change. They particularly oppose the tar sands oil produced in Canada because it requires more energy extract and is more difficult to clean up in the event of a spill. However, petroleum industry representatives have said the oil is no more damaging than other crude oil.

Last month, lawyers for the city and the pipeline company submitted summary judgment motions that could allow U.S. District Judge John Woodcock Jr. to decide the case as early as February, thereby avoiding a trial. However, if any facts are in dispute, the judge could decide that all or part of the lawsuit should proceed to trial in the spring, which some city officials expect to be the result.

Whatever the outcome in U.S. District Court in Portland, the case will likely wind up in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit in Boston, further driving up legal costs that have worried some city officials and taxpayers from the start.

The city has spent about $750,000 of the nearly $1 million that the council has set aside in the Clear Skies Legal Defense Fund. The city’s defense team includes its local attorney, Sally Daggett of Jensen Baird Gardner & Henry in Portland, and Foley Hoag, a prominent Boston law firm with environmental expertise.

CITY APPEALS INSURER LIABILITY RULING

Hoping to reduce the city’s legal costs, Daggett is pursuing a Superior Court complaint, filed in May 2015, that charged the Maine Municipal Association Property & Casualty Pool with breaching its duty by refusing to pay for the Clear Skies defense. In February, the court decided in favor of the MMA pool, made up of municipalities across Maine, finding that it had no duty to defend the ordinance because the pipeline company isn’t seeking damages.

The city appealed the decision to the state’s highest court. Daggett and MMA attorney James Bowie are scheduled to deliver oral arguments on the appeal next Wednesday before the Supreme Judicial Court in Portland.

Daggett declined to comment on the appeal. Bowie said the MMA risk pool is set up to cover legal fees related to relatively predictable claims for personal injury and property damage, not lawsuits seeking declaratory judgments or injunctive relief, like the pipeline case.

“The municipalities in the pool aren’t trying to cover each other’s political decisions,” Bowie said. The limits of the risk pool’s coverage have been challenged occasionally in the past, he said, but most municipalities understand that the pool is set up to cover incidents such as a public works vehicle damaging a building or injuring a person.

“The Superior Court correctly ruled that absent a claim for damages (by the pipeline company), the MMA risk pool had no responsibility to assist in the city’s defense (of the Clear Skies ordinance),” Bowie said.

NON-TAXPAYER DONORS, FILM FUNDRAISER

Just over $100,000 of the city’s defense fund has come from non-taxpayer-funded sources, including recent anonymous contributions of $20,000 and $50,000, $718 previously raised by Protect South Portland and $250 from Sebago Lake Anglers, according to the city manager’s office.

The fundraising video, produced by Betsy Carson of South Portland, was made using a $550 anonymous donation and the help of a committee that includes group members Roberta Zuckerman, Meg Braley, Abby Huntoon, Judy Kline, Sarah Lachance and Vanessa Sylvester.

Supporting organizations include Physicians for Social Responsibility, Maine State Nurses Association/National Nurses United, Natural Resources Council of Maine, 350 Maine, Environment Maine, Maine Association of Naturopathic Doctors, Toxics Action Center and Conservation Law Foundation, said Ferrier, of Protect South Portland.

The group is holding a separate fundraiser at 7 p.m. Wednesday with a showing of the film “This Changes Everything” at the Nickelodeon Cinema in Portland. Based on Naomi Klein’s international nonfiction bestseller, the film highlights communities around the globe that are fighting corporate interests to stop carbon pollution and climate change. All donations will go to the Clear Skies Legal Defense Fund.

 

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Turbulent day has companies wary of President-elect Trump http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/turbulent-day-has-companies-wary-of-president-elect-trump/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/turbulent-day-has-companies-wary-of-president-elect-trump/#comments Wed, 07 Dec 2016 04:37:38 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/turbulent-day-has-companies-wary-of-president-elect-trump/ The turbulence began Tuesday morning with one of President-elect Donald Trump’s signature tweets of wrath: a public jab at Boeing alleging that the cost of building Air Force One had spiraled out of control.

That came an hour after Boeing’s chief executive was quoted questioning Trump’s stance on trade.

In the afternoon, Trump directed his attention elsewhere, taking credit in a surprise announcement for a Japanese conglomerate’s months-old pledge to invest $50 billion in the United States.

In the raucous hours in between, a top Trump aide announced offhandedly that, months before, Trump had sold his entire stock portfolio, which some ethics advisers had worried could raise questions about conflicts of interest during his presidency.

It was a day of big pronouncements and few details, leaving many wondering whether this would be the unusual and unpredictable way that Trump will govern when he takes office next month.

That style, including his opaque personal financial dealings and his sudden shots at certain companies, has helped unnerve a corporate America that traditionally craves stability. Some business leaders and economists have worried whether executives can speak their minds about the president-elect or his policies without fear of facing Trump’s rage.

“Twisting people’s arms is inherently problematic” for a president, said N. Gregory Mankiw, a professor of economics at Harvard who served as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush.

“The president has so much power, you always wonder if there’s some implicit threat to individuals, and that goes beyond what I think a limited government should do,” Mankiw said.

But some defended Trump’s highly visible way of doing business in his transition to the Oval Office. Lanhee Chen, policy director of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign who is now at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, said he was not terribly concerned by Trump’s interactions with individual corporations and chief executives.

“I just assume this is what generally happens,” Chen said. “I don’t think it is that unusual for a president to make appeals to specific companies. What may be unusual is the public nature of the communications. But the activity itself is not uncommon” for presidents or for governors, he said.

FEW DETAILS ON TRUMP STOCK SALE

Trump has for months targeted companies that, like his own, have shipped jobs overseas. In a string of early morning tweets Sunday, he threatened “retribution or consequence” for companies that move operations out of the country, as well as a 35 percent tariff on goods sold back to the United States.

Trump’s Boeing slam Tuesday, though, was something new. The president-elect criticized the Chicago-based jet manufacturer, alleging that the costs of its federal contract to build a new Air Force One had, as Trump said, spiraled “out of control.”

Trump’s tweets came roughly an hour after the publication of a Chicago Tribune column citing Boeing chief executive Dennis Muilenburg’s suggestion that Trump and Congress “back off from the 2016 anti-trade rhetoric.”

Trump spokesmen did not explain why he had targeted Boeing and did not provide other details. But they contributed to the confusion by claiming Tuesday morning that Trump had in June sold a stock portfolio that by last year was worth up to $40 million.

The sale of Trump’s shares in big banks, oil conglomerates and other companies with business before the government would have netted Trump millions of dollars during his costly presidential campaign. It also could help him tamp down worries over conflicts of interest between his private holdings and public job.

But beyond spokesman Jason Miller’s comments Tuesday to The Washington Post, Trump representatives have not provided records of stock transactions or other details since a financial-disclosure filing released in May.

SHAKY CLAIM ON FIRM’S INVESTMENT

Over the past five months, Trump campaign officials gave no indication of the stock sale. Trump has also refused to release his tax returns, which would provide more detailed information about his financial holdings.

As president, Trump will be subject to the Stock Act, a 2012 law that requires elected officials, including the president, to publicly disclose any stock transactions worth at least $1,000 within 45 days.

By Tuesday afternoon, Trump had taken a new turn, announcing that a Japanese telecommunications firm, SoftBank, had agreed to invest $50 billion in U.S. startup businesses, a move he tweeted that the company would never have done “had we (Trump) not won the election!”

The president-elect made a brief showing in the gilded lobby of Trump Tower to announce the investment, smiling for the cameras and shaking hands with the firm’s chief executive, Masayoshi Son. The deal, however, is not new. The money will come from a $100 billion joint investment fund that Son established in October using money from partners, including Saudi Arabia’s state-owned investment fund.

Francisco-based online lender Social Finance.

Trump’s announcements followed his assertion last week that he had saved 1,100 jobs in Indiana through a deal with air-conditioning company Carrier. The agreement, which includes $7 million in state incentives for the company, will actually keep 800 workers in the state, while 600 jobs will still go to Mexico.

In an interview Monday with CNBC’s Jim Cramer, the chief executive of Carrier’s parent company confirmed that it had made the deal in part out of fear.

“There was a cost as we thought about keeping the Indiana plant open,” said United Technologies chief executive Greg Hayes. “At the same time . . . I was born at night but not last night. I also know that about 10 percent of our revenue comes from the U.S. government.”

QUESTIONING TRUMP TRADE TACTICS

After Trump concluded his public events Thursday night at Carrier, he took on a second company that has announced it is moving jobs from Indiana to Mexico. “Rexnord of Indiana is moving to Mexico and rather viciously firing all of its 300 workers. This is happening all over our country. No more!” he tweeted Friday.

Keith Hennessey, director of the National Economic Council under Bush, warned about the impact of Trump’s approach to business and trade, which he said could do “long-run economic harm to the U.S.”

“When a politician rewards his business friends and punishes his business enemies it’s called crony capitalism,” Hennessey wrote in a blog on his personal website Monday. “It creates incentives for other business leaders to spend their time and money trying to get similar political access with elected officials. And a firm leader now knows it can initiate a negotiation with the Trump administration simply by threatening to outsource jobs.”

In his blog, Hennessey urged Trump to stop “trying to tell individual American business leaders how to run their companies.” He said his criticism was aimed at Trump’s maneuvers around Carrier, Rexnord and tariffs, but said he did not want to comment on Boeing.

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Power line from Canada wins key federal permit http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/power-line-from-canada-wins-key-permit/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/power-line-from-canada-wins-key-permit/#comments Wed, 07 Dec 2016 01:34:26 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/power-line-from-canada-wins-key-permit/ MONTPELIER, Vt. — A power line planned to run under Lake Champlain and link suppliers in Canada with consumers in southern New England has won a key federal permit, clearing its last big regulatory hurdle.

Transmission Developers Inc. announced Monday its TDI-New England subsidiary had received a presidential permit from the U.S. Department of Energy for the 154-mile, $1.2 billion power line, dubbed the New England Clean Power Link. CEO Donald Jessom said construction could start in late 2017 or early 2018.

“This interconnection is a vital link that will unleash low-carbon, cost-effective electricity from Canada for the benefit of New England, replacing fossil-fuel generators and lowering energy prices,” Jessom, who’s also CEO of the parent company, said in a statement.

The company, which is owned by the New York-based Blackstone Group, said it hopes a key market for the power will be utilities in Massachusetts, where Republican Gov. Charlie Baker in August signed legislation calling for a request for power supply proposals that will close April 1.

It said it’s the first of about a half-dozen firms planning projects to carry abundant Canadian hydropower to New England to clear all of its key regulatory hurdles.

Vermont utilities already make extensive use of Canadian power, which originates at the massive power dams run by the provincial utility Hydro-Quebec and enters the state at Highgate, near the northern end of Lake Champlain. Jessom would not identify the New England Power Link’s Canadian supplier.

The TDI project previously had won needed permits from the Vermont Public Service Board, the Agency of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, company officials said.

The power line would run north to south under Lake Champlain, which sits between northern New York state and Vermont and extends into Quebec. Jessom said it would be placed on the lake bottom in deeper parts of the lake and would be buried underneath the bottom where the water is shallower, with the goal being to avoid entangling boat anchors and fishing lines.

It would come ashore in Benson and be buried under public rights of way for the 55-mile trip southeast toward Cavendish, where it would connect with the New England power grid at the Coolidge substation.

Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat who leaves office in January, called the New England Power Link “a well-designed, innovative transmission project” the state looks forward to hosting.

“The project will help reduce carbon emissions in our region, provide ratepayer benefits for Vermont and will fund important Vermont-based programs, including support for our Clean Energy Development Fund and the cleanup of Lake Champlain,” he said.

The power line also won kudos from one of Vermont’s leading environmental groups. Sandra Levine, a senior attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, said, “TDI-NE’s buried transmission line in Vermont shows that the facilities needed to transport electricity can meet high environmental standards and be developed in a responsible, cooperative manner.”

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Supreme Court backs Samsung in payment skirmish with Apple http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/supreme-court-justices-back-samsung-in-payment-skirmish-with-apple/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/supreme-court-justices-back-samsung-in-payment-skirmish-with-apple/#comments Wed, 07 Dec 2016 01:23:43 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/supreme-court-justices-back-samsung-in-payment-skirmish-with-apple/ WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court unanimously sided with smartphone maker Samsung on Tuesday in its high-profile patent dispute with Apple over design of the iPhone.

The justices said Samsung may not be required to pay all the profits it earned from 11 phone models because the features it copied from the iPhone were only a part of Samsung’s devices.

Cupertino, California-based Apple had won a $399 million judgment against South Korea-based Samsung for infringing parts of the iPhone’s patented design, but the case now returns to a lower court to decide what Samsung must pay.

The case is part of a series of disputes between the technology rivals that began in 2011. Apple accused Samsung of duplicating a handful of distinctive iPhone features for which Apple holds patents: the flat screen, the rounded rectangular shape of the phone and the layout of icons on the screen.

At issue was how much Samsung is required to compensate Apple under an 1887 law that requires patent infringers to pay “total profit.” Apple said that means all the profits from the phone sales, while Samsung argued it was limited to profits related to the specific components that were copied.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the court that the law does not require damages to be based on the entire product, but can be limited to only a component of the product. The decision overturned a ruling from a federal appeals court, which said that Apple was entitled to all the profits.

But the high court declined to lay out a specific test for how such damage awards should be calculated. Sotomayor said doing so was not necessary and the justices left it up to lower courts to resolve.

Samsung had argued that the hefty award ignored the fact that its phones contain more than 200,000 other patents that Apple does not own. Apple said the verdict was fair because the iPhone’s success was tied to its distinctive look.

Samsung already has handed the $399 million over to Apple, but was hoping to get some of that money back with a favorable Supreme Court ruling. None of the early-generation Samsung phones involved in the lawsuit remains on the market.

In a statement, Apple said the company is optimistic that lower courts “will again send a powerful signal that stealing isn’t right.”

The patent battle was being closely watched by other industry titans.

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U.S. allows Alaska Airlines to purchase rival Virgin America http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/u-s-allows-alaska-airlines-to-purchase-rival-virgin-america/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/u-s-allows-alaska-airlines-to-purchase-rival-virgin-america/#comments Wed, 07 Dec 2016 00:43:05 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1119838 WASHINGTON — Alaska Airlines has won government approval to buy rival Virgin America after agreeing in a settlement with the Justice Department to reduce its flight-selling partnership with American Airlines.

Parent company Alaska Air Group Inc. said Tuesday that it expects to close the $2.6 billion deal soon and greatly increase its presence in the huge California market.

Seattle-based Alaska Air Group is the nation’s sixth-biggest airline, and California-based Virgin is the eighth-largest. Together, they will become the fifth-biggest airline.

The merging airlines still face a private lawsuit to block the deal. Alaska and Virgin executives have expressed confidence they can resolve that lawsuit, which is pending in federal district court in San Francisco. A settlement conference is scheduled for Wednesday.

To win the government’s approval, Alaska will stop selling seats on American Airlines flights – a so-called code-sharing agreement – on 45 routes. Alaska said the concession will cost it between $15 million and $20 million a year in revenue, assuming it gets many of those customers back on Alaska planes.

Alaska also agreed to notify the government before it tries to sell or trade assets that Virgin America got from American Airlines and US Airways when those two carriers merged in 2013.

The Alaska-Virgin America merger is the latest – and among the smallest – in a series of deals that have reduced the number of competing airlines in the U.S.

Both Alaska and Virgin America have loyal followings on the West Coast, but their images contrast sharply. Alaska is noted for a strong on-time performance and financial prowess. Virgin America is more stylish, with younger cabin crews and mood lighting.

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Insiders’ tips illegal even when they’re free, U.S. Supreme Court says http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/u-s-supreme-court-insiders-tips-illegal-even-when-free/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/u-s-supreme-court-insiders-tips-illegal-even-when-free/#comments Wed, 07 Dec 2016 00:39:17 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/u-s-supreme-court-insiders-tips-illegal-even-when-free/ WASHINGTON — A unanimous Supreme Court on Tuesday sided with the government in a legal clash over the nation’s insider trading laws, a victory for prosecutors seeking to curb corruption on Wall Street.

The justices ruled that sharing corporate secrets with friends or relatives is illegal even if the insider providing the tip doesn’t receive anything of value in return.

The ruling upheld the conviction of Bassam Yacoub Salman, an Illinois man convicted of making investments based on inside information he received from a member of his extended family. It also limited the impact of a 2014 ruling from the federal appeals court in Manhattan that had raised doubts about the scope of insider trading laws.

Prosecutors have relied on a broad reading of the law to support aggressive anti-corruption efforts that have netted more than 80 arrests and 70 convictions for insider trading over several years.

Writing for the court, Justice Samuel Alito rejected arguments that insider trading prosecutions should be limited to those who make secret profits from revealing confidential data. Government officials had argued that sharing corporate secrets with friends or family is just as damaging to the integrity of financial markets.

Salman was prosecuted for earning more than $1.5 million in profits from trading on nonpublic information he received about future health care deals. The tip originated with Salman’s brother-in-law, Maher Kara, an investment banker at Citigroup Global Markets in New York. Kara passed the tip on to his own brother, Michael Kara, who then gave it to Salman.

Salman was aware that Maher Kara was the source. Kara pleaded guilty to conspiracy and securities fraud charges.

“Salman’s jury was properly instructed that a personal benefit includes the benefit one would obtain from simply making a gift of confidential information to a trading relative,” Alito said.

Alito said that Maher Kara disclosed confidential information as a gift to his brother with the expectation that his brother would trade on it. That was a breach of his duty of trust to Citigroup, Alito said, and that breach of duty continued when Salman received the information and traded on it.

Prosecutors had suffered a blow two years ago when the federal appeals court in Manhattan overturned the conviction of hedge fund managers Todd Newman and Anthony Chiasson after finding they were too far removed from inside information to be prosecuted.

The Manhattan court said Newman and Chiasson got their information through a chain of traders who didn’t have a close personal relationship with them. The ruling forced Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara to drop some cases and put others on hold.

Alito specifically noted the Manhattan ruling and rejected any notion that an insider doesn’t violate the law unless he receives something of value when giving confidential information to a friend or relative.

Bharara said in a statement that the Supreme Court “easily” rejected the Manhattan court’s “novel interpretation of insider trading laws.”

“The Court stood up for common sense and affirmed what we have been arguing from the outset – that the law absolutely prohibits insiders from advantaging their friends and relatives at the expense of the trading public,” Bharara said.

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As ‘Hairspray’ goes live on TV, commercials get into the act with live ads http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/as-hairspray-goes-live-on-tv-the-commercials-get-into-the-act/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/as-hairspray-goes-live-on-tv-the-commercials-get-into-the-act/#comments Tue, 06 Dec 2016 23:49:29 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/as-hairspray-goes-live-on-tv-the-commercials-get-into-the-act/ NEW YORK — It’s not just the musical “Hairspray” that will air live Wednesday night on NBC. So will a handful of the show’s commercials.

NBC hopes some innovative approaches will keep viewers interested and point the way toward more creativity among advertisers at a time when viewers are accustomed to fast-forwarding through commercials. The live musical, which is quickly becoming a December tradition for NBC, is “the biggest test kitchen that we could possibly have,” Linda Yaccarino, chairwoman of advertising sales and client partnerships at the network, said Tuesday.

The live commercials hearken back to the early days of television.

On Wednesday, Toyota will air a live commercial that’s styled after the 1960s setting of the musical, featuring the 2017 Corolla alongside a 50-year-old model of the car.

During another break, Reddi-wip will be featured in a musical commercial choreographed by the “Hairspray Live!” team and featuring crew and cast members. NBC says the ad is inspired by the whipped cream brand’s history of being delivered to the door by milkmen years ago.

Similarly, actor Derek Hough, who plays Corny Collins in “Hairspray Live!,” will stay in character after a musical number to extol the virtues of Oreo cookies.

In a couple of other commercial breaks, NBC will show live backstage scenes from the musical on a split screen with ads.

Ads are necessary for the TV industry to do business, said NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt. The more the network can do to combat the letdown feeling that viewers often have during commercial breaks, the better for all involved, he said.

“The more you can make the audience feel that the ads are part of the zeitgeist of the show, the less they feel like, ‘Oh, it’s a pharmaceutical ad in the middle of this joyous musical,’ ” Greenblatt said.

The Super Bowl every year is considered a creative showcase for advertisers, and Greenblatt said he’d like to provide more opportunities to do that other times during the year.

“I want to make the whole experience for viewers as good as it possibly can be,” he said.

Yaccarino said there was more demand from advertisers for such experimentation in “Hairspray Live!” than NBC had the capacity to do at this point. NBC would not discuss what advertisers are charged for the special commercials compared with more typical ads.

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Supreme Court refuses to hear DeLorme argument over $6.2 million fine http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/supreme-court-refuses-to-hear-delorme-argument-over-6-2-million-fine/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/supreme-court-refuses-to-hear-delorme-argument-over-6-2-million-fine/#comments Tue, 06 Dec 2016 23:29:30 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/supreme-court-refuses-to-hear-delorme-argument-over-6-2-million-fine/ The Supreme Court has rejected a request from Yarmouth mapmaker DeLorme to have a hearing on a $6.2 million fine assessed against it by the U.S. International Trade Commission last year.

The digital and print map-making company, which was sold to Swiss GPS giant Garmin in February, had hoped to get a hearing before the country’s highest court to challenge the fine imposed in the wake of a patent infringement case. DeLorme had been embroiled in a patent dispute for four years with Virginia-based BriarTek over the Maine company’s inReach GPS satellite handsets.

In a ruling in November 2015, a federal appeals court upheld the $6.2 million civil penalty against DeLorme, but it also upheld a lower court ruling that DeLorme had not violated BriarTek’s patents. It was BriarTek’s patent claim that formed the basis for the ITC’s ruling and fine.

DeLorme’s attorney at the time said the decision that upheld both the fine and the ruling that the patents weren’t valid was “Kafkaesque.”

It’s “quite stunning,” said Peter Brann, of Brann & Isaacson in Lewiston, of the seemingly contradictory rulings. The law firm filed the appeal to the Supreme Court.

Among those supporting DeLorme in the action were heavy hitters from some of the country’s largest electronics and digital companies, including Dell, Google, Adobe, HTC Corp. and Vizio.

The Supreme Court grants a full review and oral arguments to only about 1 percent of the requests filed annually.

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Analyst says FairPoint’s buyer will likely expand broadband, TV options http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/analyst-says-fairpoints-buyer-will-likely-expand-broadband-tv-options/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/analyst-says-fairpoints-buyer-will-likely-expand-broadband-tv-options/#comments Tue, 06 Dec 2016 23:26:26 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/analyst-says-fairpoints-buyer-will-likely-expand-broadband-tv-options/ The Illinois-based company that’s buying FairPoint Communications is likely to expand broadband and compete with cable companies for some TV customers in northern New England, a Wall Street analyst says.

Consolidated Communications already has video offerings in other markets, and the existing FairPoint network can support such service in parts of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, said Barry Sine, a telecommunications analyst at Drexel Hamilton.

Video offerings and expanded broadband would allow FairPoint to compete for cable TV customers in places where cable companies currently have a near-monopoly.

“Consumers in the states will see more competition. It’s very important and it benefits the consumer,” Sine said Tuesday.

Consolidated Communications plans to buy FairPoint in a deal worth $1.5 billion that already has been approved by the boards of both companies. It would assume FairPoint’s debt and offer dividends to stockholders.

The companies hope to close the deal in the summer. But it faces regulatory hurdles. Utilities regulators must review the plan to ensure that the transaction is good for consumers.

FairPoint’s acquisition of Verizon’s landline assets in northern New England was fraught with problems, and the states want to avoid a repeat.

“We learned a lot about what harm can be done in these transactions when these assets are sold,” said Maine Public Advocate Timothy Schneider.

FairPoint’s unionized workforce is welcoming the sale after contentious relations with management following the Verizon deal in 2007. The company struggled with debt, declining landline accounts and customer service problems before filing for bankruptcy, from which it emerged in 2011.

Workers led a four-month strike against FairPoint in late 2014 and early 2015, leading to a contract that made the company more attractive to suitors.

The company’s struggles have continued, however, as the number of traditional telephone customers has shrunk. FairPoint announced last month that it was laying off at least 110 workers.

“We are hopeful that Consolidated will work with us to create and maintain good jobs in our communities and really improve the quality of service that our customers deserve,” said Peter McLaughlin of Local 2327 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Overall, Consolidated Communications has maintained a better relationship with its workforce, and consumers can expect the company to continue to expand broadband service, Sine said. The company offers broadband to more than 90 percent of customers in communities in the 11 states it now serves, he said.

Consolidated said it’s too early to talk about expanded products. Instead, it’s focused on the regulatory process and ensuring a smooth transition, said company spokeswoman Jennifer Spaude.

Regulators expect formal filings soon.

The Vermont Public Service Department’s biggest concern is to ensure quality service for those customers for whom FairPoint has a monopoly, said Jim Porter, the agency’s telecommunications director.

He said he expects his department to hire outside financial experts to determine whether Consolidated Communications has the “financial wherewithal” to succeed if it acquires Vermont’s backbone telecommunications network.

Elected officials were taking a wait-and-see approach.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage said he hopes that the company can minimize the “growing pains” felt by FairPoint and that regulators have learned lessons from the miscues.

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Buckfield wood products company sold http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/buckfield-wood-products-company-sold/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/buckfield-wood-products-company-sold/#comments Tue, 06 Dec 2016 20:00:26 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/buckfield-wood-products-company-sold/ A Buckfield manufacturer of wood-based products, including colorful Easter eggs used in White House Easter holiday events, has been bought by new owners.

Wells Wood Turning and Finishing Inc., which makes housewares, furniture components and promotional items of wood, was acquired by Turning Acquisitions LLC on Nov. 28. Terms of the deal were not disclosed in a press release announcing the sale.

Christian Chandler and Simon Varney, principals in Turning Acquisitions, will operate the company as Wells Wood Turning & Finishing, and the plant will remain at its Buckfield location, with all current employees in place, according to the release.

“Previous owners Tom Wallace and Alan Chesney have done a fantastic job over the past dozen years, building a solid manufacturing operation with high-quality products and a very positive reputation in the marketplace,” said Varney in the release. “We have every intention of continuing their work while looking to expand into new markets and developing new products.”

Wallace said he was happy to be “handing over the reins” to a company dedicated to quality customer service and expanding Wells Wood’s product line and markets.

Founded in 1985, Wells is known for manufacturing rolling pins, which are marketed by partners online and in retail stores across the country. In recent years, the company manufactured multi-colored, collectible Easter eggs used in the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. It also specializes in the custom turning and finishing of a variety of wooden table legs, tool handles, craft parts and mini-baseball bats.

The company employs 30 people.

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Orono company wins $100,000 to develop ‘green’ ceiling tiles http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/orono-company-wins-100000-to-develop-green-ceiling-tiles/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/orono-company-wins-100000-to-develop-green-ceiling-tiles/#comments Tue, 06 Dec 2016 16:42:34 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/orono-company-wins-100000-to-develop-green-ceiling-tiles/ An Orono company that is developing innovative products made from the building blocks of wood is among the recipients sharing a $1.3 million award from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Revolution Research Inc. won $100,000 to design the manufacturing process for a bio-based ceiling tile that is durable, non-hazardous and can be composted. The tiles also must have higher insulation properties than conventional tiles, according to a Tuesday press release from the EPA. Twelve other companies were awarded grants of $100,000 under the Small Business Innovation Research program to develop green technology. If the first phase is successful, the companies will be eligible to apply for up to $300,000 to develop and commercialize their technology for the marketplace.

“The 13 businesses we are funding today are producing innovative and creative solutions for our country’s environmental problems,” said Thomas Burke, EPA science advisor and deputy assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development, in the release. “Small businesses play an integral role in creating technologies that will help ensure a sustainable future for our country.”

Revolution Research won the 2015 UMaine Business Challenge with its pitch to produce forest-based, environmentally friendly materials for the construction, insulation and food-packaging industries. Founded by Nadir Yildirim, a Ph.D. student at the University of Maine, and Chasse, a 2013 UMaine graduate in civil engineering, the company first developed foam insulation board made from natural resources that is 100 percent recyclable.

It also won $225,000 from the National Science Foundation last year, as well as smaller awards from competitions designed to encourage Maine entrepreneurship, such as the Top Gun program.

Yildirim presented at an October conference in Hiram that explored innovative uses for wood. Maine has 17 million acres of forest and a declining pulp and paper industry.

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On the Job: When winter arrives, business heats up for Jeremy Riordan http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/on-the-job-when-winter-arrives-business-heats-up-for-jeremy-riordan/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/on-the-job-when-winter-arrives-business-heats-up-for-jeremy-riordan/#comments Tue, 06 Dec 2016 16:16:36 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1119590 As the winter approaches and the need for oil increases, Jeremy Riordan’s phone begins to ring. During peak season, the owner of Willow Creek Fuels in Saco says he often works 12- to 14-hour days delivering to as many as 60 homes.

“It’s direct customer service – I’m a one-man crew.” said Riordan, 38. “When you call Willow Creek, you’re not getting an operator, you’re getting me.”

Riordan has been delivering fuel for years, first for another company, then for himself for the past five years.

His favorite part of the job is the fast pace.

“I like the action,” he said.

The hardest part is locating homes’ fill pipes.

“I’ve gone over fences, through garages, around sheds, and over an old car to get to a fill,” Riordan said. “You never know what you are going to come across.”

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U.S. trade deficit widens in October from a nearly 3-year low http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/u-s-trade-deficit-widens-in-october-from-a-nearly-3-year-low/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/u-s-trade-deficit-widens-in-october-from-a-nearly-3-year-low/#comments Tue, 06 Dec 2016 14:20:07 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/u-s-trade-deficit-widens-in-october-from-a-nearly-3-year-low/ WASHINGTON – The U.S. trade deficit climbed in October from its lowest monthly level in nearly three years. Imports of consumer goods such as medicine, cellphones and clothing increased, while exports of soybeans, gold and artwork tumbled–which fueled the monthly widening of the trade gap.

The Commerce Department said Tuesday that the deficit rose to $42.6 billion in October, up 17.8 percent from September. The $36.2 billion trade deficit in September was the lowest since December 2013.

Reducing the trade deficit has become a primary focus of President-elect Donald Trump. Trump cites the trade imbalance as evidence that the United States has to signed misguided trade agreements that have hurt U.S. economic growth and cost jobs.

In the wake of an agreement last week to keep 800 jobs at the Carrier furnace factory in Indianapolis from going to Mexico, Trump has promised to lower corporate tax rates to preserve factory jobs inside the United States, while threatening harsh penalties for companies that produce goods overseas to save on labor costs. On Twitter, Trump warned that he will impose a 35 percent tariff on the goods imported by companies that outsource production.

So far this year, the trade deficit is running 2.1 percent below its 2015 levels. The United States has been exporting more food but fewer industrial supplies, oilfield equipment, autos and consumer goods. But the country has also cut back on imports of steel, oil, aircraft, computer accessories and televisions, among other goods, leading to a narrowing of the overall trade deficit.

A larger trade deficit acts as a drag on growth because it means America is buying more from foreign countries than it is selling. But the pace of exports picked up during the July-September quarter, contributing a solid 1.2 percentage points to annualized growth of 3.2 percent during the quarter.

The goods trade deficit with China contracted to $31.1 billion in October and is running 6.2 percent below last year’s level, although it remains the leading contributor to America’s trade gap.

The deficit with the European Union rose 29.2 percent to $13.1 billion. The imbalance with Mexico climbed 18.1 percent to $6.2 billion.

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More than 200 Christmas wreaths stolen from York County farm http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/more-than-200-christmas-wreaths-stolen-from-york-county-farm/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/more-than-200-christmas-wreaths-stolen-from-york-county-farm/#comments Tue, 06 Dec 2016 11:42:12 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/more-than-200-christmas-wreaths-stolen-from-york-county-farm/ With local farmers offering to pitch in, the Giles Family Farm in Alfred isn’t going to let the Grinch or Grinches who stole more than 200 wreaths derail its annual holiday open house this weekend.

Wreaths valued at about $5,000 and the open trailer on which they were stacked were stolen from the farm some time late Friday night or early Saturday morning, farm co-owner Frank Boucher said.

Police have not said whether they have any leads on who might have taken the wreaths or where they might be now, Boucher said. Police told him that they believe someone in a small pickup truck hooked up the trailer and drove it off the farm, Boucher said. The trailer was parked on a section of the farm away from the main road, he said.

Stephen Gile stands Christmas trees Tuesday at the Giles Family Farm store in Alfred. More than 200 wreaths were stolen there late Friday night.

Stephen Gile stands Christmas trees Tuesday at the Giles Family Farm store in Alfred. More than 200 wreaths were stolen there late Friday night. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

He said the robbery came at a bad time because the farm is getting ready for the open house, which is when it traditionally sells most of its wreaths, trees and other holiday items.

Boucher said workers are busy making more wreaths to replace the stolen ones, and other farmers and wreath-makers in the area have told him he can pick up theirs if it appears Giles Family Farm might run short for the open house at the farm on Route 202.

The open house is set for 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, he said. The farm also sells items from a roadside stand the rest of the week.

Boucher said he hasn’t had to accept any of the offers from other farmers yet, but may need to if workers don’t manage to make enough wreaths before the weekend to replace those that were stolen.

Parts for wreaths lay in the back room at the Gile's Family Farm store, where employees and the owners are prepping for an open house this weekend. On Friday night 200 wreaths were stolen off a trailer behind of the store. (Photo by Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer)

Parts for wreaths lay in the back room at the Giles Family Farm store, where employees and the owners are getting ready for an open house this weekend. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“We’re just trying to make as many as we can,” he said.

Ann Boucher, his sister, hopes that someone might give police a tip about the whereabouts of the stolen wreaths.

She posted a news story about the robbery on the Giles Family Farm Facebook page, with a note asking people to share the story “so that this ‘Grinch’ can be caught.” “We hope somebody will know something” and the wreaths can be recovered, she said.

Ann Boucher said the farm often works with other farms in the area the rest of the year, so she isn’t surprised that they’ve offered to help out following the robbery. “They’ve been very supportive,” she said.

 

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McDonald’s revamps $4 billion McCafe brand http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/mcdonalds-revamps-4-billion-mccafe-brand/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/06/mcdonalds-revamps-4-billion-mccafe-brand/#comments Tue, 06 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1119451 McDonald’s Corp., losing ground in its battle for the nation’s coffee drinkers, is planning to shake up its McCafe brand – part of a bid to challenge Starbucks Corp. and Dunkin’ Donuts.

The company will reintroduce the McCafe concept next year, about eight years after it debuted nationwide. The push follows efforts to upgrade its java and get more of its beans from sustainable sources, mimicking a move by its Seattle-based rival.

“We’re really excited about the McCafe brand and what it can do to complement our food offerings,” Kristy Cunningham, U.S. senior vice president of strategy and insights, said in an interview. The new McCafe campaign will include special deals, more seasonal beverages and increased marketing of the chain’s coffee rewards program, she said.

Coffee is still a booming business in the U.S., but fast-food companies haven’t been able to capitalize on that growth. Sales at burger chains rose just 3.3 percent last year, compared with an almost 10 percent jump for coffee cafes, according to research firm Technomic. Though McCafe generates $4 billion annually in U.S. sales, it could better cater to customer needs, Cunningham said.

Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts have attracted customers with high-margin espresso, lattes and mochas. Though McDonald’s offers a wide range of coffees these days, it hasn’t become as much of a go-to source for upscale drinks.

McCafe is “a very important piece,” Cunningham said. “It gives us the chance to follow what the customer is really looking for.”

Re-emphasizing coffee is critical at a time when food sales are under pressure. Supermarkets have lowered prices, making it more alluring to eat at home instead of at a restaurant. Gas stations and other channels also are increasingly selling prepared meals, adding to the competition.

McDonald’s is looking to build on the success of its all-day breakfast, which rolled out last year across the U.S. It’s also upgrading stores with table service and more touch-screen ordering kiosks. The all-day breakfast push helped fuel a return to growth, but the resurgence has been waning: Domestic comparable sales rose just 1.3 percent last quarter, and McDonald’s is facing declining foot traffic.

McDonald’s isn’t alone in struggling to build a more sophisticated coffee menu. After Burger King introduced 10 new Seattle’s Best drinks in 2013, the rollout fizzled. The company later merged with Tim Hortons, though the two brands remain distinct.

McDonald’s still plans to emphasize its price advantage over Starbucks as it retools the McCafe brand. The company is planning a $1 drip coffee and $2 small specialty-beverage deal for the first quarter of next year, Cunningham said.

The chain, with about 14,000 domestic restaurants, said in October that it would buy all of its coffee from sustainable sources by 2020. In another sign of Starbucks envy, McDonald’s sold pumpkin-spice lattes across all of the U.S. this fall — the first time it’s done so in three years.

The company opened its first stand-alone McCafe location in Toronto last year, a move that it said “showcases the company’s passion for elevating the cafe experience.” McDonald’s now sells Americanos and shots of espresso across its Canadian restaurants. The McCafe locations even bake McCafe pastries in house.

In the U.S., McDonald’s is upgrading its espresso machines with equipment that creates more consistent-tasting drinks, Cunningham said. The new gear, which has better milk-steaming technology and can make a wider variety of drinks, costs about $12,000 apiece.

But the typical McDonald’s diner is a low- to middle-income consumer and not adventurous when it comes to coffee, said Will Slabaugh, analyst at Stephens Inc. Customers are looking for something that’s affordable and familiar, he said.

“It’s going to continue to be a slow build for them, especially in this type of environment where the customer expects a deal,” Slabaugh said. “I don’t expect that to be a huge needle mover for them.”

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Economists see slow growth ahead http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/05/economists-see-slow-growth-ahead/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/05/economists-see-slow-growth-ahead/#comments Tue, 06 Dec 2016 01:35:23 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/05/economists-see-slow-growth-ahead/ Americans should get used to a “new normal” of slow economic growth, business economists say.

The median estimate from economists surveyed by the National Association for Business Economics calls for the American economy to grow 2.2 percent in 2017, up from a forecast 1.6 percent this year and unchanged from the previous survey in September.

The improved number is still lackluster by historical standards. U.S. economic growth averaged 3.1 percent a year from 1948 to 2015, according to the Congressional Research Service. But the business economists say Americans need to get used to slow growth: 80 percent of those surveyed believe the potential growth rate of the American economy will remain at 2.5 percent or lower over the next five years.

The economy has been hobbled by an aging work force and weak gains in productivity.

Still, the economists see the risk of a recession as remote; 90 percent expect the current economic expansion to continue until at least 2018.

They expect employers to add an average 168,000 jobs a month in 2017, down from 180,000 a month so far this year.

Those surveyed also predict the unemployment rate, which fell to a nine-year low 4.6 percent last month, will average 4.7 percent in 2017.

A healthy job market means wage growth is likely to outpace inflation this year and next, the economists say. They see consumer prices rising 2.3 percent next year..

Two-fifths of the economists say increased spending on infrastructure projects would be the best way to boost economic growth over the next four years; 36 percent chose tax reform, which usually includes reducing the high official U.S. corporate tax rate in exchange for closing tax loopholes. President-elect Donald Trump has said both infrastructure spending and tax reform will be priorities in his administration.

The economists expect the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates at its meeting next week and to follow up with two more rate hikes next year.

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Amazon to introduce no-checkout grocery store in Seattle http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/05/amazon-to-introduce-no-checkout-grocery-store-in-seattle/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/05/amazon-to-introduce-no-checkout-grocery-store-in-seattle/#comments Tue, 06 Dec 2016 01:23:42 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/05/amazon-to-introduce-no-checkout-grocery-store-in-seattle/ Amazon on Monday revealed that it will open a brick-and-mortar grocery store called Amazon Go, an ambitious bid by the once online-only retailer to gobble up more of Americans’ shopping dollars by taking the fight more directly to traditional supermarkets and big-box stores.

The store will be powered by a web of technology that allows customers to fill up their shopping bags and walk out without going through a checkout process, a concept that has long been discussed in the retail industry but that has not been implemented at any major U.S. stores. The idea is that it will shave time off the shopping experience.

Here’s how Amazon Go will work: Customers download an app and then swipe their smartphones as they walk through the store’s entrance. Then they just start picking up groceries. In a process that the company does not describe except to say that it involves such capabilities as computer vision, machine learning and artificial intelligence, every item the shoppers tuck into their bags or carts is tracked on the phone. If an item is put back on the shelf, it’s deleted. As the shoppers exit, their total bill is calculated, a digital receipt appears on their phones and their Amazon account is charged. A video produced by the company offers some visuals that might help you imagine what that will look like.

The store is set to open in Seattle, Amazon’s hometown, in early 2017. And its arrival could end up posing some critical questions for the wider retail industry. For starters, Amazon Go will probably need fewer workers than traditional stores that rely on cashiers and clerks. If shoppers respond favorably to this low-touch customer service model, it might end up encouraging other chains to give similar setups a try and save labor costs.

If Amazon Go is successful and is expanded widely, it could put serious competitive pressure on a wide range of retailers. For starters, at just 1,800 square feet, Amazon Go looks to be targeting so-called fill-in trips, the kind of quick errand a shopper does when he or she just needs a couple of items. In recent years, drug stores and convenience stores have proved to be potent competitors to supermarkets for these kinds of shopping trips. So a fast-growing Amazon Go could present competition for chains such as CVS and 7-Eleven. And judging from the look of the store as seen in Amazon’s video, it will have an ambiance and selection that will put it up against Kroger or Whole Foods Market.

The company is promising to sell prepared foods made by “on-site chefs,” meaning it will be fighting for the same breakfast, lunch and dinner spending that fast-casual and carryout restaurants currently vie for. Amazon Go also plans to sell pre-packaged meal kits that contain ingredients to make a home-cooked dinner for two. That could produce new competition for the wave of meal kit start-ups such as Blue Apron, HelloFresh and Purple Carrot.

Amazon’s decision to sell groceries in physical stores would seem to be an acknowledgment of how hard it has proven to sell these kinds of goods on the Internet. Despite the explosive growth of e-commerce overall, grocery has largely remained an old-school business, with less than 2 percent of sales taking place online.

And Amazon Go will face no shortage of challenges as it aims to transform the model. Filling up one’s refrigerator has long been a convenience-centric errand, one in which the closest store to your house is often the one that gets your money. It will take a long time – and gobs of money – for Amazon to build out that kind of store network. And it’s not a sure thing that what it calls “Just Walk Out technology” will win customers over. What if it turns out to be buggy? What if some shoppers find it off-putting and impersonal?

Major grocers were likely not shocked by Amazon’s announcement: Rumors have been circulating for months that the company planned to open brick-and-mortar stores that sold food. And the e-commerce company has already shown interest in physical retailing by opening bookstores. So, in theory, legacy chains have been preparing for Amazon to try to encroach on their turf.

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Technology firm rebound, banks lift stock markets http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/05/technology-firm-rebound-banks-lift-stock-markets/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/05/technology-firm-rebound-banks-lift-stock-markets/#comments Tue, 06 Dec 2016 00:57:23 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/05/technology-firm-rebound-banks-lift-stock-markets/ NEW YORK — U.S. stocks resumed their climb Monday as investors bought stocks that stand to benefit from economic growth, like banks, as well as technology companies, which have been mostly left out of a post-election rally. The Dow Jones industrial set another record high.

Energy companies rose as the price of oil reached its highest level since July 2015. Small-company stocks continued to outpace the rest of the market. Technology companies have fallen since the election as big names like Facebook and Alphabet have lost ground. But that changed Monday.

Samantha Azzarello, global market strategist for JPMorgan Asset Management, said investors have been steadily moving money away from safe-play stocks over the past year and favoring companies that stand to do the best when economic growth picks up steam, as it did in the third quarter. Azzarello said investors expect that trend to continue.

“We’ve had 2 to 2.5 percent growth in the U.S. and we expect that to pop even higher if we get fiscal stimulus,” she said.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 45.82 points, or 0.2 percent, to 19,216.24. Earlier it went as high as 19,274. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index climbed 12.76 points, or 0.6 percent, to 2,204.71. The Nasdaq composite added 53.24 points, or 1 percent, to 5,308.89.

Stocks of small and mid-sized companies rose sharply. The Russell 2000 index jumped 23.53 points, or 1.8 percent, to 1,337.79. Thanks to a big rally in November, the Russell is up 18 percent this year, more than twice as much as the S&P 500, which tracks large U.S. companies. Smaller companies, which are more domestically focused than large multinationals, could stand to benefit more than larger ones from a pickup in U.S. growth.

Banks resumed their post-election rally and are trading at their highest levels since early 2008. Goldman Sachs gained $5.19, or 2.3 percent, to $228.55, a nine-year high. While stocks traded lower overall last week, banks are on a four-week winning streak since the election.

Microsoft added 97 cents, or 1.6 percent, to $60.22. Customer-management software developer Salesforce.com climbed $3.43, or 3.5 percent, to $70.80. Tech stocks are down about 1 percent since the election as investors have wondered about the effects of President-elect Donald Trump’s potential trade policies. The stocks had also reached all-time highs earlier this year.

Oil prices rose for the fourth day in a row. The price of oil has surged since OPEC countries finalized a deal that will trim oil production starting in January. Benchmark U.S. oil rose 11 cents to $51.79 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, gained 48 cents to $54.94 a barrel in London.

That sent energy companies higher. Valero Energy gained $3.06, or 5 percent, to $64.52 and ConocoPhillips picked up 76 cents, or 1.6 percent, to $48.88.

Consumer-focused companies also did better than the rest of the market. Amazon jumped $19.02, or 2.6 percent, to $759.36. On Monday the online retail giant said it is testing a grocery store model that works without checkout lines.

Health care stocks took the biggest losses. Health insurer UnitedHealth, a Dow component that has soared since the election, shed $3.10, or 1.9 percent, to $157.63 and drugmaker Merck fell 88 cents, or 1.4 percent, to $60.25.

U.S. government bond prices recovered from a sharp drop earlier in the day and finished just a bit lower. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note edged up to 2.40 percent from 2.39 percent late Friday.

Italian voters rejected proposed changes to the nation’s constitution on Sunday, causing political and economic uncertainty for Europe’s fourth-largest economy. Premier Matteo Renzi said he would resign. UniCredit, the biggest bank in Italy, lost 3 percent in Milan. Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the country’s third-biggest lender, slumped 4 percent.

Azzarello, of JPMorgan, said that’s because investors are getting used to political surprises. “After Brexit and after the U.S. election, markets are now braced for expecting the most extreme outcome when it comes to politics,” she said.

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Fate/Grand Order topping Pokemon Go http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/05/fategrand-order-topping-pokemon-go/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/05/fategrand-order-topping-pokemon-go/#comments Tue, 06 Dec 2016 00:17:51 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/05/fategrand-order-topping-pokemon-go/ Nintendo Co. might have scored a hit with the explosive debut of Pokemon Go this year. On its home turf, however, Sony Corp. has quietly dispatched its rival with a popular mobile game called Fate/Grand Order.

The game, based on the anime TV series “Fate,” allows players to travel back in time and team up with historical figures like Julius Caesar, Leonardo da Vinci and Joan of Arc to rescue humanity from looming disaster. While the basic version is free to play, people can pay for tokens that make it easier to add characters and speed up gameplay.

Fate/Grand Order has been at or near the top of Japan’s app revenue rankings all year and has been downloaded more than 7 million times since its July 2015 debut. It has made more money than Pokemon Go among Android users 104 out of 133 days this year, and 51 days on iOS devices, in the same period, according to researcher App Annie.

“In terms of the amount of money people are spending, it’s up there above Pokemon Go,” said Damian Thong, an analyst at Macquarie Group Ltd. in Tokyo. “The intensity and engagement level for Fate/Grand Order is a lot higher.”

When Sony reported its latest quarterly figures last month, Sony Chief Financial Officer Kenichiro Yoshida singled out the game at a press conference, saying “it continues to positively” contribute to the music division, where it’s based. Fate/Grand Order helped to lift Sony Music’s operating profit by 23 percent to 16.5 billion yen. Revenue rose 8 percent to 150 billion yen. The game’s success is a sign of how important Sony’s gaming and entertainment businesses are for Chief Executive Officer Kazuo Hirai, as the company struggles with razor-thin margins and competition in televisions, cameras and other hardware. The company plans to expand its mobile games effort with more titles in more markets in the coming months.

The original Fate television series and more recent game emerged from Sony’s Aniplex studio, created in 1995 to produce anime TV shows and movies. Atsuhiro Iwakami, 44, the studio’s president, said the idea to branch out into gaming was hatched three years ago when he realized the show’s complexity and large cast of characters lent itself well to the mechanics of mobile games.

“Sony Music was quite generous with its budget and said, why don’t you give it a shot,” Iwakami, himself a gamer and former producer on Fate, said in an interview.

Aniplex partnered with game developer DELiGHTWORKS and creative studio Type-Moon to produce Fate/Grand Order. “Whether you look at the number of downloads or users or revenue, it has exceeded our expectations,” Iwakami said.

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Wal-mart adds insurance coverage for transgender workers http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/05/wal-mart-adds-insurance-coverage-for-transgender-workers/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/05/wal-mart-adds-insurance-coverage-for-transgender-workers/#comments Tue, 06 Dec 2016 00:06:41 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/05/wal-mart-adds-insurance-coverage-for-transgender-workers/ Wal-Mart Stores Inc. added insurance coverage for transgender workers this year, joining more than 500 companies taking a bigger role in advancing the rights of LGBT employees in a competitive market for labor.

Companies from Apple to Xerox are pushing to protect employee rights and improve gender equality as some legislative efforts have stalled. In 28 states, it’s still legal to fire a person for being gay, and President-elect Donald Trump has said he will rescind President Obama’s executive orders, some of which aim at workplace diversity.

“Corporate America has risen to the top in terms of being a high-impact influencer” on LGBT rights, said Deena Fidas, director of the workplace equality project at the Human Rights Campaign, the largest advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. “We have corporations going on the record at the federal level, at the judicial level and certainly at the state level speaking out against what we would call anti-LGBT bills.”

The Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index, an annual list that indicates how companies are doing on LGBT-friendly policies, will be released this week. Wal-Mart was among a total of 517 companies, the most ever, that earned a perfect score of 100 points, the group said, up from 407 last year. Wal-Mart, which scored 90 points the last two years, has moved up from 40 points in 2011.

Some companies, including Salesforce.com, PayPal Holdings and Dow Chemical, have also started working with LGBT rights advocates on plans to take on expected anti-LGBT legislation at the state level. The group met in San Francisco last month, the companies confirmed, declining further comment on specific states or tactics.

In Texas alone, as many as 50 related bills may be introduced in 2017, said Matthew McTighe, executive director of Freedom for All Americans, who attended the meeting. The Washington D.C.-based organization aims to defeat laws seen as anti-LGBT.

More than 1,000 companies, including Whole Foods Market Inc. and Marriott International Inc. are poised to speak out against Texas laws seen as hostile to LGBT people, said Jessica Shortall, director of the group Texas Competes, which coordinates business response to the laws.

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Unions welcome sale of FairPoint in $1.5 billion merger deal http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/05/illinois-company-seeks-to-buy-fairpoint-for-1-5-billion/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/05/illinois-company-seeks-to-buy-fairpoint-for-1-5-billion/#comments Mon, 05 Dec 2016 19:27:22 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/05/illinois-company-seeks-to-buy-fairpoint-for-1-5-billion/ Illinois-based Consolidated Communications plans to purchase FairPoint Communications for $1.5 billion in a proposed merger that has been approved by the boards of directors at each company.

Consolidated Communications, a broadband and business communications company, entered into an agreement to buy the North Carolina-based FairPoint in a deal that is expected to close by next year. Consolidated will assume FairPoint’s debt, reported at about $887 million as of Sept. 30.

Bob Udell, Consolidated’s president and CEO, said Monday that the agreement combines two companies serving 24 states.

FairPoint’s largest network is in northern New England. The company serves over 377,000 voice connections, including residential lines, as well as 325,000 broadband subscribers across the country, according to a presentation for investors.

Leaders of the unions representing FairPoint workers in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont said they viewed the sale, which is subject to approval by shareholders and state regulators, with “cautious optimism.”

“It’s clear that the ill-advised sale of (Verizon’s landline business) to FairPoint in 2008 has had a profound negative impact on workers and consumers in Northern New England. Just last month, FairPoint announced another major layoff of nearly 10 percent of its workforce even as regulators continue to investigate their service quality failures,” Peter McLaughlin, business manager of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2327 in Maine, said in a written statement Monday.

In an interview Monday afternoon, McLaughlin said members are disappointed with FairPoint and have hoped for a new owner since the Verizon deal. Among other issues, McLaughlin mentioned frustration over delays in service for customers.

“We like being the telephone man, and it hasn’t been that way in recent history,” he said. “We haven’t been good at customer service. When you’re the face of the company, it’s disheartening when you can’t provide a good service to the customer you have to go face-to-face with.”

The Maine Public Utilities Commission has been considering a $500,000 fine against FairPoint for failing to meet minimum service standards for landline customers in 2014 and 2015, and decided last week to expand the investigation to the second quarter of 2016.

FairPoint said last month that it was laying off at least 110 workers, including 35 in Maine, because of a downturn in its traditional telephone service. According to a statement issued Monday by union leaders, those layoffs are expected to go forward as planned.

FairPoint had already laid off 79 line workers and technicians in Maine after a bitter four-month strike that ended in February 2015. Those workers were part of a larger, 260-person layoff across 17 states. About 800 workers in Maine were affected by the 2015 strike.

Don Trementozzi, president of Communications Workers of America Local 1400, also said in a written statement that “our members and our customers have been through the wringer with FairPoint over the last eight years, and our primary concern is that this transaction results in a more stable company that puts a priority on strengthening communities, not enriching Wall Street hedge fund owners.”

Union leaders said they intend to scrutinize Consolidated Communications’ finances, technical capacity and history of labor relations. In particular, they are waiting to hear expert opinions on the company’s financial stability, Trementozzi said in an interview.

“Everybody’s hopeful that anybody but Fairpoint would be better,” he said.

FairPoint provides advanced data, voice and video technologies to businesses and consumers. The telecommunications industry is not regulated in Maine, with the exception of mandated telephone service providers in rural areas.

In 2007, FairPoint bought Verizon’s landline system in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, creating its northern New England division, for $2.3 billion. Less than two years later it filed for bankruptcy protection because of crushing debt, emerging from that process in January 2011.

Paul Sunu, Fairpoint’s CEO, was optimistic that the deal would help the company’s shareholders and customers.

“This transaction offers a number of benefits for FairPoint’s shareholders, including the enhanced scale of the combined company, the opportunity to benefit from the realization of synergies and the receipt of an attractive dividend going forward,” Sunu said in a joint statement released by the two companies. “I am confident the new combined company will accelerate our progress and bring numerous benefits to our customers, employees and shareholders.”

The statement said Udell will serve as president and CEO of the combined company if the deal is approved, and one director from the FairPoint board would join the Consolidated Communications board of directors.

The combined company would retain the Consolidated Communications name and be headquartered in Mattoon, Illinois.

 

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Wind developer drops plan for 119-turbine wind farm in Aroostook County http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/05/operator-of-proposed-wind-farm-withdraws-application-in-aroostook-county/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/05/operator-of-proposed-wind-farm-withdraws-application-in-aroostook-county/#comments Mon, 05 Dec 2016 19:21:16 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/05/operator-of-proposed-wind-farm-withdraws-application-in-aroostook-county/ A 119-turbine wind farm in Aroostook County that would have been the largest in Maine and one of the largest ever planned for New England has withdrawn its application, citing interconnection problems.

EDP Renewables has told the Department of Environmental Protection that it’s not going forward for now with the Number Nine Wind Farm.

The project was proposed three years ago for ridges west of Bridgewater, but needed new transmission lines to connect it with the New England grid. That has taken longer than expected, and last summer, the project lost a power-purchase agreement with utilities in Connecticut. Since then, a proposal to build new transmission lines from northern Maine was rejected during a bidding process in which the three southern New England states were choosing clean-energy projects.

Number Nine Wind Farm would have had an installed capacity of 250 megawatts, which the company said could power 51,400 homes for a year. The project also would have triggered hundreds of millions of dollars in investment in The County.

In a statement Monday, Katie Chapman, the project manager for Number Nine, said the company voluntarily withdrew its DEP application to “refresh the project design” in areas including wildlife and wetland data. She said the project would pursue a new power purchase agreement.

“Number Nine is an excellent project and will benefit from recent improvements in technology including superior performing wind turbines,” Chapman said. “Although the project delays are disappointing, they haven’t lessened our optimism about the site’s prospects to bring clean, affordable energy to New England.”

The withdrawal was welcomed by groups that are fighting development of wind turbines in rural Maine. They celebrated in posts on the Citizens’ Task Force on Wind Power website.

“Fantastic news! We need to keep pressure on,” wrote Brad Blake of Cape Eizabeth, a frequent blogger on the website.

 

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