Business – The Portland Press Herald Wed, 18 Jan 2017 18:49:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Lowe’s layoff could affect as many as 20 Maine workers Wed, 18 Jan 2017 03:07:16 +0000 CHARLOTTE, N.C. — North Carolina-based home improvement retailer Lowe’s says it’s told approximately 2,400 full-time workers that they will be laid off.

A statement from the store said the majority of the cuts are at the store level, with other cuts occurring at distribution centers, customer support centers and vice presidents at the company’s corporate office in Mooresville.

The layoffs will be felt at Lowe’s 10 stores in Maine, with as many as 20 employees in danger of losing their jobs, according to spokeswoman Karen Cobb.

Cobb said said the layoffs will result in the reduction of between 1 and 2 assistant store managers per store nationwide, including those in Maine.

The Portland area stores are at the Pine Tree Shopping Center in Portland, in Scarborough and North Windham, and in Brunswick. There are also stores in Sanford, Auburn, Augusta, Bangor, Brewer and Thomaston.

All of Lowe’s Maine stores were built between 2005 and 2010.

The company closed its stores in Biddeford and Ellsworth in 2011.

The company said it’s providing severance and outplacement resources to displaced workers.

Lowe’s CEO Robert Niblock told employees in an email that the changes “will better align store staffing with customer demand, shift resources from back-of-the-store activities to customer-facing ones, and enhance our efficiency and productivity.”

Lowe’s also announced Bob Hull was retiring as its chief financial officer. Marshall Croom, who has been with Lowe’s for two decades, will succeed Hull as CFO March 3.

]]> 0, 17 Jan 2017 23:44:54 +0000
InterMed won’t take new patients insured by Community Health Options Wed, 18 Jan 2017 02:22:57 +0000 Portland-based InterMed is no longer accepting new patients who receive coverage through Community Health Options, citing the “financial struggles” of the Lewiston-based Affordable Care Act marketplace insurer as the reason.

InterMed, a health care provider with roughly 75,000 primary care patients in southern Maine, made the decision after two consecutive years of multimillion-dollar losses by CHO.

“We accept all three plans offered through the Affordable Care Act marketplace for existing patients, and are accepting new patients who are covered through Anthem and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care,” said InterMed spokesman John Lamb. “Because of their financial struggles, we made the difficult decision last year not to accept any new patients who are covered by Community Health Options.”

A report issued Thursday by the Maine Bureau of Insurance shows that CHO’s financial losses in 2016 exceeded $43 million. As of Nov. 30, the insurance cooperative already had depleted a $43 million reserve it set aside at the end of 2015 to cover anticipated losses in 2016.

A year after becoming the only health insurance cooperative in the country to make money, CHO posted a $31 million loss in 2015 and was forced to set aside the $43 million in reserves to cover potential losses in 2016.

It also came under the close scrutiny of the Bureau of Insurance, which began requiring the co-op to submit monthly financial reports in addition to the quarterly reports required of all insurers. The reports are available on the bureau’s website.


But CHO, the largest provider of health insurance in Maine through the ACA marketplace, says it is finally on track to generate a surplus in 2017 by raising premiums and cutting costs after two consecutive years of losses.

“I’m pleased that InterMed has remained a valued part of our network for all of its existing patients who are our members, and I trust that InterMed will open its doors to our new membership once they share our same level of confidence in our financial strength,” CHO chief executive Kevin Lewis said Tuesday.

During the current open enrollment period, which ends Jan. 30, CHO has enrolled between 3,000 and 4,000 new policyholders. Only those new CHO policyholders hoping to switch to InterMed as their primary health care provider would be affected by the company’s decision.

Lamb said InterMed is willing to re-evaluate new CHO patients’ eligibility for 2018, if doing so is still relevant after an expected effort by Congress and the Trump administration to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

For its part, CHO has said it expects to weather any changes to the health insurance market brought about by the new administration. It said it is on track to retain more than 50,000 customers in 2017, down from a peak of roughly 85,000. CHO spokesman Michael Gendreau said InterMed is the only health care provider in Maine that has chosen not to accept new CHO-insured patients.

Still, Lamb said InterMed is acting out of concern that CHO might not be able to meet its future financial obligations.

“Unfortunately, our state has seen examples of health plans in financial distress that were not able to pay claims for services provided,” he said.


Maine Superintendent of Insurance Eric Cioppa said he is not aware of any history of other insurance providers in Maine going out of business and stiffing health care providers. Still, Cioppa said it is likely that other providers outside of Maine are facing concerns similar to those of InterMed. Cioppa is vice president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, a trade association representing insurance regulators.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees the administration of the Affordable Care Act, said it does not collect data on the number of health care providers nationally that have rejected specific insurers in the marketplace because of concerns about their financial stability. However, there are multiple media reports of medical providers throughout the country rejecting certain insurers for various reasons since the act was fully implemented in 2015.

]]> 0, 18 Jan 2017 11:18:43 +0000
General Motors pledges to invest $1 billion in U.S. plants Wed, 18 Jan 2017 01:21:29 +0000 DETROIT — A week after President-elect Donald Trump criticized its production of cars in Mexico, General Motors on Tuesday pledged to invest $1 billion at several plants in the U.S.

The automaker also said it plans to bring thousands of information technology jobs back to the U.S. from overseas. The moves will create 7,000 new manufacturing and IT jobs in the U.S., the company said.

GM denied the announcement was a response to pressure from Trump, saying the investments have been planned for some time.

The automaker said the new investment comes on top of $2.9 billion in investments announced in 2016 and more than $21 billion GM has invested in its U.S. operations since 2009.

GM also said it will begin work on bringing axle production for its next-generation full-size pickup trucks, including work previously done in Mexico, to plants in Michigan, creating 450 U.S. jobs.

“All of the decisions behind today’s announcement are good business decisions and they have been in the works for some time,” said GM spokesman Pat Morrissey. “There’s no question there is an emphasis on job creation in the U.S. right now. This was good timing for us to share what we are doing, including our ongoing commitment and track record for U.S. investment over the last several years.”

Trump moved quickly to take credit for the investment with two tweets:

“With all of the jobs I am bringing back into the U.S. (even before taking office), with all of the new auto plants coming back into our … country and with the massive cost reductions I have negotiated on military purchases and more, I believe the people are seeing ‘big stuff.'”

The automaker declined to say if it briefed Trump on the investment decisions and also declined to identify the individual plants that will gain work.

“As the U.S. manufacturing base increases its competitiveness, we are able to further increase our investment, resulting in more jobs for America and better results for our owners,” GM CEO Mary Barra said in a statement.GM said it has been shrinking its presence outside of the U.S. in recent years as it has strived to improve efficiency.

]]> 0 announcing a major investment in several of its American plants, General Motors denied the move was in response to pressure from President-elect Donald Trump.Tue, 17 Jan 2017 21:20:31 +0000
Wal-Mart now touts slowdown 
in store openings as growth plan Wed, 18 Jan 2017 01:21:29 +0000 NEW YORK — Wal-Mart’s slowdown in opening new stores – part of an effort to cope with sluggish brick-and-mortar sales – is now being touted as a growth plan.

On Tuesday, the company announced its intention to open, expand or relocate 59 Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club locations this year. While that adds 10,000 retail jobs, the expansion is far smaller than in many previous years and would increase its headcount by less than 1 percent in the U.S.

Wal-Mart faces more pressure to show that it’s creating U.S. jobs ahead of Friday’s inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, who has made the issue a signature of his campaign. In a statement Tuesday, Wal-Mart pointed to a plan for $6.8 billion in U.S. capital spending, including the construction of stores and distribution centers, though it previously announced that number last year.

“Trump is not afraid to get out in the press and tweet,” said Brian Yarbrough, an analyst at Edward Jones. “This is another sign of them trying to get out in front of things.”

Investors applauded the approach, sending Wal-Mart’s shares up as much as 3.2 percent to $69.29. The gain was the biggest intraday increase since May and moved the stock into positive territory for the year.

Wal-Mart is the largest private employer in the U.S., casting a big spotlight on the company as Trump heads for the White House. It has almost 1.5 million workers in the U.S., out of 2.3 million total. In addition to the 10,000 retail positions, the new and expanded stores will bring an estimated 24,000 construction jobs this year, the company said.

“We’re going to be selective in what we’re opening,” said Randy Hargrove, a spokesman for the Bentonville, Ark.-based company.

Trump saluted GM and Wal-Mart in a tweet on Tuesday, thanking them for “starting the big jobs push back into the U.S.!”

But When Wal-Mart originally announced its capital-spending plan in October, it was characterized as a slowdown of new store openings. The company told investors it would count more on e-commerce and existing stores.

]]> 0 Wal-Mart store is open for business in San Jose, Calif. Wal-Mart said Thursday it plans to slow new store openings as it looks to pour more money into its online efforts, technology and store remodels.Tue, 17 Jan 2017 21:22:35 +0000
United Nations outlook for global economy: It’s going to be slow growing Wed, 18 Jan 2017 00:56:21 +0000 UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations predicted a modest recovery in the global economy in 2017-18 but warned Tuesday that its projection is an indication of economic stabilization rather than a signal of robust revival.

In its annual economic report, the U.N. said the world economy expanded by just 2.2 percent in 2016, the slowest rate of growth since the depth of the recent recession in 2009.

It forecast growth of 2.7 percent this year and 2.9 percent in 2018, a slight downward revision from its mid-year forecast in May.

“Underpinning the sluggish global economy are the feeble pace of global investment, dwindling world trade growth, flagging productivity growth and heavy levels of debt,” the U.N. report said.

As one example, the report noted that world trade volume expanded by just 1.2 percent in 2016, “the third-lowest rate in the past 30 years.”

The report also cited uncertainties over what changes U.S. President-elect Donald Trump may make on important policies dealing with international trade, immigration and climate change – and what impact Britain’s decision to leave the European Union will have for the free movement of goods and workers in Europe.

“All of these uncertainties have the potential to undermine any projected recovery in business investment, impede international trade growth and even derail the already weak global growth,” the U.N. warned.

In releasing the report, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development Lenni Monteil urged countries to redouble efforts “to bring the global economy back on a stronger and more inclusive growth path, and create an international economic environment that is conducive to sustainable development.”

U.N. senior economist Dawn Holland, who oversaw the report, said “the global economy remains stressed and trapped in a prolonged episode of slow growth.”

She said the world is unlikely to return to “strong and balanced growth … without concerted policy efforts to stimulate a revival of investment and productivity.”

Holland said a key U.N. concern is that the rate of growth in the forecasts isn’t sufficient to make rapid progress toward achieving the 17 U.N. goals for 2030 adopted by world leaders, including eradicating poverty and creating decent jobs for all.

]]> 0, 17 Jan 2017 20:14:39 +0000
Qualcomm Inc. facing lawsuit from FTC Wed, 18 Jan 2017 00:54:05 +0000 NEW YORK — The Federal Trade Commission is suing Qualcomm Inc. for allegedly maintaining a monopoly over a key device used in cellphones and other electronics.

The agency said Tuesday that Qualcomm, the world’s dominant supplier of baseband processors, imposes “onerous” licensing terms on manufacturers and weakens its rivals.

The FTC is seeking a court order to undo and prevent Qualcomm’s methods.

In a statement, San Diego-based Qualcomm said it believes that the FTC complaint is flawed and advances the interests of firms that have earned billions of dollars made possible by “innovators” such as itself.

]]> 0, 17 Jan 2017 20:13:42 +0000
British firm to buy Reynolds tobacco Wed, 18 Jan 2017 00:43:37 +0000 LONDON — British American Tobacco will take over Reynolds American Inc. to create the world’s largest publicly traded tobacco company that would seek to capitalize on growing demand for electronic cigarettes in the U.S. and traditional ones in developing countries.

London-based BAT, which has a greater global footprint and already sells Dunhill, Rothmans and Lucky Strike cigarettes, is interested in Reynolds’ greater market share in the U.S., where use of e-cigarettes is growing fastest.

On the other hand, they would be able to market Reynolds’ brands like Newport, Camel and Pall Mall across a range of developing economies, where anti-smoking campaigns are not as strong as in the U.S. and Europe.

“This is a big move, that makes a lot of sense for BAT,” said Steve Clayton, a fund manager for financial services firm Hargreaves Lansdown. “They already had billions tied up in Reynolds, now they will have billions more, but with full control of the company and its cash flows.”

BAT will pay about $49 billion to buy the 57.8 percent of Reynolds’ it doesn’t already own. Reynolds shareholders will receive for each share $29.44 in cash and 0.5260 BAT shares.

That values Reynolds, which is based in Winston Salem, North Carolina, at $59.64 per share, or $85 billion in total.

“Our combination with Reynolds will benefit from utilizing the best talent from both organizations,” BAT’s chief executive, Nicandro Durante, said in a statement Tuesday. “It will create a stronger, global tobacco and (next generation products) business with direct access for our products across the most attractive markets in the world.”

Tobacco companies are particularly keen to expand sales of traditional cigarettes in developing countries to make up for weaker sales in Europe and the U.S. The industry has been grappling with widespread anti-smoking campaigns that have forced companies like BAT and Reynolds to diversify into nicotine replacements and e-cigarettes to meet consumer health concerns.

BAT is the larger company of the two. Founded in 1902, it sold 663 billion cigarettes in more than 200 countries in 2015, generating revenue of 13.1 billion pounds ($16 billion). Reynolds shipped 76 billion cigarettes and reported sales of $10.7 billion.

BAT employs more than 50,000 people against Reynolds’ 5,700 employees, who are mostly in the U.S.

Reynolds traces its roots to 1875, when Richard Joshua Reynolds started a chewing tobacco company in what was then Winston, North Carolina.

]]> 0 bad news: 40 percent of all cancer diagnoses now are linked to tobacco use, says a separate CDC report.Tue, 17 Jan 2017 20:12:43 +0000
Former worker sues Bath Iron Works, alleges gender discrimination Wed, 18 Jan 2017 00:08:49 +0000 A Bowdoinham woman is suing Bath Iron Works, saying she was subjected to repeated gender discrimination at the shipyard during her five weeks on the job.

Lana Smith said BIW hired her as a preservation technician in August 2015 but she was never given training for the job because of her gender. Preservation technicians are painters who also prepare surfaces for painting.

Smith said her supervisor told her she should not have been hired because she is a woman and that the supervisor “did not want (her) working there because (she) was a woman and this type of work is not for” her, Smith alleges in a lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court in Portland.

“I would not ask my wife to do this work, so I’m not going to ask you to do this work,” she said the supervisor told her, and that sentiment was overheard by other workers and repeated to her by one co-worker.

The supervisor and the co-worker refused to give Smith training, she alleges, and as a result, she was mostly assigned basic cleaning jobs. She occasionally was given a preservation technician’s work, she said, only because she was small enough to access tight spaces.

When Smith was given a BIW electrician’s job – a position she had applied for before being offered the preservation technician’s job – her initial supervisor at the yard never provided the paperwork she needed to transfer to the new job, the lawsuit said.

And, Smith alleges, she was given a 120-hour performance review that she objected to, but the supervisor wouldn’t provide her with a copy of the review. Smith said she later found out that she was the only new hire in the department given such a review.

Smith also said a co-worker was spreading rumors about her and that the company was unresponsive to her complaints, firing her in late September 2015 after another review, even though it indicated that her job performance was improving.

David Hench, a spokesman for BIW, declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

Smith had initiated a case with the Maine Human Rights Commission, but opted to sue after more than six months had elapsed without the commission taking up her allegations. A spokeswoman said the commission had initiated a preliminary review but hadn’t progressed to a formal hearing before the six-month period had elapsed.

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

]]> 0 Tue, 17 Jan 2017 20:35:02 +0000
New England’s economy likely to keep growing, but lag the nation Tue, 17 Jan 2017 23:58:57 +0000 BOSTON — New England’s economy should continue to grow over the next two years but not as fast as the nation as a whole, and significant state-by-state disparities remain in the region, economic forecasters said Tuesday.

The New England Economic Partnership released its annual outlook during a conference at the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston.

In its report, the business-backed research organization pointed to Massachusetts and New Hampshire as having the strongest state economies in the region, buoyed by unemployment rates that are among the nation’s lowest. A downside of that success, however, could be future constraints on the labor force as more baby boomers retire, limiting the potential for future growth, the economists said.

Maine and Vermont are troubled by “demographic factors and rural area economic stagnation,” while Connecticut and Rhode Island are lagging behind the rest of the region in overall economic vitality, the economists said.

Rhode Island is slowly bouncing back from the severe depths of recession, but the state’s unemployment rate is still the highest in the region and 12th highest nationally.

The short-term outlook for the six-state region as a whole predicted the strongest economic growth to occur in 2017 and 2018, followed by a period of declining growth, said Ross Gittell, a University of New Hampshire economist and vice president of the partnership.

Growth in the region’s gross domestic product, after peaking at 2.8 percent in 2015, declined to 1.6 percent last year but is expected to exceed 2 percent in 2017 and 2018 – still below the U.S. average.

Employment growth will also lag behind the nation over the next few years, the forecast said, even as New England’s combined unemployment rate dips from 5 percent in 2015 to 3.7 percent in 2018 largely because of a declining labor force.

With the oldest population in the U.S. as measured by median age, Maine’s labor supply is “essentially tapped out,” with the supply of young workers offset by the departure of retiring workers, economists wrote.

The New Hampshire economy is in “great shape” overall, but the progress has been largely felt in cities and towns closer to Boston and “many parts of rural New Hampshire have recovered very little, if at all, from the Great Recession,” according to the forecasters.

]]> 0 Dow Jones ticker in Times square announces a stock rebound, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2015, in New York. U.S. stocks jumped at the open after China's central bank cut interest rates to support its economy. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)Tue, 17 Jan 2017 20:16:04 +0000
Silicon Valley entrepreneur believes gizmos can move medical care forward Tue, 17 Jan 2017 23:58:26 +0000 SAN FRANCISCO — After a relative suffered a heart attack a few years ago, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Adrian Aoun got an unsettling look at a health care system that he diagnosed as an inefficient and outdated mess.

Now he believes he has a remedy. It’s called Forward, a health-management service that charges a $149 per month – roughly $1,800 a year – to tend to all of its patients’ primary care needs. And not just with attentive doctoring, either; Forward plans to deploy body scanners, sensors, giant touch-screen monitors, infrared devices and other high-tech gizmos that could make a doctor’s appointment feel more like a trip to an Apple store.

“Doctors are super smart, but they are set up for failure in so many ways,” Aoun says. “We haven’t built the tools that they need to operate in modern life. No one wants to go to the doctor’s office today. We want to change that.”


Forward will still refer patients to outside specialists when its primary-care doctors can’t deal with certain health problems; same goes for hospital admissions. And there are bound to be health insurance headaches that Forward isn’t attempting to address.

That means Forward is unlikely to become a cure-all, especially because its membership fee isn’t cheap, said Paul Ginsburg, a health-policy expert at the University of Southern California.

“Primary care is a very small part of the cost for what health insurance covers,” Ginsburg said. “So, even after paying nearly $2,000 a year, you are still going to have to buy health insurance to cover everything else.”

But Aoun is convinced his high-tech approach can start to make things better.


Forward’s patients can view all their medical information on a mobile app they can use to message a “care team” available around the clock. All blood and DNA tests are done at Forward’s offices instead of being farmed out; the company says patients will be able to review the results in a matter of minutes instead of days later.

People with longer term issues such as obesity, high blood pressure or skin problems will go home with sensors that can transmit data back to Forward. Its computers will then alert doctors if any troubling trends surface, allowing them to be addressed before they become more serious.

Forward’s attempt at a medical makeover began Tuesday with the opening of its first office in San Francisco. The converted clothing store spans 3,500 square feet, enough to accommodate six exam rooms and a team of doctors. The office should be able to accommodate 12,000 patients in total before turning people away.

Additional Forward offices are planned in other major U.S. cities, although Aoun won’t say where they will be located or when they may open.


While Forward’s concept of technology-driven preventive care may make sense, experts like Ginsburg worry that its emphasis on health-monitoring sensors could prompt doctors to run unnecessary tests that do little to improve patient health.

“The notion of scanning people who don’t have a problem has been very solidly dismissed by the medical profession for a while,” Ginsburg said.

Studies have shown that the best way to remain healthy is to eat right, exercise and get plenty of sleep, added R. Adams Dudley, director of the Center for Healthcare Value at the University of California, San Francisco. “Sensoring people all up isn’t going to change any of that,” Dudley said.

But Dudley believes Forward has the potential to be very profitable if its focus on technology appeals primarily to younger people who typically have few health issues.

Justin Shaffer, 34, fits that demographic. He thinks Forward has been worth its monthly fee since he joined the service last year during its testing phase.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say it feels like a tech-heavy experience. I would say it just feels like a better experience,” Shaffer said after picking up a scale at Forward’s office to help monitor his weight.


Forward hopes to provide more hands-on attention from primary-care doctors freed from paperwork and other bureaucratic frustrations, while backing them up with sophisticated algorithms that analyze the digital data stockpiled about its patients.

It’s an example of artificial intelligence, the ability of computers to learn from the data that they collect. Artificial intelligence, or AI, is an Aoun specialty. He sold an AI startup called Wavvi to Google for about $30 million in 2013 and then stayed on for a couple years to help work on some of the technology that now powers Google’s voice-controlled assistant.

But Dudley doubts Forward’s AI will be very effective unless it’s able to build a large network of offices that attracts millions of patients.

“A human brain can learn faster than a machine unless the machine has a massive database to analyze,” Dudley said.

]]> 0 Aoun, founder and CEO of Forward, shows wearables and phone attachments in San Francisco on Jan. 10. After a relative suffered a heart attack a few years ago, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur sought to create a remedy for a health care system that he diagnosed as an inefficient and outdated mess.Tue, 17 Jan 2017 19:58:29 +0000
New hires across Maine Tue, 17 Jan 2017 23:00:00 +0000 NEW HIRES

43037 Allen_SarahRuef-LindquistSarah Ruef-Lindquist of Camden has joined the financial services division of Allen Insurance and Financial.
Ruef-Lindquist spent more than four years as the CEO of the Maine Women’s Fund. She also worked with the Maine Community Foundation, Union Trust, Colby College, Pen Bay Healthcare Foundation and Planning for Good, a consulting firm she founded.

Idexx Laboratories has hired Pat Venters as vice president and chief marketing officer.
Venters brings 25 years of experience in health care marketing, most recently at GE.

43037 Paula PaladinoFreeport Community Services has hired Paula Paladino as its new executive director.
Paladino comes to FCS from MaineHousing as manager of homeless initiatives and special projects coordinator. Her career spans 25-plus years of government and nonprofit experience in social programs.


43037 Zoe HeadshotZoë Alexis Scott was hired as director of development at the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland.
Scott spent the last three years as managing director of Seattle Public Theater in Washington, where she raised the financial and artistic profile of the organization.


43037 Nicole DuplessisAroostook Aspirations Initiative recently hired Nicole Duplessis as development and communications assistant.
Most recently, Duplessis worked as a reporter at WAGM-TV, where she was an intern prior to her senior year of college. She was also a freelance writer for The Star Herald and The Aroostook Republican during part of her college career.

43037 carolyn krahnCarolyn Krahn was hired as an account executive with Artforms in Brunswick.
Krahn, of Freeport, brings experience including apparel and advertising specialty sales at both Maine Coast Marketing and Winter People. She was most recently with the Greater Freeport Chamber of Commerce.

Matthew Coy joined MEMIC as a senior director of information technology. Prior to MEMIC, Coy worked as director of application development for Aetna.

43037 Angie AdrienColdwell Banker Residential Brokerage in New England has hired Angie Adrien as a sales associate.
Adrien will provide residential real estate services in Kennebunk as well as the surrounding communities of York County and Greater Portland.

]]> 0 PALADINOTue, 17 Jan 2017 13:47:15 +0000
CEI Ventures closes on $10 million investment fund Tue, 17 Jan 2017 21:04:41 +0000 Brunswick-based CEI Ventures said Tuesday that it has closed on its fourth venture capital fund, Coastal Ventures IV, at just under $10 million.

It said the new fund will provide much-needed capital to small businesses in Maine and the Northeast.

CEI Ventures, which describes itself as a socially responsible, for-profit venture capital firm, said it is actively investing from two funds with $20 million under management.

Coastal Ventures IV, like prior funds, seeks to create quality jobs and promote socially responsible products and services, particularly those that improve the environment.

Coastal Ventures IV was capitalized by 17 local and regional banks as well as eight individual investors, according to parent company Coastal Enterprises Inc., which provided an anchor investment of $1.5 million in the new fund.

“We want to thank our returning and new investors for their help in carrying out the important work of community and environmental impact investing,” Nathaniel Henshaw, president of CEI Ventures, said in a news release.

Founded in 1996, CEI Ventures has raised more than $45 million and invested in over 50 companies.

It said those companies have helped create more than 2,000 new jobs, the majority of which have benefited people with low to moderate incomes.

They include Coast of Maine Organic Products, Innov-X-Systems, Cuddledown, Bar Harbor Foods, SmartPak Equine, RecruiterNet, eCopy, Beacon Analytical Systems, Soleras Ltd, World Harbors Foods, Ektron Inc. and Avia Biosystems.

Correction: This story was updated at 10:45 a.m. on Jan. 18 to correct an inaccurate headline. Coastal Ventures IV is an investment fund, not an investment round.

]]> 0 Wed, 18 Jan 2017 10:45:30 +0000
Alfond foundation donates $1.5 million to Saint Joseph’s to boost nursing education Tue, 17 Jan 2017 15:37:00 +0000 Saint Joseph’s College has received a $1.5 million grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation to support the creation of a new academic center in Standish to address critical shortages in Maine’s nursing workforce.

According to the foundation, the number of Maine nurses on the verge of retirement is up significantly, with nearly three-fourths nearing retirement age.

Meanwhile, demand for home health care, nursing home and hospital workers in Maine is expected to surge through 2024, and industry leaders say they already are facing worker shortages ranging from entry-level caretakers to top administrators.

A Maine Department of Labor report issued in September anticipates a need for at least 3,700 more workers in ambulatory health care services, 2,300 in hospitals and 1,900 in nursing and residential care facilities by 2024.

In partnership with the lead investment from the Alfond Foundation, the Saint Joseph’s College Center for Nursing Excellence will respond directly to those needs, the foundation said Tuesday. The grant provides critical funding for expanded nursing simulation labs that will be the cornerstone of the new academic center. Nursing simulation labs are designed to give students hands-on clinical experience through simulated interactions in areas of medicine such as intensive care, pediatrics and maternity. The college intends to use the grant to raise an additional $3.5 million to fully fund the program’s expansion.

“The college has been doing a lot in terms of growth, and the Alfond Foundation donation is an endorsement of the strategic direction Saint Joseph’s has been moving in,” said college President James Dlugos, who described the grant as a “momentous event” and the most generous in the college’s history.

In particular, the grant will allow the college to respond to significant challenges confronting nursing students, such as the lack of clinical placements. Those opportunities have dried up as hospital administrators increasingly worry about insurance and liability costs associated with student placements. By increasing the number of simulation labs, nursing students will be “better grounded” with hands-on experience, he said.

The college has 300 nursing students on campus and another 900 or so in its online nursing program.

Dlugos said the college prides itself on devising its curriculum to respond to the state’s needs, which is why it focuses on health care, sustainable agriculture and sustainable hospitality programs.

“This is the place we find ourselves,” he said.

There are seven colleges in Maine where a student can earn an associate degree in nursing and another seven where baccalaureate degrees are awarded. Besides Saint Joseph’s, advanced nursing degrees are available at the University of Maine, the University of Maine at Fort Kent, the University of Southern Maine, the University of New England, Husson University and Kaplan University, according to the state licensing board.


The Alfond gift was announced at a campuswide gathering Tuesday morning, with state and congressional officials offering their congratulations. U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin was joined by Jeanne Paquette, commissioner of the Maine Department of Labor, who noted that Maine’s aging population means the need to provide health care services for seniors will continue to grow.

“It is critical that we support in-state programs such as the Center for Nursing Excellence at Saint Joseph’s College to ensure that we have a strong, growing, well-trained workforce to meet these needs,” she said in a statement.

Dlugos said the donation will benefit the entire campus, because the Center for Nursing Excellence project involves renovating Mercy Hall, “one of the cornerstones of our campus and academic community.” It is expected to provide additional resources to enroll another two dozen nursing students at the outset and then grow from there.

The project includes:

• Expansion of the college’s longstanding on-campus and online nursing education program from BSN and MSN degrees to include Doctor of Nursing Practice and Acute Care Nurse Practitioner programs.

• Expansion to five nursing simulation labs (with hospital and home-care settings).

• Renovation and enhancement of anatomy, physiology and microbiology labs used by nursing majors.

• Expansion of nursing scholarship opportunities for Maine students, especially for those coming from communities underserved by health care.

• Creation of a Nursing Advising and Collaborative Learning Center, an entire floor dedicated to students’ needs, including advising offices, a conference room and a collaborative learning space.

Dlugos said he was especially pleased that $1 million has been designated as scholarship aid to help Maine students with tuition costs. But beyond helping students, the gift also address shortages in nursing faculty, another area where an aging workforce has meant challenges.

“We look at this as ensuring a pipeline for nursing education well into the future,” he said. “It’s a sustainable approach because we are addressing more than one issue.”

Greg Powell, chairman of the Harold Alfond Foundation and president and CEO of Dexter Enterprises Inc., presented the gift, saying he was confident that it would “further strengthen Maine’s workforce of nurses, who are so critical to quality health care.”

Business Editor Carol Coultas contributed to this report.

]]> 0, ME - JANUARY 17: From right, Rachel Souza practices checking blood pressure on her fellow nursing student Hannah Pazmany during their adult care class at St. Joseph's College. The college received a $1.5 million grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation to support the creation of a new Center for Nursing Excellence. (Photo by Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer)Wed, 18 Jan 2017 10:39:45 +0000
As pot prices plunge, growers scramble to cut production cost Tue, 17 Jan 2017 15:28:43 +0000 The increasing supply of legal marijuana is turning into a major buzz kill for growers as prices plunge – and an opportunity for companies that can help cut production costs.

Prices are tumbling as formerly illicit cultivators emerge from the shadows to invest millions of dollars in massive pot factories. In Colorado, the average price sought by wholesalers has fallen 48 percent to about $1,300 a pound since legal sales to all adults started in January 2014, according to Cannabase, operator of the state’s largest market. Supply is surging as growers expand and install the latest agricultural technology.

“Anybody that is investing in this sector or starting a business in this sector needs to be doing so with the understanding that the price of cannabis is going to drop precipitously,” said Troy Dayton, chief executive officer of Oakland, California-based Arcview Group, a marijuana investor consortium. “The agricultural technology space is already booming, and now they get to lay their hands on the cannabis industry.”

The focus on efficiency can cut production costs for some indoor growers to less than $300 a pound from more than $1,000, said J. Chandler, vice president at Cultivation Technologies in Boulder, Colorado. His company sells machinery originally developed for tomato greenhouses, such as automated feeding and watering systems from Israel’s Netafim Ltd. and France’s Dosatron International.

“If you want to compete on a price game, you have to use versions of our technology to do it,” Chandler said. “Everybody is putting in irrigation systems, so that’s good for us.”

Cultivation Technologies also sells high-efficiency lights from Canada’s PL Light Systems, which compete with Gavita, a Dutch company purchased this year by Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. Scotts has been on a buying frenzy over the past two years, gobbling up leading companies that provide specialty fertilizers, lighting and other supplies for hydroponics, the indoor method of growing crops favored by U.S. cannabis cultivators.

Retail prices also are dropping, though not as fast as in the wholesale market. Marijuana shops in Colorado collected an average $6.61 per gram in November, down 25 percent from the first quarter of 2014, according to BDS Analytics, a research firm.

The regulated market in North America could triple to more than $20 billion in five years, from $6.7 billion last year, after California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada legalized adult recreational pot use in November, according to Arcview.

One caveat surrounding the booming cannabis industry is President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, an ardent marijuana foe. But it remains to be seen if Trump or the Republican-controlled Congress will attempt to challenge the states that have legalized the drug.

While more than half of U.S. states permit medical use, transporting cannabis across state lines remains a federal crime, making each state a market unto itself. That means growers in cloudy coastal Oregon or frigid Maine must use technology to create the warm, sunny conditions favored by pot plants, and they need to do it as efficiently as possible.


Decades of prohibition necessitated growing marijuana in clandestine basements, warehouses and garages, making growers comfortable with indoor production, said Leif Olsen, managing partner at Denver-based Good to Great Consulting. But with legalization comes an increasing need to compete on cost, and that will eventually shift the industry to efficient greenhouse production, he said.

“Growing inside is definitely an antiquated concept,” Olsen said. “It’s coming out of hiding.”

A hybrid greenhouse featuring insulated walls and a glass ceiling may consume less than half the energy of a warehouse, said Brandy Keen, vice president at Boulder-based Surna Inc. And a well designed climate-control system can cut energy needs while also providing pure water for plants with reclaimed condensate, she said.

The drive toward efficiency isn’t cheap. Brian Lade, owner of Smokey Point Productions in Arlington, Washington, started growing marijuana in a garage at age 17. He endured police raids and a few days in jail before the laws changed. Now he’s raised $25 million to expand his 15,000-square-foot warehouse operation to 135,000 square feet (12,500 square meters).

That’s enough space to pump out 1,700 pounds of buds monthly from dozens of custom-bred strains such as Dirty Girl and Cinderella’s Dream, up from 100 pounds (45 kilograms). He also can process 2,200 pounds of purchased marijuana into cannabis oil and other concentrates for vaping.

While Lade increased production by 16 times, his employee count is up only four-fold, to 100, thanks to economies of scale and automation, he said. A machine mixes soil ingredients, pours the dirt into containers and then digs holes for young plants. A conveyor belt carries the container to an employee who does the delicate job of planting. Rather than relying on people to trim away leaves and stems from harvested pot, he’s trying out machines that automate the job.

“If you want to provide cannabis to your people, you’ve got to adapt or die,” said Lade, 40. “We are basically just going way bigger and then adding efficiencies like the machines and computer software.”

Energy-efficient Gavita lighting is installed in his old and new facilities. Computerized plumbing delivers custom-mixed nutrients to the plants. A climate-control system supplied by Surna not only maintains ideal pot-growing temperatures and humidity levels, but also helps eliminate mold problems, Lade said.

A hospital-clean environment with employees wearing uniforms washed on premises cuts down on plant pests.

“The cleaner you can be, the less chemicals you have to use,” Lade said.

Yet Lade knows he can do more to cut costs, specifically by building a hybrid greenhouse to capture light from the sun. That’s not a good option in perpetually overcast Washington, so he’s exploring the possibility of setting up shop in sunny Nevada or California, states where recreational use was approved in November.

Bloomberg’s Jennifer Kaplan contributed.

]]> 0, 17 Jan 2017 10:50:44 +0000
On the Job: Dental hygienist Vickie Basile likes keeping up with the smiles she serves Tue, 17 Jan 2017 09:00:18 +0000 “Seeing my patients grow up before my eyes, and helping them achieve dental health and a nice healthy smile,” are the favorite parts of Vickie Basile’s job as a dental hygienist. Conversely, her least favorite is when patients don’t achieve dental health.


“You spend 45 minutes with some patients, explaining the importance of dental hygiene and it is frustrating when it doesn’t sink in,” she said. She added that dental health is closely related to a person’s overall health and is most important.


Basile has been a dental hygienist at Biddeford-Saco Dental Associates in Saco since 1997. The 43-year old Saco resident was born in Maine, grew up in Lyman and attended Westbrook College/UNE to receive her training. In addition, dental hygienists in Maine must undergo 30 hours of continuing training and CPR refresher training every two years to maintain licensing.


Working full time in this position, she earned about $70,000 last year.


Biddeford-Saco Dental Associates is located at 323 Main St. in Saco. They have been in business at that location for 15 years, and before that, about the same length of time on Main Street in Biddeford. 

]]> 0, ME - JANUARY 9: Dental hygienist Vickie Basile of Biddeford Saco Dental in Saco says her favorite parts of her job are getting to know her patients and interacting with them over the course of many years. (Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer)Mon, 16 Jan 2017 16:53:02 +0000
Trump pledge to save coal plants could benefit Maine wood pellet industry Tue, 17 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 President-elect Donald Trump could make good on his promise to rescue America’s dying coal industry, with a little help from wood pellets, a Maine-based global expert on pellet fuels is suggesting.

Burning a mix of 10 percent wood pellets in coal-fired power plants is common now in Europe. Doing that in the United States could save tens of thousands of mining jobs, create a similar number of new jobs in the forestry and pellet-making sectors, spur billions of dollars in investment and improve air quality, according to William Strauss, president of FutureMetrics in Bethel.

1138974_247191 TotalWoodPelletShip0.jpgOverseas, the costs of co-firing wood fuel in coal plants are subsidized by governments, to meet strict European Union rules aimed at cutting air emissions linked to climate change. In the United States, Strauss said, the Trump administration would need to conclude that a small government subsidy is worthwhile to preserve a power sector that’s being replaced by natural gas-fired generation.

“If the market is left on its own,” Strauss said, “coal plants will continue to retire and natural gas will take its place.”

That outlook was underlined last week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in a report on coal production during 2016. Politicians including Trump frequently blame the Obama administration’s “war on coal” for the closing of power plants and associated jobs. But government data collectors cited low natural gas prices, warmer-than-normal temperatures last winter, the retirements of some coal-fired generators, and lower international coal demand as the leading factors.

“U.S. coal production in 2016 is expected to total 743 million short tons, 17 percent lower than in 2015, and the lowest level since 1978,” the EIA reported.

The FutureMetrics proposal is contained in a paper posted on the company’s website Jan. 2. It’s circulating as wood pellets and chips from the Southeast are becoming a major export commodity to Europe and the United Kingdom. Later this year, wood chips are expected to be shipped from Maine to power plants in Europe.

It’s too early to say whether the FutureMetrics plan will gain traction, although it was downloaded 800 times from the website during the first four days.

Environmental advocates who have been fighting wood pellet exports to Europe say this is a bad idea that will deplete forests and prolong the lives of dirty coal plants that contribute to climate change.

Strauss is an economist and an international consultant on industrial wood pellets. He also is a co-founder, with Bethel businessman Les Otten, of Maine Energy Systems. The company assembles an Austrian-made, home-size pellet boiler and delivers wood pellets in Maine.

The paper notes that the vast majority of the 435 large U.S. coal-fired power plants use a pulverized technology, in which coal is crushed into a powder and blown into burners. Industrial wood pellets also can be pulverized, and modifying boilers to burn them at a 10 percent ratio doesn’t affect output or reliability, Strauss said.

Strauss points out that the most coal plants are in states where pulp and paper mills are closing. Industrial pellets can be made from the same forest resources, and he estimates that a 500,000 ton-per-year pellet plant can support 800 jobs in forestry operations. A plant that size represents an investment of roughly $125 million, Strauss said.

1138974_247191 WoodPelletShipments0.jpgBased on a 10 percent ratio, the cost of making the needed plant changes would add less than a penny to the kilowatt-hour cost of producing electricity, Strass estimates.

His paper concludes: “The growth of a U.S. co-firing market would spur billions of dollars of investment in new industrial pellet manufacturing plants in the heartland of the U.S.”


Similar subsidies overseas help countries meet European Union clean-energy goals. But because those countries lack large forests, an industry has sprung up to harvest the fast-growing woodlands of the Southeast United States, move wood to ports and ship it across the Atlantic Ocean. In 2015, North American wood pellet exports reached a record-high 6.1 million tons, much of it from the Southeast, according to the North American Wood Fiber Review.

The United Kingdom has received much of the volume. The Drax Power Station in England, the country’s largest, has three of six coal units co-firing biomass. Two burn 100 percent pellets and the third recently won subsidies to convert to wood. The power station will need 2.4 million tons a year, according to EU figures.

Maine, which is 90 percent forested and closer to Europe than Southeast ports, has been slow to participate in this trend. But plans are underway to ship wood chips from Eastport this year, according to the Eastport Port Authority. A startup company, Maine Woods Biomass Exports LLC, also intends to ship chips to Europe in 2018.

This growth is sustainable and good for both American forests and jobs, according to the U.S. Industrial Pellet Association, which has reviewed the FutureMetrics proposal.

William Strauss, a global expert on biofuels based in Bethel, estimates that a 500,000-ton-per-year pellet plant could support 800 jobs in forestry.

William Strauss, a global expert on biofuels based in Bethel, estimates that a 500,000-ton-per-year pellet plant could support 800 jobs in forestry.

“As Dr. Strauss alludes to in his white paper, wood pellets not only lower carbon emissions, but also contribute to the strong forest products industry, which supports over 950,000 American jobs,” said Jessica Marcus, the group’s vice president of policy and operations.

“Markets for wood products incentivize U.S. landowners to manage and sustain their forested lands, which results in more forests and healthier forests overall.”

That position got some support last month in a new U.S. EIA survey on pellet production and sales. It found that roughly 85 percent of raw materials for biomass pellets come from wood waste, such as logging and sawmill residues.

But that finding is contested by interest groups such as the Southern Environmental Law Center in Charlottesville, Virginia. They are alarmed by the pace of harvesting in the Southeast and its impact on biodiversity and wildlife. They say there’s not enough waste wood to support the rapid growth in pellet production for export, no less feeding domestic power plants.

“Pellets for the EU and UK are made from trunks of trees,” said David Carr, the center’s general counsel. “They want clean chips. They aren’t burning residue.”

Burning large volumes of wood quickly now is worse than burning coal, because wood produces more carbon emissions per BTU, according to Derb Carter, who heads the group’s office in North Carolina.

“Most scientists agree the next few decades are the most critical to reducing carbon emissions,” he said. “The only thing green about wood biomass from whole trees is the government subsidized money in the name of clean energy, based on inaccurate assumptions of carbon reductions.”

Strauss counters that co-firing coal with wood lowers air emissions associated with health problems, as well as carbon dioxide that warms the atmosphere. “They have their own vision of reality,” he said of environmental opponents.

Strauss also contends that demand for fiber won’t exceed the annual growth rate. The United States can sustainably harvest 20 million tons per year of pellet fuel, he said.


]]> 0, 17 Jan 2017 07:15:36 +0000
Rolls-Royce pays to settle bribery case Tue, 17 Jan 2017 02:42:14 +0000 Rolls-Royce Holdings agreed to pay about $807 million to resolve long-running U.S. and U.K. investigations into allegations its representatives bribed foreign officials to win business.

Europe’s largest maker of commercial jet engines will pay the U.K. Serious Fraud Office 497.25 million pounds plus interest, and the U.S. Department of Justice about $170 million, the company said Monday. The British penalty is the biggest-ever sanction issued against a company by the U.K.

“It’s a very large fine which we didn’t see coming; it’s something of a bolt from the blue,” said Nick Cunningham, an aerospace and defense equity analyst at Agency Partners in London. “Usually these settlements are relatively moderate compared to the size of the company.”

The global pact also includes a pledge to pay $25.5 million to Brazilian authorities.

The settlement still offers a slight reprieve for Chief Executive Officer Warren East, who has been working to turn around the ailing engine-maker since taking over in 2015. Allegations that Rolls illegally used middlemen to conduct deals in about a dozen countries have weighed on the company even as East tries to recover from a slew of profit warnings.

The company also said profit and cash performance for 2016 was better than expected ahead of its full-year results next month.

In December 2012, Rolls-Royce disclosed it had handed over documents to the SFO relating to allegations of corruption at some of its overseas businesses, including China and Indonesia, following a request from the prosecutor. A year later the SFO opened an investigation and in 2014 the company revealed it was also being probed by the Justice Department.

]]> 0 Mon, 16 Jan 2017 21:42:14 +0000
Stock prices predicted to grow more volatile Tue, 17 Jan 2017 02:07:22 +0000 MINNEAPOLIS — Stock prices are likely to be more volatile in 2017 than in recent years, a change that should benefit financial pros.

That was the consensus among money managers and analysts who last month gathered for a discussion at the Star Tribune’s office in Minneapolis.

For several years, individual investors have increasingly steered away from mutual funds and other investments that are run by professional money managers and turned instead to lower-fee index funds that simply track broad segments of the market.

Through the first 11 months of 2016, a record $286 billion was pulled out of actively managed investments and $429 billion poured into passive ones like index funds, Morningstar reported last month. Still, more money is invested in active strategies than passive.

“Its very fair to say that the passive investment theme through ETFs or index funds is certainly the flavor of the day,” said Roger Sit, chief executive of Minneapolis-based Sit Investment Associates and a participant in the roundtable.

His firm has 14 actively managed mutual funds and one exchange traded fund, the Sit Rising Rate ETF, which is designed to help investors hedge against rising interest rates.

“There is a point in time when passive does better than active,” Sit said. “The keys appear to be the predictability of when there will be uncertainty and volatility,” Sit said.

Sit is biased toward active management but believes there is room in portfolios for both active and passive strategies.

In a higher volatility environment, he believes active managers do more than just look to beat benchmarks. “An active manager is managing your downside risk,” he said. “It’s not just participating in the upside.”

The appeal of passive investments has been aided by the low volatility environment that was a by-product of extraordinary monetary policies of central banks in the United States, Europe and Japan in recent years to prevent a recession.

But that environment is changing as the Federal Reserve takes the lead in raising interest rates. The arrival of a new U.S. president also brings the prospect of greater swings in prices of stocks and other investments as investors adjust to different priorities and policies.

“We’re going to have a little more volatility but more confidence associated with it, and I think that could help active” investments and managers, Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist for Wells Capital Management, said at the roundtable discussion.

Passive investment strategies began in the mid-1970s with John Bogle’s Vanguard Group, one of the earliest proponents of index-based funds. For years, they appealed chiefly to individual investors. But data shows that employer-sponsored 401(k) plans, public pension plans and endowment funds are all devoting more money to passive strategies than they have in the past.


]]> 0 Jeffrey Vazquez works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange last week. Stock prices are likely to be more volatile in 2017 than in recent years, a change that should benefit financial professionals.Mon, 16 Jan 2017 21:07:22 +0000
Big Apple Circus up for auction Tue, 17 Jan 2017 01:54:39 +0000 NEW YORK — The Big Apple Circus is up for sale.

The one-ring circus filed for bankruptcy in November and is now putting its assets up for auction. Buyers can put in bids by a Feb. 3 deadline. The court-ordered auction is expected to be held Feb. 7.

The circus said its debts amounted to $8.3 million, against assets of $3.8 million, in its Chapter 11 filing.

The Big Apple Circus began in 1977 and at its height staged more than 300 shows.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus recently announced it was closing after 146 years, citing falling ticket sales, high operating costs and changing public tastes in entertainment.

]]> 0 Mon, 16 Jan 2017 22:39:06 +0000
Trump threatens German automakers Tue, 17 Jan 2017 01:49:11 +0000 President-elect Donald Trump threatened German automakers with a hefty import tax if they plan to sell cars in the United States that were built in other countries, repeating a claim that has shaken the global automotive industry and its biggest players at home and abroad.

The latest promise to impose tariffs on imported cars was made to the German newspaper Bild. In a translated interview, the newspaper quoted Trump as saying: “If you want to build cars in the world, then I wish you all the best. You can build cars for the United States, but for every car that comes to the USA, you will pay 35 percent tax.”

“I would tell BMW that if you are building a factory in Mexico and plan to sell cars to the USA, without a 35 percent tax, then you can forget that,” Trump said.

Reuters translated and reported on the remarks.

Trump has issued similar warnings, via Twitter, to Ford, GM and Toyota. But Reuters reports that the proposition of a tariff has already stoked tensions in Germany, the largest U.S. trading partner in Europe and a key political ally throughout the Obama administration.

German automakers sold about 1.3 million vehicles in the United States last year, WardsAuto data show, making up 7.6 percent of all new vehicle sales. The most prominent brands in the United States include BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche.

German manufacturers and suppliers increased their production of cars in the United States from 214,000 to 850,000 between 2009 and 2016, according to Matthias Wissmann, head of the German Association of the Automotive Industry. Speaking at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit last week, Wissmann said that 41 percent of those cars are sold in the United States and the rest are exported to other countries.

German automakers employ 33,000 people in the United States and German suppliers count another 77,000, Wissmann said.

The German Association of the Automotive Industry reiterated those figures Monday after Trump’s comments were published. Wissmann said that it was unclear whether Trump’s tariff threat would turn into actual policy, and whether such a policy would have the support to pass through Congress.

Like most car manufacturers, German automakers have also expanded production in Mexico, where labor and global trade are cheaper than in the United States.

BMW plans to construct a new plant in Mexico, which is expected to cost $1 billion and employ 1,500 workers. Reuters reports that BMW executive Peter Schwarzenbauer said that project would proceed unchanged.

A spokesman for BMW in North America said the company’s plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina, is its largest in the world, employing 8,800 people and manufacturing 411,000 vehicles in 2016. The company plans to invest another $1 billion there as it begins production of the BMW X7 sport utility vehicle in 2018.

“The issue is about commitment and BMW made a significant commitment to the U.S. when it began manufacturing vehicles in America more than 22 years ago,” said spokesman Kenn Sparks.

]]> 0 Mon, 16 Jan 2017 22:36:46 +0000
IRS to start accepting tax returns on Jan. 23 Tue, 17 Jan 2017 01:46:01 +0000 The IRS will begin accepting 2016 tax returns on Jan. 23, and this year’s deadline is April 18 – not 15 – because the deadline arrives on a weekend and is followed by the Emancipation Day holiday in Washington.

Expect delays if you’re getting a 2017 refund – because of holidays for Presidents’ Day on Feb. 20 and processing times for the federal government and banks. The IRS, for instance, instituted some antifraud measures that may delay millions of refunds until Feb. 27, more than a month after tax-filing season opens, the agency said.

If you’re checking for an estimated refund date, you can use the agency’s online “Where’s My Refund?” tool – located at – anytime after Feb. 15.

Anyone who claims the earned income tax credit or the additional child tax credit will likely have their refund held until at least Feb. 15.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said taxpayers who file electronically with their own tax software need to have last year’s return handy.

“If you’re changing tax-software products this filing season, make sure you have a copy of your prior-year return on hand,” he said. “You may be asked to enter your 2015 adjusted gross income. This helps verify your identity before you e-file.”

The IRS paid refunds on 73 percent of last year’s 153 million returns, with refunds averaging $2,857, Koskinen said, and the agency expects similar numbers this year.

Taxpayers who can’t find an answer on can call the IRS at (800) 829-1040 Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Taxpayers who can’t resolve their issue online or by phone can schedule an appointment at an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center.

Use the “contact your local office” tool on to find the closest office or call (844) 545-5640.

There’s also Free File, free tax-preparation software available to those earning less than $64,000 annually. After Friday, you can download the free software at or The downloadable versions of Free File Fillable Forms will be available Jan. 23.

The Free File Alliance is a nonprofit coalition of industry-leading tax-software companies partnered with the IRS to provide free electronic tax services.

]]> 0 Mon, 16 Jan 2017 22:05:58 +0000
Prosecutors’ request to arrest its vice chairman adds to Samsung’s troubles Tue, 17 Jan 2017 01:37:18 +0000 SEOUL, South Korea — A request by South Korean prosecutors to arrest Lee Jae-yong, the 48-year-old vice chairman and de facto leader of Samsung Electronics, has added to the troubles for the country’s most valuable company after a spate of recalls last year.

Lee faces allegations he offered $36 million in bribes to a friend of President Park Geun-hye, who has been impeached. Prosecutors say they also suspect him of embezzlement and lying under oath. A Seoul court will review the request for his arrest Wednesday and will likely decide on it within this week.

Here is what you need to know about the entanglement of the world’s largest smartphone maker in the scandal:


Samsung is alleged to have made substantial donations to nonprofit foundations controlled by Choi Soon-sil, a confidante of Park’s who has been jailed and is on trial for allegedly using her connections with the president to extort money and favors from companies and unlawfully interfere with government affairs.

South Korean prosecutors say the company agreed to pay more than $18 million to a company Choi set up to finance equestrian training of her daughter in Germany. It also helped pay for a winter sports center run by Choi’s niece. Of four Samsung executives who prosecutors have questioned, Lee is the only one they have asked to arrest. The prosecutors say they plan to summon Park for questioning as a possible suspect.

The company has said it never made donations to win favors.


Since Lee Jae-yong’s father suffered a heart attack in May 2014, the company has been trying to accelerate a leadership succession from the 72-year-old father to his son.

The younger Lee has held various executive positions at Samsung Electronics but owned less than a 1 percent stake in the company in 2014. Inheriting his father’s 3 percent stake would cost him billions of dollars in inheritance taxes. To strengthen his control over the company without having to lay out a fortune in either taxes or share purchases, the Samsung group chose in 2015 to merge two of its member companies, Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries.

Lee was the biggest shareholder in Cheil. The merger made him the biggest shareholder in Samsung C&T, increasing the share of Samsung Electronics shares that he effectively controls to about 5 percent.

Minority shareholders of Samsung C&T, including the U.S. hedge fund Elliott Management, opposed the merger, saying it benefited the Lee family at their expense.

Prosecutors have indicted a former health minister, Moon Hyung-pyo, for allegedly abusing his power in asking the national pension fund to support the Samsung merger plan at Park’s request.


Just weeks before Samsung was dragged into the political scandal, the company discontinued its flagship smartphone, the Galaxy Note 7, after finding it was prone to overheat and catch fire. The recalls began shortly after the smartphone was launched in August.

Samsung has estimated the total cost of the recall at at least $5.3 billion and has slashed its third-quarter profit forecast.

The recalls and safety concerns stung, and company officials say they plan to soon announce a definitive conclusion on why the phones were overheating.

In another disruption, about a month after the Note 7 was discontinued, nearly 3 million Samsung washing machines were recalled in the U.S. after several reports of injuries – including a broken jaw – because of “excessive vibration.”


Samsung has postponed the personnel reshuffle it usually announces every December. An arrest for Lee also might slow decision-making on big investments and long-term strategy. But Lee is not involved in day-to-day management, so the company’s smartphone and chip sales would be unlikely to suffer much immediate damage from his absence.

The company remains a profit machine thanks to its formidable business in making microchips for computers and mobile devices. Earlier this month, Samsung said its October-December operating profit jumped 50 percent to $7.8 billion, its best performance in more than three years. It is due to give more details on its earnings in a conference call scheduled for Jan. 24.

Before prosecutors requested Lee’s arrest, Samsung Electronic’s share price had been setting record highs, with shareholders anticipating generous dividends. On Monday, it fell 2 percent.

]]> 0 have asked to arrest Lee Jae-yong of Samsung Electronics Co. He is a bribery suspect in the influence-peddling scandal that led to the impeachment of South Korea's president.Mon, 16 Jan 2017 20:44:32 +0000
Radical idea: Government pays monthly living allowance to all Tue, 17 Jan 2017 01:09:49 +0000 PARIS — I am, therefore I’m paid.

The radical notion that governments should hand out free money to everyone – rich and poor, those who work and those who don’t – is slowly but surely gaining ground in Europe. Yes, you read that right: a guaranteed monthly living allowance, no strings attached.

In France, two of the seven candidates vying to represent the ruling Socialist Party in this year’s presidential election are promising modest but regular stipends to all French adults. A limited test is already underway in Finland, with other experiments planned elsewhere, including in the United States.

Called “universal income” by some, “universal basic income” or just “basic income” by others, the idea has been floated in various guises since at least the mid-19th century. After decades on the fringes of intellectual debate, it became more mainstream in 2016, with Switzerland holding a referendum – and overwhelmingly rejecting – a proposed basic income of around $2,500 per month.

“An incredible year,” says Philippe Van Parijs, a founder of the Basic Income Earth Network that lobbies for such payments. “There has been more written and said on basic income than in the whole history of mankind.”

But before you write a resignation letter to your boss in anticipation of never needing to work again, be warned: There are multiple questions, including how to finance such schemes. Here is a look at the issues:


In a word, robots. With automated systems and machines increasingly replacing human workers, France could lose 3 million jobs by 2025, says Benoit Hamon, a former education minister campaigning for the French presidency on a promise of gradually introducing no-strings-attached payments for all. As work becomes scarcer, a modest but regular guaranteed income would stop people from fearing the future and free up their time for family, the needy and themselves, he argues.

It could also encourage people to take risks, start businesses and try new activities without the risk of losing welfare benefits.

The other pro-basic income candidate for the Socialist Party presidential ticket is outsider Jean-Luc Bennahmias. Like Hamon, the former European Parliament lawmaker argues that it is pointless to expect the return of economic boom times, with jobs for all.

“Growth at 2, 3, 4 or 5 percent in western countries: it’s finished,” he said in a televised debate last week. “We have to speak the truth.”

Outside research backs up their arguments. An Oxford University study in 2015 estimated that nearly half of the American workforce is at risk of automation.


Finland’s small-scale two-year trial that started Jan. 1 aims to answer a frequent question from basic income opponents: With a guaranteed 560 euros ($600) a month, will the 2,000 human guinea pigs – drawn randomly from Finland’s unemployed – just loaf around?

Budget constraints and opposition from multiple quarters stymied ambitions for a broader test, says Olli Kangas from the Finnish government agency KELA, which is responsible for the country’s social benefits.

“It’s a pretty watered down version,” he said in a telephone interview. “We had to make a huge number of compromises.”

In the Netherlands, the city of Utrecht this year plans to try out no-strings welfare payments that will also allow test groups to work on the side if they choose – again, in part, to study the effect on their motivation to find work.

To prepare for “a world where technology replaces existing jobs and basic income becomes necessary,” Silicon Valley startup financier Y Combinator says it plans a pilot study in Oakland, California, paying recipients an unconditional income because “we want to see how people experience that freedom.”


Obviously, expensive. Hamon proposes the gradual introduction of basic income schemes in France, starting with 600 euros ($640) per month for the nation’s poor and 18 to 25-year-olds before scaling up payments to 750 euros ($800) for all adults – for a total estimated annual cost of 400 billion euros ($425 billion).

Part of the cost could be financed by taxing goods and services produced by automated systems and machines, he says. Opponents argue that doing so would simply prompt companies to move robots elsewhere, out of reach of French tax collectors.

Doing away with housing, family, poverty and unemployment benefits could free up more than 100 billion euros ($106 billion) to fold into a replacement basic income scheme.

There’d also be less red tape, saving money that way, too, but switching to basic income would still require new taxes, a 2016 report said.


Costs aside, opponents argue that guaranteed incomes would promote laziness and devalue the concept of work.

Ultimately, to see the light of day, basic income schemes will need political champions, said Van Parijs.

“We need radical ideas as targets and then we need clever tinkering to move in that direction,” he said.

]]> 0 Hamon is campaigning for the French presidency on a promise of gradually introducing monthly living payments for all, because he expects jobs to keep getting scarcer.Mon, 16 Jan 2017 20:09:49 +0000
IMF boosts growth forecast for U.S. economy Tue, 17 Jan 2017 00:14:50 +0000 WASHINGTON — The International Monetary Fund on Monday raised its forecast for the U.S. economy over the next two years, saying President-elect Donald Trump’s policies should boost economic growth, particularly in 2018. But officials warned that if Trump’s protectionist trade proposals set off a trade war, that could be “quite destructive” for the global economy.

The IMF also increased 2017 growth projections for a number of other countries including China, Germany, Japan and Britain, but warned that the global economy faced a number of downside risks from rising protectionism to a jump in interest rates.

The 189-nation global lending agency’s latest economic outlook took note of the significant impact Trump’s election has already had in giving a boost to U.S. stock prices, interest rates and the dollar. The new outlook puts U.S. economic growth at 2.3 percent this year and 2.5 percent in 2018. That would be an improvement from lackluster U.S. growth around 1.6 percent in 2016.

During the campaign, Trump said his economic policies of tax cuts, regulatory reform and boosts in infrastructure spending would lift U.S. growth to annual rates of 4 percent.

The new forecast represents a boost of 0.1 percentage point this year and an increase of 0.4 percentage point for 2018, when Trump’s stimulus plans would be expected to be phased in. That is a half-point higher growth than the IMF was forecasting in October, before Trump’s election.

In contrast, the World Bank last week left its U.S. forecast unchanged at 2.2 percent growth in 2017 and 2.1 percent for 2018, arguing that there was too much uncertainty over the fate of Trump’s proposals to incorporate them in a forecast.

But IMF Chief Economist Maurice Obstfeld told reporters at a briefing Monday that he viewed the IMF’s upgrade for the United States as a moderate increase that took into account the U.S. election results.

“We now have the presidency and the legislative branch in the same hands. It seems very clear to us that some of the promises will be delivered on,” Obstfeld said. “We know the direction of policies. We don’t know the specifics.”

He said that the IMF had chosen not to incorporate Trump’s threats of imposing higher tariffs on countries such as China and Mexico if their trade policies do not change because of a belief “that at the end of the day, countries will realize these are not in their best interests given the threat of retaliation. … The outbreak of a trade war would be quite destructive.”

For the overall global economy, the IMF left its projections unchanged for growth of 3.4 percent for this year and 3.6 percent for 2018, both up from 3.1 percent growth in 2016, a year when global growth slowed to its weakest performance since the 2008-2009 financial crisis.

But the IMF saw better prospects in a number of countries including Germany, Japan, Spain and Britain, thanks in part to a rebound in growth in many parts of the world in the second half of last year that provided momentum going into 2017.

“The global economic landscape started to shift in the second half of 2016,” Obstfeld said, helped by a rebound in manufacturing activity in many countries and the financial market rally that started with Trump’s November election victory.

But Obstfeld said there was a wider than usual range of upside and downside risks in part because of the uncertainty over how much of Trump’s program will win congressional approval and what the spillover effects will be for the rest of the world.

While Trump’s election victory boosted economic prospects in the United States, the impact has been uneven for the rest of the world. Some countries could see stronger growth from the increase in activity in the United States, the world’s largest economy, but some emerging market countries may face challenges as global interest rates rise.

The new outlook boosted the growth forecast for China, the world’s second largest economy, by 0.3 percentage point to 6.5 percent this year. The IMF expects the Chinese government to provide further stimulus to the economy.

The outlook also boosted 2017 growth projections for Germany, Japan, Spain and Britain to reflect stronger-than-expected performances in the second half of last year. At the same time, the IMF lowered its forecasts for Italy, South Korea, India and Brazil, reflecting disappointing performances in the last half of 2016.

The IMF said that growth prospects in Latin America were being hurt by rising uncertainty about the outlook in Mexico, given Trump’s statements about overhauling trade relations between the United States and Mexico. The IMF slashed its growth projections for Mexico by 0.6 percentage point in both 2017 and 2018 to 1.7 percent this year and 2 percent next year.

Obstfeld said that among the risks facing the global economy at the moment were “higher popular antipathy toward trade, immigration and multilateral engagement” among voters in the U.S. and Europe.

]]> 0 Mon, 16 Jan 2017 22:33:24 +0000
New rules for New England shrimp fishing might go to public Mon, 16 Jan 2017 23:05:32 +0000 The public might soon have a chance to comment on potential new fishing rules that could help bring New England’s shrimp back into markets.

Northern shrimp were once a popular seafood, but the commercial fishing industry for them has been shut down since the stock collapsed in 2013.

Interstate regulators are working on new rules about how to manage the fishery if it does eventually reopen.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission says options include state-by-state allocations and the mandatory use of certain kinds of gear to prevent harvest of young shrimp.

The commission’s shrimp panel will meet on March 16 to decide whether to approve a draft of new rules for public comment. The new rules could come up for a vote at a later date.

]]> 0 Mon, 16 Jan 2017 18:11:32 +0000
Trade group representing Maine pulp and paper industry folds Mon, 16 Jan 2017 21:52:52 +0000 A group that has represented the interests of Maine’s pulp and paper industry for 50 years has folded.

In its Jan. 13 newsletter, the Maine Pulp & Paper Association announced that it is disbanding, citing the lack of financial resources to keep it going.

“As the number of Maine pulp and paper mills have decreased, it has become increasingly difficult to maintain sufficient membership to financially support MPPA,” wrote association Chairwoman Donna Cassese of Sappi Fine Paper North America. “We appreciate the financial contributions provided by all of our members over the past 50 years, but we simply do not have enough current support to continue our mission.”

The organization was sustained by dues from its members, including the state’s paper mills, logging contractors, equipment providers and others in the paper industry supply chain. Its president, John Williams, stepped down in December 2014 and wasn’t replaced.

In its 2013 filing with the Internal Revenue Service, the organization reported $161,500 in dues. In its 2015 report, that number had shrunk to $17,000.

The dwindling membership reflects seismic changes that have affected the industry. Demand for glossy publishing paper – the kind made at several Maine mills – has declined as people’s reading habits changed. Global competition has cut Maine mills’ market share in other product lines.

Paper companies employed more than 5,700 in 2011, but lost more than 2,300 jobs in five years with the closing of mills in Bucksport, Old Town, East Millinocket, Lincoln and Madison.

Despite the lack of paid staff, the organization held an industry summit in 2015 that was attended by 250 people. From that summit a number of policy changes were identified and members were working to implement them in various forums such as the paper caucus at the Maine Legislature, participating in a federal assessment team that is trying to direct resources to revive the industry, and working with Gov. Paul LePage’s staff, according to the newsletter.

“The need for a unified voice for the pulp and paper industry is as strong as ever and we are exploring several alternatives to meet this need,” wrote Cassese. “We remain encouraged by the support we have to move forward on several necessary policy changes and by the many advocates who understand just how important the pulp and paper industry remains to the people of the state of Maine, particularly in rural communities.”

The organization, incorporated as the Paper Industry Information Office in 1967, became the Maine Pulp & Paper Association in 1992.

Among its initiatives was establishing the state’s business equipment tax reimbursement/exemption programs that helped offset Maine’s personal property tax on capital-intensive industries.

]]> 0 are loaded onto a pulp truck bound for the Madison Paper Industries mill in Madison last month. The U.S. Commerce Department released an analysis Thursday of the impact of the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Maine. According to the federal agency, the trade pact could increase exports by millions, especially in sectors such as forest products, which tallied more than $700 million in exports in 2014. (David Leaming/Morning Sentinel file)Mon, 16 Jan 2017 21:42:30 +0000
A closer look at world’s 8 richest – all men, mostly Americans Mon, 16 Jan 2017 13:53:03 +0000 DAVOS, Switzerland — The eight individuals who own as much as half of the rest of the planet are all men, and have largely made their fortunes in technology.

Most are American, with one European and one Mexican in the mix. Several have pledged to give it all to charity.

The eight tycoons’ net worth, as calculated by Forbes magazine, was cited Monday by anti-poverty activists Oxfam in a report highlighting income inequality. As the world’s business and political elite gathers in the Swiss town of Davos this week, here’s a look at who these billionaires are.

Bill Gates

Bill Gates. Associated Press Associated Press/Seth Wenig

Bill Gates: $75 billion

The man whose name is a byword for billionaire. He co-founded Microsoft in the mid-70s, growing it into the world’s biggest software company and helping to make computers a household item. He quit as CEO in 2000 and pledged to devote his fortune to his philanthropic activities in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He has gradually reduced his ownership in Microsoft to less than 3 percent, with the bulk of his wealth in a private firm.

Amancio Ortega. Reuters/Miguel Vidal

Amancio Ortega: $67 billion

The richest person in Europe, Ortega opened the first Zara fashion shop in 1975. Now, the chain, part of Ortega’s Inditex group, has 7,000 shops globally. Its boom in popularity is largely due to a low cost model that competes with the likes of H&M. As Zara and Inditex grew in size, Ortega held on to a majority stake of 59 percent in the company, which has a market value of over 97 billion euros ($102 billion).

Warren Buffett.

Warren Buffett. Associated Press/Andrew Harnik

Warren Buffett: $60.8 billion

The Oracle of Omaha, as he’s known for the way his every investment decision is followed by thousands. He began investing as a teenager in the ’40s and gradually grew his firm, Berkshire Hathaway. Buffett, 86, is notoriously frugal personally and favors investing in companies with proven business models over new industries, such as in technology. He’s said he will give away the bulk of his wealth to philanthropy and since 2006 has been donating blocks of Berkshire stock to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Carlos Slim Helu.

Carlos Slim Helu. Associated Press/Jeremy Piper

Carlos Slim Helu: $50 billion

The Mexican tycoon owes his fortune to a major ownership in America Movil, a telecommunications multinational worth $42 billion. He personally owns about 7 percent in the company while his broader family retains a 37 percent stake. He was ranked as the richest person three years ago, but saw his net worth hit by a downturn in Latin American economies. President-elect Donald Trump’s threats to scrap free trade deals and build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border have also hurt shares in his business interests. Forbes estimates his net worth dropped $5 billion in the four days after Trump’s election.

Jeff BezosJeff Bezos: $45.2 billion

The founder and CEO of helped revolutionize the retail industry by popularizing online shopping. What was initially an online book shop now sells pretty much anything. Bezos has reached beyond Amazon, in which he holds a 17 percent stake, to try his hand in other industries. He’s bought the Washington Post and set up an aerospace company, Blue Origin, that aims to make space accessible to tourists and paying customers.

Mark Zuckerberg.

Mark Zuckerberg. Associated Press//Esteban Felix

Mark Zuckerberg: $44.6 billion

Founded Facebook in 2004 while a college student to connect Harvard students. The company went on to become popular globally and listed its shares publicly in 2012, making Zuckerberg, now 32, a multibillionaire. He’s managed to make Facebook profitable where rivals like Twitter have lagged, and expanded it with targeted acquisitions. He and his wife have pledged to sell 99 percent of their holdings in Facebook — over 400 million shares, worth about $50 billion — to support philanthropic causes.

Larry Ellison.

Larry Ellison. Associated Press/Jeff Chiu

Larry Ellison: $43.6 billion

As a young programmer in the ’70s, his first big client was the CIA. The name of the project was “Oracle.” In 1977, Ellison and associates used the name of that product for their company, which creates software that helps manage databases and has since become an industry standard. Ellison has recently focused more on cloud computing, in which data is stored and managed across a network of computers. His fortune comes from the 27 percent stake he still owns in Oracle, currently worth $160 billion.

Michael Bloomberg.

Michael Bloomberg. Associated Press/Seth Wenig

Michael Bloomberg: $40 billion

Created the eponymous financial information provider in 1981 after getting laid off from an investment bank. Bloomberg made it a lucrative business in particular by selling data terminals to financial services firms. The multi-screen terminals became essential tools in the industry, incorporating real-time market information with a news service. Bloomberg, who reportedly retains an 88 percent stake in the privately held company, turned to politics in 2001, becoming mayor of New York City for three terms.

]]> 0 - In this Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016 file photo, Bill Gates arrives to Trump Tower in New York. The eight individuals who own as much as half of the rest of the planet are all men, and have largely made their fortunes in technology. Gates co-founded Microsoft in the mid-70s, growing it into the world’s biggest software company and helping to make computers a household item. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, file)Mon, 16 Jan 2017 09:23:21 +0000
For 100-year-old founder of Cross Insurance, success story is a classic Mon, 16 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 BANGOR — Woodrow Cross, founder of Cross Insurance in Bangor, still plays an active role in Maine’s largest independently owned insurance company, visiting the office at least twice a week to offer advice and encouragement to staff.

Not bad for a guy who just celebrated his 100th birthday.

“To put it into perspective, his grandfather fought in the Civil War,” Cross Insurance President and CEO Royce Cross said about his father. “He was born during World War I. He was 12 years old when Wyatt Earp died.”

Woodrow W. Cross, 25 years old in 1942.

Woodrow W. Cross, at age 25, in 1942. Cross family photo

The Portland Press Herald interviewed the venerated entrepreneur Friday at Cross Insurance headquarters on Main Street in Bangor, next door to the large sports and entertainment venue that bears the company’s name. Woodrow Cross founded the insurance company in 1954, and it has since grown to more than 800 employees working out of 42 locations in five states. The company has $1.5 billion in premiums under management, making it one of the biggest insurance companies in New England.

Although his role in the business is more limited these days, Woodrow Cross remains a licensed insurance agent in Maine. Cross said that when he visits the office, he makes the rounds to talk with staff and offer his help.

“I like to meet the folks and let them know I’m there, and that I’m part of the organization still,” he said.


Cross started his first business venture when he was just 6 years old, selling seeds door-to-door in his hometown of Bradford.

By the time he was 10, he had transitioned into chicken farming. Even as a child, he began taking out small loans to purchase baby chicks, which he sold at a profit when they matured, allowing him to repay his creditors and grow the enterprise.

In his teens, Cross began working in his father’s general store, which he said further strengthened his work ethic and family values.

At 21, in the midst of the Great Depression, Cross’ father died, and he took on the responsibility of running the business and caring for his family. Cross said the challenge of keeping the business vital during such a difficult economic period had an impact on him that would last a lifetime.

“It’s very easy to get discouraged, but I always tried to figure out the problem,” he said. “I didn’t run from it, and if I needed help, I’d get it. If I needed to do more work, I did it.”

When the U.S. entered World War II, Cross enlisted in the Army, serving in the Pacific Theater with campaigns in New Guinea and the Philippines, as well as occupation duty in Japan. During that period he also married his wife, Janette, and began raising a family that grew to three sons and two daughters.

After he was discharged from the service, the Cross family relocated to Bangor. Cross worked various construction jobs, then decided it was time for a career change and applied for a license to sell insurance.

“I saw a fellow who was in insurance, and he had a nice property, a nice home,” Cross said.

He founded Cross Insurance and initially worked out of the family home. Nine years later, as the company continued to grow, Cross hired employees and moved the business to a downtown office. Cross Insurance completed its first acquisition of another agency in 1963 and has since acquired more than 100 agencies, growing into a regional powerhouse.

Two of Cross’ sons and two of his grandsons followed him into the business. Son Royce Cross is now the company’s president and CEO, and his late son Brent Cross served as executive vice president until his death in 2015. Grandson Jonathan Cross is now executive vice president, and grandson Woodrow “Woody” Cross works as a commercial account executive.


Royce Cross said he works closely with his father, who is as supportive and enthusiastic about the business as ever. Decisions they have made together include becoming the named sponsor of the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor and Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.

Those sponsorships are more about supporting local communities than they are about promoting the business, Royce Cross said, but they have helped make Cross Insurance a household name.

Above, Woodrow Cross, left, and his son Royce Cross man the insurance agency's booth at a trade show in the 1970s. Royce is now the president and CEO. At left, Woodrow Cross, 25, in 1942. He fought in World War II, earning two battle stars.

Woodrow Cross, left, and his son Royce Cross man the insurance agency’s booth at a trade show in the 1970s. Royce is now the president and CEO. At left, Woodrow Cross, 25, in 1942. He fought in World War II, earning two battle stars. Cross family photos

“We have no problem with name recognition, I can tell you that,” he said, an observation likely buoyed by the Cross Insurance signs that hang in TD Garden, at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, and at Fenway Park. Cross Insurance is an official insurance partner with the Red Sox, Patriots and Bruins.

On Friday, the father and son talked jovially about Woodrow Cross’ continued ambition to grow his business empire even at 100. The subject of Necco Wafers came up, a treat Woodrow Cross enjoyed as a child, and he joked that he would still like to buy the company.

“Anything he likes, he wants to buy the company,” Royce Cross said.

When asked for the secret to his longevity and how he has been able to remain so active for a century, Cross displayed his characteristic humility and matter-of-fact attitude.

“I just fell into it I guess,” he said. “I always liked my vegetables.”


Even at 100, Cross is still being recognized for his decades of effort and achievement.

In celebration of his recent birthday, the city of Bangor honored Cross with a key to the city to express its appreciation for his accomplishments and dedication to the area. The city issued a letter saying Cross is “living proof that with hard work, perseverance can really lead to positive change.”

On Jan. 27, the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce will honor Cross with its most prestigious award, the Norbert X. Dowd Award for lifetime achievement, named after a former longtime chamber executive.

Voters fill the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor to cast their ballots on Tuesday. Outside the building, 2nd Congressional District candidates Bruce Poliquin and Emily Cain were spending the final minutes of the campaign greeting voters outside.

Voters stand in line at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor to cast their ballots on Election Day. For decades, Woodrow Cross has been a strong supporter and participant in the civic life of the city. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“Woodrow has long been an advocate for both business and employee development in the Bangor region and has successfully grown the insurance agency from a sole entrepreneur to a multi-office, multistate organization with over 800 employees,” the chamber said in its award notice. “Mentoring new hires of all ages, supporting professional growth and encouraging community involvement have always been his business practice. A strong work ethic, integrity, business acumen, perseverance and professionalism are but a few of the strengths we most admire in him. He is a longstanding member of his church and for decades a supporter of numerous civic and nonprofit organizations in and around Bangor.”


A recipient of many industry, community and personal accolades, Cross received an honorary Doctorate of Business Administration degree from Husson University in May 2006. He has long been an advocate for business and employee development in the Bangor region.

Chamber Chairman Lee Speronis said Cross has had numerous opportunities to relocate the insurance company to a larger metro area but chose to keep the bulk of those jobs in Maine.

“He’s kept the corporate headquarters right here in Bangor,” said Speronis, who is also director of the School of Hospitality, Sport and Tourism Management at Husson University in Bangor. “They could have easily gone to Greater Boston, but they didn’t. Mr. Cross is a gentleman of integrity and loyalty to his community.”

Cross said the secret of his success as a businessman is simple: He has always put his customers first, no matter what.

“That’s really important,” he said. “They knew they were going to be taken care of if they called, because I didn’t make any exceptions.”


]]> 0 Cross, 100, who founded his company in 1954, still goes to the office in Bangor a few times a week. Cross Insurance has over 800 employees working out of 42 locations in five states.Mon, 16 Jan 2017 11:56:18 +0000
Week in review: Trump weighs in on L.L. Bean; Anthem hit with $225,000 fine Sun, 15 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 RETAIL

Boycott effort and Trump response catapult L.L. Bean into limelight

A kerfuffle that drew interest from President-elect Donald Trump and Fox News put outdoor retailer L.L. Bean in the national spotlight for most of last week. The controversy started more than a week ago when a grassroots group suggested people boycott L.L. Bean because one of its board members, Linda Bean, contributed significantly to Trump’s campaign. Bean, who has long supported conservative causes and run for public office herself, emphasized that she made the donation as a private citizen and not a representative of the famed Freeport retailer. The donation came under federal scrutiny because it appeared to exceed the limits of the political action committee to which it was directed. The group, Grab Your Wallet, said it would consider removing L.L. Bean from its boycott list if Linda Bean stepped down from the board. As a guest on Fox News, Bean said she would refuse to step down, which earned her accolades from Trump, Maine Gov. Paul LePage and others. The company’s executive chairman said L.L. Bean does not take political positions or make political endorsements or contributions, and called the boycott “misguided.” Read the story.


Anthem fined for slow response to complaints

State regulators have slapped health insurer Anthem Health Plans of Maine Inc. with a $225,000 civil penalty for its failure to adequately track and respond to customer complaints. Maine Insurance Superintendent Eric Cioppa said Monday in a news release that Anthem, a subsidiary of New Hampshire-based Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, repeatedly failed to follow up on complaints filed by its customers with the Maine Bureau of Insurance in a timely manner. State law requires that insurers respond to complaints within 14 days, the bureau said, but in nearly two-thirds of all cases Anthem failed to do so. The bureau’s Market Conduct Unit performed a review of Anthem’s handling of complaints in 2014 after investigators reported several late and missing responses to complaints forwarded to Anthem by the bureau, according to the news release. Anthem also did not adequately respond to bureau inquiries about customer complaints, provide requested documents or establish and implement a satisfactory complaint resolution plan, Cioppa said. The insurer has agreed to pay the $225,000 fine as part of a consent agreement. In addition to the civil penalty, Anthem is required to submit a corrective action plan to the bureau within 30 days of signing the agreement. Read the story.


Nonprofit buys former mill site for redevelopment

A nonprofit has purchased the former holdings of Great Northern Paper in Millinocket, including the 1,400-acre mill site, with the eventual goal of transforming the property into a bio-industrial park that would benefit from its proximity to the North Woods. Our Katahdin bought the holdings Thursday from Cate Street Capitol for $1. They include land adjacent to Millinocket Municipal Airport and a 157-acre site at Ferguson Pond, according to a news release Thursday by the locally based nonprofit Our Katahdin and the Millinocket Town Council. While Our Katahdin will own the 1,400-acre mill property, the town of Millinocket will serve as the nonprofit’s redevelopment partner. The chairman of the Millinocket Town Council said the deal could not have come at a more opportune time. The town was set to foreclose on the property on Jan. 16. Now, it will work together with Our Katahdin to bring the mill site back to life. Read the story.

Prominent bank building in Augusta up for auction

Key Plaza, one of the most prominent buildings in Augusta’s downtown, is scheduled to be foreclosed on and auctioned off Feb. 1. City officials said they’re hopeful the current owners will be able to either retain the building or buy it back at auction, and that the building will continue to house hundreds of workers, most of whom work for the state in office space the state leases in the 286 Water St. building. Roughly 280 employees of the state Department of Health and Human Services work in the nine-story building, and some downtown merchants have said they rely on visits from employees of the building to keep their shops in business. Terms of the sale, according to a legal advertisement taken out by representatives of the mortgage holder, U.S. Bank National Association, appear to specify new owners of the building would be subject to existing leases, and thus expected to retain the current tenants. Read the story.


Lobstermen facing license fee hike

Maine is proposing to raise the price of commercial fishing licenses next year. If approved by the Legislature, the increases – which would range from as little as $1 for a resident to harvest green crabs to $114 for a commercial lobsterman with two sternmen – would be the first license fee hike in seven years. The state Department of Marine Resources says it must raise its license fees to cover an estimated $600,000 shortfall in next year’s proposed budget. Gov. Paul LePage wants all state agencies to keep next year’s funding levels the same as this year. For DMR, that means it must find a way to cover pay raises for Marine Patrol approved by lawmakers last year, as well as an additional lobster scientist, while maintaining a $21.3 million bottom line. Read the story.


Biddeford paper drops Monday print edition

The Journal Tribune, a newspaper that serves the Biddeford area, has discontinued its Monday edition. Publisher Devin Hamilton told readers that the decision to eliminate the Monday print edition and instead offer readers an enhanced online edition was made to attract more digital and mobile-oriented readership. He said the sharp increase in online news through smartphones and social media led to unprecedented demand for digital content and led to this decision. The paper will continue to print editions Tuesday through Sunday. Read the story.


Wex extends services in Canada

South Portland-based corporate payment services provider Wex Inc. is expanding its fuel payment service for fleet vehicles in Canada following the recent acquisition of a competitor. Wex said Wednesday in a news release that it has partnered with Enterprise Fleet Management in Canada to provide payment services to its corporate clients. The company said it is able to provide the expanded service thanks to Canadian fueling stations Wex acquired in June when it purchased rival Electronic Funds Source. Wex and Enterprise said in the release that the new partnership is an extension of an existing agreement in the U.S. that has been in place for over two decades. Read the story.


Farmers urged to diversify crops

The drought that hit New England last spring and summer affected many Maine farmers, particularly in the southern third of the state. Reduced hay harvests, smaller fruit yields and a greater reliance on irrigation systems were a few of the symptoms of the driest growing season the state had seen in years. But while a panel of experts who spoke in Augusta on Wednesday agreed that last summer was parched, they didn’t recommend Maine farmers bet on the next few growing seasons being exactly the same. Rather, they said, farmers should steel themselves for more variable weather in the decades to come, whether by diversifying their crops, improving their soil or buying insurance. They also suggested that there may be some benefits to changes in the growing season, including the opportunity to plant earlier and invest in new crops. Read the story.

Marijuana draws interest at agricultural trade show

Marijuana was one of the major topics among exhibitors and attendees at the annual Maine Agricultural Trade Show last week. Legalization of recreational marijuana was approved by voters in November. Although a lot of attendees had questions about marijuana and how it might affect the farming industry, there weren’t a lot of answers.

In fact, several officials from various agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the University of Maine and Coastal Enterprises Inc. said because federal regulations don’t recognize legalized marijuana, their groups wouldn’t be much help to potential marijuana farmers. Read the story.

]]> 0 scallop dragger heads out into Casco Bay in January 2015. Regulators have given some Down East scallop fishermen a bonus day of fishing per week because of bad weather earlier in the season. Catch volumes and prices for scallops are strong this year, according to Department of Marine Resources. (File photo/Tom Bell)Sat, 14 Jan 2017 16:51:01 +0000
Michelle Singletary: Get rid of what you don’t need Sun, 15 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 If you are tired of the clutter in your life, it’s time to do something about it.

From now until the end of January, I’m encouraging people to clean both their real houses and their financial houses. It’s the 2017 #NoDebtNoMess Color of Money Challenge.

The theme for the first week was “Assess the Mess.” Now we are moving into the second week: “Reduce Redundancy.”

At the start of the challenge, I asked people to select a few areas in their homes to declutter.

I’m concentrating on four areas: a kitchen cabinet full of plastic containers, a junk drawer, my home office and a closet overflowing with games. In my financial life, I assessed my assets and liabilities and completed a net worth statement. I’ve created a template to help you determine your own net worth at

As for your financial house, spend this week getting rid of credit cards you don’t need. Start by pulling out or downloading the last six months of statements. Reflect on the money you spent. Highlight purchases that you could have done without.

If you’ve got cards that carry an annual fee and you really don’t use them as much as you thought, think about canceling them.

Consider this information from a recent story in the Harvard Business Review about research on the best strategy to pay off credit card debt:

 Nearly half of U.S. households are unable to pay their credit card bills in full each month.

 American households owe more than $800 billion in credit card debt. Per household, that translates to more than $15,000 spread across an average of four credit cards. (Come on, some of you see that dollar figure and say to yourself, “Is that all?”)

Many folks believe you need multiple cards to ensure a good credit score. That’s not true. Having one card and paying the bill on time each month will do the trick.

You also don’t need to carry debt to get a good score. You just have to show that you can use debt responsibly and pay it back on time. Ideally, you want to pay the charges off every month, to avoid paying interest. If you do roll over a balance, make sure you aren’t using much of the credit line.

Of course, your next question might be: “Well how much of my credit should I be using?”

You might have seen it reported that you shouldn’t use more than 30 percent of your available balance; otherwise it negatively impacts your credit score.

But this figure is just a general guideline. There is no specific threshold in which your “utilization rate” begins to harm your credit score. FICO, the company that created the credit-scoring model used by most lenders, has found that consumers with scores of 800 or above use an average of 7 percent of their available credit.

So determine how much of your credit line you are using. If you’re maxed out or close to it, that’s bad and it’s definitely time to declutter. If you are carrying credit card balances, don’t cancel the cards just yet. I just need you to put them on ice – literally. Drop the cards in a container, add water and freeze them. (And if you do, send me pictures at Or secure them in a file cabinet you are going to clear out as part of this challenge.

Never cancel a card if you have any outstanding credit card debt. If you’re carrying balances and you close an account, it may cause your overall utilization rate to increase, which in turn can result in a dip in your credit score.

In the last week of the challenge, I’ll show you a method to pay off the debt that recent research has shown to be effective.

Once you clear all the debt from the cards, you can cancel the ones you don’t want. And don’t worry about losing a card’s positive history. That’s another credit card myth. A closed account with no negative history will remain in your credit files for up to 10 years from the date it was closed. In the case of negative history, such as late payments, that information remains for seven years from the original delinquency date.

I’ll be hosting an online chat to answer questions you might have about your credit cards at noon Eastern time on Jan. 19 at

During this challenge, just keep telling yourself, “I can do this.” Because you can.

Michelle Singletary can be contacted at:

Twitter: SingletaryM

]]> 0 Fri, 13 Jan 2017 17:48:52 +0000
Marijuana interest driving real estate deals Sun, 15 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 With recreational marijuana use on the verge of becoming legal in Maine, real estate brokers are seeing a jump in demand for industrial spaces that could become indoor marijuana farms in the not-too-distant future.

Marijuana is scheduled to become legal to use and possess Jan. 30, but the scramble for suitable warehouse space for commercial growing has begun, helping to push lease rates to nearly twice what they were six years ago in Greater Portland.

But uncertainty about the regulatory process, which is just beginning in Augusta, efforts by a growing number of communities to set up local zoning rules, and unanswered questions about how the Trump administration will respond to marijuana legalization efforts at the state level may discourage some Maine landlords and tenants from rushing into new spaces, real estate experts say.

But it may not be long before that changes.

In Western states with legal marijuana, cannabis entrepreneurs competing for limited industrial space are now paying as much as three times the average rent to produce marijuana for what has become the fastest-growing industry in the country.

Even with uncertainty about the regulatory landscape for recreational marijuana in Maine, the growth of the state’s medical marijuana program in the past few years and the anticipation of a recreational market have already helped push the industrial market to historically low vacancy rates, according to local real estate brokers.

“The economic opportunities for landlords are significant,” said attorney Ted Kelleher of Drummond Woodsum. “Even though the process for the state granting licenses is a year away, people are already trying to secure properties.”

Maine voted in November to legalize recreational marijuana, joining a rapidly expanding industry with sales that topped $5.8 billion in 2016. Personal possession and cultivation of marijuana is expected to become legal Jan. 30, but commercial cultivation and sales won’t begin until 2018 at the earliest.


Even before the Nov. 8 vote on recreational marijuana, the growth of the medical marijuana program in Maine was helping drive the industrial market in Greater Portland to historically low vacancy rates as caregivers moved their businesses into commercial spaces. That market is expected to become even tighter as the cannabis industry grows, said Justin Lamontagne, a broker at NAI The Dunham Group.

For the first time, lease rates are approaching $10 per square foot for industrial spaces that are already suitable for cannabis cultivation. Lamontagne said those spaces – which have high electrical power capacity and appropriate zoning – are renting for almost double what they were five to six years ago. While cannabis businesses are willing to pay higher prices, traditional industrial users are still unwilling or unable to pay those premium lease rates, he said.

“For the last six to eight months, we’ve seen quite a bit of additional interest in anticipation of recreational passing,” Lamontagne said.

None of the real estate professionals interviewed for this story would identify clients interested in cultivating marijuana or their building locations, citing confidentiality. But at least one industrial building – the former Maine Rubber International tire warehouse in Gorham – was identified in a Bloomberg news story from November as having been closed on by a group of investors last spring who were upgrading the building to market it to marijuana entrepreneurs. No tenants are involved with marijuana production in the building now, according to owner Jesse Abbott, who bought the building Nov. 30. A hardwood lumber distributor is leasing half the building and opening there soon.

The Greater Portland industrial market has seen a significant drop in vacancy rates and a modest rise in lease rates in the past five years. The vacancy rate fell from 7.86 percent in 2011 to 3.38 percent in 2015. Lease rates rose from $5.47 per square foot in 2011 to $5.62 per square foot in 2015.

After Colorado legalized marijuana, vacancy rates fell from 7.6 percent in 2011 to 3.1 percent in early 2015. By the next year, asking lease rates for industrial properties in northern Colorado reached $8.40 per square foot, compared with the national average of $6.30 per square foot, according to CBRE, an international real estate network. In Oregon and Washington state, brokers report fierce competition for warehouses suitable for growing marijuana indoors.

Cannabis businesses often pay a premium price for industrial spaces. In Oregon, cannabis business owners pay $12 to $18 per square foot, compared with an average of $5 per square foot for other businesses, according to Bloomberg.

Greg Boulos of Portland’s CBRE | The Boulos Co. said he has seen significant interest from people in the marijuana business looking for warehouse spaces in the past year.

Boulos said most people looking for industrial space for marijuana cultivation need 5,000 to 10,000 square feet. They tend to want free-standing buildings without close neighbors, inexpensive rents and flexible lease terms, he said.

“This is a business that’s come out of the shadows,” Boulos said. “It’s a very interesting time.”


Maine’s legalization initiative was unique in that it included a strong local control element that allows municipalities to adopt zoning requirements for marijuana businesses or ban them entirely. In the past two months, more than two dozen towns have adopted temporary moratoriums on marijuana shops and commercial growing operations while officials consider local zoning requirements.

“Landlords really need to pay attention to (local zoning) and understand how towns will handle marijuana cultivation and sales,” said Kelleher, the attorney who practices real estate law. “There are a lot of unanswered questions at this stage of the game.”

The issue is coming into sharp focus in Wiscasset, where a real estate developer has proposed a large-scale recreational marijuana facility in a former industrial power plant. Wiscasset residents are expected to vote as soon as next month on a six-month ban on all marijuana businesses while town officials develop zoning rules for them.

Joseph Cotter of Mason Station LLC sent a letter to the Wiscasset Board of Selectmen asking for a meeting to discuss the possibility of turning Mason Station into a destination marijuana greenhouse, dispensary and production facility. The three-phase project would create a dispensary, culinary institute for cannabis edibles, restaurants, gift shops, social and recreational space for tourists, and a 50-room hotel.

“This new business endeavor would include a major investment and provide a major revenue source to the Town of Wiscasset in the form of increased property taxes and sales tax related to the new legislation,” Cotter said in the letter.

Cotter, who has not met with selectmen about the plan, did not respond to requests for comment.


Kelleher said dealing with cannabis businesses can be problematic for landlords for a number of reasons, but he expects that they will be able to charge premium prices as the industry grows in Maine. Renting to a cannabis-based business can be tricky for landlords because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, he said. The Department of Justice under the Obama administration has taken a hands-off approach to states that have legalized marijuana, but the same may not be true under the Trump administration.

Landlords renting to cannabis businesses will have to deal with issues that might not pop up with traditional tenants, such as odor problems or security concerns. Kelleher said landlords also have to consider what happens if a business is evicted or abandons a property and leaves behind marijuana. It would be illegal for a landlord who is not licensed by the state to take possession of the marijuana, as a landlord would with other property left behind, he said. Landlords also may require tenants to prove that they are properly licensed by the state to grow marijuana.

“Landlords need to have some measure of reassurance that the tenant is properly licensed,” he said.

Some investors looking to buy industrial spaces may run into issues with the banking industry, which is reluctant to deal with marijuana businesses. Kelleher said he and other attorneys at his firm have heard recently of banks adding to financing agreements requirements that landlords not lease space to marijuana businesses.

“This is still a very young industry in the United States,” Kelleher said. “There are a lot of concerns and things to worry about, but they’re workable.”

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

Twitter: grahamgillian


This story was updated at 2:30 p.m. Jan. 19 to clarify that there are no marijuana-related businesses operating at 9 Laurence Drive in Gorham.

]]> 0 Press File Photo/Seth Perlman Marijuana grows at a medical marijuana cultivation center in Albion, Ill. In a report released Wednesday by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, the federal advisory panel took a comprehensive look at what's known about the benefits and harms of marijuana and is calling for a national effort to learn more about the drug.Mon, 16 Jan 2017 14:56:05 +0000
Retail ‘skill gap’ spurs entry-level training program Sun, 15 Jan 2017 00:49:43 +0000 NEW YORK — Trying to stem high turnover in store jobs, nonprofit groups and chains such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot and the Home Shopping Network are launching a program to help people develop the skills to land entry-level jobs and advance in a retail career.

As more people shop online, stores say they need workers who come in with more knowledge and can offer better service. The training and credential program, led by the nonprofit arm of the National Retail Federation trade group, includes sales and inventory basics, dealing with customers, how to use technology like kiosks and more.

“The skill gap is a huge challenge in America broadly,” said Ellen Davis, a senior vice president at the trade group and executive director of the NRF Foundation. “Talent is a significant challenge in retail at all levels.”

More than 20 major retailers including Neiman Marcus and Ashley Stewart have pledged general support for the Rise Up program being launched Sunday. It’s part of a broader credential plan that would help workers move up that may include training for store supervisors and in specific areas like retail analytics.

Thirty-two percent of all first jobs in the U.S. are in retail, the trade group says, and stores overall have more job openings now than they did a few years ago. Rising wages have increased competition for workers as people take better-paying jobs. The average hourly pay for cashiers and low-level retail sales staff is $9.26, according to a recent Hay Group study — a level labor groups say still isn’t enough to live on. The retail industry says store jobs can be a starting point toward bigger things.

In stores, entry-level work isn’t just about folding clothes and ringing up sales. Beyond making change, the Rise Up program includes how to balance a cash drawer and checking for counterfeit currency. Employees also need to understand how stores and online sites work together, use up-to-date handhelds to check inventory, and solve customer-service issues.

“It’s crisp, clear lessons,” said James Rhee, CEO of clothing chain Ashley Stewart, which is among the retailers including HSN Inc. that will give the credential weight in their hiring. “It’s not just about buying and selling. It’s extremely service-oriented, but it’s extremely more quantitative and it’s all about the innovation of technology.”

The program offers 30 to 40 hours of classroom training or 15 hours of online training, and will be administered through nonprofit groups and public education partners. The overall cost is $50, but many students will be able to get subsidies. The retailers involved are encouraging local nonprofits or high schools to start using it. Some might fund groups in areas where they’re having a hard time hiring skilled workers. Some may use it to replace or supplement their own training.

How much of an impact this first industry credential could have remains to be seen. It follows a hodgepodge of certificates backed by government or foundation grants that didn’t hold much sway. The NRF Foundation will evaluate the program at six to ten companies later this year to see if participants get jobs faster, stay longer and get raises faster. It’ll make changes if necessary after that. Wal-Mart, which has training academies for its own workers, said it won’t decide about using the credential in the hiring process until after the study.

Dress for Success, which worked with the NRF Foundation on a pilot program in New York with nine women, has seen most of them find work — including at an online merchant, a discounter and a clothing retailer.

“Our goal is to not just get them a job,” said Amy Tashjian, senior director of worldwide programs for Dress for Success, “but to continue to build their confidence and to help them not just get a job but a career.”

]]> 0, 14 Jan 2017 20:52:31 +0000
EPA will help with new plan for former Bucksport mill Sat, 14 Jan 2017 19:00:39 +0000 BUCKSPORT – The federal Environmental Protection Agency is providing $200,000 to help Bucksport recover from the loss of its paper plant.

The EPA is giving the money to the Eastern Maine Development Corporation to help develop and implement a plan for the site of the former Verso Paper Mill in Bucksport. The mill once employed more than 500 people and closed in December 2014.

Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King say the money is from the Brownfield Area-Wide Planning program that is used to help communities clean up old industrial sites for new uses.

The 117-acre area that housed the paper mill is located along the Penobscot River. It includes vacant buildings that once housed a tannery and a steel mill.

]]> 0 state is looking into whether Verso Paper Corp. has paid all of the severance owed to machinists who lost their jobs when the mill in Bucksport closed.Sat, 14 Jan 2017 14:12:39 +0000
Portlanders supporting Muslim-owned stores with their business this weekend Sat, 14 Jan 2017 15:35:52 +0000 Portlanders discovered new foods and other items Saturday at the start of a two-day event to promote Muslim-owned businesses in the city.

Organized by Progressive Portland, the Muslim-Owned Business Buy-in is a response to the Christmas Eve window smashing at the Ahram Halal Market on Forest Avenue and to Islamophobia in the U.S.

More than 1,200 people pledged to take part in the weekend event, said Mayor Ethan Strimling, who shopped at several Muslim-owned businesses Saturday morning and – in his State of the City address on Monday – encouraged Portlanders to do the same.

Some of the shoppers were making their first foray into the Muslim-owned markets and restaurants that have opened in their midst during the past two decades, discovering new foods and other exotic items.

“I totally agree with supporting everyone in a community,” said Maxine Secskas who shopped at the Portland Halal Market at 269 St. John St. for the first time.

Secskas bought some guava juice, dates and ground black seeds, which she said she will have to search online to find out how to use.

Secskas said the sales clerk told her the seeds add a savory touch to porridge.

“She said they are full of vitamin E and after a week I will grow to love it. I am pretty excited to give it a try,” said Secskas.

Strimling bought some frozen goat meat and lentils at the Peace Food Market at 21 Chestnut St.

“Today is a really important day. We are saying, ‘You know what? You are welcome in our community. We are a welcoming city,’ ” said Strimling.

The Peace market’s shelves are stocked with an international melange for customers hailing from Africa, Latin America and the United States: frozen camel hump fat, flavored hookah tobacco, soda and chips, lasagna, and beans and rice.

“A lot of times we have customers who say, ‘I want this, I want that.’ So we just get it for them,” said Asma Farah, whose father, Mohamed Haidara, a Somali immigrant, and her uncle Abdi Muse co-own the Peace Food Market.

Progressive Portland is a nonprofit group that mobilizes grassroots support for progressive policies in Portland.

Participating businesses also include the Ahram Halal Market, 630 Forest Ave.; Ameera Bread Co., 845 Forest Ave.; Portland Market House, 28 Monument Way; Babylon Restaurant, 1192 Forest Ave.; Banadir Halal Market, 1190 Forest Ave.; Jazeera Market, 625 Forest Ave.; Makkah Market, 34 Vannah Ave.; and Sindbad Market, 710 Forest Ave.

]]> 0, 14 Jan 2017 18:02:08 +0000
Maine scallop prices have surged to a record high Sat, 14 Jan 2017 14:23:17 +0000 PORTLAND — Maine’s scallops have surged to a record high price at the docks this winter after several years of rising in value, according to fishing regulators in the state.

Fishermen harvest Maine scallops with dragging boats or by hand while diving in frigid waters. The scallops are selling for about $13.50 per pound at the dock, the scallop manager for the state Department of Marine Resources said. In 2015, they sold for $12.70, which was a record, and more than three times the price in 2004.

The state’s scallops are sought after in the culinary world and typically sell for about $20 to $25 per pound to customers, which is slightly more than other sea scallops.

This year’s high prices are a boon to fishermen, who seem to be catching about the same amount as last year, said Dana Black, a fisherman out of Blue Hill. He said fishermen have been able to catch large, meaty scallops that are especially prized by buyers.

“This year shouldn’t be any less than last year – in fact, it could be better,” Black said.

Scallop season in Maine runs from December to April, with December often a busy month. But bad weather this December held back some of the fleet from getting on the water. The state is affording fishermen extra days at sea to compensate.

Maine’s scallop fishery is a small piece of the worldwide industry based around the shellfish. The U.S. scallop fishery, based mostly in Massachusetts, Virginia and New Jersey, was worth more than $400 million last year.

The fishery in Maine collapsed a little more than 10 years ago before rebuilding in the wake of conservation efforts. Fishermen caught more than 450,000 pounds of the scallops last year, the third highest total since 2001.

Scallop prices are up partially because dealers are offering more money by the pound for especially big scallops, which appear more plentiful this year, said Trisha Cheney, the scallop manager for the state marine department.

“That’s really indicative of a healthy resource,” she said.

]]> 0 scallop dragger heads out into Casco Bay in January 2015. Regulators have given some Down East scallop fishermen a bonus day of fishing per week because of bad weather earlier in the season. Catch volumes and prices for scallops are strong this year, according to Department of Marine Resources. (File photo/Tom Bell)Sat, 14 Jan 2017 09:29:40 +0000
To buoy its budget, Maine marine resources department seeks higher fees for fishing licenses Sat, 14 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 The Maine Department of Marine Resources wants to raise the price of commercial fishing licenses for the first time in seven years, using the $600,000 the hikes would generate to pay for spending increases while honoring Gov. Paul LePage’s request to keep the department’s budget flat.

If approved by the Legislature, the proposed fee increases would range from as little as $1 for a Maine resident to harvest green crabs to as much as $114 for a lobsterman with two sternmen. Under the new fee schedule, which would take effect January 2018, the cost of securing a Class III lobster license would top $1,000 for the first time, hitting $1,002.

The fee hike would enable the Department of Marine Resources to hire an additional lobster biologist, outfit its science staff with field technology and pay for Marine Patrol officer raises and ballistics vests, among other things, without increasing the department’s $21.3 million bottom line, department spokesman Jeff Nichols said.

For example, the fee increases would pay for remote data entry technology. Currently, department science staffers spend 28 percent of their time entering data gathered in the field, Nichols said. With the new technology, staff scientists would spend more of their time conducting the research and data analysis needed to sustain the state’s valuable marine resources in a changing ocean environment, he said.

The fee hike would generate about $600,000 in additional revenue for the state general fund, all of which the department wants the state to use to cover the budget gap within the department. Currently, about $377 of an $888 Class III lobster license comes back to the department – the rest goes into specialized funds to pay for lobster research, establish lobster hatcheries, free seed lobsters and lobster marketing.

The proposed fee hike was greeted with grim-faced silence by the fishermen who attended a Lobster Advisory Council meeting in Augusta last week.

Commissioner Patrick Keliher attributed the $600,000 shortfall to a flat-funded department budget. He said LePage believes the minimum wage increase and income tax surcharge ballot initiatives approved by voters in November will hurt the state budget, so he ordered the Department of Marine Resources to deliver a flat budget despite some unavoidable spending increases, like the Marine Patrol raises adopted by the Legislature last year.

“Up until the passage of those (ballot initiatives), frankly, the department budget was looking good,” Keliher said. But “when those (initiatives) passed he directed significant cuts. … In order to maintain the programs we have in place, and in order to maintain more of a central research budget for lobsters, we have put together an increase package.”

Fee hikes are not the only thing the department is doing to avoid curbing its science or cutting its staff, Nichols said. The department also is eliminating a vacant licensing position, cutting its vehicle fleet, closing a research library and temporarily closing a West Boothbay Harbor lab where animals are held that are being displayed in the state aquarium, he said.

Keliher will present his budget to the Legislature’s Marine Resources and Appropriations committees, most likely in February or March, he said.

Under the proposed fee schedule, a Class I lobster license would go up $38, a Class II license that enables a fisherman to have one sternman aboard would go up $76 and a Class III license that allows two sternmen would go up $114, the biggest increase proposed across all license types. License holders who are 70 years old or older or under 18 years of age would face smaller increases, as would apprentices, students and non-commercial fishermen.

Commercial finfish licenses would rise between $15 and $39, depending on the species. A clamming license would go up $80, a scallop diver’s license would go up $58 and a scallop dragging license $43. Dealer’s licenses would go up also, including $94 for lobster dealers and $113 for elver dealers.

]]> 0, ME - SEPTEMBER 5: Cory McDonald removes a bait bag from a lobster trap while fishing off the coast of Stonington on September 5, 2015. Over the past two decades, the lobster population in the Gulf of Maine has doubled to 250 million adult lobsters, even as the lobster catch has tripled. Robert Steneck, a lobster researcher at the University of Maine's Darling Marine Center, believes the lobster population has boomed because a primary predator of lobster, cod, has been decimated in the Gulf of Maine. (Photo by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer)Fri, 13 Jan 2017 23:12:35 +0000
Maine’s largest insurer under Affordable Care Act says long-term plans depend on Congress Sat, 14 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 The largest provider of health insurance in Maine under the Affordable Care Act says it is finally on track to generate a surplus in 2017 after two consecutive years of crippling losses.

Still, Lewiston-based Community Health Options’ long-term future will depend heavily on the actions of Congress under the incoming Trump administration, which has vowed to repeal and replace the health care law.

A report issued Thursday by the Maine Bureau of Insurance shows that CHO’s financial losses in 2016 exceeded $43 million. As of Nov. 30, the insurance cooperative already had depleted a $43 million reserve it set aside at the end of 2015 to cover anticipated losses in 2016.

CHO attributed the higher-than-anticipated losses to reduced premium income resulting from having fewer customers than it expected. However, the report noted that paid customer claims were 7.3 percent lower than expected in November, the most recent month for which figures are available.

“As with other insurers, December results will have a significant impact on results for the entire year,” the report says. “The BOI is therefore closely following CHO’s operating results as it also works with the company to refine and finalize the 2017 plan.”

Community Health Options CEO Kevin Lewis said the co-op expects to generate a surplus this year because it has raised premiums significantly to bring them in line with actual costs.

“We have adequacy of capital. Our rates are sufficient,” Lewis said. “We don’t need a premium deficiency reserve for 2017.”


A year after becoming the only health insurance cooperative in the country to make money, CHO posted a $31 million loss in 2015 and was forced to set aside the $43 million in reserves to cover potential losses in 2016.

It also came under the close scrutiny of the Bureau of Insurance, which began requiring the co-op to submit monthly and quarterly financial reports. The reports are available on the bureau’s website.

To rein in losses for 2017, CHO raised individual premiums by an average of 25.5 percent, eliminated elective abortion and adult vision care coverage, and increased deductibles by as much as 470 percent for out-of-network care. Increases in federal tax breaks will offset the bulk of premium increases for most policyholders.

In addition, CHO pulled out of New Hampshire and is now focusing solely on Maine. Enrollment in CHO is down significantly from its peak of about 85,000. Lewis said it is still above 50,000 – the number of customers it had originally targeted for 2018.

New enrollment in CHO has been relatively anemic during the current open enrollment period, which ends Jan. 30. Lewis said the co-op has signed up 3,000 to 4,000 new customers, compared with about 12,000 new customers a year ago. However, the decrease in new sign-ups was expected, he said.

“We had to increase our rates, so we knew we wouldn’t be the lowest price out there,” Lewis said.

All three of Maine’s remaining ACA marketplace insurance providers – CHO, Anthem and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care – raised their premiums and made changes to their individual and small-group insurance plans for 2017, but CHO had the biggest percent increase for individual plans.


Despite two straight years of losses, Lewis and CHO spokesman Michael Gendreau said the co-op is actually in a much better financial position now.

“We have sufficient capital and enough surplus to meet our obligations in 2017,” Gendreau said. “We’ll be able to build on the surplus that we have.”

But he acknowledged that the current political climate has created a great deal of uncertainty for CHO’s customers. President-elect Donald Trump has vowed make repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act his top priority, and the Senate and House already have taken action to start the ball rolling through a process known as reconciliation.

“I think we’ve all heard that there’s going to be some replacement to the Affordable Care Act,” Gendreau said. “I think the million-dollar question is, ‘What is that replacement going to look like?'”

Lewis said CHO will have the ability to adjust to whatever new health insurance system the incoming administration puts in place. However, until specific details about that new system are made available, the co-op will maintain its current course.

“We, along with other insurers, are making plans based on what’s known,” he said. “We have to know what the replacement framework is in order to respond effectively, so that’s something we’re paying close attention to.”

Gendreau said it is consumers, not CHO, who face the biggest threat from the ACA’s repeal.

The greatest potential harm to customers would be elimination of the tax credit that subsidizes monthly premiums for about 85 percent of policyholders, he said, adding that the tax credit can reduce a monthly premium of $350 to as little as $50. Without it, public access to health care would be significantly reduced.

“If that tax credit goes away, it’s now $350 again,” Gendreau said.


According to a U.S. Department of Health & Human Services report issued in December, the rate of uninsured residents in Maine has fallen by 17 percent since the ACA was enacted in 2010, which equates to roughly 22,000 Mainers gaining coverage. About 40,000 more Maine residents could gain coverage if the state passed Medicaid expansion, it said.

In addition to coverage for residents who otherwise would be uninsured, hundreds of thousands of Mainers with employer, Medicaid, individual market or Medicare coverage also benefited from new protections as a result of the law, the report said. Those include the elimination of annual and lifetime coverage limits, along with free preventive care such as flu shots and cancer screenings.

Before the ACA was passed, 431,000 Mainers with employer or individual market coverage had a lifetime limit on their insurance policy, it said.

The report also noted that about 8,000 young adults in Maine have benefited from the ACA provision that allows kids to stay on their parents’ health insurance up to age 26.

Gendreau said he expects to see a lot more discussion about the pros and cons of whatever replacement plan the Republican-controlled Congress has in mind before any change is approved.

“Whatever they pass, they’re going to have to own it,” he said.

Correction: This story was updated on the morning of Jan. 14 to correct an inaccurate headline and to clarify statements from Kevin Lewis. CHO did not say the expected surplus is dependent on Congress. Kevin Lewis was referring to a specific type of reserve (premium deficiency) when he said CHO does not need a reserve for 2017, and he was referring to 2018 targets when he said enrollment is still above 50,000.

]]> 0 Affordable Care Act mandates coverage of birth control, but it doesn't require marketplace plans to cover abortion care.Sat, 14 Jan 2017 11:06:12 +0000
Despite department store drop, retail sales up overall Sat, 14 Jan 2017 02:53:39 +0000 In recent weeks, gloomy news has abounded about how the retail industry held up during the crucial holiday season: Macy’s saw its sales sink 2.7 percent and announced it will slash 10,000 jobs. Chains such as Kohl’s, J.C. Penney, Sears and Barnes & Noble also reported sales declines. Traffic to physical stores plunged 12.3 percent amid the November and December shopping rush.

And so it might come as a surprise that the retail industry overall actually rang up solid sales.

The National Retail Federation said Friday that retailers saw a healthy 4 percent increase, with a total haul of $658.3 billion.

That’s better than the 3.6 percent the trade group had forecast and a significant improvement over the 3 percent growth recorded last year.

It’s a striking incongruity: The industry is faring well, while some of its most recognizable names are not. And it is indicative of a retailing landscape that increasingly is sorting into winners and losers, in which consumers’ bolstered confidence is translating into big spending in some corners of the mall and the Internet, and not so much in others.

Many forecasters noted that retailers had quite a few tailwinds this time around for their busy season. Wages have risen and consumer confidence shot up after the presidential election, factors that often make shoppers more willing to splurge.

Meanwhile, Thanksgiving fell early this year and Hanukkah fell late, giving stores a longer stretch of time to court gift buyers. Even the weather largely worked in retailers’ favor: There weren’t many major snowstorms that kept shoppers and delivery trucks off the roads, and yet it was cold enough to put people in a Christmas frame of mind.

All of these factors likely contributed to the industry’s sales increases this season. E-commerce, too, was a particularly strong driver of growth. NRF reports that “non-store sales,” which includes online and catalog purchases, were up 12.6 percent compared to 2015.

So if shoppers were shifting their money away from the likes of Macy’s during the holiday season, where were they spending it? In many cases, they were likely turning to upstart retailers with a more boutique-type vibe, such as Bonobos, Warby Parker, Marine Layer or Cuyana. Small and midsize retailers have stolen away about $200 billion in annual sales from retailing behemoths over the past five years, according to consultancy Deloitte.

And in some cases, those shoppers might be headed to Amazon.

Researchers at Slice Intelligence say the e-commerce giant snapped up some 38 percent of all online shopping dollars during the holiday season, a share that no other retailer came anywhere close to matching. (Jeffrey P. Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon, owns The Washington Post.)

Department stores appear to be particularly hard hit by the latest shifts in shopping behavior. According to Commerce Department data released Friday, sales in these kinds of stores sank 7.6 percent year-over-year for the period of October through December. Electronics stores were also challenged, with 3.7 percent slip in sales.

Those results were a sharp contrast to what was seen at home furnishings, personal care and clothing stores, each places where consumers stepped up their spending.

]]> 0 this Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, photo, an H&M store window advertises a sale, in New York. On Friday, Jan. 13, 2017, the Commerce Department releases U.S. retail sales data for December. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)Fri, 13 Jan 2017 21:56:12 +0000
DeCosters appeal conviction in egg salmonella case to U.S. Supreme Court Fri, 13 Jan 2017 19:55:33 +0000 Father-and-son egg executives have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court their Iowa conviction for selling adulterated food after eggs from their farms were linked to a 2010 salmonella outbreak that sickened thousands.

Austin “Jack” DeCoster, 83, of Turner and Peter DeCoster, 53, of Clarion, Iowa, filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the high court Tuesday, after being granted a 13-day extension, according to online records. The Supreme Court decides whether justices will hear the case.

U.S. District Court Judge Mark Bennett sentenced the DeCosters on April 13, 2015, to three months in jail for their conviction for introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce. Bennett required the men to complete a year of probation and pay $100,000 each. Quality Egg was fined almost $6.8 million.

The DeCosters paid the fines and restitution but appealed the jail time, arguing they were being punished for actions of their employees.

Tony Wasmund, a former marketing manager for the DeCosters, admitted in 2012 to conspiring with at least one other Quality Egg employee to bribe U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors to release for sale eggs that failed to meet federal standards.

A panel of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, which voted 2-to-1 to uphold the jail term, disagreed that the DeCosters were blameless.

“Because the DeCosters were negligent, their liability is not vicarious,” Judge Raymond Gruender wrote in the July decision. “Instead, they are responsible for their own failures to exercise reasonable care to prevent the introduction of adulterated food. The law is clear that a defendant can be sentenced to imprisonment based on negligence – or, for that matter, based on strict liability stemming from his own conduct.”

The DeCosters, still free on bail, asked Sept. 14 for a rehearing of their appeal by the entire 8th Circuit, which includes 10 judges. That request was denied 6-to-3 on Sept. 30.

On Oct. 5, the DeCosters’ attorneys filed a motion asking the appeals court to wait to sign a mandate – which would require them to serve their jail time – so they can appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The men argued that because their jail term is so short, they likely would have already served it before the Supreme Court had a chance to decide on the case, which could make the court less likely to take the case.

The appeals court granted the stay on Oct. 11.

The DeCosters were to have filed their petition to the U.S. Supreme Court by Dec. 29, but filed for an extension until Jan. 10, online records show.

Salmonella causes diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps that usually last just a few days.

But the illness has been linked to 19,000 hospitalizations and 380 deaths a year, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

]]> 0 hold a banner as Austin "Jack" DeCoster, left, and his son Peter DeCoster testify before a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 22, 2010.Fri, 13 Jan 2017 22:53:47 +0000
Airbag maker Takata agrees to plead guilty, will pay $1 billion for hiding defect Fri, 13 Jan 2017 17:28:24 +0000 DETROIT — Takata agreed to plead guilty to wire fraud and pay a total of $1 billion in criminal penalties related to the sale of defective airbag inflators, the U.S. Department of Justice said Friday.

In addition, a federal grand jury indicted three former Takata employees Friday on charges of wire fraud and conspiracy, accusing them of concealing defects in the company’s air bag inflators.

“Automotive suppliers who sell products that are supposed to protect consumers from injury or death must put safety ahead of profits,” U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said in a statement. “Cheaters will not be able to gain an advantage over good corporate citizens who play be the rules.”

Shinichi Tanaka, Hideo Nakajima and Tsuneo Chikaraishi are charged with one count of conspiracy and five counts of wire fraud related to concealing from Takata’s automaker customers that the inflators did not perform up to customers’ specifications. Tanaka’s former title with the company was executive vice president of global operations; Nakajima was director of engineering at Takata’s automotive systems lab; and Chikaraishi was chief of Japan Asia air bag inflator operations.

“Reaching this agreement is a major step towards resolving the airbag inflator issue and a key milestone in the ongoing process to secure investment in Takata,” Shigehisa Takada, Takata chairman and CEO said in a statement. “Takata deeply regrets the circumstances that have led to this situation and remains fully committed to being part of the solution.

“We have taken aggressive actions to address past reporting lapses and will continue to work closely with regulators and our automotive customers to address the ongoing recalls and implement new technologies that advance vehicle safety, prevent injuries and save lives.”

As a result of Takata’s defective inflators, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is in the middle of the largest ever recall, covering 42 million vehicles (69 million inflators) covering more than 12 automakers.

“For more than a decade, Takata repeatedly and systematically falsified critical test data related to the safety of its products, putting profits and production schedules ahead of safety,” Andrew Weissman, chief of the Justice Department’s fraud section, said in a statement.

Takata air bag inflators can explode with too much force, spraying shrapnel into drivers and passengers.

The defect has been connected to 16 deaths worldwide, 11 of them in the U.S., and more than 180 injuries.

McQuaid said Takata knew since at least the early 2000s that certain ammonium nitrate-based inflators were not performing to the specifications required by the auto manufacturers. Takata also knew that certain inflators had sustained failures, including ruptures, during testing but still continued to sell the products to manufacturers.

The company persuaded automakers to continue to buy its potentially defective airbags by submitting false and fraudulent reports and other information that concealed the true condition of the inflators.

Employees had discussions about the false reports and several senior executives were aware of the problems, the Justice Department said.

Takata’s $1 billion payment includes a $25 million fine and $975 million in restitution. Of that latter amount, $125 million will go into a compensation fund for victims already known, those who haven’t yet come forward and also future victims. The remaining $850 million will go to help the automakers who are removing the bad air bag inflators and replacing with new safer ones.

The $25 million fine and $150 million of the restitution must be paid within 30 days. The remainder is to be paid over the next year.

Takata has received acquisition bids from as many as five sources, including such competitors as Autoliv and Key Safety Systems.

If an acquisition happens, the buyer likely will be liable for recall costs and will be obligated to supply enough replacement parts to automakers.

“The government may have a difficult balancing act with Takata that it did not have with Toyota, GM and Volkswagen,” said Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor.

“How much money can it extract as a deterrent and still allow the company to keep operating so as to repair the damage done.”

McQuaid said the parties have recommended that U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh appoint Ken Feinberg to administer the compensation fund. Feinberg oversaw a similar fund set up to compensate victims of accidents caused by General Motors’ defective ignition switches installed a range of small cars produced between 2003 and 2007 model years.

He also led compensation programs for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and those who suffered business and residential losses from the 2010 British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon oil release.

McQuaid said all three defendants are no longer employed by Takata and live in Japan to the best of her knowledge.

They had not been notified of the charges before Friday. McQuaid said the office will request their extradition, which is not automatic under U.S.-Japan relations.

Prior to today’s indictments, Takata had already agreed to pay up to $200 million in civil penalties in a deal with NHTSA.

Takata officials have said the risk of the inflators detonating is greater in states in the South and along the Gulf Coast, along with Puerto Rico, where intense heat and humidity occur for longer periods.

“Companies have a responsibility to ensure the products they make are safe for consumers,” U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, said in a statement.

“These indictments send a strong message that if company executives knowingly put deadly products on the market, they will held accountable for their actions.”

The FBI also has been investigating allegations that the company deceived federal regulators and tried to cover up the air bag problems.

The cause of the defect was a compound called ammonium nitrate that Takata used as the propellant to ignite the inflators. Ammonium nitrate was described in the indictment as a “highly combustible and unstable chemical compound.”

Takata distributed a modified and purportedly safe and stable variation called PSAN (phased stabilized ammonium nitrate), and many of the inflators tested did meet specifications. But when some of the inflators rupture during testing, the indictment alleges that Tanaka, Nakajima and Chikaraishi discussed fabricating test results and data and removed unfavorable test results and data.

]]> 0 - In this May 4, 2016, file photo, visitors walk by a Takata Corp. desk at an automaker's showroom in Tokyo. The Justice Department is planning to announce a criminal penalty against the Japanese air bag maker as part of its investigation into the company's defective air bag inflators. The department has scheduled a news conference Friday, Jan. 13, 2017 in Detroit to make the announcement. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi, File)Fri, 13 Jan 2017 20:34:37 +0000
Performance reviews are making us cry, but we might not like the cure Fri, 13 Jan 2017 15:59:36 +0000 Everyone dreads the annual performance review. But has one ever left you in tears?

For some workers, the annual meeting with their manager is an emotionally scarring exercise in humiliation that can push them to tears-or even quitting, a new survey from Adobe finds. In a sample of 1,500 office workers, 22 percent admitted to having cried after a review. Nearly as many said they’d quit.

More men said they’d cried than women. More men said they had quit, too.

“The traditional review is based on rating and ranking, and there is an element of subjectivity. You’re giving it your all, and someone is going to put a label on you,” said Donna Morris, executive vice president of employee experience at Adobe Systems Inc., which in 2012 ditched the annual review for ongoing conversations between managers and employees. “That’s very hard for individuals to accept.”

Nobody involved in performance reviews likes the process. Managers spend around 20 hours a year on them and consider them time-consuming distractions from their actual work, surveys have found. They also have trouble distilling how employees performed all year long into one annual meeting and end up giving subpar workers the same raises and bonuses as stellar ones.

Many other companies besides Adobe – including Accenture, General Electric and Gap – have done away with the yearly check-in and numerical rankings and switched to giving employees more regular feedback, which employees say they want. Yet many are confused by the online performance-review systems that offer it.

And more regular feedback doesn’t get at the crux of the problem: People are awful at both giving and getting criticism.

“The No. 1 source of anxiety that I hear is fear about it getting emotional, or somebody getting defensive,” said Deborah Riegel, the director of learning at the Boda Group, an executive coaching firm. “It takes an emotional toll to deal with the messiness of everything from defensiveness, anger, weeping, and passive-aggressive agreement. That’s a lot to deal with.”

Most managers want to get the review over as quickly as possible, with as little fallout as possible, says Riegel. They don’t take the time to give constructive feedback. They speak in monologues and sandwich criticism in between compliments – strategies that don’t quite land with employees.

Employees find the once-a-year assaults on what they imagine to be their character jarring, and they tend to take them too personally.

“A lot of folks have performance-feedback distortion,” said Riegel. “They go: ‘This must mean I’m a terrible person. Who are you to tell me this? You’re not so great, either.’ ”

Employees tend to get upset when there’s a disconnect between how they’ve evaluated their performance and how their manager has – which might explain why more men cry than women.

Women report higher levels of self-doubt about job performance, whereas studies have found that men overestimate their performance at work. “There is a tendency for men to be overconfident,” said Adobe’s Morris.

Any blow to one’s self-esteem doesn’t feel great, even if it’s warranted.

Not only do people dislike constructive criticism, but it can also hinder performance, one study has found: Anything an employee perceives as negative resonates more than anything else, and anything useful gets forgotten.

There are a few things employees, managers and companies can do to minimize the office-bathroom tears when the dreaded annual ritual rolls around.

For managers, Riegel suggests offering more positive feedback, starting with boosting their praise-to-criticism ratio from 2-to-1 to 5-to-1. And none of the feedback given in a review, she says, should include indictments of an employee’s character.

Giving feedback more regularly can also help soften the blow. If an employee is truly underperforming, he should know it as it happens, not once a year. “If it comes out like a giant sack of dirty laundry that the person hears only once a year, that is an ineffective review,” said Riegel.

As for employees, Riegel suggests they try to “listen without defensiveness” and not take their reviews personally.

“A piece of negative feedback doesn’t have to say something about your character, your career possibilities, or your deservedness to live on this earth with other humans,” she says.

As for those companies eschewing annual reviews, the shift hasn’t fixed all the problems with performance reviews. More feedback in smaller doses can still be time-consuming, and employees don’t always find evaluations fair. And companies that ditched numerical ratings have seen declines in worker performance.

It can, however, reduce the shock factor of any criticism, said Morris. “People know where they stand at all times,” she said, referring to Adobe’s replacement for the annual review process. “If somebody is not performing to the level of expectations of their manager or of themselves, they are able to course-correct.”

Or at least, you know, stave off the waterworks.

]]> 0, 13 Jan 2017 22:14:04 +0000
Millennials are falling behind their boomer parents Fri, 13 Jan 2017 15:06:09 +0000 SOUTH MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin — Baby Boomers: your millennial children are worse off than you.

With a median household income of $40,581, millennials earn 20 percent less than boomers did at the same stage of life, despite being better educated, according to a new analysis of Federal Reserve data by the advocacy group Young Invincibles.

The analysis being released Friday gives concrete details about a troubling generational divide that helps to explain much of the anxiety that defined the 2016 election. Millennials have half the net worth of boomers. Their home ownership rate is lower, while their student debt is drastically higher.

The generational gap is a central dilemma for the incoming presidency of Donald Trump, who essentially pledged a return to the prosperity of post-World War II America. The analysis also hints at the issues of culture and identity that divided many voters, showing that white millennials — who still earn much more than their blacks and Latino peers — have seen their incomes plummet the most relative to boomers.

Andrea Ledesma, 28, says her parents owned a house and were raising kids by her age.

Not so for her. Ledesma graduated from college four years ago. After moving through a series of jobs, she now earns $18,000 making pizza at Classic Slice in Milwaukee, shares a two-bedroom apartment with her boyfriend and has $33,000 in student debt.

“That’s not at all how life is now, that’s not something that people strive for and it’s not something that is even attainable, and I thought it would be at this point,” Ledesma said.

Her mother Cheryl Romanowski, 55, was making about $10,000 a year at her age working at a bank without a college education. In today’s dollars, that income would be equal to roughly $19,500.

Romanowski said she envies the choices that her daughter has in life, but she acknowledged that her daughter has it harder than her.

“I think the opportunities have just been fading away,” she said.

The analysis of the Fed data shows the extent of the decline. It compared 25 to 34 year-olds in 2013, the most recent year available, to the same age group in 1989 after adjusting for inflation.

Education does help boost incomes . But the median college-educated millennial with student debt is only earning slightly more than a baby boomer without a degree did in 1989.

The home ownership rate for this age group dipped to 43 percent from 46 percent in 1989, although the rate has improved for millennials with a college degree relative to boomers.

The median net worth of millennials is $10,090, 56 percent less than it was for boomers.

Whites still earn dramatically more than Blacks and Latinos, reflecting the legacy of discrimination for jobs, education and housing.

Yet compared to white baby boomers, some white millennials appear stuck in a pattern of downward mobility. This group has seen their median income tumble more than 21 percent to $47,688.

Median income for black millennials has fallen just 1.4 percent to $27,892. Latino millennials earn nearly 29 percent more than their boomer predecessors to $30,436.

The analysis fits into a broader pattern of diminished opportunity. Research last year by economists led by Stanford University’s Raj Chetty found that people born in 1950 had a 79 percent chance of making more money than their parents. That figure steadily slipped over the past several decades, such that those born in 1980 had just a 50 percent chance of out-earning their parents.

This decline has occurred even though younger Americans are increasingly college-educated. The proportion of 25 to 29 year-olds with a college degree has risen to 35.6 percent in 2015 from 23.2 percent in 1990, a report this month by the Brookings Institution noted.

The declining fortunes of millennials could impact boomers who are retired or on the cusp of retirement. Payroll taxes from millennials helps to finance the Social Security and Medicare benefits that many boomers receive — programs that Trump has said won’t be subject to spending cuts. And those same boomers will need younger generations to buy their homes and invest in the financial markets to protect their own savings.

“The challenges that young adults face today could forecast the challenges that we see down the road,” said Tom Allison, deputy policy and research director at Young Invincibles.

]]> 0, 13 Jan 2017 18:49:17 +0000
Company that helps authorities hack smartphones is itself hacked Fri, 13 Jan 2017 14:45:07 +0000 Cellebrite, a digital forensics firm known for helping law enforcement crack into locked smartphones, has itself fallen victim to hackers.

Technology news website Motherboard said Thursday that it had obtained 900 gigabytes of data related to the Israel-based company. It said the trove of data includes customer information, databases and technical data about the company’s products.

Cellebrite released a statement Thursday acknowledging that one of its external web servers had been hacked, adding that that it’s investigating the extent of the breach.


Motherboard journalist Joseph Cox said that an unidentified hacker gave him 900 gigabytes of data from Cellebrite’s servers.

In a series of messages posted to Twitter, he said that most of the data consisted of technical information, evidence and log files but that some of the information contained customer data. In an article , Cox wrote that the trove contained messages from authorities in Russia, Turkey and the Arab Gulf.

Cellebrite could be in for more unwelcome attention. Cox said that Motherboard would “likely be doing more stories from the data.”

According to Cellebrite, the server in question included a database backup of an old license management system. It said the hackers accessed basic user contact information and encrypted passwords for users who had not yet moved to the company’s new system.

While Cellebrite says it’s not aware of any risk to customers as a result of the breach, it’s still advising them to change their passwords.


Cellebrite, founded in 1999, has contracts with the FBI dating back to at least 2013. The firm makes devices that allow law enforcement to extract and decode data such as contacts, pictures and text messages from more than 15,000 kinds of smartphones and other mobile devices. It also makes commercial products that companies can use to help their customers transfer data from old phones to new ones.

The company found itself in the spotlight last year after some industry observers speculated that it might have helped the FBI hack into an iPhone used by one of the killer in the San Bernardino, California, mass shooting. That phone was the subject of a major legal fight between the FBI and Apple; the company refused to help break iPhone security. The FBI dropped its case after finding another way into the phone.

Cellebrite claims to do business with thousands of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, militaries and governments in more than 100 countries. But its involvement in the San Bernardino case was never proven.

]]> 0, 13 Jan 2017 09:53:34 +0000
Boots recalled because their tread leaves swastika imprints Fri, 13 Jan 2017 13:23:16 +0000 A California shoe company has recalled a pair of combat boots after customers complained that the tread leaves swastika stamps on the ground.

The faux pas was brought to the attention of Conal International Trading Inc., a company in the City of Industry that manufactures the lace-up boots, after a Redditor posted a picture on Imgur showing the footwear alongside its swastika imprints. The caption read, “There was an angle I didn’t get to see when ordering my new work boots.”

Conal International Trading said it has pulled its Polar Fox boots and in a letter to the public, the company apologized to customers “and to anyone who was offended by an imprint one of our boots left behind.”

“This was in no way intentional,” the company said in the statement Thursday afternoon. “It was an obvious mistake made by our manufacturers in China. We never intended to have any swastikas design on our shoes. We are recalling all shoes immediately. We will not be selling any of our boots with the misprint to anyone. We would never create a design to promote hate. We don’t promote hate at our company.”

There was an angle I didn't get to see when ordering my new work boots…

The Reddit user could not immediately be reached for comment.

Many people on Reddit as well as Amazon, where the boots had been sold, cracked Nazi jokes – ranking the boots a “nein out of 10” and saying they were “heily recommended.” One person wrote on Reddit that they were “good for marching into Poland.”

The post on Reddit has received more than 5,000 comments.

The listing for the boots was removed Thursday from Amazon.

“The soles don’t look that much like swastikas, but the prints are unmistakable,” one person wrote on Reddit. “And whoever made the soles would have understood that.”

CBS Los Angeles reported that one woman said, “I mean it’s really strange to me that that would be completely unintentional.”

“Because when you design them, if you look at it, it reminds of you something,” another woman replied, according to the news station.

Someone posted a story about it on the neo-Nazi website, Daily Stormer, with the headline, “Must have: Polar Fox Boots – Perfect Footwear for Nazis!”

“I sincerely don’t believe this was an accident,” the author wrote. “You’d have to know what mark that pattern would leave. And of course normies don’t approve.”

“In my humble opinion,” the author added, “nothing really compares to the ones worn in the good old days, but I think it’s a good look for any modern Nazi wanting to leave a good impression.”

The combat boots share a name with a World War II military operation – Polarfuchs, or Polar Fox – during which German and Finnish soldiers captured Salla, Finland, from the Soviet Union.

“I mean, could be coincidental,” one Redditor wrote about the shared code name, “but since the company appears to solely make military style work boots. . . .”

]]> 0, 13 Jan 2017 08:51:42 +0000
Hatch Hill gas-to-electricity idea draws Augusta council’s interest Fri, 13 Jan 2017 01:32:44 +0000 AUGUSTA — City councilors reacted favorably Thursday to a proposal to invest $375,000 to bring three-phase electrical power to the Hatch Hill landfill, which could allow the city to make electricity using methane gas produced by rotting garbage.

While using methane gas already being produced and captured at the landfill to produce electricity would require roughly $2 million in additional investment beyond adding three-phase power, that investment, city administrators and a consultant say, could be paid back, and then some, in savings in the city’s electricity bills.

However, that payback would rely on controversial net metering rules, which could be changed by the state Public Utilities Commission. Under net metering, utilities credit the bills of small energy generators for the full retail price of all the electricity they send into the grid.

The city proposal would rely on net metering provisions that would allow the city to get about 8.5 cents per kilowatt hour in credits it could use to pay electricity bills at some of the city and schools’ biggest energy-using buildings, such as the Augusta Civic Center and Cony High School. And it would cost an estimated 6 cents per kilowatt hour to generate that electricity at Hatch Hill, using methane from the landfill to power generators that would produce electricity.

The PUC is considering changes that could make net metering less beneficial to small power producers, which the city would be. However, Richard Silkman, a founder and partner of Competitive Energy Services, an energy services consultant working for the city on the proposal, said the currently proposed new rules before the PUC still would allow the city to pay for the energy project and bring the city savings beyond the investment payback.

“Net metering arrangements are essential to this kind of project, because there is (little demand for electricity) at the landfill; so whatever you generate there, you’ve got to bring it somewhere to be used,” Silkman said. “Should those rules, or law, change at some point, then you’d have to re-evaluate. But we think there is value, to the city, in savings to be realized.”

Ralph St. Pierre, finance director and assistant city manager, said if the city gets a system up and running and then the net metering rules change, he anticipates the city would be grandfathered, and would be allowed to continue getting a credit for its electricity produced by the system under the rules in place at the time the system went online. He said that has been the PUC standard practice previously.

But before the city could build a system to generate power at Hatch Hill, three-phase power needs to be in place.

And having three-phase power would have other benefits at Hatch Hill, Public Works Director Lesley Jones said, by allowing heavy equipment there to run more efficiently and reliably.

But perhaps the most intriguing benefit of having that higher-grade form of electricity at Hatch Hill landfill is that it could allow the city to move forward with the proposal to build a system to use methane gas produced as mountains of garbage at the landfill decompose, to produce electricity that would be fed into the electrical grid and reduce the city’s electricity costs.

The city already captures, and burns off with a flare, methane gas produced at the landfill to prevent it from escaping into the environment and harming it.

City Manager William Bridgeo said a recently completed engineering report by Competitive Energy Services confirmed city staff’s previous assessment that the city could generate enough electricity at Hatch Hill for the potential project to return a positive payback on the city’s investment.

But three-phase power would be needed at Hatch Hill to handle the new system, and the landfill has only singe-phase power, which comes via a line through the woods from Route 3 installed in the 1960s, according to Jones.

Bridgeo and Jones said even if the city never moves forward with a proposal to build a facility to convert methane to electricity, having three-phase power at Hatch Hill would have benefits.

Jones said several pieces of equipment at Hatch Hill should operate on three-phase power, such as recycling balers and leachate pumps. Without access to it, the city instead uses converters and variable frequency drives to run that equipment, but she said doing so makes it less efficient and shortens the life span of the motors.

Bringing three-phase power to the site would cost about $375,000, which Bridgeo said could come out of the Hatch Hill enterprise fund, with no effect on the city’s property tax rate. Jones said Bob LaBreck, the city facilities manager, has been working with CMP on a proposal to bring three-phase power to Hatch Hill from South Belfast Avenue, which would be less costly than bringing it from Route 3.

Jones said three-phase power also would be more reliable, resulting in fewer power outages at the landfill.

While the current landfill is projected to be full in 12 to 15 years, the facility, Bridgeo and Jones said, probably still will be used as a disposal site, where three-phase power would be needed. And the waste there will continue to produce methane gas, Jones said, for about 25 years after the last day solid waste is put there.

Bridgeo said the city also, longer term, plans to study the potential for installing solar panels at Hatch Hill, which could allow the site to produce more electricity on top of that potentially produced by the methane conversion system.

Councilors are scheduled to vote on the proposal to bring three-phase power to Hatch Hill at their next business meeting, scheduled for Thursday.

Bridgeo said if councilors approve and the proposal move forward, the system could go online in early 2018.

Over the last several years, the city has made other energy system upgrades at city facilities, including installing heat pumps and microturbines at Augusta City Center, as recommended by a study.

St. Pierre said the energy-producing part of the proposal will come back to councilors for consideration later, and consultants and the city staff will work to provide details on the cost and potential payback of the proposal.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

Twitter: @kedwardskj

]]> 0 Thu, 12 Jan 2017 20:32:44 +0000
Next step for wearable devices: Alerting users to oncoming illness Fri, 13 Jan 2017 01:10:52 +0000 WASHINGTON — A next step for smart watches and fitness trackers? Wearable gadgets gave a Stanford University professor an early warning that he was getting sick before he ever felt any symptoms of Lyme disease.

Geneticist Michael Snyder never had Lyme’s characteristic bulls-eye rash. But a smart watch and other sensors charted changes in Snyder’s heart rate and oxygen levels during a family vacation. Eventually a fever struck that led to his diagnosis.

Say “wearables,” and step-counting fitness trackers spring to mind. It’s not clear if they really make a difference in users’ health. Now Snyder’s team at Stanford is starting to find out, tracking the everyday lives of several dozen volunteers wearing devices that monitor more than mere activity.

He envisions one day having wearables that act as a sort of “check engine” light indicating it’s time to see the doctor.

“One way to look at this is, these are the equivalent of oral thermometers but you’re measuring yourself all the time,” said Snyder, senior author of a report released Thursday on the project.

Among the earliest hints: Changes in people’s day-to-day physiology may flag when certain ailments are brewing, from colds to Lyme to Type 2 diabetes, researchers reported in the journal PLOS Biology.

Interest in wearable sensors is growing along with efforts to personalize medicine, as scientists learn how to tailor treatments and preventive care to people’s genes, environment and lifestyle. The sensors are expected to be a part of the National Institutes of Health’s huge “precision medicine” study, planned to begin later this year.

But a first step is learning what’s normal for different people under different conditions.

The Stanford team is collecting reams of data – as many as 250,000 daily measurements – from volunteers who wear up to eight activity monitors or other sensors of varying sizes that measure heart rate, blood oxygen, skin temperature, sleep, calories expended, exercise and even exposure to radiation. That’s paired with occasional laboratory tests to measure blood chemistry and some genetic information.

An initial finding: Blood oxygen levels decrease with rising altitudes during plane flights, in turn triggering fatigue. But toward the end of long flights, oxygen begins rising again, possibly as bodies adapt, the researchers reported.

It was that phenomenon that alerted Snyder, the longest-tested participant, “that something wasn’t quite right” on one of his frequent long flights.

Landing in Norway for a family vacation, Snyder noticed his oxygen levels didn’t return to normal like they always had before. Plus his heart rate was much higher than normal, which sometimes signals infection.

Sure enough, soon a low-grade fever left him dragging. He feared Lyme because two weeks before going abroad, Snyder had helped his brother build a fence in a tick-infested rural area in Massachusetts. He persuaded a Norwegian doctor to prescribe the appropriate antibiotic, and post-vacation testing back home confirmed the diagnosis.

Also during the study’s first two years, Snyder and several other volunteers had minor cold-like illnesses that began with higher-than-normal readings for heart rate and skin temperature – and correlated with blood tests showing inflammation was on the rise before any sniffling.

No, don’t try to self-diagnose with your fitness tracker any time soon. The findings in Thursday’s report are intriguing but the study is highly experimental, cautioned medical technology specialist Dr. Atul Butte of the University of California, San Francisco, who wasn’t involved with the research.

“This kind of approach is going to help science more than the general public” until there’s better data about what’s normal or not, Butte said. “Remember, the baseline is always in motion. We’re always getting older. We’re always exposed to things. Just because there’s a deviation doesn’t mean it’s abnormal.”

]]> 0 Snyder, a Stanford University professor, sports a variety of wearable gadgets. A smart watch and other sensors alerted him to an oncoming illness before he ever felt any symptoms.Thu, 12 Jan 2017 20:10:52 +0000
Nonprofit buys former Great Northern Paper holdings in Millinocket Fri, 13 Jan 2017 00:53:52 +0000 A nonprofit has purchased the former holdings of Great Northern Paper in Millinocket, including the 1,400-acre mill site, with the eventual goal of transforming the property into a bio-industrial park that would benefit from its proximity to the North Woods.

Our Katahdin bought the holdings Thursday from Cate Street Capitol for $1. They include land adjacent to Millinocket Municipal Airport and a 157-acre site at Ferguson Pond, according to a news release Thursday by the locally based nonprofit Our Katahdin and the Millinocket Town Council.

“We know this purchase comes with enormous responsibility. We can’t promise instant results, but we can guarantee our best effort to help transform this idle industrial site into a productive, innovative bio-industrial park that leverages the comparative advantages of our region,” said Sean Dewitt, president of Our Katahdin. “This site is our heritage. We strongly believe in its future.”

While Our Katahdin will own the 1,400-acre mill property, the town of Millinocket will serve as the nonprofit’s redevelopment partner.

In exchange for waiving all or part of the $164,000 in back taxes owed to the town by Cate Street’s subsidiaries, GNP West and GNP Holding II Inc., the town will be given parcels of land, including 100 acres around the Millinocket Airport that the town could use to expand its airport.

Mike Madore, chairman of the Millinocket Town Council, said the deal could not have come at a more opportune time. The town was set to foreclose on the property on Jan. 16. Now, it will work together with Our Katahdin to bring the mill site back to life.

Our Katahdin purchased the mill site Thursday morning at 8:45 a.m., but the deal was not made public until Thursday evening, after the Millinocket Town Council officially voted 7-0 to postpone the foreclosure auction on the properties for six months. That will give the town and Our Katahdin time to resolve remaining tax liabilities. The Internal Revenue Service has a $1.4 million tax lien on the mill property.

Madore said the partners will try to reach a resolution with the IRS to either waive the outstanding tax or reduce it significantly.

“Had the town chosen to foreclose on the property, it would have fractured the assets and embroiled the town in legal processes that would continue to delay economic redevelopment,” Our Katahdin said in its press release.

Madore, who was reached Thursday evening, said the deal has given him hope for a region that has struggled with job losses and economic downturns.

The 61-year-old Madore pointed out that Dewitt and his business partners all grew up in the Millinocket region and attended local high schools, but left the area because they were unable to find jobs. He described them as young entrepreneurs who are committed to restoring economic life to the region.

“The operations and potential uses for this site are just incredible,” Madore said, adding that the property could be redeveloped as a saw mill, biomass boiler plant or a facility that converts wood pulp into diesel fuel.

“We know we’re not going to hit a home run by getting a single business that employs 4,000 people but if we could attract seven or eight businesses that employ between 200 and 1,000 people, that would be considered a success,” Madore said.

Former Millinocket Town Manager Peggy Daigle said a private-public partnership is the best thing that could have happened for the site.

“I think they have got an incredible opportunity here because the forest products industry, regardless of what some are saying, is still a vital part of the Maine economy,” Daigle said Thursday evening. Daigle has served as manager of four mill towns, including Millinocket, East Millinocket, Old Town and Lincoln.

The acquisition includes a Regional EB-5 Center, a valuable federal designation that makes it easier for foreign investors to invest in projects in the United States.

The investment program offers visas to individuals who invest $1 million, or $500,000 for investments in rural regions or those with high unemployment. That means entrepreneurs as well as their spouses and unmarried children under 21 can apply for permanent residence if they meet certain investment and job-creation criteria.

Members of Maine’s congressional delegation praised the sale on Thursday and pledged to work with Our Katahdin to promote economic growth.

“The purchase of the former mill will help relieve the town of a burden that it has had to bear for far too long, and it will finally allow innovators and entrepreneurs to come together, collaborate, and build a better, brighter future for the region,” said Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, an independent, and Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, in a joint statement.

Great Northern Paper built a mill at the site in 1900, but it stopped operating in 2008 and was torn down and sold for scrap over the course of 2013 and 2014.

In its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s, Great Norther Paper employed more than 4,000 people at the Millinocket mill and a sister site in East Millinocket.

Millinocket has about 4,200 residents in northern Penobscot County. It enjoyed a century of prosperity due largely to the presence of the Great Northern Paper Mill. The town’s population peaked in the 1960s at nearly 8,000 people with most of the adults employed by the paper mills.

Our Katahdin is a 50(c)(3) nonprofit focused on community and economic development in the Katahdin region. Since December 2014, it has partnered with the local community to implement 21 projects in the Katahdin region.

Board members include Sean DeWitt, Nancy DeWitt, Mike Faloon, Tony Foster, Michael Osborne and Michael Seile Jr.

“We all grew up together,” Sean DeWitt said. “This is our home, this is our heritage.”

]]> 0 former Great Northern Paper Co. mill in Millinocket is seen in 2011, three years after it was shuttered. Though Millinocket’s situation is a worst-case scenario, other mill towns in Maine should look to their future and accept that mills will never again support the same number of jobs or pay as much in property taxes as in years past.Thu, 12 Jan 2017 22:32:25 +0000
Pay gap between college, high school grads wider than ever Fri, 13 Jan 2017 00:46:54 +0000 WASHINGTON — Americans with no more than a high school diploma have fallen so far behind college graduates in their economic lives that the earnings gap between college grads and everyone else has reached its widest point on record.

College graduates, on average, earned 56 percent more than high school grads in 2015, according to data compiled by the Economic Policy Institute. That was up from 51 percent in 1999 and is the largest such gap in EPI’s figures dating to 1973.

Since the Great Recession ended in 2009, college-educated workers have captured most of the new jobs and enjoyed pay gains. Non-college grads, by contrast, have faced dwindling job opportunities and an overall 3 percent decline in income, EPI’s data shows.

“The post-Great Recession economy has divided the country along a fault line demarcated by college education,” Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, said in a report last year.

College grads have long enjoyed economic advantages over Americans with less education. But as the disparity widens, it is doing so in ways that go beyond income, from homeownership to marriage to retirement. Education has become a dividing line that affects how Americans vote, the likelihood that they will own a home and their geographic mobility.

Yet few experts think the solution is simply to send more students to four-year colleges. Many young people either don’t want to spend more years in school or aren’t prepared to do so. Already, four in every 10 college students drop out before graduating – often with debt loads they will struggle to repay without a degree.

Rather, labor economists say, many high school grads would benefit from a more comprehensive approach to obtaining skills, especially involving technology, that are increasingly in demand.

“If the only path you offer them is a traditional college path, they’re not going to be successful,” says Harry Holzer, an economist at Georgetown University.

Helping lift high school graduates’ skill levels is critical, given the many ways they are lagging behind their college-educated peers:

n They’re less likely to have a job. Just two-thirds of high school-only grads ages 25 through 64 were employed in 2015, down sharply from 73 percent in 2007. For college graduates in the same age group, employment dipped only slightly from 84 percent to 83 percent.

n They are less likely to be married. In 2008, marriage rates for college-educated 30-year olds surpassed those of high-school-only grads for the first time.

n High school-only grads are less likely to own homes. Sixty-four percent are current homeowners, down from 70 percent in 2000. By contrast, three-quarters of bachelor’s degree holders are homeowners, down slightly from 77 percent in 2000, according to real estate data firm Zillow.

n College grads are more likely than high school-only graduates to contribute to a 401(k)-style retirement plan, according to research by Christopher Tamborini of the Social Security Administration and Changhwan Kim, a sociology professor at the University of Kansas. College grads contributed 26 percent more even when members of both groups had similar incomes and access to such plans, their research found.

Participation in 401(k)-style plans requires decisions – whether and how much to contribute and how to invest – that can become barriers for the less educated.

All of this contributed to a sharp political split in the presidential election. College graduates favored Hillary Clinton by 9 percentage points. Non-college grads chose Donald Trump by 8 points, according to exit polls. That was the largest disparity between the two groups on record since 1980, according to the Pew Research Center.

Some of these trends might eventually reverse themselves if more high school grads acquire the skills needed for higher-paying work. Though many middle-income jobs don’t require college, nearly all require some post-high school education or training.

What Holzer calls the “new middle” includes such health care jobs as X-ray technicians and phlebotomists, as well as computer-controlled manufacturing and some office occupations, like paralegals.

And these “new middle” positions are typically the same jobs for which employers have complained that they can’t find enough qualified people to fill. Labor experts say the U.S. educational system is failing to help young people acquire such skills.

Still, some are making progress. Asia Howard, 26, of Jacksonville, Florida, was stuck in mostly retail and fast-food jobs after graduating high school, unable to get a job in banking, a profession she prized for its steady hours. A friend told her about a nonprofit called Year Up, which teaches such career skills as resume writing, interview techniques and time management.

Year Up participants also typically receive internships, which Howard spent at Everbank. Early last year, she began a job in mortgage lending at PNC Financial that pays nearly twice what she earned in previous jobs.

She saw many people lose homes during the financial crisis. Now, she helps people buy them.

“It gives me a chance to see what that side of life is like,” Howard said. And unlike in her previous jobs, “I can see a lot of room to grow.”

]]> 0 Howard, 26, of Jacksonville, Fla., was stuck in mostly low-wage retail and fast-food jobs until she developed her computer skills, then landed a job that paid nearly double.Thu, 12 Jan 2017 19:46:54 +0000
As brick-and-mortar stores keep closing, Amazon’s busy hiring Fri, 13 Jan 2017 00:26:05 +0000 NEW YORK — Amazon plans to hire 100,000 full-time workers over the next 18 months, highlighting its ambitious expansion plans – and the sharp contrast that the e-commerce powerhouse strikes against traditional brick-and-mortar retailers, many of which are cutting jobs and closing stores.

Amazon has long been known for investing the money it makes back into its businesses, and it’s doing that with a vengeance. The new hires will largely support new Amazon fulfillment centers in states such as Texas and California, expanded delivery capabilities and its money-minting Amazon Web Services cloud computing business.

The numbers are generally in line with Amazon’s past hiring plans. Amazon, which had a total of 306,800 full-time and part-time employees globally at the end of September, hired a total of 123,700 globally during the 15 months ending in September, according to quarterly filings.

Amazon said Thursday its U.S. workforce has grown from 30,000 in 2011 to over 180,000 at the end of 2016. By comparison, Wal-Mart – the world’s largest retailer – employs about 2.4 million people worldwide, including 1.5 million workers in the U.S.

Baird analyst Colin Sebastian said the announcement shows that Amazon’s hiring appears to be accelerating.

“We view this announcement positively in terms of the current trajectory of Amazon’s businesses, as well as management’s confidence in the long-term outlook,” he said. “The hiring is consistent with our view that Amazon will continue to invest aggressively in its retail, media, technology and logistics businesses.”

The news comes a month after President-elect Donald Trump met with tech leaders, including Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Throughout the presidential election campaign, Trump and Bezos clashed after Trump attacked Bezos and The Washington Post, which Bezos owns. But they appeared to make nice when Bezos attended the meeting in December.

Sean Spicer, the incoming White House press secretary, noted in a call with reporters Thursday that Amazon made the announcement after the meeting, when Trump urged tech leaders to keep jobs in the U.S.

Spicer said Trump was “pleased to play a role” in the job gains. Amazon did not immediately respond to a request to comment on what role, if any, Trump had in the jobs announcement.

Baird’s Sebastian downplayed the politics factor, noting only that the online retailer may have deployed some “political capital” in the timing and details of its announcement.

“We suspect there is little, if any, shift of employment at Amazon from international locations to the U.S.,” he said. “Moreover, we expect the pace of hiring internationally to accelerate as well.”

Things are much less rosy at traditional brick-and-mortar retailers. Last week, the Limited said it would close all of its stores, and Macy’s moved forward with plans to close 68 stores, including its store in Bangor, and said it will cut more than 10,000 jobs. There have been unconfirmed reports that Wal-Mart is also planning layoffs.

“The move from bricks to clicks is causing major disruption in the retail industry,” said economist Diane Swonk.

]]> 0 PrimeNow workers fill orders from customers at a distribution center in New York. Amazon is planning to hire 100,000 workers in the U.S. over the next 18 months, and many of them will be at new fulfillment centers being built in states such as California, Florida and Texas. The company is also adding to its delivery capabilities.Thu, 12 Jan 2017 19:26:05 +0000
Federal judge denies bail for VW executive Fri, 13 Jan 2017 00:14:59 +0000 MIAMI — A Volkswagen AG executive indicted in the company’s U.S. emissions scandal who was arrested in Miami while on vacation was denied release on bail Thursday by a judge who found it was too likely he would flee home to Germany.

Federal prosecutors urged the judge to order Oliver Schmidt, 48, held without bail until trial. They said if Schmidt were to return to Germany, there would be no way for the U.S. to extradite him because he is a German citizen.

U.S. Magistrate Judge William Turnoff agreed, noting that Schmidt faces potentially a long prison sentence – the maximum combined penalty for his conspiracy and fraud charges is 169 years – and that the U.S. case against him appears strong.

“I am concerned that he is a citizen of a country that does not have an extradition treaty with the United States,” Turnoff said at a hearing.

Schmidt and five other Volkswagen executives were charged Wednesday in an indictment released in Detroit with playing key roles in VW’s scheme to knowingly sell nearly 600,000 diesel vehicles that did not meet U.S. pollution emissions standards. The scheme involved software that produced acceptable emission levels in U.S. environmental tests but much higher amounts when the vehicles were driven on the roads.

The company itself has agreed to plead guilty and pay a record $4.3 billion criminal penalty. According to a plea agreement, the company first began deceiving the Environmental Protection Agency and California state regulators in 2006.

Schmidt is the only indicted executive in U.S. custody, with the others remaining in Germany. He was general manager of a VW environmental engineering office in Auburn Hills, Michigan, from 2012 to 2015, court papers show.

During that time, the documents say, Schmidt and others actively deceived regulators about the vehicle emissions and he later deleted documents relevant to the subsequent investigation despite company warnings to preserve them.

Justice Department trial attorney Ben Singer also said Schmidt also was deceptive when he voluntarily met with FBI agents in London, England, in November 2016.

“Mr. Schmidt, when he met with us, lied to us,” Singer said.

Schmidt’s attorney, David Massey, said he will again seek Schmidt’s release on bail when he goes to federal court in Detroit, where the case will be set for trial.

Massey said Schmidt has no intention of fleeing the U.S., maintains his innocence and is willing to give up his passport and other identification papers if released on bail and house arrest.

Massey noted that before his arrest, Schmidt had flown with his wife from Germany to Miami and the couple then visited Cuba while knowing he was under U.S. investigation. They returned to Miami and spent the December holidays with friends before he was taken into custody Saturday at Miami International Airport just before he was to fly home.

Schmidt was unaware when he traveled to the U.S. that he faced possible arrest and federal authorities were notified that he was in this country, Massey said.

“He has shown a willingness to submit to the jurisdiction of the United States,” Massey said. “He’s not going to try (to flee). He knows he’d get caught.”

]]> 0 SchmidtThu, 12 Jan 2017 19:14:59 +0000