The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Business http://www.pressherald.com Sat, 27 Aug 2016 08:00:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.3.5 Portland company pleads guilty to illegally importing live sea urchins http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/26/portland-company-pleads-guilty-to-illegally-importing-live-sea-urchins/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/26/portland-company-pleads-guilty-to-illegally-importing-live-sea-urchins/#comments Fri, 26 Aug 2016 21:54:53 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/26/portland-company-pleads-guilty-to-illegally-importing-live-sea-urchins/ A Portland company has pleaded guilty to illegally importing live sea urchins from Canada and reselling them in domestic and foreign markets.

ISF Trading Co. entered the plea Friday in U.S. District Court in Portland.

The company admitted violating the Lacey Act, a law that bars trading in wildlife that is illegally taken, possessed, transported or sold.

Federal officials said ISF Trading bought sea urchins from a Canadian company, TGK Fisheries of Grand Manan, that wasn’t authorized under Canadian law to export urchins to the U.S. ISF Trading used the label of another Canadian supplier, Matthews Seafood of New Brunswick, to bring the urchins to the United States at the Calais Port of Entry.

According to court records, ISF Trading illegally imported about 48,000 pounds of sea urchins, with a processed roe worth at least $172,800, from TGK from Dec. 31, 2010 to Feb. 1, 2011.

ISF Trading faces up to five years of probation and up to $1.25 million in fines and forfeitures for the violations.

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Brunswick airport to get more than $1.5 million to improve hangars http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/26/brunswick-airport-to-get-more-than-1-5-million-to-improve-hangars/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/26/brunswick-airport-to-get-more-than-1-5-million-to-improve-hangars/#comments Fri, 26 Aug 2016 20:28:47 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/26/brunswick-airport-to-get-more-than-1-5-million-to-improve-hangars/ BRUNSWICK – A regional authority will get more than $1.5 million in federal funding to make upgrades to Brunswick Executive Airport.

The money will pay for new energy-efficient heating systems in two of the hangars at the airport.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s Military Airport Program is giving the money to the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority. The airport’s newest hangar already uses the energy-efficient system.

Military Airport Program money is used to develop aviation facilities for the public and to assist with conversion of former military airfields for public use. The Brunswick airport is the site of the former Naval Air Station Brunswick.

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Maine fishermen want scallop harvest to stay the same http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/26/maine-fishermen-want-scallop-harvest-to-stay-the-same/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/26/maine-fishermen-want-scallop-harvest-to-stay-the-same/#comments Fri, 26 Aug 2016 20:22:09 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/26/maine-fishermen-want-scallop-harvest-to-stay-the-same/ ELLSWORTH – Maine’s fishing managers are proposing that fishermen be allowed to catch about the same amount of the state’s beloved scallops in the coming winter fishing season as they did this year.

Maine divides the coasts into three scallop fishing zones. The state Department of Marine Resources says next year fishermen in the zones covering southern and midcoast Maine should be allowed to possess up to 15 gallons of scallops per day.

Fishermen in the Cobscook Bay zone would be allowed to possess up to 10 gallons per day. Those limits are the same as 2015-16.

The state manages the fishery closely in part because it rebuilt after a collapse in the 2000s. Consumers pay top dollar for Maine’s big, meaty scallops.

The state’s proposal is subject to September public hearings.

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U.S. to loan Amtrak $2.4 billion for Northeast Corridor upgrades http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/26/u-s-to-loan-amtrak-2-4-billion-for-northeast-corridor-upgrades/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/26/u-s-to-loan-amtrak-2-4-billion-for-northeast-corridor-upgrades/#comments Fri, 26 Aug 2016 19:20:09 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/26/u-s-to-loan-amtrak-2-4-billion-for-northeast-corridor-upgrades/ WILMINGTON, Del. —Amtrak is receiving a $2.45 billion loan from the federal government to buy new trains, upgrade tracks and make platform improvements along the busy Northeast corridor, the largest such loan ever by the Department of Transportation, officials announced Friday.

Vice President Joe Biden, a champion of Amtrak who rode the corridor’s trains almost daily during his more than three decades in the Senate, joined Amtrak officials and deputy transportation secretary Victor Mendez in making the announcement at the Wilmington, Delaware, station named for Biden.

“You can’t make this country work without rail … This is a really, really sound investment, Biden said.

Terms of the loan were not immediately available, but Amtrak said the money would be repaid through growth in revenues from Northeast Corridor operations.

“We’re making the most significant investment in passenger rail that’s ever been made in this country,” said Amtrak board chairman Anthony Coscia.

The loan includes more than $2 billion for 28 new trains that are to replace 23 nearing the end of their useful service life. It also includes $170 million for facility improvements in New York, Washington and Maryland, and $90 million for safety improvements and $80 million for track infrastructure.

The new trains will initially travel at speeds of up to 160 mph but will be capable of traveling up to 186 mph to take advantage of future track improvements. The first next-generation train is scheduled to enter service in 2021, with the rest entering service, and the current fleet retired by the end of 2022.

“The future of Amtrak travel starts today,” said president and CEO Joseph Boardman.

U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, who holds the seat once occupied by Biden and is himself a frequent Amtrak rider, said the timing of the new funding is good.

“Amtrak just had a remarkable year,” said Coons, citing record ridership numbers. “Amtrak is on terrific, strong and solid footing going forward.”

But Coons, Biden and other officials noted that the Amtrak system is still facing a $7 billion backlog in maintenance needs.

“Why in this country are we so boneheaded to not understand the essential value of a rail system that’s modern throughout the whole country?” Biden asked, wondering why Amtrak should have to rely on a loan to help build and maintain a rail system on par with those in Europe and Asia. “Why do we argue about whether or not it makes sense?”

Biden said the population along the Northeast Corridor is expected to grow by 58 million by 2040.

“If we don’t plan this now, what’s going to happen?” said Biden, adding that a modern rail system is not only crucial for commerce, but for national security.

Biden also noted that he had ridden more than 2 million miles on Amtrak, making close friendships throughout the years with many Amtrak employees.

“These men and women have become my family,” said Biden, who briefly became emotional at Friday’s event.

The new trains will be built by Alstom — which has sold more than 1,100 high-speed trains around the world — at facilities in New York.

Edward Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, welcomed the announcement, calling it a victory for working people and the U.S. economy.

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Fairchild’s pending sale to Phoenix-based company creates uncertainty for Maine http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/26/on-semiconductor-gets-federal-ok-to-buy-fairchild/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/26/on-semiconductor-gets-federal-ok-to-buy-fairchild/#comments Fri, 26 Aug 2016 16:10:27 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/26/on-semiconductor-gets-federal-ok-to-buy-fairchild/ ON Semiconductor announced Friday that it has received federal regulatory approval to complete its $2.4 billion purchase of local chipmaker Fairchild Semiconductor.

The Phoenix-based company had offered to buy Fairchild, which employs about 650 people locally, last December for $20 per share, but had to get numerous regulatory approvals before it could complete the acquisition.

If the deal closes, it is unclear what the sale will mean for the Fairchild plant in South Portland, where analog switches, USB devices, converters, speedy circuit breakers and other building blocks of digital circuitry are made. Some semiconductor analysts have said the sale could make the Maine operation vulnerable to closure because it is dated, while other industry observers say the cost to build a chip-making factory from scratch is prohibitively expensive, which supports the continuation of the Western Avenue facility.

According to a news release from the company, ON Semiconductor has accepted a consent order from the Federal Trade Commission to shed a line of business allowing it to acquire Fairchild. ON intends to sell an automotive ignition business, which generated less than $25 million in revenue during fiscal year 2015, to Littelfuse Inc. in Chicago to satisfy the FTC.

The deal still must be blessed by antitrust regulators in China, where Fairchild operates a plant in Suzhou.

“We need one more approval, and that is from China,” said Parag Agarwal, vice president of investor relations and corporate development for ON Semiconductor. “We are expecting that fairly soon.”

The deal was expected to be closed by the end of August and Agarwal said that timetable hasn’t changed.

CHANGING MARKETS

The products made in South Portland fall under the Analog Power Signal and Solutions division of the company. In Fairchild’s 2015 annual report, that particular segment of the company had lost revenue, going from $413.8 million in 2013 to $399.1 million in 2014, continuing its decline to $385.2 million last year. But of Fairchild’s three manufacturing divisions, the APSS had the smallest loss from 2014 to 2015, dropping 3.48 percent, while the other divisions – Standard Products and Switching Power Solutions – recorded losses of 5 and 4.6 percent, respectively.

The company reported revenue of $1.37 billion in 2015. Sales were down 4 percent over 2014, according to Fairchild’s annual report.

When ON Semiconductor announced its intent to buy Fairchild, Keith Jackson, ON’s president and chief executive officer, said the overlap between the two companies was “minimal” and that the product lines would complement each other.

“Even though the two companies have complementary product portfolios, they serve similar end markets and a similar set of customers in similar geographies,” Jackson said in an interview with the Portland Press Herald. “There is a lot of commonality between the manufacturing and logistics operations of the two companies.”

ON Semiconductor said it expects to save about $150 million a year once the sale is completed. About $30 million will come from better coordination of supply chains, Bernard Gutmann, ON Semiconductor’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, said in an interview last winter. He also said the combined company could save on general expenses, and that many of the two companies’ research and development functions will be redundant under single ownership.

The FTC insisted that ON Semiconductor dispose of the automotive ignition business because a merger with Fairchild would mean the combined company would control 60 percent of the world’s market and “it is likely that the proposed merger would substantially lessen competition in the worldwide market for Ignition IGBTs, resulting in higher prices and reduced innovation,” according to the FTC order. IGBT stands for insulated gate bipolar transistor.

Deals involving chip makers have been increasing globally because the costs for designing chips are rising and sales are slowing. Buying companies that already make chips and have a piece of the market, instead of investing in new designs and building new plants, is seen as the preferred way for a company to expand its market.

According to The New York Times, there were 10 attempts by Chinese semiconductor companies to buy competitors in the year prior to the ON Semiconductor offer. In January, Fairchild considered a higher bid of $22 per share from a Chinese consortium, but rejected it because it didn’t think the deal could clear antitrust hurdles.

Estimated at $1.3 trillion, the semiconductor market is dominated by China, which is the top fabricator and biggest producer of consumer goods using chips.

Fairchild has been ramping up its operations in China. Last year, 43 percent of its revenue, or $590 million, was generated in China. That compares with 39 percent of revenues in 2014 and 36 percent in 2013.

Of the $1.37 billion in revenue recorded in 2015, only 9 percent was generated from U.S. sources ($123.3 million). Europe accounted for 16 percent; Taiwan accounted for 9 percent; South Korea, 6 percent; other Pacific nations accounted for 16 percent.

Stephan Ohr, a semiconductor analyst for Gartner, a high-tech research and advisory firm, said at the time of ON’s offer that the South Portland plant wasn’t known for being an industry innovator and that its facilities were older than most of the plants already in ON’s network. Conversely, Betsy Van Hees, an analyst for Wedbush who specializes in the semiconductor industry, said the cost to build new semiconductor plants is prohibitive, which is fueling merger and acquisition activity worldwide. She said it was unlikely the South Portland plant would be closed, although there could be some layoffs of redundant positions in the ON acquisition.

News of the FTC approval did little to affect Fairchild’s stock price, which closed the week at $19.90, little changed from its opening price on Monday of $19.80. ON Semiconductor stocks, however, got a boost from the news. Its stock price opened the week at $10.25 per share and closed at $11.03.

Fairchild was headquartered in South Portland until 2011, when it moved to San Jose, California. It still operates administrative offices on Running Hill Road in South Portland, not far from its production plant.

 

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Biotech bait could give lobstermen an alternative to herring http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/26/biotech-bait-will-give-lobstermen-an-alternative-to-herring/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/26/biotech-bait-will-give-lobstermen-an-alternative-to-herring/#comments Fri, 26 Aug 2016 15:36:25 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/26/biotech-bait-will-give-lobstermen-an-alternative-to-herring/ Lobster and crab fishermen have baited traps with dead herring for generations, but an effort to find a synthetic substitute for forage fish is nearing fruition just as the little fish are in short supply, threatening livelihoods in a lucrative industry.

With about $1 million in funding from the National Science Foundation, a small company has developed “OrganoBait,” a hockey puck-shaped product packed with an artificial attractant crabs and lobsters love.

Commercial fishermen have long experimented with alternative baits. They have tried other fish species, processed slabs of horseshoe crab, even cow hide and pigs feet. Some products remain on the market; many have gone quickly.

No one has made commercially successful synthetic bait, and even animal-based alternatives don’t always gain market acceptance, said Bob Bayer, a professor of veterinary science at the University of Maine who studies lobsters and has worked on attractants for 30 years.

“If somebody comes up with a good one, it will be used,” Bayer said. “If it’s effective and cost effective.”

The lobster catch has been booming, but the fleet is suffering the most acute bait shortage facing the fishing industry. Lobster traps typically are baited with herring. However, not enough herring are being caught in the waters far off New England.

If prolonged, experts say, the shortage could raise the price and reduce the availability of lobsters and crabs.

Development of synthetic baits could cut into the $20 billion U.S. bait fishery, which dates to the Colonial era and plays a role in some other commercial fisheries, as well as in food products and nutritional supplements. Fishermen caught more than 200 million pounds of herring and 1.2 billion pounds of menhaden in 2014.

New England fishing managers are guiding the industry through a shortage of herring offshore by limiting the number of days they can fish closer to the coast. Without the restrictions, officials say, fishermen would be at risk of exceeding quotas the government establishes to protect fish species from overexploitation.

OrganoBait, developed by the Greensboro, North Carolina, firm Kepley Biosystems, is different from other alternative baits. It’s not an animal product, but instead a calcium-based tablet made with synthetic materials that replicate the smell of decaying fish to attract lobsters and crabs.

Kepley President Anthony Dellinger said the product could take pressure off forage fish, which some environmentalists say need protection.

“This is an area that can benefit from some science and technology,” Dellinger said. “You can just eliminate the bait sector and it will be more fish in the ocean. Less impact on sea turtles, dolphins, all of the cute little critters.”

The product has been tested with blue crab fishermen off Virginia and North Carolina since 2014 and with New Jersey blue crab fishermen and Florida stone crab fishermen since last year. There was also a pilot test with lobster fishermen in Nova Scotia, and an extensive test is scheduled for November.

In coastal Virginia, blue crab fisherman Malcolm Luebkert is one of a handful of fishermen testing out the synthetic bait, and he said he’s bracing for a future when bait fish shortages become the norm. So far, he said, the synthetic alternative seems effective.

“When menhaden becomes scarce, we need an alternative, and we need one that’s good,” he said.

Mark Pfister, a bait dealer who intends to sell OrganoBait in Florida once it is on the market, said the early returns on stone crabs are promising. The price point for the product has not been determined, though Dellinger said it will be priced competitively with bait fish, which can cost about 30 cents per pound.

“There have been baits out before, but they’ve all failed,” Pfister said. “This one looks like it’s not going to fail.”

Getting fishermen on board will present challenges. Stephen Train, a lobster fisherman based in Long Island, Maine, said he’s more inclined to suffer high prices and volatility in bait fish availability than take a chance on an unproven alternative.

“I don’t know if it would fish,” Train said.

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Fed Chair Yellen suggests rate hike is coming, offers no timetable http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/26/fed-chair-yellen-suggests-rate-hike-is-coming-offers-no-timetable/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/26/fed-chair-yellen-suggests-rate-hike-is-coming-offers-no-timetable/#comments Fri, 26 Aug 2016 14:36:01 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/26/fed-chair-yellen-suggests-rate-hike-is-coming-offers-no-timetable/ WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen says the Fed is moving toward raising interest rates in light of a solid job market and an improved outlook for the U.S. economy and inflation. But she’s stopping short of signaling any timetable for the next rate hike.

Yellen offered a generally upbeat assessment of the economy Friday in a speech to a conference of central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. She pointed to strong gains in employment and strength in consumer spending. Yellen also noted that while inflation is still running below the Fed’s 2 percent target, it is being depressed mainly by temporary factors.

In light of the economy’s gains, the Fed chair said the case for an increase in the central bank’s key policy rate “has strengthened in recent months.”

Some economists have said they think conditions are ripe for the Fed to alert investors that it may be inclined to act at its next policy meeting, Sept. 20-21.

Two close Yellen allies — William Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and Stanley Fischer, the Fed’s vice chairman — suggested in the past week that a strengthening economy would soon warrant a resumption of the rate hikes the Fed began in December. That was when it raised its benchmark lending rate from near zero, where it had been since the depths of the financial crisis in 2008.

David Jones, chief economist at DMJ Advisors, said this week that he thought the chances of a September rate hike are rising, especially if forthcoming economic data, including next week’s jobs report for August, show strength.

But other economists have said they think December remains a more likely time for a resumption of rate increases. And some have said that if the Fed does decide to act in September, it would need to further prepare investors. According to data from the CME Group this week, investors foresee only about a 21 percent probability of a rate hike in September and only about a 52 percent chance by December.

Yellen is the lead-off speaker Friday for an annual conference attended by members of the Fed’s board of governors in Washington, officials from the Fed’s 12 regional banks and monetary leaders from around the world.

The conference’s theme is “Designing Resilient Monetary Policy Frameworks for the Future,” reflecting concern that the global economy has become trapped in a slump of low growth and low inflation and uncertainty about how central banks should respond.

In advance of Yellen’s speech Friday, George, Fischer and eight other Fed officials met Thursday with about 120 activists from the Campaign for Popular Democracy’s Fed Up coalition. The group of policy activists, labor unions and community groups has been lobbying the Fed to keep rates low to allow the economy to strengthen enough to benefit more Americans.

The group, wearing T-shirts bearing the slogan, “We Need a People’s Fed,” posed questions about economic policy and the need for diversity to the Fed officials who took part in the hour-long discussion.

The coalition also wants the Fed and Congress to consider changes in the makeup of the boards of directors of the 12 regional banks to promote more diversity among a group of officials that is mainly white and male and dominated by bankers.

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U.S. economy grew at tepid pace, GDP rose slightly in Q2 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/26/u-s-economy-grew-at-tepid-pace-gdp-rose-slightly-in-q2/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/26/u-s-economy-grew-at-tepid-pace-gdp-rose-slightly-in-q2/#comments Fri, 26 Aug 2016 12:57:14 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/26/u-s-economy-grew-at-tepid-pace-gdp-rose-slightly-in-q2/ WASHINGTON — The U.S. economy expanded at a sluggish pace this spring as businesses sharply reduced their stockpiles of goods and spent less on new buildings and equipment.

The Commerce Department said Friday that gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the economy, increased at an annual rate of 1.1 percent in the April-June quarter. That is slightly below its previous estimate last month of 1.2 percent growth.

Consumers offset the corporate cutbacks by spending at the fastest pace in six quarters. That suggests steady job growth and modest pay gains are fueling healthy demand that could spur faster growth in the second half of this year.

The economy has expanded at a lackluster 1 percent annual pace in the first half of this year, following growth of 2.6 percent last year. This year’s sluggish first half is a stark reminder of the economy’s inability to achieve strong, sustainable growth since the recession ended seven years ago. It has been the slowest recovery since World War II, and followed the worst downturn since the 1930s. Growth hasn’t topped 3 percent for a full year since 2005.

The economy stumbled early this year as consumers spent cautiously in the first three months of the year. Slow overseas growth and a stronger dollar held back exports. Stock markets gyrated amid signs that China’s economy, the second-largest in the world, was slowing.

In the second quarter, U.S. businesses cut their stockpiles at the fastest pace since the fall of 2011.

Yet with consumers spending at a robust pace, businesses will likely have to restock their warehouses and store shelves with more goods. That should help accelerate growth to a 2.5 percent annual pace in the third and fourth quarters.

Despite weak growth, businesses hired at a strong pace in June and July. There are also signs incomes are rising, particularly for lower-paid workers. Those trends should help growth accelerate in the coming months.

Yet the strong hiring amid weak growth highlights a broader shortcoming of the economy: It has become less efficient and productive since the recession. American businesses may be hiring in part because it takes more workers to raise output even a modest amount.

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Lobstermen in Maine’s historically open zone vote to close their waters to newcomers http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/26/lobstermen-in-maines-historically-open-zone-vote-to-close-their-waters-to-newcomers/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/26/lobstermen-in-maines-historically-open-zone-vote-to-close-their-waters-to-newcomers/#comments Fri, 26 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1030646 The lobstermen of Stonington and Vinalhaven, the busiest lobster ports in Maine, have voted to close their waters to additional fishermen, preferring that newcomers wait for others to leave before dropping traps there.

Almost three of every four local lobstermen who voted in a referendum this summer supported the adoption of a waiting list system. The majority included many of the small island communities that had previously opposed making newcomers wait for lobster licenses out of fear that it would discourage people from moving to their far-flung communities.

Of the nine districts within the regional lobster zone, only one, the district that includes Matinicus and Criehaven, voted against making newcomers go on a waiting list. Results show that local lobstermen of all ages, license types and business size support the closure.

The election results now go to the local lobster council for consideration Sept. 8. If the council approves the closure, its recommendation will go to the commissioner of the state Department of Marine Resources, Patrick Keliher, who makes the final determination.

Approval would make permanent a temporary closure implemented in June, when the council voted to put the waiting list question to the 936 licensed lobstermen in the zone. It had been the last of Maine’s seven lobster zones to allow newcomers to fish without a wait.

Other regional councils had previously voted to close their fishing zones and make qualified applicants wait, sometimes for as long as a decade, to get their own lobster licenses.

OTHER ISSUES BESIDES CLOSURE

The local lobster council, which presides over what is called Zone C, also asked its members to weigh in on what to do about people who had completed most of their apprenticeships at the time the vote was conducted. Sixty percent of the local lobstermen who voted supported the idea of grandfathering applicants who had completed 92 percent of their apprenticeship duties – or 920 hours of training and 184 days of work – at the time of the vote, which would excuse them from going on the waiting list if they complete the program.

If the council approves a permanent closure, it also will have to decide how many people need to leave the industry before it allows entrance to any new qualified applicant. Most zones require more than one license holder to leave before someone new can come in.

1030646_442532 LobsterZones0816.jpg

Some who cast ballots in the summer election asked for a one-to-one license trade, and others wanted as many as three or five license holders to leave before a new person could join the fishery. Some wanted applicants who had been raised locally to get a shorter route to licensing than new residents.

The 375 lobstermen who cast ballots weren’t shy about their thoughts on the vote. The Department of Marine Resources included some of the comments, although it did not identify the fishermen who wrote them, in a spreadsheet it compiled to document the election results in advance of the upcoming lobster council meeting.

The comments showed the deep division within the tight-knit community about the benefits and drawbacks of adopting the waiting list, and the disagreement over how many people should have to leave the industry before granting any new fisherman a license.

“Something needs to be done,” one pro-closure lobsterman said. “It’s way too crowded.”

“Everyone in Zone C should be grateful for all the open years,” another lobsterman wrote.

“If you would stop the part-timers and the summer people from having traps in the ocean, then the lobstermen who wait all winter for the lobsters to come would be able to make a living,” one wrote. “These part-timers have other jobs!”

“We can’t get a trap up or down without a snarl now,” a pro-closure lobsterman said. “We can’t fit any more traps in the water. Close it, please.”

SUPPORT FOR AN OPEN ZONE

But that passion was matched by those who want to keep the zone open, despite their smaller numbers.

“We live on an island,” said one lobsterman who voted against creating a waiting list. “If you take away job opportunity to the young folks, this community will suffer.”

“This country is supposed to be a free-enterprise country,” complained another. “This is just another example of government taking away people’s rights.”

Over the past two decades, the lobster population in the Gulf of Maine has doubled to an estimated 250 million adult lobsters, even as the fishermen's catch has tripled. Regional councils in six of the seven Maine fishing zones already make qualified applicants wait, sometimes for as long as a decade, to get their own lobstering license and enter the business.

Over the past two decades, the lobster population in the Gulf of Maine has doubled to an estimated 250 million adult lobsters, even as the fishermen’s catch has tripled. Regional councils in six of the seven Maine fishing zones already make qualified applicants wait, sometimes for as long as a decade, to get their own lobstering license and enter the business. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“Landings are high, so why take away from new fishermen’s opportunities?” wrote one lobsterman who voted against closing the zone.

“Everyone who puts the time in and has been a longtime resident of Maine deserves an opportunity to obtain a license,” another wrote. “Closing the zone will make it harder for someone from a non-fishing family to obtain a license.”

After years of debate, the local lobster council has tried to put the issue to a vote twice before, but the meetings have fallen through. Some council members who serve from the islands have walked out of meetings when a vote loomed that they believed would close the zone. They have worried that a cap on the number of licenses would eliminate an incentive for adult children to return home to the island, where lobstering is one of the few available jobs.

Mainlanders contend that the zone is too crowded as it is, and say outsiders have moved here just to exploit the lucrative fishery.

HUNDREDS DON’T USE LICENSES

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

Maine has 7,280 licensed lobstermen, each assigned to a zone based on their home address, but not all of them are traditional commercial fishermen. About 5,000 set a full run of 800 traps and may employ a sternman or two. Some hold a license for recreational lobstering, or have an apprentice, student or over-70 license. About a thousand of those license holders don’t land a single lobster in a single year.

This last group of license holders, who want to keep their papers even though they are too old to fish, concerns some lobstermen when considering a waiting list system.

“What about on the other end?” one pro-closure lobsterman asked. “Men/women who are retired but keep fishing. Some people in (their) 80s still have licenses.”

“Everyone that is purchasing a license just to keep it shouldn’t be able to keep it without showing landings,” one pro-closure lobsterman said. “Unfair to new entrants!”

But a keep-it-open lobsterman wrote: “I think you should buy back retired licenses from older people that don’t fish.”

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Facebook pushes to make money on WhatsApp by allowing commercial access http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/25/facebook-pushes-to-make-money-on-whatsapp-by-allowing-commercial-access/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/25/facebook-pushes-to-make-money-on-whatsapp-by-allowing-commercial-access/#comments Fri, 26 Aug 2016 00:01:11 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/25/facebook-pushes-to-make-money-on-whatsapp-by-allowing-commercial-access/ Facebook is laying the groundwork for its free messaging service WhatsApp to begin making money, easing its privacy rules so data can be used for Facebook advertising and allowing businesses to message its more than 1 billion users. It’s the first step toward monetizing the platform since the social network’s Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg paid $22 billion for the app in 2014.

WhatsApp announced the change to its terms of service policy today. It allows businesses to communicate with users, including appointment reminders, delivery and shipping notifications and marketing pitches. In a corresponding blog post, WhatsApp said it will be testing the features over the coming months.

The policy shift may help WhatsApp generate revenue, but also could irk users drawn to its strong stance on privacy. After it agreed to be purchased by Facebook in 2014, co-founder Jan Koum pledged the deal wouldn’t change how the company handles user data. Now WhatsApp says it will begin sharing more information about its customers with the “Facebook family.” The data, including a person’s phone number, could be used to better target ads when browsing Facebook or Instagram, WhatsApp said.

Facebook agreed to buy WhatsApp for $19 billion in 2014, but the deal price ultimately rose to $22 billion. Investors have been anxious to see how Zuckerberg makes money from the deal. Several services in Asia, most notably WeChat in China, have successfully opened up their platforms so businesses can interact with customers. It’s a strategy Facebook has also been taking with the communication app, Messenger.

In its blog post, WhatsApp also reiterated its commitment to encryption, saying no outside parties are able to see what its users are saying to each other. The policy has put the company at odds with government authorities in the U.S. and Europe who want an ability to intercept the communication of potential terrorists.

“Our belief in the value of private communications is unshakeable,” the company said.

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Self-driving taxis debut in Singapore http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/25/self-driving-taxis-debut-in-singapore/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/25/self-driving-taxis-debut-in-singapore/#comments Thu, 25 Aug 2016 23:44:51 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/25/self-driving-taxis-debut-in-singapore/ SINGAPORE — The world’s first self-driving taxis are picking up passengers in Singapore.

Select members of the public began hailing free rides Thursday through their smartphones in taxis operated by nuTonomy, an autonomous vehicle software startup.

While companies, including Google and Volvo, have been testing self-driving cars on public roads for years, nuTonomy says it is the first to offer rides to the public. It beat ride-hailing service Uber, which plans to offer rides in autonomous cars in Pittsburgh, in a few weeks.

The service is starting small – six cars now, growing to a dozen by the end of the year. The ultimate goal, said nuTonomy officials, is to have a fully self-driving taxi fleet in Singapore by 2018, which will help sharply cut the number of cars on Singapore’s congested roads. Eventually, the model could be adopted in cities around the world, nuTonomy says.

For now, the taxis are only running in a 2.5-square-mile business and residential district called “one-north,” and pick-ups and drop-offs are limited to specified locations. And riders must have an invitation from nuTonomy to use the service. The company says dozens have signed up for the launch, and it plans to expand that list to thousands of people within a few months.

The cars – modified Renault Zoe and Mitsubishi i-MiEV electrics – have a driver in front who is prepared to take back the wheel and a researcher in back who watches the car’s computers. Each car is fitted with six sets of Lidar – a detection system that uses lasers to operate like radar – including one that constantly spins on the roof. There are also two cameras on the dashboard to scan for obstacles and detect changes in traffic lights.

The testing time-frame is open-ended, said nuTonomy CEO Karl Iagnemma. Eventually, riders may start paying for the service, and more pick-up and drop-off points will be added. NuTonomy also is working on testing similar taxi services in other Asian cities as well as in the U.S. and Europe, but he wouldn’t say when.

“I don’t expect there to be a time where we say, ‘We’ve learned enough,'” Iagnemma said.

Doug Parker, nuTonomy’s chief operating officer, said autonomous taxis could ultimately reduce the number of cars on Singapore’s roads from 900,000 to 300,000.

“When you are able to take that many cars off the road, it creates a lot of possibilities. You can create smaller roads, you can create much smaller car parks,” Parker said. “I think it will change how people interact with the city going forward.”

NuTonomy, a 50-person company with offices in Massachusetts and Singapore, was formed in 2013 by Iagnemma and Emilio Frazzoli, Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers who were studying robotics and developing autonomous vehicles for the Defense Department. Earlier this year, the company was the first to win approval from Singapore’s government to test self-driving cars in one-north. NuTonomy announced a research partnership with Singapore’s Land Transport Authority earlier this month.

Singapore is ideal because it has good weather, great infrastructure and drivers who tend to obey traffic rules, Iagnemma says. As an island nation, Singapore is looking for nontraditional ways to grow its economy, so it’s been supportive of autonomous vehicle research.

Auto supplier Delphi Corp., which is also working on autonomous vehicle software, was recently selected to test autonomous vehicles on the island and plans to start next year.

“We face constraints in land and manpower. We want to take advantage of self-driving technology to overcome such constraints, and in particular to introduce new mobility concepts which could bring about transformational improvements to public transport in Singapore,” said Pang Kin Keong, Singapore’s Permanent Secretary for Transport and the chairman of its committee on autonomous driving.

Olivia Seow, 25, who does work in startup partnerships in one-north and is one of the riders nuTonomy selected, took a test ride of just less than a mile on Monday. She acknowledged she was nervous when she got into the car, and then surprised as she watched the steering wheel turn by itself.

“It felt like there was a ghost or something,” she said.

But she quickly grew more comfortable. The ride was smooth and controlled, she said, and she was relieved to see that the car recognized even small obstacles like birds and motorcycles parked in the distance.

“I couldn’t see them with my human eye, but the car could, so I knew that I could trust the car,” she said. She said she is excited because the technology could free up her time during commutes or help her father by driving him around as he grows older.

An Associated Press reporter taking a ride Wednesday observed that the safety driver had to step on the brakes once, when a car was obstructing the test car’s lane and another vehicle, which appeared to be parked, suddenly began moving in the oncoming lane.

Iagnemma said the company is confident that its software can make good decisions. The company hopes its leadership in autonomous driving will eventually lead to partnerships with automakers, tech companies, logistics companies and others.

“What we’re finding is the number of interested parties is really overwhelming,” he said.

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Janet Yellen speech may signal interest rate hike http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/25/janet-yellen-speech-may-signal-interest-rate-hike/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/25/janet-yellen-speech-may-signal-interest-rate-hike/#comments Thu, 25 Aug 2016 23:35:19 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/25/janet-yellen-speech-may-signal-interest-rate-hike/ WASHINGTON — The job market is humming, and so are the U.S. financial markets, with major stock indexes near record highs.

All that would normally trigger a green light for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates – especially when they’re barely above all-time lows. Yet the Fed, still casting a wary eye on the economy, has yet to signal that it will resume raising rates soon.

That signal, though, could come as soon as Friday, when Fed Chair Janet Yellen will address the annual meeting of the world’s central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Fed leaders have sometimes used the Jackson Hole event to announce major policy shifts. In 2010, for example, Chairman Ben Bernanke signaled that the Fed was considering a new round of bond purchases to try to help a struggling economy emerge from the wreckage of the Great Recession. The Fed’s purchases were intended to shrink long-term loan rates to spur borrowing and spending.

Some economists say they think conditions are ripe for Yellen to alert investors that the central bank may be inclined to act at its next policy meeting, Sept. 20-21 – especially in light of recent remarks from other Fed officials.

Two close Yellen allies – William Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and Stanley Fischer, the Fed’s vice chairman – have suggested in the past week that a strengthening economy will soon warrant a resumption of the rate increases the Fed began in December. That was when it raised its benchmark lending rate from near zero, where it had been since the depths of the financial crisis in 2008.

“We’re edging closer towards the point in time where it’ll be appropriate to raise interest rates further,” Dudley said in an interview with Fox Business Network.

And in a speech, Fischer offered an upbeat economic view, saying, “We are close to our targets.” Fischer added that, apart from volatile energy and food prices, chronically low inflation is now “within hailing distance” of the Fed’s 2 percent target.

Sung Won Sohn, an economics professor at California State University, Channel Islands, interpreted the officials’ comments to suggest that support is growing among Yellen and others on the Fed’s policymaking board for another rate increase as early as next month.

“The probability of a hike at the September meeting has gone up and will go up more after Yellen speaks,” Sohn said.

David Jones, chief economist at DMJ Advisors, agreed that the chances of a September rate increase are rising, especially if forthcoming economic data, including next week’s jobs report for August, show strength.

But other economists say they think December remains a more likely time for a resumption of rate increases. And some say that if the Fed does decide to act in September, it would need to further prepare investors. According to data from the CME Group, investors foresee only about a 24 percent probability of a rate increase in September and only about a 56 percent chance by December.

Diane Swonk, chief economist at DS Economics, suggested that one reason U.S. stock averages established highs so soon after Britain’s June vote to leave the European Union escalated global economic fears is the belief among many that the Fed will leave rates alone until perhaps year’s end.

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For more business owners, LGBT status nothing to hide http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/25/for-more-business-owners-lgbt-status-nothing-to-hide/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/25/for-more-business-owners-lgbt-status-nothing-to-hide/#comments Thu, 25 Aug 2016 23:33:20 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/25/for-more-business-owners-lgbt-status-nothing-to-hide/ MINNEAPOLIS — Starting a new business is a challenge in itself, but for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, their identities can present an additional hurdle.

There’s often pressure on these entrepreneurs to withhold aspects of their personal lives from professional circles to steer clear of controversy.

Since last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage, more LGBT business owners are driven by shifting public opinion and diversity-hungry companies to start openly embracing who they are.

“While people may be out in their personal lives, connecting it to their business is a relatively new phenomenon,” said Jonathan Lovitz, vice president of external affairs at the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. “But doing so has been incredibly beneficial for them.”

Erica Fields, president of St. Paul-based grain trader Brooks Grain, didn’t come out as a transgender woman until she was 53 in 2007.

Even then, she only came out to a few friends. Just five months earlier, Fields had started her business providing rye to whiskey distilleries like Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam. Fields feared how the revelation might be perceived by her clients in a male-dominated industry.

“I thought if I just came out, I would lose everything,” said Fields, who waited until 2009 to tell clients.

That fear, echoed by many LGBT entrepreneurs, stems from a desire to avoid friction with potentially less accepting colleagues or clients, said Jay Miller, founder and creative director of the Minneapolis branding firm Imagehaus.

Since starting his own firm in 2000, Miller joined NGLCC’s Supplier Diversity Initiative, which he calls a “professional way to come out” that is less frightening.

The program, which began in 2004, certifies LGBT-owned businesses and connects them to a network of “corporate partners” looking to improve diversity in their supply chain.

It follows similar initiatives that promote businesses owned by women, people of color, veterans and people with disabilities.

Recently, there’s been a spike in interest for the certification. The national roster of certified LGBT businesses jumped from roughly 500 in 2013 to 896 by the end of July.

About 140 companies – including Delta Air Lines, General Mills and Target – use the program’s directory to find LGBT vendors. This year, NGLCC added the Democratic National Convention, Major League Baseball and defense contractor Northrop Grumman.

The certification can help a new business get noticed and make new connections, said Teresa Mock, owner of wedding planner L’Etoile Events in Minneapolis.

Mock attends NGLCC and Quorum events, such as Quorum’s annual luncheon on National Coming Out Day.

At last October’s luncheon, Mock found vendors she’d like to use for future events. Mock, who started her business in January 2015, displays her NGLCC certification on her website and says it’s a good way to filter out a “poor match.”

“When someone looks at the website and sees that (certification), and if that’s a reason they don’t want to work with me, they have to look no further,” Mock said.

Miller said he got his certification after an executive at Office Max, a longtime client, asked him about it because the office-supplies retailer wanted a way to quantify how much it spent on diverse vendors.

It’s a way for companies to go beyond preaching diversity as they feel pressure from groups like the Human Rights Campaign, which tracks workplace equality at Fortune 500 companies.

“They can’t just say it anymore,” Miller said. “They have to actually follow through with what they say by action, and it needs to be in a way that is measurable.”

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Uber losses pile up even as bookings forge ahead http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/25/uber-losses-pile-up-even-as-bookings-forge-ahead/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/25/uber-losses-pile-up-even-as-bookings-forge-ahead/#comments Thu, 25 Aug 2016 23:16:05 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/25/uber-losses-pile-up-even-as-bookings-forge-ahead/ The ride-hailing giant Uber Technologies is not a public company, but every three months, shareholders get on a conference call to hear details on its business performance from its head of finance, Gautam Gupta.

On Friday, Gupta told investors that Uber’s losses mounted in the second quarter. Even in the U.S., where Uber had turned a profit during its first quarter, the company was once again losing money.

In the first quarter of this year, Uber lost about $520 million before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, according to people familiar with the matter. In the second quarter the losses significantly exceeded $750 million. That means Uber’s losses in the first half of 2016 totaled at least $1.27 billion.

Subsidies for Uber’s drivers are responsible for the majority of the losses globally, Gupta told investors. An Uber spokesman declined to comment.

“You won’t find too many technology companies that could lose this much money, this quickly,” said Aswath Damodaran, a business professor at New York University skeptical of Uber’s astronomical valuation. “For a private business to raise as much capital as Uber has been able to is unprecedented.”

Bookings grew tremendously from the first quarter of this year to the second, from above $3.8 billion to more than $5 billion.

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Apple boosts iPhone security after spyware targets Mideast activist http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/25/apple-boosts-iphone-security-after-mideast-spyware-discovery/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/25/apple-boosts-iphone-security-after-mideast-spyware-discovery/#comments Thu, 25 Aug 2016 17:36:21 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/25/apple-boosts-iphone-security-after-mideast-spyware-discovery/ PARIS — A botched attempt to break into the iPhone of an Arab activist using hitherto unknown espionage software has trigged a global upgrade of Apple’s mobile operating system, researchers said Thursday.

The spyware took advantage of three previously undisclosed weaknesses in Apple’s mobile operating system to take complete control of iPhone devices, according to reports published Thursday by the San Francisco-based Lookout smartphone security company and internet watchdog group Citizen Lab. Both reports fingered the NSO Group, an Israeli company with a reputation for flying under the radar, as the author of the spyware.

“The threat actor has never been caught before,” said Mike Murray, a researcher with Lookout, describing the program as “the most sophisticated spyware package we have seen in the market.”

The reports issued by Lookout and Citizen Lab – based at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs – outlined how an iPhone could be completely compromised with the tap of a finger, a trick so coveted in the world of cyberespionage that in November a spyware broker said it had paid a $1 million bounty to programmers who’d found a way to do it. Such a compromise would give hackers full control over the phone, allowing them to eavesdrop on calls, harvest messages, activate cameras and microphones and drain the device of its personal data.

Arie van Deursen, a professor of software engineering at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, said both reports were credible and disturbing. Forensics expert Jonathan Zdziarski described the malicious program as a “serious piece of spyware.”

Apple said in a written statement that it fixed the vulnerability immediately after learning about it, but the security hole may have gone unpatched had it not been for the wariness of an embattled human rights activist in the United Arab Emirates.

Ahmed Mansoor, a well-known human rights defender, first alerted Citizen Lab to the spyware after receiving an unusual text message on Aug. 10. Promising to reveal details about torture in the United Arab Emirates’ prisons, the unknown sender included a suspicious-looking link at the bottom of the message.

Mansoor wasn’t convinced. Not only had he been imprisoned, beaten, robbed and had his passport confiscated by the authorities over the years, Mansoor had also repeatedly found himself in the crosshairs of electronic eavesdropping operations. In fact, Mansoor already had the dubious distinction of having weathered attacks from two separate brands of commercial spyware. And when he shared the suspicious text with Citizen Lab researcher Bill Marczak, they realized he’d been targeted by a third.

Marczak, who’d already been looking into the NSO Group, said he and fellow researcher John Scott-Railton turned to Lookout for help picking apart the malicious program, a process that Murray compared to “defusing a bomb.”

“It is amazing the level they’ve gone through to avoid detection,” he said of the software’s makers. “They have a hair-trigger self-destruct.”

Working feverishly over a two-week period, the researchers found that Mansoor had been targeted by an unusually sophisticated piece of software.

In a statement that stopped short of acknowledging that the spyware was its own, the NSO Group said its mission was to provide “authorized governments with technology that helps them combat terror and crime.”

The company said it had no knowledge of any particular incidents, and declined further comment.

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Federal judge: Starbucks isn’t ripping you off when it puts lots of ice in your iced tea http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/25/federal-judge-starbucks-isnt-ripping-you-off-when-it-puts-lots-of-ice-in-your-iced-tea/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/25/federal-judge-starbucks-isnt-ripping-you-off-when-it-puts-lots-of-ice-in-your-iced-tea/#comments Thu, 25 Aug 2016 15:52:28 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/25/federal-judge-starbucks-isnt-ripping-you-off-when-it-puts-lots-of-ice-in-your-iced-tea/ To a brewing class-action lawsuit that argued Starbucks had, for a decade, stiffed customers by filling their drinks with too much ice, a federal judge had a simple message: Chill.

FILE - This Feb. 11, 2008 file photo shows a Starbucks iced drink at a store in Seattle. A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit that claimed Starbucks was defrauding customers by adding too much ice to its cold beverages. Judge Percy Anderson tossed out the potential class-action Friday, Aug. 19, 2016, in Los Angeles federal court. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Starbucks will face two more legal brouhahas in the coming months, both making similar accusations about the ratio of liquid-to-other-stuff in Starbucks cups. Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson, of the Central District of California, concluded that no typical customer would feel cheated by ice cubes, even if they took up a significant volume in the clear plastic cup. Anderson dismissed the lawsuit Friday.

At the crux of the matter, according to plaintiff Alexander Forouzesh, was the definition of what constitutes a Starbucks beverage. The Los Angeles man sued the coffee chain in May.

In the complaint, Forouzesh argued that because drink sizes were advertised by fluid ounce – a cold Venti drink is 24 fluid ounces, for instance – the coffee chain was under-filling its cups with fluid. Ice aside, Forouzesh claimed that baristas poured only about 14 ounces of drink into a Venti cup, per his measurements. In his eyes, this was far too little beverage, and fraudulently so. (The Grande Shaken Iced Peach Green Tea Lemonade Cold Drink appeared to fare slightly better, at 12 ounces liquid out of 16 advertised.)

Ice is neither beverage nor fluid, the complaint concluded. The legal action sought to represent people who had bought drinks at California Starbucks since 2006.

Anderson had little sympathy for that line of argument. “When a reasonable consumer walks into a Starbucks and orders a Grande iced tea, that consumer knows the size of the cup that drink will be served in and that a portion of the drink will consist of ice,” he wrote in dismissing the suit. “Because no reasonable consumer could be confused by this,” he wrote, the plaintiff failed to state a viable claim under any California consumer or false advertising law.

“Starbucks has not stated that its Cold Drinks contain a specific amount of liquid. Instead, Starbucks has stated that its iced drinks, which contain some amount of liquid and some amount of ice, are offered for sale in cups of various sizes.”

The judge also offered a simple solution.”But as young children learn, they can increase the amount of beverage they receive if they order ‘no ice.’ If children have figured out that including ice in a cold beverage decreases the amount of liquid they will receive,” he said, “the Court has no difficulty concluding that a reasonable consumer would not be deceived into thinking that when they order an iced tea, that the drink they receive will include both ice and tea and that for a given size cup.” (Starbucks employees, according to a 2015 Reddit discussion, seemed split on whether ordering an iced drink sans ice was fair play.)

Plus, as Starbucks uses clear cups in which the cubes are visible, the judge believes most customers would not feel swindled upon being served ice in their cold beverages.

Starbucks was happy with the ruling, as a representative told the Associated Press. But it will face two more legal brouhahas in the coming months, both making similar accusations about the ratio of liquid-to-other-stuff in Starbucks cups. As The Washington Post reported in May, an Illinois woman also alleged that Starbucks used too much ice; she also found that only about 14 ounces of a 24-ounce cup in a cold drink was liquid.

“Our customers understand and expect that ice is an essential component of any ‘iced’ beverage,” a Starbucks representative said in a statement to The Post at the time. “If a customer is not satisfied with their beverage preparation, we will gladly remake it.” The AP reported that Starbucks is planning to submit a defense in Chicago court on Thursday.

In yet another case, also filed in California, two plaintiffs charge that customers who order lattes are shortchanged. This time, it is not ice but the milky froth that displaces too much liquid volume. U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in June, allowing the suit to proceed – Starbucks was consistently serving too much foam.

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Applications for U.S. unemployment benefits fall slightly http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/25/applications-for-u-s-unemployment-benefits-fall-slightly/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/25/applications-for-u-s-unemployment-benefits-fall-slightly/#comments Thu, 25 Aug 2016 13:40:37 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/25/applications-for-u-s-unemployment-benefits-fall-slightly/ WASHINGTON — Slightly fewer people filed for U.S. unemployment benefits last week, a sign the American job market remains healthy.

The Labor Department said Thursday that applications for jobless aid slipped by 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 261,000. The less volatile four-week average dropped by 1,250 to 264,000. Overall, the number of people receiving unemployment checks fell by 30,000 to 2.15 million, down 5 percent from a year earlier.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs. They have remained below 300,000 for 77 straight weeks, longest streak since 1970. The current reading is even more impressive because the population has grown considerably since then.

Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, suspects the flooding in Louisiana will put some people out of work and send unemployment claims higher over the next week. Overall, he says, “employers remain fundamentally optimistic over the economic outlook.”

The U.S. unemployment rate is 4.9 percent. Employers added 255,000 jobs in July and 292,000 in June.

Hiring is strong even though the economy has registered lackluster growth since late 2015. The economy expanded at an annual pace of 1.2 percent from April through June after growing just 0.8 percent in the first quarter and 0.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2015.

Solid hiring amid slow growth is worrisome. It shows that the economy is less productive, with more workers needed to produce the same or slightly more output. Productivity, or the amount of output per hour, has dropped 0.4 percent over the past year.

Weak productivity growth could hobble the U.S. economy and keep a lid on pay gains. Greater productivity allows companies to boost workers’ pay without raising prices.

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USDA gives grants for Maine farms and rural jobs http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/25/usda-gives-grants-for-maine-farms-and-rural-jobs/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/25/usda-gives-grants-for-maine-farms-and-rural-jobs/#comments Thu, 25 Aug 2016 13:07:18 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/25/usda-gives-grants-for-maine-farms-and-rural-jobs/ BANGOR — The U.S. Department of Agriculture is giving nearly $300,000 to five Maine communities and organizations to support rural business growth in the state.

The largest grant will go to the town of New Canada to acquire land and build a garage and workshop for lease to Allagash View Farm to use for at its Christmas tree and wreath operation. The grant totals nearly $83,000.

Other grants will go to the Maine Farmland Trust, the city of Eastport, the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets and the Somerset Economic Development Corporation. The grant to Maine Farmland Trust will be used to provide a technical assistance program about wholesale farming.

USDA rural development state director Virginia Manuel said the grants will help a total of 142 business and farms in the state.

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USM class welcomes beer … for the study of chemistry http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/25/usm-class-welcomes-beer-for-the-study-of-chemistry/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/25/usm-class-welcomes-beer-for-the-study-of-chemistry/#comments Thu, 25 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1028789 University of Southern Maine chemistry professor Lucille Benedict understands that chemistry classes can seem a little dull. So she found something a lot of college students enjoy to make it more interesting: beer.

Her ah-ha moment occurred four years ago when she was touring the Allagash Brewing Co. on Portland’s Industrial Way. That’s where she met Zach Boda, Allagash’s head of quality control, who talked about the kind analysis and chemical testing he wished the brewery could do.

“The courses I teach (do) that stuff,” said Benedict. “It’s not always easy to get students engaged in chemistry, so it was just a perfect match.”

She began using beer as a testing medium to teach chemistry. Now Benedict is in charge of the school’s new Quality Assurance/Quality Control and Research Laboratory, which started with a $488,514, three-year seed grant from the Maine Economic Improvement Fund. The lab has partnered with the Maine Brewers Guild to provide testing and training for breweries and brewmasters.

Classes – for brewers – begin this fall with a focus on ways that beer can get contaminated or ruined by imperfections in the brewing process. Brewers will also be able to send samples to the lab for testing.

Beer samples await analysis in the beer lab at the University of Southern Maine. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Beer samples await analysis in the beer lab at the University of Southern Maine. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The combination of educating students while providing a valuable service to the state’s growing craft brew industry has been a boon for both.

Student Ciera Wentworth, a 20-year-old from Pownal who turns 21 this month, was glad to get out of textbooks and into the laboratory.

“I was just really excited to really apply chemistry,” Wentworth said. “A lot of people take chemistry (class) and they’re like, ‘I hate this.’ But if you show them in that chemistry class that they can be testing beer, or something they can actually be interested in, I just find it more applicable and fun. I want to pursue that as a path because it’s new and different and you’re constantly discovering new things.”

Before the lab’s opening, brewers would spend hundreds of dollars to ship beer out of state for testing. The USM lab charges $25 for basic testing, and brewers can add more tests a la carte. Requests have come from as far as breweries in Vermont.

GREAT HELP TO MAINE BREWERS

On a recent morning, Benedict picks up beer samples from local breweries on her drive into work. The lab is already busy testing samples when she arrives, and despite the fact that there’s a part-time lab manager, Benedict is “overwhelmed with stuff to do.” What started as a dalliance with beer here and there in freshman chemistry classes has grown into a nearly full-time job.

But she says her payoff is working with students in the lab.

There, a beer refrigerator is stocked to the gills. Unlike most college fridges, this one contains nothing but high-quality Maine beer. And there’s no drinking in the lab, whether you are of legal age or not.

Student Jacob Burce was quick to point out the no-drinking rule to a thirsty reporter who was ogling Foundation’s Afterglow IPA in the fridge. Instead of popping a can open, Burce eagerly showed off the flame atomic absorption spectrometer. He and Wentworth were using the machine to torch samples of beer and analyze light waves to determine how much zinc was in it.

Professor Lucille Benedict, center, works with students in the beer lab at USM. Classes for brewers this fall will focus on how beer can get contaminated during the brewing process.

Professor Lucille Benedict, center, works with students in the beer lab at USM. Classes for brewers this fall will focus on how beer can get contaminated during the brewing process.

Analyzing beer is a hook to get students interested, Burce said, but it could just as easily be tea, coffee or water. The fact that he’s helping local companies identify possible problems or ways to improve their products is what gets him excited. Especially when the craft beer boom in Maine has led to at least 83 open breweries in the state, according to the Maine Brewers Guild.

“It means a lot to see a Maine (industry) blowing up the way it is,” Burce said. “Not just Allagash and Rising Tide, but the whole craft industry has sort of taken Portland by storm recently. It seems like a good industry to be in.”

SOLVING REAL-LIFE PROBLEMS

Wentworth agrees. The attraction is applying science to solve a real-world problem.

“It could be coffee or something else, but for me it’s just the science,” she said of the appeal of working in the lab.

That is music to Benedict’s ears. She acknowledges it’s cool to run a beer-testing lab, although she’s also a fan of wine and mead. She brews her own beer at home, but Benedict says her husband drinks most of it or they give it away.

Benedict is glad she’s in a position to help Maine businesses, but mostly she’s excited that she gets to engage Maine students.

“(The beer lab) is great because it’s been proven that if you have students working at the university, they are much more likely to stay and to graduate,” she said.

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Treasury slams EU’s tax probe http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/24/treasury-slams-eus-tax-probe/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/24/treasury-slams-eus-tax-probe/#comments Thu, 25 Aug 2016 01:28:18 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/24/treasury-slams-eus-tax-probe/ The U.S. Treasury took the unusual step Wednesday of publishing a detailed critique of the European Commission’s investigations into alleged tax avoidance schemes by a group of U.S. companies, including Apple, Starbucks and Amazon.

Treasury said the commission’s probes into whether U.S. companies unfairly benefited from low corporate tax rates in Europe “undermine” agreements on international tax law and could hurt U.S. taxpayers.

“These investigations have major implications for the United States,” wrote Robert Stack, deputy assistant secretary for international tax affairs at Treasury, in a blog post.

Treasury’s actions are not a defense of these U.S. companies’ actions but rather signal a disagreement with European authorities over how to resolve the delicate matter of who benefits from overseas profits.

It also comes amid President Obama’s push to discourage U.S. companies from moving their tax residences overseas to avoid U.S. taxes, a ploy known as corporate inversion.

Treasury is touting its tax policy concerns ahead of a verdict from the commission, anticipated this fall, on whether Apple’s tax dealings in Ireland violate European rules. Apple could be ordered to repay $8 billion – and perhaps much more – in back taxes.

Apple, based in Cupertino, California, has been pilloried for years both at home and abroad for how it handles its overseas profits – parking billions of dollars in its subsidiary in Cork, Ireland, where the corporate tax rate is 12.5 percent. In contrast, the U.S. statutory corporate rate is 35 percent.

Apple chief executive Tim Cook defended the company’s actions in a Washington Post interview this month, denying that Apple was a “tax dodger” and that the company would happily bring back those profits home once U.S. tax law is reformed.

In Europe, the commission already has announced decisions unfavorable to other U.S. companies. Last year, it said a tax deal between Amazon and Luxembourg appeared to amount to unfair state aid by allowing the company to underpay its taxes. Amazon has since changed its tax structure.

The commission also ruled that Fiat owed back taxes in Luxembourg, and Starbucks owed them in the Netherlands, ordering the companies to repay millions of dollars.

While Europe’s handling of corporate tax policy has worried the Treasury, a commission spokeswoman said European regulators are only trying to ensure that no company receives an unfair advantage in taxation.

The Treasury said any repayments ordered by Europe could reduce the amount U.S. companies pay in taxes at home, calling such an outcome “deeply troubling” because it would effectively leave American taxpayers “footing the bill.”

The federal agency also warned that if the commission brought more tax cases against U.S. firms, it “may lead to a growing chilling effect on U.S.-EU cross-border investment.”

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Pfizer to buy rival’s antibiotics rights http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/24/pfizer-to-buy-rivals-antibiotics-rights/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/24/pfizer-to-buy-rivals-antibiotics-rights/#comments Thu, 25 Aug 2016 01:10:40 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/24/pfizer-to-buy-rivals-antibiotics-rights/ TRENTON, N.J. — Drugmaker Pfizer Inc. is continuing its shopping spree with its fourth acquisition since the April collapse of its planned $160 billion megadeal to buy rival Allergan PLC and move its headquarters, on paper, to Allergan’s base in lower-tax Ireland.

In its second deal this week, New York-based Pfizer said it’s buying rights to Anglo-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca PLC’s portfolio of approved and experimental antibiotic and antifungal pills, a move to boost Pfizer’s business in one of its priority areas. The deal is valued in excess of $1.5 billion, including rights to sell the medicines in most countries outside the U.S., royalties and other payments.

The acquisition indicates a thawing of relations between the two companies barely two years after London-based AstraZeneca fought off Pfizer’s hostile takeover attempt.

Pfizer had planned that $119 billion acquisition as a so-called “tax inversion” enabling Pfizer to slash its U.S. tax bill by moving its nominal headquarters – but not its corporate offices or executives – to England.

The tax inversion strategy had been hot in corporate America for a few years, but it’s cooled down since the U.S. Treasury Department in early April issued new tax rules to block the biggest U.S. drugmaker from becoming a corporate citizen of Ireland. Allergan is technically based in Dublin, but it’s the result of a tax inversion merger and operates from Parsippany, New Jersey.

Under the deal announced Wednesday, AstraZeneca will receive an upfront payment of $550 million. Pfizer will get rights to some medicines in development and approved ones including Merrem, for treating bacterial meningitis and serious infections of the skin and stomach; Zinforo, for pneumonia and complex skin and soft tissue infections; and Zavicefta, a combination antibiotic the European Union just approved for treating serious bacterial infections.

Luke Miels, the head of the antibiotics business unit at AstraZeneca, said the company is “pleased that our strong science in antibiotics will continue to serve a critical public health need through Pfizer’s dedicated focus on infectious diseases.”

Pfizer’s other recent deals include:

n On Monday, it announced a $14 billion deal to buy San Francisco-based Medivation, which develops pills for treating various cancers. That’s a priority area, but Pfizer is playing catch-up with rivals dominating the new generation of targeted cancer medicines.

n On Aug. 1, Pfizer announced a deal worth $150 million upfront and potentially another $495 million to acquire what Pfizer didn’t already own of Bamboo Therapeutics Inc. of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. It’s developing potentially lucrative gene therapies for rare diseases.

n In June, Pfizer completed the $5.2 billion acquisition of Palo Alto, California-based Anacor Pharmaceuticals Inc., which could get a new eczema drug, crisaborole, approved by January. Pfizer also got topical toenail fungus treatment Kerydin and some other drugs in early testing.

Pfizer shares closed Wednesday down 27 cents at $34.82. Investors seem to like Pfizer’s return to focusing on deals to create new drugs, though. Since Pfizer scrapped the Allergan deal, its shares have jumped more than 12 percent.

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Uber app lets drivers set up IRA retirement fund http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/24/uber-app-lets-drivers-set-up-ira-retirement-fund/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/24/uber-app-lets-drivers-set-up-ira-retirement-fund/#comments Thu, 25 Aug 2016 01:03:15 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/24/uber-app-lets-drivers-set-up-ira-retirement-fund/ Uber has teamed up with an automated investor service to offer its drivers a way to set up retirement accounts through the ride-hailing app.

As part of a pilot program, drivers in certain markets can use the Uber app to open an IRA or Roth IRA through robo-advisor Betterment without a required minimum account balance.

Drivers can use the accounts for free for the first year. After that, they pay 0.25 percent of the average account balance for the year.

Uber Technologies Inc. said Wednesday that this offer will apply to “tens of thousands of drivers” in Chicago, Boston, Seattle and New Jersey, and that it is working with New York-based Betterment to roll out the program nationwide. Uber, based in San Francisco, did not give a timeline for that expansion.

Betterment spokeswoman Arielle Sobel said both companies would contribute “non-monetary resources” to the partnership and that “no money was exchanged.”

Uber will not be matching driver contributions to the retirement accounts, the ride-hailing company said in an email.

Stephen Beck, managing partner of management consulting firm Cg42, said the announcement is an effort to retain drivers and compete with rival ride-hailing company Lyft, as well as get some good PR.

“Does it potentially help Uber keep the drivers they have? Yes,” he said. “Does it potentially help them attract more drivers, thereby helping them drive greater availability? Yes. “

The move comes less than a week after a federal judge rejected Uber’s proposed $100 million bid to settle a lawsuit involving drivers’ employment status.

Uber classifies its drivers as contractors. It offered to pay the settlement rather than recategorizing the drivers as employees, which would make them eligible for benefits.

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Mistreated animals lead to charges http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/24/mistreated-animals-lead-to-charges/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/24/mistreated-animals-lead-to-charges/#comments Thu, 25 Aug 2016 00:52:34 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/24/mistreated-animals-lead-to-charges/ Animal cruelty charges were filed Wednesday against a Pennsylvania small-animal dealer that supplied major pet retailers like Petco and PetSmart.

Clinton Arthur Holmes, 49, of Alburtis, was cited for 28 instances of animal cruelty, said the Montgomery County district attorney’s office and Douglass Township police in a statement.

The charges followed an investigation at Holmes Farm that revealed dozens of animals in need of veterinary treatment for symptoms ranging from hair loss to eye abnormalities to lethargy.

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Stocks close lower, following sharp declines in health care sector as outrage over EpiPens pricing continues http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/24/stocks-close-lower-following-sharp-declines-in-health-care-sector-as-outrage-over-epipens-pricing-continues/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/24/stocks-close-lower-following-sharp-declines-in-health-care-sector-as-outrage-over-epipens-pricing-continues/#comments Wed, 24 Aug 2016 23:57:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/24/stocks-close-lower-following-sharp-declines-in-health-care-sector-as-outrage-over-epipens-pricing-continues/ NEW YORK — Stocks closed lower on Wednesday, led by sharp declines in health-care companies as outrage over the steep price hikes for Mylan’s EpiPens escalates.

Trading remains quiet overall with many investors still on vacation..

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 65.82 points, or 0.4 percent, to 18,481.48. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index lost 11.46 points, or 0.5 percent, to 2,175.44 and the Nasdaq composite lost 42.38 points, or 0.8 percent, to 5,217.69.

Major indexes were down slightly for most of the day, and the losses deepened as a late-day sell-off in drugmakers dragged the broader market lower.

Outrage over Mylan’s price increases for its EpiPen product continues to grow. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton issued a statement Wednesday calling Mylan’s price increases “outrageous” and called for the company to reduce its prices.

EpiPens are medical devices designed to deliver adrenaline to a patient suffering from a potentially fatal allergic reaction. Allergy sufferers often have to carry more than one because they always need to be close by in case of an emergency. Mylan, which bought the rights to the product in 2007, has raised the price from roughly $100 for two pens to roughly $600.

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South Portland’s defense fees in pipeline lawsuit top $500,000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/24/south-portlands-defense-fees-in-pipeline-lawsuit-top-500000/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/24/south-portlands-defense-fees-in-pipeline-lawsuit-top-500000/#comments Wed, 24 Aug 2016 23:53:55 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/24/south-portlands-defense-fees-in-pipeline-lawsuit-top-500000/ SOUTH PORTLAND — The city has already spent more than $500,000 defending its controversial Clear Skies ordinance in federal court, and municipal officials expect the cost to reach nearly $1 million when the lawsuit filed by the Portland Pipe Line Corp. goes to trial later this year.

Meanwhile, the city’s Clear Skies Legal Defense Fund has received a little more than $21,500 in donations, disappointing some city officials who expected more from supporters of the ordinance, which bans the export of domestic oil through the city. The pipeline, which has carried foreign crude to Canada for decades, was essentially shut down in recent months because of a lack of demand.

So far, the city has spent $518,513 on legal fees related to the lawsuit – about $375,000 of which has been charged in recent months as lawyers for each side have waded through the costly “discovery phase” leading up to the trial, city officials said.

Last week, the City Council agreed to transfer $500,000 from cash reserves to the legal defense fund, in addition to a similar $200,000 transfer that was made in 2015. In total, the city has set aside $899,567 to defend the ordinance, including donations and $177,945 in this year’s regular legal budget. Only $381,054 remains unspent.

“The longer it takes, the more it’s going to cost,” said Mayor Tom Blake. “We hope for expediency, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. The price to ensure the health of the community, it’s not cheap.”

In particular, Blake said, the city didn’t anticipate the high cost of expert witnesses who have testified during the discovery phase. And the case has the potential to cost a lot more if it goes to the U.S. Supreme Court, as some think it might.

“So much is going on in energy markets right now, we’re paying top dollar for expert witnesses,” Blake said. “I wish we didn’t have to spend a nickel. I’m disappointed it’s taking so long, but I’m not surprised, and we’re at a point now where we can’t turn around.”

Blake has changed his stance since mounting legal costs became a concern in the spring. At that time, Blake said he wasn’t worried because the city is financially healthy, but it should be prepared for a worst-case scenario if the pipeline company wins its lawsuit.

Since the pipeline company sued in February 2015, the city has paid legal fees to its local attorney, Sally Daggett of Jansen Baird Gardner & Henry in Portland, and to Foley Hoag, a prominent Boston law firm with environmental expertise.

Portland Pipe Line operates an underground pipeline that stretches from its terminal in South Portland to Montreal. The pipeline has historically been used to send oil to Canada, but more recently has been eyed as a way to export Canadian crude.

The company is challenging South Portland’s Clear Skies ordinance, passed by the council in July 2014, which banned the loading of crude oil into tankers on the city’s waterfront and effectively blocked the company from reversing the flow of its South Portland-to-Montreal pipeline.

In the lawsuit, the company claims that the ban is unconstitutional because it interferes with interstate trade, discriminates against Canadian interests, devalues the pipeline and infringes on areas of regulation best left to the federal government.

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

Environmentalists have argued that exporting the oil would accelerate global climate change, while petroleum industry representatives have said the oil is no more damaging than other crude oil.

Blake acknowledged that the Clear Skies Defense Fund hasn’t drawn the support that some hoped it would, but he noted that it received three $5,000 contributions in recent weeks, from Environment Maine, Environment America and Daniel Zilkha of South Casco.

Blake also said Protect South Portland, a community group that fought for the Clear Skies ordinance, has stepped up fundraising in recent weeks, holding events that raised several hundred dollars each.

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Auburn developer George Schott sells three retail plazas, buys three hotels http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/24/auburn-developer-george-schott-sells-three-retail-plazas-buys-three-hotels/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/24/auburn-developer-george-schott-sells-three-retail-plazas-buys-three-hotels/#comments Wed, 24 Aug 2016 23:05:59 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/24/auburn-developer-george-schott-sells-three-retail-plazas-buys-three-hotels/ Auburn developer George Schott has sold off a portion of his retail real estate portfolio and is venturing further into hotel ownership.

On Tuesday, Schott closed on the sale of three retail centers he owned in Auburn for a total of $20 million in cash and real estate, according to a broker involved in the transaction. The sale included Hobby Lobby Plaza, Mt. Auburn Plaza and Nobility Plaza, said Craig Young, partner at CBRE|The Boulos Co. in Portland, who represented Schott in the sale. The buyers were Thomas Auger Jr. and Nancy Auger Hunt, son and daughter of the late VIP Discount Auto Center founder Thomas Auger Sr.

In mid-July, Schott purchased two hotels in South Portland and a third in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, for an undisclosed sum. The hotels include the Portland Marriott at Sable Oaks and the Holiday Inn Express & Suites South Portland, in addition to a Residence Inn in Portsmouth.

Schott said the purchase, from real estate investment firm Rockland Capital, doubles the size of his hotel portfolio from three to six properties. He also owns Residence Inn hotels in Auburn and Bath, along with the recently opened Homewood Suites by Hilton in Augusta. Schott’s partner in those properties is Florida-based Ocean Properties, which also manages the three hotels he purchased in July.

“I’m diversifying out of the retail and getting more into the hotel business,” Schott said.

Schott is well-known as owner of the Auburn Mall and other commercial properties in Maine, along with hundreds of units of former base housing around the former Brunswick Naval Air Station. He said the decision to sell off some of his retail holdings and purchase three more hotels stemmed from his excellent relationship with Ocean Properties.

“Ocean Properties has been managing those properties for years,” Schott said. “I have a very good management team to oversee the hotels.”

Initially, Schott said he had planned to use the proceeds from the sale of the three retail plazas as a down payment on the hotels, but a longer-than-expected closing process on the retail portfolio sale resulted in it going through after the hotel purchase was already completed.

The three plazas Schott sold to the Augers include several stores, restaurants and other businesses, including Hobby Lobby, Best Buy, Ruby Tuesday, Panera Bread, Aspen Dental, St. Mary’s Urgent Care and Town Fair Tire.

Under the terms of the sale, the Augers paid Schott $16.4 million and sold him the Applebees restaurant they owned in Auburn, which was valued at $3.6 million, said Young, the broker.

He said the retail property sale helped both Schott and the Augers achieve their investment goals.

“He (Schott) is looking to diversify his portfolio throughout New England, as opposed to owning so much in Auburn,” Young said. “Conversely, the Augers were looking to add to their holdings in central Maine.”

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Spectra Energy to stick with natural gas pipeline expansion despite setbacks http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/24/spectra-vows-to-continue-pipeline-project/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/24/spectra-vows-to-continue-pipeline-project/#comments Wed, 24 Aug 2016 19:44:17 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/24/spectra-vows-to-continue-pipeline-project/ The loss of utility partners and a damaging court ruling in Massachusetts apparently have failed to kill the $3 billion Access Northeast natural gas pipeline project, which proponents consider critical to lowering power costs in Maine and New England and environmental groups have been fighting hard to defeat.

Houston-based Spectra Energy said Wednesday that it will move ahead with Access Northeast despite a setback in the Bay State, the region’s largest energy user. Spectra has estimated the project would save New England consumers $1 billion a year.

“New England is at a pivotal moment in determining its energy future, and the ‘do nothing’ scenario is untenable,” Arthur Diestel, director of stakeholder outreach for Spectra Energy, said in a statement to the Portland Press Herald. “Without targeted expansion of natural gas pipeline capacity, New England energy consumers will inevitably bear the brunt of ever-increasing energy prices and ever-diminishing supply reliability.”

Spectra’s affirmation is of special interest in Maine. Over the objection of environmental groups, the Maine Public Utilities Commission last month gave conditional approval to a plan in which electric customers would help subsidize the construction of private natural gas pipelines. Access Northeast was the larger of two proposed projects approved for consideration.

But Access Northeast appeared to be on its deathbed earlier this week.

Spectra’s two utility partners told state regulators in Massachusetts on Monday that they were pulling out of the project. Eversource Energy and National Grid cited last week’s Supreme Judicial Court ruling in Massachusetts, which prohibited ratepayers from financing private pipeline projects.

The ruling was in response to a lawsuit from plaintiffs that included the Conservation Law Foundation. The environmental group, which has an office in Portland, favors renewable energy sources and efficiency measures over expanding fossil fuel use, to counter climate change and air pollution.

But Diestel stressed that the action taken by Eversource and National Grid only involves Massachusetts. The utility partners remain committed to seeking approvals in Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire, he said, where Access Northeast also would be located. More than 95 percent of the project would use existing pipeline and utility corridors.

1028471_807361 AccessNorthEPipeline.jpg

Massachusetts, however, uses nearly half of the electricity in the region. Spectra has said each state would pay a proportional share of the project cost.

Two large liquefied natural gas tanks that would store fuel also were planned for Southeast Massachusetts. A primary site in Acushnet and an alternative in Somerset have been identified.

Diestel declined to answer questions about how Spectra would proceed in Massachusetts and whether it might have to find new locations for LNG storage in southern New England.

“We’re evaluating our path forward in Massachusetts,” he said. “We’re confident we will be able to continue forward.”

Access Northeast is designed to upgrade the existing Algonquin Gas Transmission pipeline through southern New England and add LNG storage. The goal is to bring more gas capacity to serve the region’s power plants on the coldest winter days, when electricity demand and wholesale energy prices peak.

Gas is used to generate roughly half the region’s electricity. In the winter, New England burns roughly 4.5 billion cubic feet of gas daily. For comparison, that’s equal to about 31 million gallons of heating oil.

But the Conservation Law Foundation and other interest groups want to wean New England off gas, not increase dependence. It has intervened in each of the four states where Access Northeast would be developed. It also has asked the Maine PUC to reopen its proceeding, based on what has happened in Massachusetts.

“The project is likely dead,” said Greg Cunningham, director of the foundation’s Clean Energy and Climate Change program. “But it is at least different, and that difference will require new contracts, new filings and new approvals, if not new business plans and business partners and investors.”

Cunningham acknowledged that the Massachusetts court ruling doesn’t set a legal precedent in other states, but he expects it will have an impact.

“Its finding certainly has persuasive value in every New England state, as the states all have very similar restructuring laws and each has the paramount goal of protecting ratepayers,” he said.

Spectra is making progress with two smaller pipeline projects in New England, one of which is only months away from completion.

The Algonquin Incremental Market project is on target to be in service this November. Spectra also is moving forward with Atlantic Bridge. The company hopes to have permits from federal energy regulators this fall, and be in service for the 2017-2018 heating season, a spokeswoman said.

But Access Northeast has become a focal point in the battle over natural gas expansion in New England.

It has taken on a new significance since last spring when Kinder Morgan, the nation’s largest energy infrastructure company, announced it was giving up on its Northeast Energy Direct pipeline proposal. The $3 billion project would have expanded the company’s Tennessee Gas Pipeline through Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire, bringing up to 1.2 billion cubic feet of shale gas from fields in Pennsylvania. It was one of three projects bidding to supply capacity to Maine, in the case before the PUC.

Northeast Energy Direct would have run 430 miles and created new pipeline corridors. Business interests and some consumer advocates voiced support for the promise of lower power bills. But environmental groups across New England, landowners along the proposed route and many politicians rallied against it, citing concerns ranging from the impacts of hydraulic fracturing during gas extraction to continued reliance on fossil fuels.

Tony Buxton, a Portland lawyer who represented Kinder Morgan and lobbies for industrial customers, said Spectra’s persistence is good news for New England consumers.

“The Massachusetts court decision,” he said, “doesn’t change the reality that year in and year out, New England consumers pay up to $3 billion in excessive electricity costs solely because we have inadequate pipeline capacity to provide both gas for heating and some gas for power generation.”

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Maine home sales dip slightly in July http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/24/maine-home-sales-dip-slightly-in-july/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/24/maine-home-sales-dip-slightly-in-july/#comments Wed, 24 Aug 2016 19:01:41 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/24/maine-home-sales-dip-slightly-in-july/ Sales of single-family homes in Maine dipped slightly in July, while the median sale price increased by nearly 5 percent.

The Maine Association of Realtors reported Wednesday that 1,710 homes changed hands in July, 2.2 percent fewer closings than in July 2015. Meanwhile, the median sale price increased by 4.7 percent to $197,700. The median indicates that half of the homes were sold for more and half sold for less.

Association President Ed Gardner said the sales decrease was likely the result of a shortage of available housing inventory for buyers. He said the increase in median price is also consistent with a relative shortage of supply compared with demand.

“For the past year, Maine has enjoyed a healthy real estate market,” Gardner said. “We have experienced month-over-month increases of both unit sales and median sale prices, almost 10 percent in units sold, from this past quarter to the same in 2015.”

Benjamin Bisson of Bisson Real Estate in Woolwich said that in the midcoast area, the inventory crunch is particularly an issue at the low end of the price spectrum. While there are first-time buyers in the market looking for starter homes, he said, most of what’s available for sale is beyond their price range.

And because construction costs are relatively high, there are very few homebuilders targeting first-time buyers in Maine, Bisson said.

“Construction at an entry level is basically nonexistent,” he said.

Still, Bisson said the luxury home market has been very strong, and to a slightly lesser extent the middle price range for move-up buyers.

In general, both home sales and median price have been trending upward in Maine.

During the three-month period ending July 31, home sales in Maine were up 9.7 percent from a year earlier, and the median price increased by 4.8 percent to $196,000, according to the association.

The biggest sales spike during that period was in Franklin County, where home sales increased by 49.4 percent compared with the same period of 2015. The only county that experienced a decrease in home sales was Piscataquis County, where sales decreased by 1.2 percent. In Cumberland County, sales increased by 1.2 percent.

The biggest increase in median price for the three-month period was in Lincoln County, where the median increased by 16.6 percent from a year earlier to $199,750. The biggest decrease was in Franklin County, where the median price fell by 14.2 percent to $118,000.

Also on Wednesday, the National Association of Realtors said sales of detached, single-family existing homes nationwide were down 0.8 percent in July compared with a year earlier. The national median sale price of $246,000 was up 5.4 percent from July 2015. Regionally, sales in the Northeast eased 5.7 percent, while the regional median sale price rose 3.3 percent to $284,000.

 

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Swedish scientists urging American lobster ban admit science is thin but insist threat is real http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/24/science-is-thin-but-threat-is-real-say-swedish-scientists-arguing-for-american-lobster-ban/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/24/science-is-thin-but-threat-is-real-say-swedish-scientists-arguing-for-american-lobster-ban/#comments Wed, 24 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1027760 Swedish scientists readily admit they don’t have the science to prove that American lobsters have invaded North Atlantic waters and become established there, but say the threat to their small native lobster population is real and can only be fully neutralized by an import ban.

Their findings, released in advance of an Aug. 31 ruling by a European Union committee on whether U.S. lobsters are an invasive species, argue that American lobsters have mated with native species. The scientists support banning imports of the lobsters as a precaution.

“There is a major difference between assessing the likelihood that establishment will occur and assessing the risk,” the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management said in a report. “Documented establishment in Europe is exactly what we want to avoid. The biggest difference between the North American reviews and the Swedish is how the precautionary principle is handled. … Prevention is generally more desirable than reaction after the fact.”

At stake are more than $136 million in live lobster exports from Maine and Massachusetts to the EU (most Maine lobster is exported through Boston).

Within the report is information that worries scientists: In 2009, a wild American lobster that was caught in Norwegian waters had mated with a European lobster. It successfully gave birth, and its offspring, a hybrid of the two species, are still being held in a lab there for study.

But the Norwegian government doesn’t have the money to test if these 7-year-old hybrids are sexually mature or if they can spawn fertile offspring of their own. That means it’s impossible to know if American-European hybrids have the biology needed to one day, given the right circumstances, take over the waters of the North Atlantic and edge out their smaller-clawed European cousins.

Scientists from Sweden, which is leading the campaign to ban the import of live American lobsters to the 28 countries that make up the EU, say it doesn’t matter. While such knowledge would be nice, Sweden argues that the EU shouldn’t wait for proof that an invasion is actually underway before it takes action. The best time to stop an invasive species from taking over a new habitat is before it happens, not after, when eradication efforts are often expensive and rarely successful in turning an invader away, especially one as elusive as an underwater crustacean, the scientists argued in their July report.

The study that has taken place in Norway found that American lobsters with hybrid eggs successfully hatched their eggs, producing the same size and number of eggs as a wild-caught American lobster found carrying pure eggs. This suggests the egg-laying process and survival of eggs in North Atlantic waters seem not to be affected by temperature differences from North American lobsters, the Swedish scientists told the EU environment committee, the panel that will rule next week on the invasive species issue.

Some American and Canadian scientists had speculated that the warmer waters of the North Atlantic during winter might prevent sexual maturation, but the Swedish scientists believe that the American females were able to crawl to deeper, colder waters. If such migration wasn’t possible, Swedish scientists noted that European lobsters that couldn’t make it to colder waters had still been able to produce embryos and larvae, but of smaller size and quality. Warmer waters were not optimal, but they weren’t lethal for the entire clutch, they noted.

But the U.S. government continues to stand by its earlier claim that the Swedish environmental assessment is rife with extrapolation, conjecture and anecdotes, and lacking the science needed to list a species as invasive under European Union regulations.

This is especially troubling given the socioeconomic impacts that a ban on live American lobster imports would have on American fishermen as well as EU importers, retailers and consumers, said Eileen Sobeck, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s assistant administrator for fisheries.

Such a ban would remove from European markets almost 28 million pounds of U.S. and Canadian lobster valued at more than $200 million annually, Sobeck said in an Aug. 16 letter. That ban would present a “significant and unjustified barrier to trade,” Sobeck said.

On Tuesday, Maine’s congressional delegation issued a joint statement saying the U.S. could file an objection with the World Trade Organization if the EU decides to impose the ban “in the absence of strong scientific evidence.”

Sweden first submitted its petition to list the American lobster as invasive in March, citing discovery of two dozen American lobsters off the coast of Great Britain, Norway and Sweden in the past 30 years. Sweden said a ban would protect the native European lobster from crossbreeding and diseases, and its habitat and food from its more rapacious American cousin.

The U.S. and Canadian governments replied in June, saying the science behind the proposal was weak. Political leaders from both countries, including Maine’s delegation, accused Sweden of trying to protect the Swedish economy instead of a species.

The EU must wait for the decision of its environment committee before it can rule on a ban.

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Imbibers don’t want Mexican spirits walled off http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/23/u-s-imbibers-dont-want-mexican-spirits-walled-off/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/23/u-s-imbibers-dont-want-mexican-spirits-walled-off/#comments Wed, 24 Aug 2016 00:17:44 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/23/u-s-imbibers-dont-want-mexican-spirits-walled-off/ Importers are caught between the rise of nativist Trump and the thirst for south-of-the-border beverages.

While Donald Trump’s supporters chant “build the wall,” more Americans are drinking beer and tequila imported from what would be on the other side.

The largest alcohol producers are stressing the need to appeal to consumers, Hispanic and otherwise, who increasingly want products with Mexican heritage. U.S. beer shipments from Mexico grew 18 percent this year through June, outpacing the 1.3 percent gain for all beer shipments, according to data from the Beer Institute. From 2010 to 2015, tequila rose 30 percent by volume in the U.S., more than any other alcohol category expect cognac, according to data from Euromonitor International.

Constellation Brands’s 24 percent compound annual growth from 2010 to 2015 was driven by the popularity of its Mexican imports, including Corona and Modelo beer, according to Kenneth Shea, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst. Heineken’s Tecate franchise has grown 7.2 percent so far this year, led by Tecate Light, which is up 31 percent. Heineken also imports Dos Equis.

“Millennials and Hispanics for us are very critical,” said Ronald den Elzen, chief executive officer of Heineken USA. “The trends coming out of Latin America over here and the attractiveness for all the American population in general in what’s happening in food, in clothing, in style – in everything – is just helping to drive that fuel.”

Constellation and Heineken aren’t alone. Other companies have taken notice of the power of Hispanic consumers: On Sept. 1, MillerCoors will introduce Zumbida, an alcoholic take on a traditional Mexican beverage called agua fresca. Diageo, the world’s largest distiller, has bolstered its tequila portfolio and invested in Mexico’s newest popular spirit: mezcal. The tequila and mezcal industry in the U.S. is expected to grow 17 percent between 2015 and 2020, according to data from Euromonitor.

Alcohol companies are caught in the crosshairs of two cultural movements: the rise of Trump and his nativist bombast, and the so-called Mexicanization of U.S. culture as seen in the food and beverage industries.

“Trump has tapped into the frustration with illegal immigrants; it’s kind of mind-boggling,” said Stephen Rannekleiv, a New York-based global beverage strategist at Rabobank International. “But at the same time, you see the growing interest in brands with Mexican heritage, in all categories. It’s not just tequila now.”

Trump’s pledge to build a wall along the southern border, deport 11 million immigrants and renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement carry risks for companies like Constellation, the largest importer of Mexican beer to the U.S. Based in upstate New York, Constellation relies on Mexican imports for 55 percent of its $6.5 billion in annual revenue, and Hispanic consumers account for a third of Corona’s sales.

Whether Trump’s movement will translate into an electoral victory in November remains to be seen. In the meantime, consumer-products analysts will be watching.

“If he gets in, you can certainly change the mood and turn the tide against Mexican imports,” said Philip Gorham, an analyst at Morningstar Inc. who follows distillers and beer companies. “It’s easier said than done.”

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New homes become hotter commodity in July http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/23/new-homes-become-hotter-commodity-in-july/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/23/new-homes-become-hotter-commodity-in-july/#comments Wed, 24 Aug 2016 00:06:40 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/23/new-homes-become-hotter-commodity-in-july/ WASHINGTON — Americans stepped up their purchases of new homes in July to the fastest pace in nearly nine years, as low mortgage rates and a steady job market are fueling a real estate surge.

New-home sales jumped 12.4 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted rate of 654,000 annual units, the strongest level since October 2007, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. The demand has eclipsed the pace of construction. Just 4.3 months’ supply of new homes is available on the market, down from 5.2 months a year ago.

Construction of single-family houses has picked up this year, as the housing market continues to recover from the drop-off caused by the Great Recession and sub-prime mortgages. Sales in July roughly matched the historic pace of 650,000 new homes selling each year, as the 4.9 percent unemployment rate, mortgage rates hovering near all-time lows and recovering economy have pulled more buyers to new developments and properties.

“We see tremendous growth potential in new home sales as housing demand continues to grow and the continued supply shortage of newer vintage homes,” said Tian Liu, chief economist at Genworth Mortgage Insurance.

Purchases shot up 40 percent in the Northeast and 18.1 percent in the South last month. They increased slightly in the Midwest and stayed unchanged in the West.

July’s median sales price dipped 0.5 percent from a year ago to $294,600, a possible reflection of the regional sales mix.

New-home sales have climbed 12.4 percent so far this year to 352,000.

Builders are increasing construction but are still running behind demand. Ground breakings for houses have climbed 10.6 percent year-to-date, the government reported last week. This marks a sharp reversal from prior years in the recovery from the Great Recession when a large share of the increase in residential construction came from apartments.

Optimism abounds for many builders as well. The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index for August rose two points to 60 following a downwardly revised reading of 58 in July.

Readings above 50 indicate more builders view sales conditions as good rather than poor.

Low mortgage rates are feeding much of this confidence. Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said the average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage fell to 3.43 percent last week from 3.98 percent a year ago.

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Zika risk sends tourists packing http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/23/rest-and-relaxation-sought-without-zika-risk/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/23/rest-and-relaxation-sought-without-zika-risk/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2016 23:56:42 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/23/rest-and-relaxation-sought-without-zika-risk/ NEW YORK — With government officials now warning pregnant women to avoid Miami Beach in addition to Puerto Rico, some sun seekers are desperately scrambling for a Zika-free vacation.

And that has left other tourist destinations to capitalize – quietly.

Travel experts say families worried about Zika are now looking to Arizona and Southern California to get some sun, along with cooler weather locales such as New England and Canada.

The Zika virus is transmitted by mosquitoes or through sex with an infected person. In pregnant women, a Zika infection can cause severe birth defects, including microcephaly, where babies are born with a dangerously small head. In others, it can lead to Guillain-Barre, which can cause temporary paralysis and in rare instances, death. That was the case earlier this month of a man between 35 and 45 years old who died in Puerto Rico after being infected.

Given that background, many would-be vacationers don’t want to take the risk.

Jen LeFante and her husband, Chris, are expecting their first child in March. The New Jersey couple had wanted to escape to Puerto Rico or the Florida Keys for some relaxation before the baby arrives.

“But it seems like every travel destination we picked is on the Zika list,” she says.

Instead, they are doing a number of smaller, driving trips including ones to upstate New York and Vermont.

“I’d much rather be on a beach,” LeFante said.

Bermuda has seen several groups move meetings and conventions there from Caribbean islands, according to Glenn Jones, director of public and stakeholder relations at the Bermuda Tourism Authority.

“That’s been a welcome and unexpected boost to our business this summer,” Jones said.

However, the island nation off the coast of the Carolinas has been careful about how it handles the situation. Educating tourists who ask about the absence of Zika is fine, but don’t expect a marketing campaign around it.

“There is a delicate balance there,” Jones says. “We don’t proactively seek to capitalize on this.”

Ingrid Kessler takes a vacation every few years with 10 family members, spanning three generations. This year’s adventure was planned for Riviera Maya in Mexico. But with two members of the group at child-bearing age – and older members with compromised immune systems – that plan was scrapped because of Zika. Canada’s Banff National Park was briefly considered as an alternative but the group wanted beach time and the chance to go scuba diving. So Bermuda won out.

Such travel shifts worry tourism officials in destinations with Zika.

Miami is the first spot on the U.S. mainland where the virus has been transmitted by mosquito bites. It has a lot at risk. More than 15.5 million people made overnight visits to Miami and nearby beaches in 2015, with an impact of $24.4 billion on the local economy, according to figures from the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Some of that business is likely to go elsewhere.

Visitors’ bureaus in some other destinations either said they didn’t have proof of a Zika connection to their growth or were hesitant to speak about the bump, fearing that they might be perceived as gloating in somebody else’s misery. But clues to the shift have surfaced, including in regulatory filings of publicly traded companies.

James Murren, CEO of MGM Resorts International, said on a recent earnings call that Las Vegas was benefiting as vacationers book away from Florida.

“As sad as that situation is in Florida, I certainly don’t want to benefit from it as a result of that, but I can say that we’re seeing a pickup in air traffic and in driving traffic even in the last couple of months,” Murren said.

It’s too early to estimate the economic toll of Zika. There are added health costs, the loss of business and the lack of travel. The 2002 and 2003 outbreak ofSARS, severe acute respiratory syndrome, was estimated by the World Bank to have cost the global economy $54 billion.

The affected destinations aren’t sitting still. Some are rejiggering marketing campaigns, hoping to attract new audiences.

Ingrid Rivera Rocafort, executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Co., said the island is ramping up advertising efforts to lure baby boomers, retirees and gay and lesbian travelers.

Magazines including Travel and Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler have been offering “Zika-Free Destination” guides, offering alternative destinations. They include Bermuda, San Diego, Palm Springs, Hawaii, Arizona, and Charleston, South Carolina.

And not every destination has to be warm-weather.

“When travelers tell me they want a place that’s Zika-free, terrorist-free and affordable, I suggest Canada,” said Wendy Perrin, a travel expert who offers advice on WendyPerrin.com.

Those who really want to head to Latin America are planning trips to places that are at higher elevations where mosquitoes don’t live, such as Machu Picchu in Peru, Mexico City and Bogota, Colombia, Perrin said.

Perrin notes that mosquitoes have been spreading diseases like malaria, dengue fever and yellow fever for centuries, many of them deadlier than Zika.

“Obviously, people who are pregnant, or trying to be, should avoid Zika-affected areas,” she said. “But the rest of us should be careful not to focus so much on avoiding Zika that we choose a destination that puts our health at greater risk, whether from mosquitoes carrying other diseases or from another cause such as tainted water.”

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South Portland manager to negotiate solar power deal with ReVision http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/23/south-portland-manager-to-negotiate-solar-power-deal-with-revision/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/23/south-portland-manager-to-negotiate-solar-power-deal-with-revision/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2016 23:38:36 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/23/south-portland-manager-to-negotiate-solar-power-deal-with-revision/ SOUTH PORTLAND — The interim city manager will soon begin negotiating a power purchase agreement with a Portland company that wants to install a solar power array on the former municipal landfill off Highland Avenue.

Following a workshop discussion Monday, a fully supportive City Council is set to vote Sept. 7 to direct Don Gerrish to negotiate an agreement with ReVision Energy. Gerrish would return to the council to have it consider a final proposal for a solar farm on the 34-acre site.

ReVision recently sweetened the terms of its proposal to build the solar facility, reducing the price that the city would pay for electricity generated by the array from 12 cents to 10 cents per kilowatt-hour under a power purchase agreement.

ReVision revised its offer after proposed legislation to reform Maine’s solar regulations failed last spring, causing several communities to pull back from solar proposals without the means to make them financially viable.

City officials have teamed up with their Portland counterparts to negotiate separate agreements with matching terms for ReVision to build a solar array atop each city’s capped landfill. Portland’s landfill is a 44-acre site off Ocean Avenue.

Under the proposal, ReVision would build a 660-kilowatt array in each city. Each array would serve a maximum of 10 municipal meters – the most possible under Maine law – and generate about 1.2 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually for municipal and school use.

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R.I., two backers of failed venture reach settlement http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/23/r-i-two-backers-of-failed-venture-reach-settlement/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/23/r-i-two-backers-of-failed-venture-reach-settlement/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2016 23:32:57 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/23/r-i-two-backers-of-failed-venture-reach-settlement/ PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Rhode Island has reached a $25.6 million settlement with two of the financial backers it sued over a disastrous deal with former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios video game company.

The state’s Commerce Corp. announced Tuesday that it has agreed to the proposed settlement with Wells Fargo Securities and Barclays Capital Inc.

The settlement was filed Tuesday in Rhode Island Superior Court and is contingent on the court’s approval.

The company founded by Schilling moved from Massachusetts to Rhode Island in 2010 after the state’s economic development agency agreed to give it a $75 million loan guarantee. The deal was financed through bonds offered to investors. Less than two years later, 38 Studios ran out of money and filed for bankruptcy.

The state says it’s still in litigation with First Southwest Co. and Schilling.

The new settlement brings to $42 million the amount the state has recovered from parties involved in the deal.

“This really and truly is a hard-won victory for all the parties, particularly the taxpayers of the state of Rhode Island,” said retired Superior Court Judge Francis Darigan Jr., who was called in as a mediator to help broker the settlement.

Darigan told reporters Tuesday that negotiations are ongoing with the other parties and he is hopeful they can agree to a settlement before a trial scheduled for October. But he described Wells Fargo and Barclays as the biggest players and said he’s doubtful the state will be able to recover from the remaining parties the nearly $40 million it says it’s still owed.

“That might be a stretch,” Darigan said. “I’m hoping that we can make a significant contribution towards that, but I don’t want to mislead anybody to think that the state is going to recover every nickel.”

Wells Fargo said in a statement that it’s pleased to have reached an agreement.

“We are not admitting liability, nor did we do anything improper,” spokesman Gabriel Boehmer said in a statement. “It is simply in our shareholders’ best interest to minimize the risk that accompanies lengthy litigation.”

The state’s top law enforcement officials announced last month that there would be no criminal charges following a yearslong investigation into the people and organizations involved in the 38 Studios deal. But the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is still pursuing a lawsuit against Wells Fargo and Rhode Island’s economic development agency, which accuses them of making materially misleading statements about the bonds used to fund the deal.

Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo said in a statement Tuesday that the settlement is a big step in recovering taxpayer money lost to a bad deal.

“Rhode Islanders understandably feel hurt by this deal – and I do too – but I want everyone to know that we are demanding accountability, getting money back, and moving the state forward,” she said.

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Health care industry hires, promotions and awards http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/23/health-care-industry-hires-promotions-and-awards/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/23/health-care-industry-hires-promotions-and-awards/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2016 23:00:30 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/23/health-care-industry-hires-promotions-and-awards/ NEW HIRES
Maine Medical Partners, a department of Maine Medical Center, announced that five physicians have joined its practice.
1026806_284539 Monti.Jennifer.16.jpgJennifer Monti, M.D., joined MaineHealth Cardiology’s Scarborough office. She completed her internal medicine residency at Johns Hopkins University, followed by a cardiology fellowship at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

 

The following physicians recently joined MMP’s – Hospital Medicine:

DR. EMILY ZAROOKIAN

Emily Zarookian, M.D., completed her residency at Maine Medical Center, where she served as chief resident of internal medicine.

 

 

 

1026806_284539 Botler.Timothy.16.jpgTimothy Botler, M.D., received his medical degree from Medical College of Wisconsin and completed his residency at Rush Medical Center.

 

 

1026806_284539 Buttarazzi.Matthew.1.jpgMatthew Buttarazzi, M.D., completed his residency at MMC. He received his medical degree from Tufts University School of Medicine as part of the Maine Track Program.

 

 

 

1026806_284539 Walker.John.13.jpgJohn Walker, D.O., received his medical degree from the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine. He completed his residency at MMC.

 

 

1026806_284539 Sharon Martel.jpgDay One in South Portland, a substance abuse treatment program, recently hired Sharon Martel as an accountant.
Martel brings more than 20 years of accounting experience in the nonprofit and legal services field.

 

Greater Portland Health hired Jennifer Rogers, a nurse practitioner, to provide care for patients living with HIV and other infectious diseases.
Rogers brings more than 16 years of clinical experience. For the last 11 years, she has worked at the virology treatment center at Maine Medical Center treating patients with HIV and chronic viral hepatitis.

1026806_284539 angela lagassey.jpgAngela Legassey, a nurse practitioner, has joined the care provider team at Central Maine Obstetrics and Gynecology in Lewiston.
Legassey most recently worked as a registered nurse in mother-baby care at Maine Medical Center in Portland, a position she held since 2007. Previously, Legassey worked as a registered nurse in the maternity unit at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut.

 

Sacopee Valley Health Center hired Lynn Kearney as executive director.
Kearney has 12 years of experience in nonprofit health care, including her work as operations manager for Cape Cod Healthcare. For the past five years, she has worked for Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital as executive director of Jordan Physician Associates in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Aysha Sheikh joined the Maine Cancer Foundation as its new program officer.
She will work closely with the MCF leadership to develop its strategic plan, as well as oversee grant funding requests and awards. She previously worked for MaineHealth.

PROMOTIONS
Waltz Long Term Care Pharmacy in Brunswick promoted two people on its staff.
284539 Courtney Doherty Oland, R.Ph, MBACourtney Doherty Oland was named president. She joined the pharmacy over 10 years ago.

Amy Kelder Enos was named director of pharmacy operations. She joined the pharmacy in 2007 and became a certified284539 Amy Kelder Enos,PharmD, CGP geriatric pharmacist in 2012.

 

 

 

St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center announced the promotion of six nurses on the professional development pathway.
The nurses promoted to Level III include Kendra Bailey, case management; Sonja Theriault, clinical documentation improvement; Anita Rousseau, RN, A2; and Katie Bishop, RN, who works in the emergency department.
The nurses promoted to level IV are: Tammy Jutras, RN, clinical documentation improvement; and Barbara Chute, BSN, RN, perianethesia.

AWARDS and RECOGNITIONS
U.S. News & World Report again named Maine Medical Center a Best Regional Hospital.
MMC is one of only 63 out of more than 4,500 hospitals in the nation – and the only one in Maine – to be rated high performing across the board in nine procedures and conditions.

David Frum, president of Bridgton Hospital and Rumford Hospital, was named one of the nation’s “Top 50 Critical Access Hospital CEOs to Know.”
Frum has more than 25 years of experience, including six years in his current role as president of Bridgton Hospital and Rumford Hospital.

BOARD APPOINTMENTS
The American Red Cross of Maine named the following people to serve on its southern Maine chapter board of directors.
The newest members include David Hurst, M.D., a retired physician from Gorham; Peter Liberatore, a marketing executive from Kennebunk; and Jerome J. Gamache, an attorney from Cumberland Foreside.

284539 Dr. David Hurst -

Dr. David Hurst  

284539 Peter Liberatore

Peter Liberatore

284539 Jerome J. Gamache

Jerome Gamache

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Howard Johnson restaurant in Bangor to close, leaving only 1 in U.S. http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/23/howard-johnson-restaurant-in-bangor-to-close-leaving-only-1-in-u-s/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/23/howard-johnson-restaurant-in-bangor-to-close-leaving-only-1-in-u-s/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2016 19:13:04 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/23/howard-johnson-restaurant-in-bangor-to-close-leaving-only-1-in-u-s/

Associated Press

BANGOR — The closing of one of the last two Howard Johnson restaurants in a couple of weeks will mark the end of its fried clam strips, ice cream and other menu staples that nourished baby boomers, and leave the once-proud restaurant chain teetering on the brink of extinction.

The slice of roadside Americana will no longer be served up in Bangor after Sept. 6.

For waitress Kathe Jewett, it’s the only job she’s held since starting work when the restaurant opened in 1966.

“It’s bittersweet, but it’s nothing to be sad about,” the 68-year-old Jewett insisted Tuesday during a break from serving customers. “I’ve been here for 50 years – and it’s time.”

The closing will leave only one Howard Johnson restaurant, in Lake George, New York.

Before falling on hard times, Howard Johnson took restaurant franchises to a new level. The orange-roofed eateries once numbered more than 800, with the New England-based restaurant chain predating the ubiquitous Howard Johnson hotels.

Howard Deering Johnson started the business in 1925, when he inherited a soda fountain outside Boston. That evolved into a chain of restaurants featuring comfort food and 28 flavors of ice cream. The orange roof with a blue spire represented a dependable place for travelers to park the family car, grab a meal and spend the night.

In Bangor, the Howard Johnson Restaurant and Lounge in its heyday was popular with travelers and locals alike, including horror and science fiction author Stephen King. King, who lives in Bangor, said he used to eat there often and enjoyed the patty melts and milkshakes.

Owners David Patel and his wife, Sally Patel, kept their restaurant going for the past four years as business slowed and hours were scaled back to just breakfast and lunch.

“It’s not worth it to keep it open. We tried for four years,” Sally Patel said Tuesday, noting the hotel side of their business remains healthy and will be unaffected by the restaurant closure. “We felt bad to close it.”

Fortunately for HoJo fans, the Lake George restaurant appears to be on solid ground and is open year round. “We’re doing great,” owner John LaRock said. “We’re going to do some renovations this winter. Spruce it up, keep it going.”

There was a tinge of sadness Tuesday as Bangor diners digested the news.

“I’m devastated,” said Christopher Leek, of Orrington. “It’s my favorite breakfast place. It’s a homey place.”

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Loathe your job in your 20s or 30s? That may hurt your health in your 40s http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/23/loathe-your-job-in-your-20s-or-30s-that-may-hurt-your-health-by-your-40s/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/23/loathe-your-job-in-your-20s-or-30s-that-may-hurt-your-health-by-your-40s/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2016 17:59:23 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/23/loathe-your-job-in-your-20s-or-30s-that-may-hurt-your-health-by-your-40s/ Your first job can be a grind. Many of us start out in low-level gigs that we never thought we’d have to take, maybe because the job market is tight and we need to make ends meet so we can move out of our parents’ basement. For the lucky ones, the first job is temporary and a stepping stone to something they love, but for others it can be the start of many years of a career they hate.

At least they have your health, right? Actually, it looks like the consequences of their unhappiness at work may affect their physical and mental well-being – and perhaps sooner than you might think.

An analysis by Ohio State University’s Jonathan Dirlam and Hui Zheng, presented this week at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting, suggests that job satisfaction in your late 20s and 30s appears to be linked to your health in your 40s.

The researchers’ data came from 6,432 Americans who participated in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth in 1979. Through the years, the volunteers ranked how much they enjoyed their jobs on a spectrum from 1 – dislike very much – to 4 – like very much. They also reported back various health indicators.

Dirlam and Zheng found a striking link between people who were less satisfied with their jobs in their 20s and 30s and those who had health issues in their 40s. That may seem intuitive given that people tend to spend eight or more hours a day at work, and dissatisfaction at work can create a lot of stress. As has been well documented, stress can have physical manifestations.

Among the specific health effects the researchers noted among the less-than-happy group is that they were more depressed and worried and had trouble sleeping.

One interesting aspect of the analysis is that the health effect was not related to people’s happiness with their very first job or jobs, but with how their work happiness changed over time. Those with increasing satisfaction fared better than those with declining satisfaction, in terms of their health.

Dirlam, a doctoral student in sociology, explained that there appears to be a “cumulative effect of job satisfaction on health that appears as early as your 40s.”

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Bar Harbor lab gets patent to develop molecule that could repair heart tissue http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/23/lab-awarded-patent-for-drug-to-regenerate-damaged-heart-tissue/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/23/lab-awarded-patent-for-drug-to-regenerate-damaged-heart-tissue/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2016 17:27:33 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/23/lab-awarded-patent-for-drug-to-regenerate-damaged-heart-tissue/ A federal patent has been awarded to scientists from the MDI Biological Laboratory, a step that will allow research to proceed on a molecule that shows promise in helping heart tissue regenerate after a heart attack.

The nonprofit biomedical research institution based in Bar Harbor announced Tuesday that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will grant a patent to Kevin Strange, Voot P. Yin and Michael Zasloff for testing molecule MSI-1436’s effectiveness for treatment of damage to the heart.

Doctors Strange and Yin both work at MDI Biological Laboratory, and Zasloff is scientific director at MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C..

MDI Biological Laboratory said in a news release that the patent award represents a major step forward in moving the molecule MSI-1436 toward clinical trials in humans. It also is the first patent received by the laboratory.

“The importance of this achievement cannot be overstated,” Strange said in the statement. “This patent is a critical step forward in our ability to develop new treatments for those who suffer from heart disease.”

The actual research will be done by Strange and Yin’s for-profit company, Novo Biosciences, which has been granted an exclusive license by MDI Biological Laboratory to try to develop the molecule into a drug that can be safely used by humans, possibly in the form of a pill. There are currently no approved treatments to stimulate regeneration of heart muscle in humans.

“We are very excited, but I want to urge caution,” Strange said in an interview on Tuesday. Strange is also president of MDI Biological Laboratory. “It is going to be a long, tough process.”

Before human trials can begin, Strange and Yin must conduct trials on pigs. Strange said Novo Biosciences will have to raise $1 million to $1.5 million from investors and other sources to fund those trials.

Strange said it could take several years to develop a marketable drug, assuming it is found safe for human use and is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Strange and Yin said MSI-1436 has shown promise. Humans lack the ability to regenerate heart issue following a heart attack, which means that damaged areas are typically replaced with scar tissue. Scar tissue can interfere with the heart’s function and has the potential to lead to heart failure.

“Much of the current research in regenerative medicine focuses on highly complex stem cell therapies and tissue engineering strategies,” Strange said in a statement. “Our research demonstrates that repairing tissues may be as simple as taking a pill that activates our innate repair mechanisms.”

Strange said the potential market for a drug that stimulates tissue regeneration is huge. Heart disease accounts for approximately 17 million deaths per year worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

Strange said the molecule holds promise because it has already proven to be “well tolerated” by patients involved in trials for obesity and type 2 diabetes in 2007. But although the preliminary research looks promising, Strange and Yin don’t want to raise expectations to an unrealistic level.

“We are just scientists. I don’t want to overhype this,” Strange said. “We still have a long way to go before we can try this on humans.”

Yin agrees, but said his research on zebrafish at MDI Biological Laboratory showed promise. Zebrafish share 70 percent of their genes with humans, but their ability to regenerate damaged tissue surpasses that of humans, Yin said..

“The zebrafish heart robustly regenerates missing or damaged tissue in as little as 30 to 60 days,” Yin said.

Yin, Strange and Zasloff introduced MSI-1436 into zebrafish and regeneration accelerated. The scientists believe the molecule could activate similar genes in humans.

Yin said that in mice, administration of MSI-1436 within 24 hours of an artificially induced heart attack greatly increased their chance of survival and tripled the generation of heart muscle cells. It also doubled the improvement of heart function and reduced the amount of scar tissue by 53 percent four weeks after the heart attack.

“If MSI-1436 shows similar results in humans, it will be a game-changer for patients who suffer a heart attack and/or are living with heart problems,” Yin said.

In addition to treating acute heart attack and muscular dystrophy, MSI-1436 also holds the potential to stimulate wound healing and reduce wound scarring, the scientists said.

 

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Marketing innovator to leave post at Hannaford supermarkets http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/23/marketing-star-at-hannaford-leaving/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/23/marketing-star-at-hannaford-leaving/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2016 15:09:48 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/23/marketing-star-at-hannaford-leaving/ Mary Wright, vice president of marketing and brand strategy for Hannaford supermarkets, is leaving the company.

Wright, whose tenure included the launch of the “Guiding Stars” nutrition-education program, will be leaving in September to become vice president of New Leaf Community Markets. That company, which focuses on providing natural, sustainable foods, has seven stores and is based in Santa Cruz, California.

Hannaford, based in Scarborough and owned by Delhaize America, announced the departure last week.

Wright was hired by Hannaford in 2004 as director of marketing and brand management and became director of category management in 2007. She was promoted to her current post in 2010.

Mike Vail, Hannaford’s president, said Wright oversaw the development of “Hannaford Helps,” a community outreach program. She also helped market the “Hannaford-to-Go” program and its magazine, “fresh.”

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Parent company of Circle K stores buying Texas rival http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/23/parent-company-of-circle-k-stores-buying-texas-rival/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/23/parent-company-of-circle-k-stores-buying-texas-rival/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2016 15:02:15 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/23/parent-company-of-circle-k-stores-buying-texas-rival/ The Quebec company that owns Circle K convenience stores intends to buy a San Antonio competitor in a $4.4 billion deal.

CST Brands Inc. announced Tuesday that its board of directors has approved an offer from Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. for its 2,000 gas and convenience stores, clustered primarily in the Southwest with some locations in Florida, Georgia, New York and eastern Canada. In 2011, Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. bought 19 gas and convenience stores owned by South Portland-based Dead River Corp.

Alimentation Couche-Tard operates 6,250 convenience stores throughout Canada and the United States. In its statement announcing the intended acquisition, CST Brands said the deal will create the “world’s preferred destination for convenience and fuel.”

“Our board believes that Couche-Tard is an ideal partner for CST,” said Kim Lubel, chairman and chief executive, in a news release. “With Couche-Tard, we will build upon an extensive and attractive convenience and fuel network with enhanced scale and global reach to best position the combined company for future growth. Importantly, our employees will benefit from new opportunities for career development as part of a larger, global company. We look forward to working closely with Couche-Tard to seamlessly complete the transaction and ensure a smooth integration.”

The acquisition must still receive regulatory approval in the U.S. and Canada, and from CST stockholders. Participants hope to conclude the deal by early 2017.

Under its terms, Couche-Tard will acquire all of the shares of CST for $48.53 per share in cash, representing approximately $4.4 billion, including the assumption of net debt, according to the release. Couche-Tard expects to finance the transaction with available cash, its existing credit facilities and a new term loan.

Upon completion of the transaction, Circle K will establish a new business unit in San Antonio with attached shared services operations. CST employs about 14,000 people.

It trades on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker CST. Couche-Tard trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange as ATD.A and ATD.B.

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On the Job: Greg, Leah Gordon make old windows shine again http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/23/on-the-job-13/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/23/on-the-job-13/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2016 08:00:29 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1025629 Greg and Leah Gordon live in the perfect part of the country for their niche market.

In a workshop at their home in Hope, the husband and wife team restore windows made from the mid-1700s to the turn of the century. New England happens to have a plethora of old homes that need their windows restored to their former glory.

Ten years ago, Greg began restoring windows and he has never looked back. His wife, Leah, came on board to paint and do the intricate detail work.

They have restored windows for libraries, farmhouses, meeting houses, the Spurwink Church in Cape Elizabeth and the old Rockland train station.

The windows the Gordons restore are valuable for a few reasons, one being that the wood they are made of is original virgin timber.

The timber in the 18th and 19th centuries came from vast forests where trees, because of limited light and competition from other trees, grew more slowly than trees today. That slow growth made the wood strong and dense. And you cannot find it anywhere today but in old structures.

The windows’ monetary and aesthetic value aren’t the only reason the Gordons do this work. They see it as helping to bring back a part of history.

“We think of windows as really the eyes of the house. It is a romantic thing to think about, what these people looked out at through these windows over the years,” Gordon said.

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Sony plans two new PlayStation models http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/22/sony-plans-two-new-playstation-models/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/22/sony-plans-two-new-playstation-models/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2016 02:23:14 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/22/sony-plans-two-new-playstation-models/ If you were planning to give the gamers in your life new consoles before they head back to school, you may want to hold off.

A report from the Wall Street Journal indicates that Sony will release two models of the PlayStation early next month: a high-end model with enhanced graphics and a new version of the console’s standard model. The Verge has also published images of a slimmer console with PlayStation 4 branding from someone claiming to have the new device. On forums at the gaming site NeoGAF, others have posted similar photos claiming to show a new PlayStation model.

Sony did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the rumors. The company had confirmed that it is working on an updated PlayStation, code-named Project Neo. But the Journal’s report is the first hint that the firm is planning two models for the near future.

It’s not clear whether the pictures published by the Verge and on the forums are two separate models. It’s also unclear whether either is the Project Neo model. But if Sony does as the Journal story suggests and releases two models, it will be using the same game plan as its arch-rival in the gaming world, Microsoft.

In June, Microsoft announced a slimmer version of the Xbox One, called the Xbox One S, which is now on sale. At the same time, the company confirmed it will release a more powerful version of the Xbox, code-named Project Scorpio, next year.

Both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One first hit the market in 2013. Usually, companies have waited at least five years to release new hardware. The shorter lull between completely new models could anger some customers who dropped up to $400 on a brand-new console in the recent past.

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Madison puts off setting new tax rate http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/22/madison-puts-off-setting-new-tax-rate/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/22/madison-puts-off-setting-new-tax-rate/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2016 01:38:15 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/22/madison-puts-off-setting-new-tax-rate/ MADISON — The closure of Madison Paper Industries has complicated calculation of the local tax rate, according to town officials, who Monday delayed setting the 2016 tax rate to go over valuation numbers.

Town Manager Tim Curtis and Tax Assessor Shirley Bartlett told the Board of Selectmen on Monday night that they are still working to finalize valuation numbers, including personal property at Madison Paper and figures for other large accounts. The board voted unanimously to put off setting the tax rate until next Monday.

Before the meeting, Curtis said the closure of Madison Paper in May “is by far the largest factor” complicating the calculation of this year’s tax rate, which has held at $19.50 per $1,000 of value for the last two years.

Before that, a loss in value of $150 million at Madison Paper in 2014 resulted in an 11 percent tax increase.

With no plans announced for the future of the mill, town officials are having a hard time predicting how much it should pay in taxes, Curtis said.

“I think the impact is going to be over two years to really figure it out,” he said. “If we knew for sure that they had sold it to another papermaking facility or if we knew for sure they were going to scrap it and tear down all the buildings, that would make a difference. But the fact of the matter is we don’t know.”

The president and CEO of Madison Paper, Russ Drechsel, said Monday that the company is “continuing to go through the sales process.”

“We will not be operating the mill and our intent since March has always been to sell the hydro (power facility) and papermaking assets, and we’re still progressing along those lines,” Drechsel said.

He would not comment when asked if a specific buyer has been identified.

Madison Paper is currently assessed at $80 million and pays about $1.56 million in taxes. In May, Specialty Minerals Inc., a company that was producing chemicals for the papermaking process on site in Madison, asked that the town lower its valuation because it would be removing personal property from the site, but Curtis said Monday the company’s buildings and equipment remained at the mill.

Drechsel has said in the past that the value of the mill has dropped since the closure was announced, but he said Monday he is not sure whether the company would be asking for another revaluation.

Meanwhile, Madison Paper has seen a 25 percent increase in its tax bill on assets in Anson – a landfill and hydropower facility, he said.

“A paper machine when it’s making paper is worth so much, and when it’s not making paper it’s worth less,” Curtis said. “That’s what we have to adjust for is that loss in value.”

Rachel Ohm can be contacted at 612-2368 or at:

rohm@centralmaine.com

Twitter: rachel_ohm

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Economists favor Clinton to manage recovery http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/22/economists-favor-clinton-to-manage-recovery/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/22/economists-favor-clinton-to-manage-recovery/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2016 00:45:05 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/22/economists-favor-clinton-to-manage-recovery/ Americans may be divided over which presidential candidate would best steer the economy, but economists themselves are unequivocal: A new poll shows overwhelming support for Hillary Clinton.

The survey by the National Association for Business Economics found 55 percent of its members believe the Democratic nominee would do the best job managing the nation’s long-simmering recovery. Only 15 percent of economists supported the second-place choice – and it wasn’t Donald Trump.

Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico, was the runner-up. Trump ranked third, with just 14 percent of economists giving the Republican business mogul their vote of confidence.

Throughout this year’s presidential campaign, many economists have warned that Trump’s signature proposals – such as pulling out of free trade deals with Mexico and Canada and levying tariffs on foreign goods – could inflict substantial damage on the nation’s still-fragile recovery. A report by Moody’s Analytics released this summer predicted the country would slip into recession by 2018, and the unemployment rate would rise to 7.4 percent.

“The U.S. economy will weaken significantly if Mr. Trump’s economic policies are fully implemented as he has proposed,” the paper said.

Until recently, however, those plans appeared to resonate with the public.

Trump had enjoyed a substantial lead over Clinton in polls assessing how they would handle the economy. But a CNN/ORC survey in late July found Clinton elbowing out Trump, 50 percent to 48 percent.

The difference is still within the poll’s margin of error, however, though the gap between the two candidates has narrowed. Meanwhile, a poll of registered voters by Fox News early this month showed Trump retaining his edge on the economy, 50 to 45 percent.

Trump has made some attempts to moderate his hard-line stance. In a highly anticipated speech this month, he dialed back plans to cut taxes that was estimated to cost a whopping $10 trillion over the next decade. The new version more closely resembles a proposal already put forth by House Speaker Paul Ryan, which was priced at less than half that amount – still controversial but much more feasible.

Economists have also taken issue with Trump’s positions on immigration, which include building a wall along the Mexican border and “extreme vetting” of newcomers. In the NABE survey, 61 percent of economists supported making it easier – not harder – for immigrants to work in the United States.

On trade, a majority of economists said they believe the country should expand its relationships, though they were more cautious on the free-trade deal with Asia known as the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Sixty-five percent said they were in favor of more open trade, but just 47 percent supported the TPP in its current form. Nearly a third of economists believed the United States should negotiate more favorable terms. Both Clinton and Trump have opposed the current deal.

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Martial art apparel maker throws his weight behind ‘Made in Maine’ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/22/martial-art-apparel-maker-throws-his-weight-behind-made-in-maine/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/22/martial-art-apparel-maker-throws-his-weight-behind-made-in-maine/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2016 00:39:51 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/22/martial-art-apparel-maker-throws-his-weight-behind-made-in-maine/ INDUSTRY — There is a long list of things that make Peter Roberts’ jiu jitsu apparel and training gear company, OriginUSA, a unique story.

After the company’s first year of profitability importing its apparel from manufacturers overseas, Roberts had a moral awakening. He began the painstaking task of figuring out how to manufacture his products in the U.S.

The New Sharon native, who lives in Industry, decided he was going to do this from Franklin County in the foothills of western Maine.

He traveled around the state to mills, “rescuing” vintage pieces of machinery and learning how to use them in order to manufacture jiu jitsu gis of the best possible quality, when at the time he didn’t even know how to thread a sewing machine.

The plan came together and his company began making everything in-house except the fabric. Recently, they began making their own fabric, too.

Then there’s the fact that today, at its cottage-like factory off a dirt road in tiny Industry, OriginUSA employs 20 people and is churning out 60 units a day.

And to top it all off, OriginUSA is the only jiu jitsu apparel company in North America that Roberts knows of that manufactures its own products.

The overarching theme of OriginUSA’s journey is something Roberts likens to that of L.L. Bean or New Balance or G.H. Bass and Co. – a Maine-borne determination for a level of product quality that can only come from making it all yourself, even in the face of being told it’s impossible.

“I was so determined through frustration and just sickened through the importing,” Roberts said. “Everyone was like, ‘You’re not going to be able to manufacture that stuff. It’s impossible. You need a million dollars. No one has ever done it before. The textile industry is dead.’ ”

OriginUSA owner Peter Roberts holds a martial arts gi made at his manufacturing facility in Industry. Employee Jon Milan cuts fabric in background.

OriginUSA owner Peter Roberts holds a martial arts gi made at his manufacturing facility in Industry. Employee Jon Milan cuts fabric in background. David Leaming/Morning Sentinel

Last week, standing in his company’s 8,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in a town of fewer than 1,000 residents, as his company bursts at the seams with production, Roberts answered those negative voices with a question of his own: “Where else could you do this?”

Roberts started OriginUSA in 2011 as Origin Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. A Mt. Blue High School graduate, Roberts grew up involved in sports, particularly those that involved combat. After dropping out of the University of Maine his senior year to start a marketing agency in Farmington, Roberts stumbled upon jiu jitsu – a form of martial art that is based around submission grappling.

“When I saw jiu jitsu for the first time I was like, ‘I’ve gotta do that.’ So I started training and then I went all in,” he said.

After his marketing agency lost 60 percent of its clients in the 2008 recession, Roberts sold his part of the firm and took a year off to figure out what was next.

He decided he wanted to pursue something that he had already helped other people do – create his own brand. He was already immersed in the sport of jiu jitsu and he knew right away he wanted to create a line of high-end, quality jiu jitsu gis, or kimonos, the sport’s fighting apparel.

1025728_1001131812 WEB Industry fac.jpg

“There weren’t a lot of (jiu jitsu) brands out there,” he said. “Basically all your brands were skulls and crossbones and blood and gore. There wasn’t anything really super clean and streamlined and high-end, so we kind of filled that niche market.”

Roberts designed more ergonomically fit gis and at first had them manufactured and imported from a company in Pakistan, where most jiu jitsu apparel is made, he said. By changing the patterns of the traditional gi to allow more movement and flexibility, Roberts said he improved on a design that hadn’t been changed in nearly 500 years.

But despite the company’s profitability in its first year, something didn’t feel right.

“We started importing and it went really good and we made a bunch of money,” he said. “And I felt really bad.”

Roberts was concerned about the quality of the products that carried his brand.

The tipping point came when he was in Abu Dhabi for a jiu jitsu competition and saw a woman wearing an Origin gi — only there was another company’s logo on the back. The company he had been using to manufacture his gis were using his designs for other brands.

“I made a decision right there that I was either going to shut everything down or start making the gis myself,” Roberts said.

BRINGING IT BACK HOME

Having no idea how to start manufacturing his own products or what machinery was needed to do it, Roberts and his longtime friend Jon Malin, who has been involved with OriginUSA since day one, went around the state to mills and factories asking if they had any equipment they’d be willing to sell.

“We had no clue what we needed,” Malin said. “Everything has been that way, though, and it’s worked. Like ‘OK, we need to weave fabric? We need a loom! We get a loom, now what do we do?’ ”

OriginUSA owner Peter Roberts speaks about purchasing unused equipment like this loom that is used to manufacture martial arts garments in Industry.

OriginUSA owner Peter Roberts speaks about purchasing unused equipment like this loom that is used to manufacture martial arts garments in Industry. David Leaming/Morning Sentinel

Roberts and Malin started with sewing machines, collecting them in Roberts’ basement, where they started slowly by making belts. Not knowing how to operate a sewing machine, Roberts videotaped one of the mill workers threading the machine and learned from there.

“You find the old folks who used to work in the mills and you show them how interested you are in it and then they’re more than willing to help,” Roberts said.

In 2013, with the “micro-mill” taking shape in Industry, Origin became OriginUSA, and Roberts went full bore into production.

“Everything fell into place. The machines we bought were for heavy duty stuff. And some of our primary machines that we use today, we didn’t know what we were really buying. So that was pretty cool.”

With a staff of 20 and the mill in its second phase of expansion, OriginUSA produces 60 gis a day and has several product lines ranging from apparel to training equipment and backpacks.

In 2014, OriginUSA took its “made in the foothills of western Maine” strategy one step further and began weaving its own textiles. Up until then they had been importing the thick cotton fabric used to make gis from Pakistan, because the fabric was not available in the U.S.

By making their own textiles in-house, they were able to diversify the types of fabric used in their gis to allow for better performance.

“It’s still cotton-based, but then we started working on the textiles, going from the feel and fit to the fiber. Then we went from the fiber to the weave for the strength and performance,” Roberts said. “One textile we inject with pure silver so its 100 percent antimicrobial.”

OriginUSA employee Greg Hazard prepares to embroider garments at the facility in Industry.

OriginUSA employee Greg Hazard prepares to embroider garments at the facility in Industry. David Leaming/Morning Sentinel

MAINE-MADE CARRIES WEIGHT

Doug Ray, legislative liaison and communications director for the Maine Department of Economic Development, said that Roberts “could probably have his product manufactured anywhere in the world, so it’s great (that he chose Maine).”

Ray said Monday that while businesses occasionally relocate manufacturing to Maine or choose the state as its manufacturing site, “we’d like to see it happen more than it does, obviously.”

“We’re trying to make Maine as competitive as possible, not just within New England, but on a global scale,” Ray said.

Despite challenges such as high energy costs and taxes, “Maine people have a great reputation for being hard workers,” he said. “That helps attract businesses.”

There’s also a marketing advantage that arises from being able to say that a product is Maine-made or made in the USA. And while Maine-made jiu jitsu uniforms don’t yet carry the cachet of a product like Maine lobster, Ray said there is hope that they could be very successful.

“Maine has a good reputation, and that crosses industry and product lines,” he said. “These types of uniforms for martial arts might be a new product as far as being Maine-made, but the track record is good for something that is Maine-made to eventually catch on.”

Roberts has been approached by a former coach of the U.S. Olympic judo team to begin making judo gis. Judo is a different style of martial art closely related to jiu jitsu. Because the gis for the two sports are similar, Roberts said expanding his product line outside of jiu jitsu may be the next step for OriginUSA.

“It’s one thing when you can have an American-made product,” he said. “But it’s another thing when it’s the best quality you can get in the world. And it is,” Roberts said.

Staff writer Rachel Ohm contributed to this story.

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Why it matters: Rising tensions with China could affect jobs in the United States http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/22/why-it-matters-rising-tensions-with-china-could-affect-jobs-in-the-united-states/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/22/why-it-matters-rising-tensions-with-china-could-affect-jobs-in-the-united-states/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 21:55:59 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/22/why-it-matters-rising-tensions-with-china-could-affect-jobs-in-the-united-states/ Editor’s note: This story is part of an occasional Associated Press series examining the issues at stake in the presidential election between now and Election Day. Read more from “Why it matters.”

THE ISSUE

Tensions have been rising between China and the United States. China is modernizing its military and pressing its sovereignty claims over the disputed South China Sea, an important route for global trade. The U.S. is pushing back by increasing its military presence in Asia, which China views as provocative. The U.S. also accuses China of unfair trading practices and cyber theft of business secrets. Tough action by either side could spark a skirmish at sea or a trade war that would make many goods in the U.S. more expensive.

WHERE THEY STAND

Hillary Clinton says the U.S. needs to “stand up to China” and press the rising Asian power to play by international rules – in trade, in cyberspace, and in territorial disputes. But she’s said the nations need to cooperate where they can. Trump says the high volume of U.S.-China trade gives Washington leverage over Beijing. He accuses China of undervaluing its currency to makes its exports artificially cheap and he proposes tariffs as high as 45 percent on Chinese imports into the U.S. to force it to trade fairly and support other U.S. policy goals.

WHY IT MATTERS

The U.S. and China are the world’s two largest economies and biggest military spenders. The wider world needs them to get along, to keep the peace and tackle global problems such as climate change and a nuclear North Korea. The U.S. and China also depend on each other economically. Two-way trade topped $600 billion in 2015. China is the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt, and by some estimates, Chinese foreign direct investment into the U.S. has started to outstrip the flow of U.S. investment into China.

President Xi Jinping is trying to manage a soft landing for a slowing economy, and boost domestic consumption to reduce China’s reliance on foreign trade to drive growth. That goal is supported by Washington, as it could help reduce the U.S. trade deficit with China, which hit a record of nearly $370 billion last year. But China has a mixed record on economic reform. It has allowed market forces to play a bigger role in its currency exchange rate, but the U.S. has other complaints: restrictions on market access for foreign companies, economic espionage, and state subsidies, including cheap imports from China’s bloated steel industry.

China is building Asia’s strongest military and wants to be treated as a global leader, but its assertive behavior has unnerved its neighbors who look to the U.S. to help preserve order.

The U.S. worries that China, which has built several artificial islands in the South China Sea, wants to control crucial sea lanes. China denies this but refuses to compromise in what it says is a historical right to tiny islands and adjacent waters in the South China Sea where five other governments have territorial claims.

The U.S. Navy has periodically sailed close to the islands to demonstrate its freedom to navigate the area, angering China. In July, China rejected an international tribunal ruling in a case brought by a U.S. ally, the Philippines, that invalidated the legal basis of China’s claims. The U.S. hopes China will moderate its position, but it shows no sign of doing so, although Beijing says it is ready to negotiate directly with other claimants. Such economic and strategic tensions between two world powers can directly affect American jobs, wages, consumer prices and security.

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Portland Press Herald’s @Work Event to Bring Job Seekers, Providers Together http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/22/portland-press-heralds-work-event-bring-job-seekers-providers-together-2/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/22/portland-press-heralds-work-event-bring-job-seekers-providers-together-2/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 20:18:27 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1025134

The Fall 2016 Portland Press Herald @Work event will take place on Wednesday, September 28 from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. at USM’s Abromson Center in Portland. The event is free and open to the public.

Portland Press Herald @Work is a unique opportunity for job seekers, employers, thought leaders, business leaders, and those looking to continue their career development to come together for an event celebrating jobs in Maine. Attendees can expect a full day of career activities, including a job expo, FREE headshot station (9:30-11:00 a.m. & 12:00-1:30 p.m.), and continuing career education seminars.

To inquire about boothing or sponsoring the event, please email recruitment@mainetoday.com

Registration

Complete the form below to sign up to attend the Fall 2016 Portland Press Herald @Work event on September 28.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

See who will be recruiting at the job expo below.

PREMIERE EMPLOYERS

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Despite positive reviews and storied location, Velveteen Habit closes http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/22/velveteen-habit-closes/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/22/velveteen-habit-closes/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 19:37:43 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/22/velveteen-habit-closes/ The Velveteen Habit, the Cape Neddick restaurant that took over the 18th-century farmhouse and gardens once owned by Arrows, is up for sale and has apparently closed after just 16 months.

In a statement posted to Facebook, owner Ben Goldman said he had “made the incredibly difficult decision to close our doors.”

“Being such a large project, there were so many moving pieces that had to fall into place for us to ultimately meet our short term goals and subsequent long term aspirations for both the restaurant and the property,” he wrote. “Although many of those pieces have fallen delightfully into place over the last two years, some of those pieces continue to elude us.”

The restaurant and its nearly 4-acre property have been listed for sale for $1.3 million by the Lux Realty Group.

After a rocky start when it opened in April 2015, the restaurant recently seemed to be gaining its footing, garnering good reviews, including four out of five stars from the Maine Sunday Telegram, and national attention.

In April, executive chef Chris Wilcox was invited to cook a “Maine Farmhouse Supper” at the James Beard House in New York City. The restaurant also was featured in Food & Wine’s August issue, which urged readers to try “the outstanding cheese and homemade charcuterie plates,” as well as the shrubs, tart beverages made from heirloom apples grown in the restaurant’s orchard.

Goldman, a sommelier who worked on Wall Street for a decade before becoming a restaurateur, purchased the property in October 2014. He quickly set about renovating the farmhouse and turning it away from the fine dining decor and fancy tasting menus that award-winning Arrows was well known for. The restaurant opened in April 2015.

Goldman wanted a restaurant that was more accessible but still had an edge. He threw pig roasts and Oktoberfests during the shoulder seasons for the locals, but also hosted grand weddings and other private events.

Goldman expanded the famous Arrows gardens, adding honeybees and laying hens, with the goal of growing 85 percent of the restaurant’s produce.

Goldman did not return phone calls seeking comment Monday.

The restaurant’s last dinner service was Sunday. Weddings and other private events that have already been booked for the fall apparently will go on as planned, according to the restaurant’s online statement.

 

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Blue Hill food co-op hopes to raise $1 million through crowd investing http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/22/blue-hill-food-co-op-hopes-to-raise-1-million-through-crowd-investing/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/22/blue-hill-food-co-op-hopes-to-raise-1-million-through-crowd-investing/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 17:53:15 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/22/blue-hill-food-co-op-hopes-to-raise-1-million-through-crowd-investing/ The Blue Hill Co-op in Blue Hill is the first business seeking to raise $1 million through the Fund-ME crowdfunding rule, which allows privately owned Maine businesses to solicit investments from small investors in the state.

Under the Fund-ME rule, which took effect in 2015, non-accredited state residents can invest up to $5,000 each in a privately owned business every 12 months. The rule applies only to businesses and investors located in Maine.

An accredited investor is one with a net worth of at least $1 million and annual income of at least $200,000 over the past two years. Before the Fund-ME rule’s approval, private companies in Maine could solicit investments only from accredited investors.

The food cooperative said it plans to use the $1 million to help fund construction of a new location that will triple its size. The co-op is more than 40 years old and has about 1,500 members.

“The Blue Hill Co-op is excited to be able to offer investment opportunities to all our Maine-resident owners using Fund-ME,” said Tom Reeves, the co-op’s relocation manager. “As a cooperative business, one of our core principles is owner economic participation. Fund-ME will allow our 1,500 owners to have the chance to help the co-op grow as a business, bettering the economy of the Blue Hill Peninsula.”

Blue Hill is offering 10,000 shares that will produce varying annual dividends depending on the investor’s length of commitment. At the maximum commitment of 10 years, the investor would receive an annual dividend of 4.5 percent and would be able to sell back the shares after 10 years.

For all investments, the price per share is $100.

The co-op said it expects to move into the new location by the end of 2018. As is the case with all solicitations for investments, Blue Hill noted that there are potential risk factors for investors. They include a possible decline in sales, worsening economic conditions, supply shortages and increased competition.

The co-op said it has experienced annual sales growth of 7 percent over the past three years, but that it did not expect growth to continue indefinitely at that rate. Investor information is available at the co-op’s website, bluehill.coop.

Since Jan. 1, 2015, companies in Maine have had the ability to apply to the state Office of Securities for approval to raise up to $1 million by selling shares through the practice known as equity or investment crowdfunding. The program was widely touted by the state’s entrepreneurial community at the time.

However, Blue Hill is the first company to actually use the investment method, more than 18 months after it was approved.

Equity crowdfunding advocates have said the primary reason for the lack of participation is probably the amount of paperwork required. The process involves lengthy disclosures, as well as a detailed business plan and audited financials.

The Maine Office of Securities expects more Maine entrepreneurs and companies to follow in Blue Hill’s footsteps by making use of the Fund-ME program, said office spokesman Doug Dunbar.

Maine Securities Administrator Judith Shaw noted that Maine’s crowdfunding rule does not preclude businesses from raising money from investors outside of Maine. However, those investors still must comply with their own states’ equity crowdfunding rules.

“Blue Hill Co-op is just the type of small business seeking to grow that Fund-ME is intended to assist,” Shaw said. “Fund-ME provides Maine’s small businesses a new tool to raise capital, and uses the basic concept of social funding to allow everyday investors to participate directly in the development of a Maine business.”

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

canderson@pressherald.com

Twitter: jcraiganderson

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Price of gas in Maine rises by nearly 5 cents http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/22/price-of-gas-in-maine-rises-by-nearly-5-cents/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/22/price-of-gas-in-maine-rises-by-nearly-5-cents/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 16:45:34 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/22/price-of-gas-in-maine-rises-by-nearly-5-cents/ PORTLAND – The average price of retail gas in Maine has risen almost 5 cents in the past week to $2.18 per gallon.

GasBuddy’s survey of more than 1,200 gas outlets in the state shows the retail gas price had gone up by 4.6 cents on Sunday. The national average went up by 3.7 cents per gallon in the same week and ended at $2.16 per gallon.

Gas prices in Maine were 33 cents lower per gallon than they were a year ago. They were also 3.6 cents per gallon lower than a month ago. Nationally, the price of gas went down half a penny in the last month and is 45.5 cents per gallon lower than it was a year ago.

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