The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » A Word With the Boss http://www.pressherald.com Wed, 29 Jun 2016 02:46:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.3.4 No more ups and downs with the Cowboy Yoyo http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/12/no-more-ups-and-downs-with-the-cowboy-yoyo/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/12/no-more-ups-and-downs-with-the-cowboy-yoyo/#comments Sun, 12 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=918753 It might seem odd that any product with “cowboy” in the name would be made in Maine.

But the Cowboy Yoyo is named in honor of Cape Elizabeth resident Teddy Stoecklein’s uncle, David Stoecklein, whose cowboy credentials are solid: Last week, he was inducted posthumously into the Idaho Rodeo Hall of Fame.

Teddy Stoecklein, who is executive creative director at the VIA Agency in Portland, was very close to his uncle and considered him a role model. David Stoecklein was a well-known photographer who lived on a ranch in Idaho and documented the western way of life. He took advertising photos for Marlboro, Chevy, Jeep and Stetson, and he authored or shot the photographs for several books on the cowboy lifestyle.

About 20 years ago, David Stoecklein gave his nephew Teddy something called a “Cowboy Yoyo” to play with, but Teddy Stoecklein could never master it. This is no ordinary up-and-down yoyo. Stoecklein’s yoyo was born around a campfire, invented by bored cowboys looking for a way to pass the time. It’s a wooden ball attached to a rope, and its raison d’etre is to do rope tricks.

It’s not as easy as it sounds. The standard trick is to flip the rope in such a way that it ties itself into a knot.

“Most people have never heard of it, but you can find antique versions of it, handmade versions of it,” Stoecklein said. “It’s kind of a cult thing.”

Stoecklein’s own Cowboy Yoyo languished in the back of a closet until his uncle died. Then Stoecklein’s father found it and suggested he try again. Stoecklein practiced his rope-tossing skills while his wife watched one of her favorite shows, “Dancing With the Stars.” It took him three episodes to master the toy, which he likens to a puzzle.

“It requires a little bit of practice, a little bit of dexterity and some patience because it can be very frustrating – in a very good way,” Stoecklein said. “It’s fun to watch people try it. It’s not for everybody, though. Some people, after five attempts, give up on it and never touch it again.”

Stoecklein wanted to give Cowboy Yoyos to all of his employees, but he needed 100 of them and couldn’t find them for sale anywhere in those numbers. So he decided to make them himself at home. The wooden balls come from a Maine lumber mill, and the rope from a Maine company that makes sailing line. It’s perfect for playing with around a back yard fire pit.

“If you’re hiking,” Stoecklein said, “it’s the perfect thing to throw in your backpack.”

Although Stoecklein hopes to get Cowboy Yoyos into retail stores, for now they are sold only online at <URL destination=”http://cowboyyoyo.com/”>cowboyyoyo.com, where you can also see Stoecklein performing basic Cowboy Yoyo tricks.

They cost $21 for one, $39 for two, or $99 for a “six shooter.” A portion of every purchase is donated to the David R. Stoecklein Memorial and Educational Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to preserving the Western way of life through fine art and literature.

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A Word With the Boss: It’s Bill Jenks’ business to help Mainers age at home http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/02/a-word-with-the-boss-its-his-business-to-help-mainers-age-at-home/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/02/a-word-with-the-boss-its-his-business-to-help-mainers-age-at-home/#comments Thu, 02 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=905480 Bill Jenks learned firsthand what it’s like to care for an elderly loved one when there isn’t a lot of support.

His stepmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and he and his dad cared for her, a situation “that became very difficult for my father,” Jenks said. It laid the foundation for his interest in senior care services, and in 1999, he bought the Cumberland County franchise rights to open Home Instead Senior Care in Gorham.

Last month, CNBC and Franchise Business Review named the business the top franchise in Maine in an annual ranking. The company is on pace to exceed $2 million in revenue this year.

Jenks, who was the director of the Chamber Orchestra of Oklahoma City and principal cellist of Oklahoma City Symphony, made his career change after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He sold one of his cellos for $75,000 to get the money to start Home Instead Senior Care.

Q: How did you make the transition from music to running a senior care business?

A: That’s the beauty of a liberal arts education, which I have. You know how to learn and educate yourself and find answers to things. I had never had a course in any kind of business, but I can figure things out and, the beauty of a franchise system is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Q: Why Maine?

A: Because we wanted to live in Maine. We had spent summers in Maine and thought it would be wonderful to do that. We assumed we would be in Portland because my wife’s residency was at Maine Medical Center, but we ended up buying a home in Gorham, and in 2009 I bought the office space we’re in now.

Q: Maine is now the oldest state in the country. Were you ahead of the curve in identifying this as a business 16 years ago?

A: I think this franchise model has worked in almost every state of the union, and now 14 other countries. I don’t know if Maine is more fertile ground for a home care company, but it supports it. It’s a growth business, with the fastest growing segment of the country over 80 and our core clients are 75 and above. The one caveat is that it’s all private paid, Medicaid doesn’t pay for it and people have to be able to afford it on their own. While Maine is the oldest state in the country, it’s not necessarily the most affluent, so there are two sides to that.

Q: Who is your core client?

A: It’s often the adult children who take the first steps. They’re visiting and see that things have changed and they’re worried, so they call. Some clients have moved to assisted living and need more one-on-one care, so they hire us to supplement the care they’re getting. We have an increasing number of clients with some form of dementia, and the longer people live, the more chance there is that they’ll develop dementia.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge your business faces?

A: The workforce available to care for an aging population is shrinking. Finding the right people to be caregivers is a problem because it’s not something that everyone can do and be good at. There’s a lot competition (for employees) now. We’re probably competing more for employees than clients.

Q: Why is it difficult to find employees?

A: It’s very difficult and not just because of the pay. We start people at $10 an hour and it goes up to $14.25 an hour. It has to be a person whose primary reason for working for us isn’t the money. They have to feel it’s a calling. And that would be the case even if we were paying $20 an hour. They’ve got to really care, they can’t just be doing a job. We’re always looking because we have to be prepared for new clients coming on.

Q: You have 110 caregivers now. How do you make sure you’re getting a good one?

A: There’s an exhaustive application and interviewing process. Once we feel someone would be the right person, we do a criminal background check and a driver’s license check and then a drug test and we try to get four to six references for each person and then really talk to them.

Q: What do you look for?

A: Personality and patience is a very big part of it and compassion and having a nonjudgmental, accepting attitude. It doesn’t hurt to be well organized and proactive and attentive to someone’s needs. We don’t require that anyone has training – we have our own training program. It’s difficult for a client to have a strange person come into their homes and cook their meals and do their laundry and it’s difficult for the caregiver, too. What we don’t want to do is take over, because that’s the number one fear that older people have, is losing their autonomy. Our intent is to keep them independent as much as possible.

Q: How do you handle it when someone needs more care than you can give them?

A: We help the family make a determination. We can recommend assisted living places or dementia care places, or increase the number of hours and days we’re in their home.

Q: It must be hard on the caregivers when a client dies. How do you deal with that?

A: We have bereavement support when the caregivers have lost a client. They grieve even if it’s not the client dying (but rather moving to an assisted living center), there’s grief for that as well and we have support sessions when that’s appropriate.

Q: And finally, how are you handling your MS?

A: Pretty well. I was diagnosed in 1993. When I got that diagnosis, it was clear to me that I needed to look at other work because conducting an orchestra was very draining. I was worried about losing my balance and tumbling off into the violins. Now I tire pretty easily and my balance is still a problem, but I can still get around.

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For a company that repairs electric lines, safety is the first priority http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/28/a-word-with-the-boss-brad-stout/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/28/a-word-with-the-boss-brad-stout/#comments Thu, 28 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=855932 Coutts Bros. is a 53-year-old Randolph construction company that has developed a specialty in inspecting and repairing electric lines. The company started small –”it was two brothers and a tractor,” said general manager Brad Stout – but now has 45 employees who work in New York and New England. Because electric supplies are tight, the company’s workers often work on live lines. Stout said the company is now stressing safety – and using drones in pursuit of that – because potential clients consider safety commitments when Coutts Bros. is bidding on a job. The company won Associated Builders and Contractors 2015 National Safety Merit Award in recognition of its efforts to improve safety for its workers.

Q: When did you start this effort to improve safety?

A: We launched it about three years ago to make safety a major part of what we do. We hired some key people, including a new safety director, and changed the way we trained people using a behavior-based process – looking at what we’re doing and how we’re doing it and correcting things before they become incidents.

Our entire industry is really shifting the focus to safety being the first priority. Previously, we were basically tracking our incidents and then making adjustments based on that.

Now we meet every Monday morning and we go through those near-misses to make sure everyone knows what happened and how we can make sure it never happens again.

Q: Given your line of work, safety must be a constant issue.

A: We work on energized lines and we maintain a safe distance and use tools that are safe. Our guys are very good at live line work. Our processes are detailed and planning for them is a commitment. But it’s the smaller things that you have to focus on, too – the slips, trips and falls that are dangerous. It’s always those simple things that come around to bite you. We use that in our planning.

Q: Are your clients putting an increased emphasis on your safety?

A: All owners, whether it’s utility companies or municipalities or the state, everyone has a focus on whether they employ a safe company. Associated Builders and Contractors (an industry group) is focused on safety. It’s more important to make sure our guys go home safe every day. That should be the focus of every owner and contractor.

Q: Do clients ask to see your safety records when you’re bidding on a job?

A: It’s part of the review for every proposal we send out. They want your safety record as well as the safety plan for the project you’re bidding on. It’s not acceptable to allow people to be hurt on your job site. There was a time when, in the construction industry, fatalities were built into what you did. Now the whole industry is focused on making sure our guys go home safe. Not many people realize how much safer these places are to work.

Q: Do you think you’re ahead of the curve on safety?

A: I would say we’re ahead of the curve. We got that national safety award and that went to only 16 companies in the nation. It came down to a video call to speak to the people who gave out the award. They asked a lot about our philosophy and our management approach. We have an apprenticeship program and we have UAS (unmanned aerial systems) in places where it’s inherently risky for people to get to.

Q: What’s your apprenticeship program?

A: It’s a program for line workers, where they can come in and we train them to be first-class line workers. It takes between three and five years and its approved by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs and the University of Maine. It’s been very successful. Almost 25 percent of our staff is veterans.

Q: What about the drones?

A: We call it UAS. There’s a negative connotation with “drones.” My dad called me that if I wasn’t paying attention, so we’re trying to stick with “UAS.” You can put all sorts of sensors on them, like thermal imaging and high-definition video. You can add sonar and radar.

We were working with a couple of owners of hydro stations where when you do inspections, it requires people to climb walls or get in a boat in hard running water. If we can do those inspections with a machine, it’s faster and safer, and the information you gather is often more accurate.

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

emurphy@pressherald.com

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Word with the Boss: For Teri McRae, every day is judgment day http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/07/word-with-the-boss-for-teri-mcrae-every-day-is-judgement-day/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/07/word-with-the-boss-for-teri-mcrae-every-day-is-judgement-day/#comments Thu, 07 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=830792 Sometimes a friend or family member isn’t well-equipped to handle an elderly person’s finances, medical care and other important matters. That’s where a licensed guardian and fiduciary comes in. Often referred to their clients by attorneys, professional guardians such as Teri McRae seek to protect the health and welfare of their clients while allowing them to live their lives to the fullest. We talked with McRae, owner of McRae & Associates in Portland, about her unusual profession.

Q: What do professional guardians do for their clients?

A: There’s a huge range. Our connection with the families runs the gamut from managing finances to helping with doctors, managing care, advocacy, handholding, parenting, selling and buying assets – whatever they need. I pay bills, go over investments. I have power of attorney over some of my clients. I act as trustee for some. Most people have no idea that these services are available, how to access them and the support we can provide.

Q: What sort of training is required?

A: The licensing requirements to become a guardian vary from state to state. There is also the National Guardianship Association, which administers a 100-question test you have to pass to become certified. I would say that 85 percent of the questions are about judgment. It’s not facts and figures. I don’t think it’s a job you can do right out of school. A background in social work, caregiving and finance is helpful. And empathy. You get a lot of phone calls on the weekend, and you have to be willing to take those calls. You also need to have some experience in life to draw on, if nothing else.

Q: What is your professional background?

A: I have 35 years of business, finance and probate court experience. I grew up in Denver, earned a degree in economics from Brandeis University and a master’s in finance from MIT Sloan School (of Management). Prior to starting McRae & Associates, I was the Cumberland County registrar of probate.

Q: How do your clients find you?

A: Usually it’s a lawyer who refers me to a client. And then I meet with them, and they decide if they want to hire me. You’re not going to pick someone out of the phone book to be in charge of your money. It’s one of those businesses where reputation is everything. When you’re guardian for someone or you have health care power of attorney, you’re literally making life-or-death decisions.

Q: Under what circumstances would someone retain your services?

A: I get involved when people don’t have family, or when family members don’t get along. I have one client who doesn’t trust her loved ones to follow the terms of her living will. Sometimes it’s better to have a professional involved who is looking out for you. At the end of the day, I have to focus on you, my client. I only care about you. Sometimes family members think they are entitled to take something from you. If they need to be told “no,” it’s better that they hear it from me, and get mad at me. I have to be willing to take the heat. For some people, it’s just knowing that there’s someone they can call, even if it’s just one person.

Q: What are your guiding principals?

A: I prefer to let my clients make their own choices whenever possible. I try to give them as much control as I can. You want to help people stay who they want to be for as long as they can be. Because I’m a stranger butting into people’s lives. Some people don’t want any help. I had one client who wouldn’t even look at me. So I managed his care without him knowing it. I never saw him. You’ll get people who don’t want to take a shower, and the family will say, “Get him to take a shower.” And I will say, “How am I going to get him to do that?” I’m all for cleanliness, but dignity and respect are more important. It’s a real art to balance someone’s financial health, physical health and emotional health. It takes judgment. It’s like the judge I used to work for sits on my shoulder, and I don’t ever want to hear him say, “You did what?”

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Word With the Boss: Westbrook metal, glass fabricator helps immigrants make it http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/31/word-with-the-boss-westbrook-metal-glass-fabricator-helps-immigrants-make-it/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/31/word-with-the-boss-westbrook-metal-glass-fabricator-helps-immigrants-make-it/#comments Thu, 31 Mar 2016 08:00:34 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=827349 Like many companies in southern Maine, Sigco has been struggling to find workers. The Westbrook metal and glass fabricator has been growing – it has more than 200 employees and sales of $50 million a year – but finding workers when the state’s unemployment rate has fallen well below 4 percent a year is tough. Sigco is addressing the issue in an unusual way: Working with the Portland adult education system, the company is recruiting workers from the ranks of those who have sought asylum in Maine, primarily from Africa and Vietnam. Cindy Caplice, the company’s human resources manager, explained how the program works and its impact on Sigco.

Q: Why did Sigco start this program?

A: Like everyone in Maine, we’ve been desperately looking for good employees who want to work. We reached out to Portland adult education and they have been incredibly supportive of a partnership with us. They are teaching prospective employees how to read a tape measure (in inches, rather than centimeters) and working on English comprehension because that tends to make them more successful here. We have a number of African-Americans who have been with us for four years and one was just promoted to team leader. They’re engaged, they want to work, to learn, to grow and to support their families. They don’t want public assistance and many, as soon as they get a work permit, they’re looking for work.

Q: How would you say the program is working?

A: Great. They have a positive attitude and are appreciative for the opportunity. These are jobs with starting wages of $13 or $14 or $15 an hour. They’re willing to learn – and it’s on-the-job-training all the time.

Q: How do you feel about the anti-immigrant talk we’re hearing, especially in the presidential race?

A: Disappointment. There’s good and bad in every population and to make blanket statements is unfair and unfounded. Let’s concentrate on those who are succeeding. For instance, we have a cutter from Burundi who’s taking a calculus course to improve his skills We have tuition reimbursement and good benefits. These are things people want when they’re seeking a better life for themselves and their families.

Q: Is there more red tape when you hire immigrants?

A: There’s not any more paperwork involved. You still have to get all your documents, but many of our employees have drivers’ licenses and Social Security cards. You have to get proper work permitting, which you’re required to do for any employee.

Q: Does the program fill all of your workforce needs?

A: No, we’re still recruiting and interviewing every day. With the growth of the company, we’re still looking for workers.

Q: Is turnover different among immigrant workers?

A: I’d like to believe that retention has been better. As I said, they’re very loyal and appreciative. I’m not saying (native) Mainers aren’t, but it seems like the turnover is lower among our immigrant population.

Q: What’s the future of the program?

A: I only see it getting stronger.

Q: Why immigrants and not other groups that are struggling, such as millworkers whose plants have shut down?

A: If the millworkers would move here, we’d love to (hire them). We’re advertising all the time and have our positions listed in the jobs bank. But it’s the immigrants who hear about us. They’re on our doorstep all the time. The challenges for some of the millworkers are location and the lack of affordable housing.

Q: What about transportation for your immigrant workers?

A: In the Greater Portland area, it’s a challenge. We have departments that start at 4 and 5 a.m. and the second shift starts in the afternoon and can go to 1 and 2 a.m. They carpool or take a cab.

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Word with the Boss: Carl Carlson of ServiceMaster in Auburn http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/03/word-with-the-boss-carl-carlson-of-servicemaster-in-auburn/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/03/word-with-the-boss-carl-carlson-of-servicemaster-in-auburn/#comments Thu, 03 Mar 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=811692 ServiceMaster in Auburn will get some national exposure March 13 when its workers appear on an episode of “Hoarders,” the A&E television show that follows a crew trying to clean up extreme filth and clutter in someone’s home.

It’s big exposure for a cleaning and restoration business that is a little over five years old. Owners Carl Carlson and Steve Cox have known each other since they were children, but became business partners when Cox decided to buy a ServiceMaster franchise in Oxford. He asked Carlson to review the deal, and it looked good enough that Carlson asked to join in.

The company recently relocated to Auburn because business has doubled and it needed more space for its 20 vehicles and 30 employees.

Before buying the franchise, Cox ran a logistics business in Westbrook and Carlson ran an information technology consulting firm. Carlson agreed to answer questions about the company:

Q: How did you get involved in cleaning up a house for “Hoarders?”

A: We had met Matt Paxton (one of the cleaning experts on the show) at a conference and talked to him. The homeowner actually reaches out to the show and asks for assistance. Producers selected a family in Lisbon and Matt reached out to us. They provided a day of training because there are emotional and psychological issues you need to be aware of. We were on-site for three full days.

Q: How bad was it?

A: It was not the worst that we’ve experienced. But when you fill seven dumpsters and there’s still a lot left, you know there are a lot of health issues and other things that go into making that bad of a mess.

Q: How do you prepare for that?

A: We get the training and make sure all our people are properly equipped with personal protective equipment, to keep everyone safe. Also, we are reminded that this person has an issue, and we’re helping them work through that. The woman involved in this (instance) might have an attachment to certain things, so you have to be aware of that and work through it. We take a lot of breaks because it is stressful. It helps to remember the show is not about us. We’re helping a person through a difficult situation, but we are not the highlight of the show.

Q: Have you dealt with other hoarding situations?

A: We get these jobs sometimes because of an insurance claim, or we’ve been called in by family members, by the town, or a fire department or a police officer. We’ll get called in to see if we can help a person stay in their home. It’s a very emotional and difficult situation.

In the case of the show, there was a licensed therapist on site. Normally, when we’re working on a private basis, there’s not. But there are family members. We understand there’s an underlying issue that led to this, like a death of a family member or a loss of a job or a divorce. They just experienced a loss.

Q: What are some of the other types of jobs you take on?

A: We deal with water from burst pipes, flooded basements, a roof leak, fire cleanups, mold remediation. Sometimes they’re small projects, other times they’re major issues. Mold remediation is a big issue now, which we sometimes treat with dry ice. You put dry ice into a hopper and it shoots out like a pressure washer, at really high pressure. It’s so cold and under such pressure that you can clean off a fine layer of mold. It’s a great way to kill it and remove it. It’s also very expensive. If you have a little mold in your bathroom, you don’t want to go the dry ice route.

We also clean up after animals and rodents that get in houses. If you have bats in your attic, that’s one of the most hazardous situations we deal with because of all the diseases that are associated with bats.

We also do post-construction or post-renovation cleaning. That’s the other side of the business. The disaster restoration side of our business is up-and-down and the other side is a little more stable.

Q: Are there any issues unique to Maine that you deal with?

A: People have over-sealed their homes, over-engineered them and they trap moisture inside, which can lead to mold. The insurance industry has also changed – insurers pay for a lot of this. If it’s something that’s a covered claim, the insurance companies will step forward. For them, we’re required to do an incredible amount of documentation.

Q: How did you transfer your skills running an IT consulting business to disaster recovery?

A: The basic business fundamentals are the same – it’s a service business. It’s all about providing service to customers. The basic principles apply –hire good people, build a good reputation and provide a good service – and things like cash flow and profitability are important. We wanted to establish ourselves as the pre-eminent disaster recovery business in Maine and we’ve more than doubled the business in five years, so we’re making progress.

Q: What’s next for your industry?

A. One of the biggest drivers for us is the technology and data side of the business. We’ve had to become an information technology company – we have iPads out in the field and laptops and cellphones. We take moisture readings that are uploaded with photos. How we handle the information is a key to getting the insurance carrier to work with us.

Q: But even with all that technology, I imagine a big part of the business is dealing with the emotional reaction of homeowners.

A: It is. We had a situation just last week, when we had that cold snap. A family came back from vacation and the ceiling in their dining room was on the floor. They just walked in from vacation and had no idea what had happened. Our guys were there in an hour and saying, “It’s going to be OK.” The family was able to stay in the home with our emergency mitigation. We have some very good technicians who can talk people off the ledge and say, “It’s OK, the experts are here.” That’s the key for us.

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Word with the Boss: Customer service comes first for Bristol Seafood chief Peter Handy http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/25/word-with-the-boss-peter-handy-of-bristol-seafood/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/25/word-with-the-boss-peter-handy-of-bristol-seafood/#comments Thu, 25 Feb 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=807634 Peter Handy says he’s been “inching his way toward Maine” since his birth in California, college in Philadelphia and work on Wall Street. He has finally arrived, promoted last week from vice president of business development to president and chief executive officer of Bristol Seafood. The 24-year-old company, located on the Portland Fish Pier, has 85 employees and about $40 million in annual sales of haddock, cod, mussels and scallops.

While at the University of Pennsylvania, Handy started “Box My Dorm,” his first foray into entrepreneurship. The service allowed students to box up their belongings for the summer and have them delivered back to their new dorm for the fall semester.

Q: Did your startup, “Box My Dorm,” prepare you to run a seafood company?

A: Exactly! A lot of it is similar. Customer service is paramount, so for that, there are a lot of similarities. The students had different needs than the moving companies, and fishermen often have different needs and concerns than what the end users have. There are stories to tell.

Q: Such as?

A: I think we do a good job of taking a high-quality product from the boat to the plate, but we want to make sure the story stays with it. We want the consumer to know how it was caught, where it was caught and who caught it. The more you know about fish, the better it tastes.

Q: How do you do that?

A: Most recently, we launched a product of wild Maine mussels. Most people don’t know wild Maine mussels exist, so we took a video crew out and put a drone in the air and interviewed the fisherman about why he harvests Maine mussels. Then (we filmed) what we do in our facility and then how we put it in front of chefs. And then we can share the chain with the fisherman, too, so he can see how the product is fitting in the market.

Q: What do your stories focus on?

A: With seafood, there’s a lot of subtlety. Like haddock is caught in a lot of different places, and we know that in Maine a lot of people are focused on products that are fresh and consistent and sustainable. So we look at things like fish that’s line-caught, frozen at sea and that produces a fish that’s fresher. It’s an all-natural product that’s getting handled and hand-cut here in Maine.

We like to say we’re a company that makes food for people who like to eat. We’re meticulous about getting the food right. We’re about 85 people on the fish pier in Portland, open seven days a week, with three (product) lines – fish, scallops and wild Maine mussels. The commonality on all three is the focus on quality and food safety. Every piece is hand-finished and hand-packed to meet our standards.

Q: You’re a major customer for Eimskip, the Icelandic shipping company that has a major operation in Portland. Do you ship your fish via Eimskip, or is it the other way around?

A: We receive a lot of our haddock, which we get from Norway, from Eimskip. If you look at flying freight that’s fresh, versus over the water that’s frozen, the benefit is environmental. There’s 90 percent less of a carbon footprint (going by sea). And we’ve eliminated Styrofoam over the last few years. We not only give our customer a high-quality product, but we’re also responsible for the product and the fisheries.

Q: So where does your seafood go?

A: We ship from Honolulu to Augusta.

Q: Where do you see Bristol’s growth coming from?

A: Giving our customers what they want. We did record sales last year and people are happy about what they’re eating. There’s a significant opportunity for people to eat more fish in the United States. There hasn’t been significant growth in seafood consumption for a number of years. One of the reasons that we’re excited about wild Maine mussels is that they’re affordable, and they’re super easy to cook. If they’re open, they’re done, if they’re not, they’re not. And who doesn’t have some wine and butter around?

Q: So you think mussels will provide a lot of your growth?

A: Absolutely. We’ve seen our mussel (sales) volume quadruple in the last four months.

Q. But there’s concern about the wild mussel populations in Maine. Is that a sustainable fishery?

A. In southern Maine, people are seeing fewer mussels. What we are experiencing where we get our mussels (near Acadia National Park) is different. We get our mussels in deeper water, about 30 feet deep, rather than in the tidal areas. Also, all the smaller mussels go back into the sea. We’re founding members of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute sustainability program and we want to make sure, as we build the market for mussels, that it remains sustainable.

Q: What’s your strategy going forward?

A: When you share the story of the seafood, it’s something people can enjoy on a deeper level. So it will become a bigger part of our business. Our scallop business is growing as well. We give people a great experience. So many folks have said that it’s like when they had a carrot for the first time at a farmers market. They go, “So that’s what it’s supposed to taste like. Wow!” To have that reaction is what we work for.

 

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Lincoln Merrill putting down professional roots at last http://www.pressherald.com/2016/01/14/word-with-the-boss-lincoln-merrill-of-patriot-insurance/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/01/14/word-with-the-boss-lincoln-merrill-of-patriot-insurance/#comments Thu, 14 Jan 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=782872 As president of Patriot Insurance, Lincoln Merrill has seen the insurance company move from offices in Portland to Brunswick to Yarmouth – and that’s just since 2002. Now he’s working with an architect on what will be the permanent home of his company: the Route 1 site currently occupied by the Down-East Village Motel and just a stone’s throw from where both of Merrill’s parents operated businesses in downtown Yarmouth years ago.

Merrill expects to get the permitting process started this spring and hopes to break ground on a brand new office building this summer for his 50-year-old company. A North Yarmouth native, he’s excited about putting down professional roots and ending Patriot’s nomadic existence.

Q: What drew you to the Down-East Motel site? Was it an affinity for the neighborhood where your parents operated businesses?

A: No, although I’m excited about that. We did our due diligence, and this site really fit our needs. It’s close to the interstate, has great visibility, is close to the river and walking trails. It really fits our needs as an employer and as a business.

Q: Will the motel have to be torn down?

A: Yes, we have to demolish the site, including the in-ground pool. We’ll be working with the town to meet the new Character-Based codes [as we design the new building]. The total parcel is 7 acres, which is more than we need, obviously. About two of the acres are close to the river and we can’t build upon those, but we’re trying to plan a building that we can adapt for our future needs as the business grows.

Q: What businesses did your parents operate?

A: My mom ran a retail store in a brick building a couple of buildings down from where Otto is now. She brought in a line of girls’ dresses in the spring and fall and offered consignment items and some dry goods. There were apartments upstairs. My dad had a tax business (nearby). He also worked as a real estate broker.

Q: Why did Patriot Insurance decide to put down roots now?

A: We had been outgrowing our office space and every time we moved, it was awful on the employees and terrible for customers … they start wondering about you. We always wanted a permanent home, but as a mutual insurance company, it’s hard to get the capital. We teamed up with a Michigan company (Frankenmuth Mutual Insurance) that had been in the same place for more than 100 years. The board chair said we should just get our own place. So we started the process.

Q: Any idea the size of the building or projected cost?

A: We don’t intend to move again, so we’re working with the architects to figure the space we need. We lease about 10,000 square feet now, but want more so we can build an exercise center and showers and allow for expansion. We also want to design a building that works with the historic characteristic of Main Street. You’re not going to see some modern, glass thing from us.

Q: And the cost?

A: We’re still working on that. I told the town we would build an attractive building, something Yarmouth would be proud of. But we’re not going to be able to spend $500 per square foot when the average is $180. So we’re working all that out now.

Q: How big a company are you?

A: We have 54,000 policyholders – about 70 percent of our customers are in Maine and two-thirds of our premiums are in Maine. Last year we had revenues of $81 million. We also have 55 employees who come to work every day and another 15 who work from home or out-of-state. That’s why easy access to the highway is important. We have employees who drive from Berwick to the south and from Sidney to the north every day.

If you have a suggestion for Word with the Boss, send your idea to Business Editor Carol Coultas at:

ccoultas@pressherald.com

Editor’s note: This story was changed from the original version to correct the number of employees.

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A Word with the Boss: Her eco-friendly guide 
to Maine sustains itself http://www.pressherald.com/2015/12/17/a-word-with-the-boss-her-eco-friendly-guide-%e2%80%a8to-maine-sustains-itself/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/12/17/a-word-with-the-boss-her-eco-friendly-guide-%e2%80%a8to-maine-sustains-itself/#comments Thu, 17 Dec 2015 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=768631 Few people would have suggested that the first decade of the 21st century was a good time to launch a print venture. But Heather Chandler was undaunted. She was intrigued by a publication in Portland, Oregon, called the Chinook Book, which brought an environmental sensibility to an annual guide that offered tips on living a sustainable, eco-friendly lifestyle. It also offered coupons for goods and services that made achieving that lifestyle easier and less expensive. In 2006, Chandler launched her own version in Portland – Maine – called the SunriseGuide and in recent years has added guides for visitors to Maine and another for homeowners.

Chandler’s company, also named SunriseGuide, has four employees.

Q: This is the 10th edition of the SunriseGuide. What’s the best deal you’ve ever had in it?

A: The one coupon that everyone always remembers is the coupon Hannaford did with rotisserie chicken. They launched Nature’s Place chicken and they had a coupon for a free chicken in the guide. People still talk about it. And people always email me and say, “I saved $100 at Maine Hardware today or I saved $200 at Maine Hardware.” People love Maine Hardware.

Q: Are there deals that didn’t work out so great?

A: Early on, it was a learning curve. There was a coupon for a restaurant: Buy one entrée and get one free. That’s a lot for a restaurant to give away. And there wasn’t any fine print, so sometimes two couples would come and buy two and get two free. But another restaurant swore by it and said people would also buy drinks and side dishes and desserts.

Q: Why do you publish it so late in the year?

A: It’s a popular gift –we always try to get it out before the holidays. The 2016 edition was released in late November. It’s used for lots of holiday gifting and we have lots of businesses that buy them for employees or clients.

Q: There are more than 200 coupons in it. Do readers use it year-round?

A: It’s kind of an adventure; people tell us they love that aspect of it. They dig it out and say, “What are we going to do this month?” People use it as a guide to Maine.

Q: How did you decide what to focus on?

A: It’s for people with a strong commitment to sustainable lifestyles, as well as those just looking to be a little bit more sustainable. There are sections that cover everything from food and dining to home life, health and wellness, shopping, kids. There are coupons from all of those categories, like restaurants that have a commitment to sourcing locally.

Q: How do you choose who to go to for advertisements and coupon deals?

A: It’s always been my biggest fear that somebody will want to advertise a product that doesn’t meet our criteria about sustainability and the environment and we’ll have to turn them away. We do a lot of pre-filtering before we approach people.

Q: So an oil company likely would not be approached?

A: No, but we do have biofuels. It’s all about finding the products and services that we use every day and then who’s going above and beyond.

Q: What’s next for the company?

A: SunriseGuide as a business does more than the SunriseGuide (book). Four years ago, we launched a magazine called Green & Healthy Maine Visitors Guide. It was like the SunriseGuide, but for tourists. We have had such a great response that this year we launched Green & Healthy Maine Homes. It comes out twice a year and we launched a mobile edition of the SunriseGuide this year as well, so we’ve done a lot of growing and evolving. Moving forward, we’ll build on those platforms. The move from print to mobile has been slower than I initially thought it would be. I thought people would jump on this and in a few years we wouldn’t do print anymore, but people said, “That sounds great, but don’t take the book away.” But it is gaining traction and people are getting more experienced with mobile, especially mobile couponing.

Q: Why do you think it has taken time for mobile to be adopted?

A: It’s a behavioral change. I had one store manager who pulled me aside and said he loves it and has been using exponentially more coupons because of having it on the phone. People need to see it and hear about it multiple times.

 

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A Word With the Boss: Mainer on the fast track as speedway general manager http://www.pressherald.com/2015/12/03/a-word-with-the-boss-mainer-on-the-fast-track-as-speedway-general-manager/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/12/03/a-word-with-the-boss-mainer-on-the-fast-track-as-speedway-general-manager/#comments Thu, 03 Dec 2015 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=760535 David McGrath of Kennebunk was named executive vice president and general manager of New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon in October. McGrath once worked for the Sports Car Club of America, but after moving into sales with Comcast, he figured his association with car racing was over. Not so. He’s excited to be at the speedway, which hosts two NASCAR Sprint Cup races each year and recently signed a five-year deal with NASCAR that extends through 2020.

Q: Let’s get the most obvious question out of the way first. What kind of car do you drive?

A: A Toyota Highlander hybrid.

Q: Do you ever take it on the track?

A: I don’t take the Highlander, but I have been known to take the pace car out. It’s a 2015 Toyota Camry XSE. It’s got a big V-6 engine and it’s beautiful.

Q: How fast do you drive it?

A: Maybe 50. I don’t go that fast. But the NASCAR guys don’t go that fast, either. Most pace laps are between 45 and 55 miles an hour. We’re only a mile track. The racers will probably go 120 to 130 miles an hour on the stretch and around 90 on the corners. The speedway is a fairly flat track, without as much banking as at some other tracks where they can carry more speed into the corners.

Q: What’s the deal with NASCAR’s popularity in New England? Why has it never been as popular here as it is in the South?

A: This a sport born in the hills of North and South Carolina and the beach at Daytona, but it certainly has evolved as a national sport. In New England, there’s a rabid fan base. We really pull all from the Northeast – Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, certainly Massachusetts and Canada. There’s a base of wonderful short tracks in the area that feed that fan base. In Maine alone, you’ve got Beech Ridge in Scarborough and Oxford Plains – that short track racing is the base of the popularity.

Q: How do you make money when the racing season up here only runs five or six months?

A: We are always evaluating and looking at ways we can use the property. We own 1,100 acres and we think about what new things we can bring in. We just had an “Extreme Punkin Chunkin” event … We’ve hosted snowmobile events over the winter. We had a big Boy Scout jamboree earlier this fall and showed them what a NASCAR Sprint track looks like from the inside. Our season begins in April and ends in October, but our team is a creative group of people.

Q: What about staffing? You only need a few year-round workers, but a lot of people in-season. How do you handle that?

A: We have a core of seasonal people from the local communities. We have a year-round staff of 52 employees that swells to over 1,000 on a race weekend. We bring in volunteers from all over the Northeast and they work a certain number of hours. (In lieu of pay, we make a donation to their organization or charity.) We keep them busy April through November. There are groups that have been part of the team for years, like a church group or sports booster club. They might work in parking or as ushers or screeners. On a typical (NASCAR Sprint) Cup weekend, you’ll have 100,000 people on the property and that (crowd can) begin to gather a week before the races on Sunday. You need a lot of people to help with that. And nearly $300,000 was raised for volunteer groups last year.

Q: How do you keep the track in shape, particularly given the harsh winters in New Hampshire?

A: The drivers love the track because it’s a little coarse and it gives them a lot of grip. You don’t touch the surface in the winter months. There’s a blanket of snow on top of the pavement, but if you put pressure on it, it forces the frost deeper into the ground, which causes damage. The maintenance team is always improving our facilities.

Q: Wouldn’t the snowmobiles events compact the snow and cause the damage you try to avoid in the winter?

A: We don’t run them on the race track surface itself. A lot of snowmobile trails kind of converge on the speedway property, so we have a lot of snowmobile clubs coming by here.

Q: Are snowmobilers fans of NASCAR?

A: I think there’s a bit of a correlation between outdoors-minded folks and NASCAR, but I wouldn’t limit it to snowmobiles. On a NASCAR weekend, we have upwards of 4,000 campers on the property. Certainly those who enjoy being out-of-doors seem to be fans. Ice-fishers too, I’m sure they’re NASCAR fans.

Q: What is NASCAR like to work with?

A: They’re wonderful to work with. There’s the operational side of what NASCAR does – they come in and they basically orchestrate the show; it’s their folks that run the racing series. We coordinate with them on everything we need, but there’s also the industry services side, who work with marketing teams on promoting the event and getting the word out. We spend our own dollars promoting our races, but NASCAR is very much involved in helping us promote the event and working with us. So they’re instrumental and they add more flair and excitement to the track. They’re very good partners.

Q: Who’s your favorite driver?

A: I really don’t have one. I’m a fan of the sport. And this isn’t the Bruins versus the Canadians or the Red Sox versus the Yankees, this is everybody at once, duking it out.

 

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A Word With the Boss: Retired container ship captain offers some deep insights http://www.pressherald.com/2015/10/29/a-word-with-the-boss-retired-container-ship-captain-offers-some-deep-insights/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/10/29/a-word-with-the-boss-retired-container-ship-captain-offers-some-deep-insights/#comments Thu, 29 Oct 2015 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=740603 Capt. Frederick John Nicoll retired from his career as a merchant mariner seven months ago after more than four decades in the business, including 17 years as a container ship captain working for Horizon Lines. Having traveled to 36 countries, including the part of the Caribbean where the El Faro cargo ship was lost earlier this month, he has assisted in the rescue of disabled vessels in the past. A Massachusetts Maritime Academy alumnus, he now lives in New Hampshire. Nicoll shares his insights into the responsibilities, dangers and tough decisions that confront those who captain container ships.

Q: What interested you in being a merchant mariner?

A: My father was, my uncle was, my godfather was, my grandfather was. We came from Nova Scotia, the family. You make your living off of the sea one way or another. It’s like the Canadian version of Norway, you know, a lot of people going away to sea.

Q: Describe the responsibilities of a cargo ship’s captain.

A: Your main concern is personnel, then vessel, then cargo. And when those (priorities) get interchanged, when A becomes B, and C becomes A, or whatever, that’s when you have problems. You don’t get to choose your crew. You only have a crew of 26 to 32, and you don’t necessarily work with the best personnel at times, so a 700-foot ship can get very small. Sometimes you have to deal with the personalities. You’ve got to be able to coax them into different situations, get things out of them that you (otherwise) couldn’t. You have to override what the company might think sometimes, and sometimes they might dismiss you for that. You’ve got to be able to figure it out.

Q: Did the ownership ever ask you to do something that you weren’t entirely comfortable with? How did you deal with that situation?

A: The ownership itself, no. More like a little bit down the line. My supervisor, he was in charge of like six ships. So he wasn’t a captain; he was like a commodore. He had 30 years’ experience. Coast Guard and Navy – he was in both. He told me once, “Whether the ship arrives two hours or two days late, it doesn’t matter. If you arrive with damage or somebody was injured, it really matters. Everybody notices that.” The bottom line is you have to make decisions, and you can always fight it out when you get back to the dock. I know of a captain who went around a storm once, and another ship went through the storm. The other ship had minimal damage. He had no damage, but he was a day and a half late, and so the company was a little upset at him. But he erred on the side of caution, which is better than erring on the other side.

Q: What sort of decisions do ship captains have to make that would not be required of other professions?

A: Is the ship in the right condition? Are we going into the right weather? Should we slow down? Should we stay away from this storm, even though another storm is coming? Maybe that’s less of a storm. Sometimes you’re hopscotching different lows and fronts.

Q: Your ship, the Horizon Trader, rescued the crew of a sailboat disabled at sea last year. When you receive a distress call, how do you decide whether to attempt a rescue or merely call the Coast Guard?

A: Immediately you try to get a hold of the Coast Guard, but you stay in contact with the ship. When I found out that we’d gone by a (disabled) boat, I said, “We’re going back to get them.” My supervisor was delighted. Some companies would be upset with that, and some wouldn’t, but the three people we saved were delighted. It was a boat going from Florida to Casco Bay. In a situation like that, you’ve got to think, “If that was me, what would I want? Am I going to call the Coast Guard and then go?” Well, first of all, once you call the Coast Guard, they may require you to stay. Whether you want to leave or not, you can’t go. And if you do leave, they’ll reprimand you and you’ll probably lose your federal license.

Q: What are the personality traits that make a good ship’s captain?

A: Being objective. Being able to weigh both sides of the story. Not showing favoritism. And most importantly, a positive attitude. A positive attitude is very important.

Q: What are the biggest dangers of the job?

A: We carry everything that goes over the road. We could have a gasoline fire, an electrical fire, and if things are really, really heated up we could have a (fire that melts the hull). But the greatest dangers are usually Mother Nature, and the ship’s ability to deal with Mother Nature … Mother Nature’s a cruel mother.

Q: What are the biggest rewards?

A: Arriving at your next port. Being able to communicate with and see your friends and your family.

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A Word With the Boss: David Ciullo gives personnel service a personal touch http://www.pressherald.com/2015/09/24/a-word-with-the-boss-he-gives-personnel-service-a-personal-touch/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/09/24/a-word-with-the-boss-he-gives-personnel-service-a-personal-touch/#comments Thu, 24 Sep 2015 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=717869 David Ciullo decided in 2009 to put his years of retail experience to work in the career services industry, buying Portland-based Career Management Associates. Sure, buying anything in the middle of a deep recession is a bit of a risk, but, as the cliché goes, Ciullo saw it as an opportunity. The Springvale native beefed up the company’s outplacement and executive search services and added other services, such as executive coaching, leadership development, compensation consulting and human resources. In addition to running the company, Ciullo hosts a radio show, HR Power Hour, on WLOB-AM every Saturday.

Q: We’ve been hearing a lot about tight labor pools here in Maine. What are you seeing?

A: There are three key areas we focus on: The first is finding great talent. Our search business has not been this busy since, well, ever, or at least since I’ve owned it. People are really trying to find great talent right now and a lot of it we have to find out of state. There aren’t enough candidates to fill the job openings.

The second is retaining great talent because people want to stay in Maine – executive coaching and training are two areas where we’ve seen great growth this year. The market is becoming an employee market rather than an employer market, which started about 10 months ago.

The third area is compensation and that’s related to the last two. Rates are going up.

Q: What evidence do you see of that?

A: There are signs, based on the tightness of the work pool, the candidate pool. That starts creating demand. A second sign would be the companies are starting to open up the purse strings and recognize that they have to start to pay better, and offer training (to employees) because they have to retain them. The recession created a lot of stagnation – people wouldn’t leave because they were scared. That mentality has changed.

Q: Are there industries where it’s picked up stronger than others?

A: It’s pretty general, to be honest. What are some key areas? Medical, financial, manufacturing, senior-level jobs – we call that C-suite level, for CEOs, CFOs, C-everything. There are some that are not doing well, where we’re not seeing a lot of movement – marketing and advertising, that area of the world is fairly quiet.

Q: Do you have to sell Maine to out-of-state job candidates?

A: The last winter did not help us (laughs). There are a number of different pieces to that. The first thing is, forget about the state – what is the opportunity? You sell them on having an opportunity to come and work for someone in a great state. But you have to sell them on an opportunity first.

And you have to find the connections: Did they ever come here for summer camp or vacation, do they like the change of seasons, do they enjoy the outdoors? We send them material to talk up the positives. Portland is easy. It’s easy to sell Portland. It can be more difficult to sell northern Maine because it’s a different field. And it’s also about selling to the spouse. Many times, the candidate is excited to come to Maine, but sometimes the spouse isn’t and wants to know where they will live and where the kids will go to school. So, it’s a lot like matchmaking: Maine sells itself a lot from its beauty, but it has to be more than that. We find a lot of candidates have some sort of connection here.

Q: We often hear about the “trailing spouse” issue – finding work for both people. How difficult is that?

A: There is more flex work than ever, more people working at home than ever and that’s really helped our cause.

Q: Why did you buy a personnel services firm in the depths of a recession?

A: I have a bumper sticker that says, “I refuse to participate in the recession.” Our intention here is to help business owners and leaders, for large or small companies, really develop their people and make sure they’re right for their business. Some of these services are almost recession-proof: People always need great help, and compliance help, and help developing their people. So it’s our mission to fulfill that.

 

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A Word With the Boss: Servicing computers at core of TechPort http://www.pressherald.com/2015/09/17/word-with-the-boss-servicing-apple-computers-at-core-of-techport/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/09/17/word-with-the-boss-servicing-apple-computers-at-core-of-techport/#comments Thu, 17 Sep 2015 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=713133 Andrew Rosenstein started his company, TechPort, in 2009 and it seems like every week since has brought some new technological advance to computers. His company, which just moved into a new spot on Temple Street in Portland, is an authorized Apple service provider and helps local companies and customers with their PCs and Macs and other IT-related devices.

Rosenstein, who has degrees from Connecticut College and Columbia University, wrote fiction and did medical writing before turning to computers.

Q: How did you transition from writer to IT specialist? Seems like that’s a real left brain/right brain divide.

A: I’d always been involved with tech and there comes a point where you cross a line, where you are everybody’s help desk for the family and before you know it, people are hiring you. I’m largely self-taught. It became something that just grew, but very slowly at first. As Apple has added interesting new devices, my plate kind of expanded to include many of those. It went from helping family members to replacing logic boards for friends, and then you get a couple of referrals from friends of friends and the business grows.

Now we have three employees in Portland, two in Orono at the University of Maine. They run the tech service center at the University of Maine.

Q: Apple just released a host of new devices. How do you stay in front of those?

A: Apple makes it very easy for techs to train using their training program. You can become quite knowledgeable by being a good student of Apple.

Q: What kind of commitment is that?

A: All the techs here, including myself, are always training. We are now an Apple authorized service provider, so we have access to all of Apple’s training and we can talk to Apple’s engineers. That keeps us current. We offer warranty service, so we have to be up there with what’s coming through the door. A good technician is never done, so we’re always very excited when something new comes out. It presents new challenges, but it’s exciting.

Q: What are you training on now?

A: The newest versions of the MacBook that came out this past winter. It requires that we have specialized equipment that we purchase from Apple to analyze machines and make repairs.

Q: Is it difficult to balance the need for training and the need to be out in the field working for clients who pay the bills?

A: Like any business, you have to make continual investments. It really does have a huge payback. While it costs something to spend time training, the benefit is that very few people can repair these machines, so you’re one of the elite who can fix these things.

It is unrelenting, but I can’t say enough about the people who work with me. We’re all good at filtering things that are truly important, so we can focus less on the “wow” factor (of new equipment) and more on the “how is this working” factor.

Q: What about that timing? You started a new business in the depths of the recession.

A: It was hard scrambling for the next job as a writer and because of the economic crash, I was owed money that never materialized. So I needed a steadier stream of income and because I already had some talent at the tech work, I kept at it.

Q: And what about market trends? Don’t a lot of companies opt to replace computers rather than repair them?

A: It’s much more affordable for most small companies to continue to keep the machines they have in service than go out and buy new ones. The smart ones maintain their equipment until they absolutely have to upgrade. That’s where people like me come in handy; we can save them a lot of money by coming in to upgrade systems.

 

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A Word With the Boss: Allagash Brewing founder sets the bar higher http://www.pressherald.com/2015/08/20/a-word-with-the-boss-allagash-brewing-founder-sets-the-bar-higher/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/08/20/a-word-with-the-boss-allagash-brewing-founder-sets-the-bar-higher/#comments Thu, 20 Aug 2015 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=697279 Craft beer brewing is big business in Maine. The state had 52 craft breweries in 2014, ranking sixth per capita, according to the Brewers Association. The organization puts the economic impact of those breweries at $327 million, fourth per capita nationally.

Rob Tod never set out to be part of that phenomenon. Founder of Allagash Brewing Co., he graduated from Middlebury College with a degree in geology, then headed west to Colorado, where he skied, worked in construction, skied and worked at restaurants. And skied. Then, after returning to Vermont – where he planned to either become a cabinetmaker or go back to college for a master’s degree – Tod called a friend, looking for a job. The friend came through, and soon Tod was helping to wash kegs at Otter Creek Brewing in Middlebury.

July marked the 20th anniversary of Allagash Brewing Co., one of the area’s oldest craft breweries. The company started with a focus on Belgian-style beers. Today, Allagash Brewing has six year-round beers and seven seasonal releases and continually tries new flavors and styles. The company has 95 employees at its Portland brewery and hosts 60,000 people who tour the Industrial Way facility.

Q: Colorado has a strong craft brewery tradition. Did you drink premium beer when you were there?

A: I wasn’t drinking great beer back then – it was whatever I could afford. I was exposed to craft beer on a couple of occasions, but this was back in the ’90s and that beer wasn’t widespread. It wasn’t until I got to Otter Creek that I discovered that beer and I was blown away. When people try craft beers, a lot of them say, “Wow, wow. I didn’t know beer could taste like that.” That was me. That’s what motivates me about this business.

Q: What attracted you to beer brewing?

A: It combined everything I loved. It had a bit of science, biology and chemical reactions and it had a big creative component with recipe-writing and a mechanical component with pipes and wiring and valves. It wrapped up everything I loved in one nice package and on top of it all, it was beer.

Q: After 20 years, what keeps you motivated?

A: Innovation is a very big core value at Allagash – if anyone has an idea for a beer, they can talk to our brew master, and set up a run on our little brewing system. It’s giving people a new experience of beer every day. We have drinkers who drink our core beers year-round, but we’re always coming up with new flavors and aromas with beer.

Really just setting foot in that first craft brewery, Otter Creek, I could see the creativity. The new recipes, and people are always doing stuff with their hands, installing equipment and coming up with new techniques. I was inspired by the breadth of all of that stuff.

Q: I don’t think people often equate innovation with brewing beer – it’s such an old industry.

A: From day one, Allagash White was an innovative beer. At the time there were very few cloudy beers, Belgian beers, spiced beers. People would ask, “Why does it look so different, why does it taste different?” So at the time, it was a very innovative beer and that spirit of innovation has been around ever since day one. If we’re being innovative at the brewery, we’re learning and experimenting and trying new things and that keeps us motivated and engaged.

Q: Maine has dozens of craft breweries. Do you feel hemmed in by that competition?

A: I don’t feel hemmed in at all. To me it’s an exciting time in the business. Is it more competitive? Yes, but does it also push us to get better? Absolutely. Despite all the competition, we’re having our best year ever in Maine. We’re up well over 20 percent sales over last year and that’s after 20 years of being in business.

Q: Sounds pretty collegial.

A: The competition just enriches the experience for the beer drinkers. We’re bringing drinkers in for some of the startups and the startups are bringing drinkers in for us. Someone can spend an afternoon bouncing between the breweries. So, all these openings bring excitement and energy to the industry. And we’re more than happy to help. We’ve lent a hand to some of the smaller breweries and some will ask us to help them out with a problem. We’ve just upgraded our lab and said to other breweries, if there’s anything we can help you with, we’ll do it. All brewers are collectively better off if the beer is better.

Q: Why is having a lab important?

A: I’m not happy if we’re not always improving with quality and consistency. We keep setting the bar higher. We’ve worked up to four full-time people on QC (quality control) in the lab. QC is everyone’s job, but we have four people dedicated full-time to QC. They’re taking samples constantly to look at cell counts in the beer, the density of the beer, the pH of the beer and we have equipment now that will give us very precise readings. …. We are not growth-driven, just for the sake of growth, but as we’ve grown, we’re able to invest in better equipment. As long as we’re using that growth to reinvest in things were passionate about, we’ll believe in continued growth.

I look at it as a challenge, it excites me. We have innovative beers and we are continually releasing one-off beers and beers that we brew once a year. With our core beers like Allagash White, consistency is important and something we’ll always been working at. It’s light years from where it was 15 years ago, but there’s always room to improve.

Q: What’s in the brewery’s future?

A: In a lot of respects, it’s just to continue to focus on core values. It’s not a volume-driven goal, our goals are to give more back to the Maine community and a continued improvement on quality and consistency and to innovate, give people new experiences with beer and make Allagash a better place to work. Those are things that I really focus on. Hopefully, five years from now we’re doing better on all those fronts. The ways we do things change, but you adapt to those changes and continue to do a better job on all those fronts. That’s what gets us out of bed in the morning.

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A Word With the Boss: For Freeport businesswoman, being a national ‘retail champion’ comes naturally http://www.pressherald.com/2015/08/06/a-word-with-the-boss-for-freeport-businesswoman-being-a-national-retail-champion-comes-naturally/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/08/06/a-word-with-the-boss-for-freeport-businesswoman-being-a-national-retail-champion-comes-naturally/#comments Thu, 06 Aug 2015 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=689201 Tina Wilcoxson has been involved with natural foods most of her life, assuming you count her childhood on the family potato farm in Limestone. So it may seem preordained that she would come to own Royal River Natural Foods in Freeport.

Wilcoxson is also a champion of the retail world – an honor the National Retail Federation bestowed that last month at its annual meeting in Washington, D.C. She was one of five finalists for the federation’s Retail Champions Award, which honors those retailers who get involved with public policy discussions.

Wilcoxson has owned the store, which has 23 employees, for two years. She got there the old-fashioned way – by working her way up from a minimum wage personal care buyer to owner over a span of 19 years.

Q: How did you get involved in influencing public policy?

A: I’m on the board for the Retail Association of Maine. The main purpose of the association is to keep track of different legislation going on at the state level – anything that would affect retail businesses. It’s a great way to keep track of things like bag fees or the minimum wage. So, I’ve been on that board for about seven years and I’m currently the board chair. Every year, the National Retail Federation has an event to bring retailers to Washington, D.C., and someone nominated me to be a “retail champion,” I think because of my work with the state retail federation. I’m not sure what the requirements were, but I was very surprised and honored.

I’ve been to Washington, D.C., twice to meet with our legislators. Most people that put a bill forward are well-intentioned, but they don’t always know the consequences of that intention. If you don’t tell your story and tell them how it’s like at the real-world level, they’re not going to have the information to make a good decision. You just have to be sincere and honest and say this is how it’s affecting me.

Q: So do you feel you have a good handle on what’s happening?

A: I know what’s going on. If you don’t stay informed it’s hard to have an opinion and decide if something is going to affect you or not. There are so many bills coming up each session that it’s hard to keep track of it on your own. The federation can filter through it all and figure out who’s going to be affected. And if you’re informed, you’re involved.

Q: Does Maine go overboard in regulating small businesses, and retailers specifically?

A: It seems like it’s very similar to other states as far as the number of bills that are brought up. And local rules are starting to be made, so that adds another twist.

Q: Does that tendency of local government to start issuing its own rules – such as Portland’s banning of plastic bags – worry you?

A: It does. It’s a concern for me. I could sit back and say my business isn’t in Portland, so it doesn’t affect me. But it’s much easier to have a level playing field in the state. Also, retailers may own a couple of stores in different communities and it makes it very difficult for them. I’d like to see the minimum wage go up, but it’d be better to have it be at the state level, and not have every community do its own thing. I think sometimes communities get frustrated when there isn’t enough action at the state level and they get tired of waiting.

Q: What are the big issues facing Maine retailers?

A: The minimum wage, just because it’s cropping up in individual towns. I think there were some really good minimum wage bills at the state level, which would have made it easier, and we were disappointed that they didn’t go anywhere. That’s going to be a major issue for businesses in the state and if it comes to a referendum, I’m not sure what the increase will be. It’d be nicer to have a common sense bill go through.

Q: Are you upset that lawmakers didn’t keep their promise to roll the sales tax back from 5.5 percent to 5 percent?

A: I never thought it would go back to 5. We were glad it didn’t go up to 6.5 percent (as it would have under Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed budget), because when you’re bordering New Hampshire, that’s an issue. The main issue were having now is Internet sales don’t have to pay sales tax. That’s huge. If we have someone come in the store and ask us a lot of questions then lose that sale to someone online, it’s very discouraging. There’s some sign of progress. There’s the Marketplace Fairness Act, that’s had mostly Democratic support, but there have been some Republicans (in favor). Sen. (Susan) Collins (R-Maine) is on board for that and so is Sen. (Angus) King (I-Maine). But they’ve had problems getting it through the House. There’s a new bill that gives a little more leeway than previous bills, so we’re hoping that gets passed. That looks pretty good. That’s also a lot of money that the state’s not getting.

Q: Do you get discouraged by politics?

A: I feel better being informed because I know what’s coming and know a little better what to expect. It would be really difficult to be doing this and not be aware. But Maine is a great state for small businesses and people like buying locally, so Maine is great place to be a small, local business owner. We have a lot of Maine state pride.

 

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A Word with the Boss: GAC Chemical’s formula includes employee stock ownership plan http://www.pressherald.com/2015/07/30/word-with-the-boss-gac-chemicals-formula-includes-employee-stock-ownership-plan/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/07/30/word-with-the-boss-gac-chemicals-formula-includes-employee-stock-ownership-plan/#comments Thu, 30 Jul 2015 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=684840 David Colter joined GAC Chemical in Ohio in 1994, months after the chemical manufacturer bought a plant in Searsport that mainly supplied chemicals to the Maine paper industry. About eight years later, the son of company founder James Poure purchased most of the company, but the elder Poure retained ownership of the Maine plant. Colter said he faced a choice: Remain a numbers-cruncher for the Ohio-based company or move to Maine with the possibility of one day becoming its president and chief executive officer.

He chose Maine, where the company began to diversify so that the paper industry now represents about 45 percent of the company’s business, down from about 80 percent. The company also makes chemicals for water and wastewater treatment, the food and pharmaceutical sectors and energy.

This year, James Poure decided he was ready to retire and talked to Colter about buying his shares. Bankers suggested looking at an employee stock ownership plan, or ESOP, which provides tax breaks that allow the purchase of the company for less cash than would normally be the case. The arrangement benefits the seller – Colter said Poure will pay capital gains tax of about 22 percent on the sale of his shares to the ESOP trust, rather than the ordinary tax rate that would be at about twice that for capital gains – and the employees, whose jobs could have been imperiled if the plant were sold to an out-of-state competitor. The transaction to an ESOP closed June 23. Colter declined to provide financial data or say how many employees GAC Chemical has.

Q: How did the ESOP come about?

A: It was when Jim made the decision that he was ready to officially retire. He and I had been having conversations over the last few years about whether I was interested in buying the company. I had expressed an interest to try to acquire the facility and as we were looking at what he was looking for from a purchase price and options to finance the acquisition, the ESOP concept was brought to us by a bank. I knew very little about the mechanics and the setup of the ESOP – there were a lot of moving parts. Could all of that work with what we were trying to do? With some time and effort, looking at the alternatives of conventional financing and the ESOP structure, when you look at the projections and the tax advantages, the ESOP worked on several levels.

Q: How did it differ from a conventional purchase?

A: In some transition models, you just buy the assets, but there’s a double tax – a tax on the gain on those assets and then a distribution to a shareholder or shareholders, and then they’re taxed again. This allows us to buy the shares and he’s taxed at a capital gains rate versus ordinary income. The capital gains rate is 22 percent and it’s almost double for the ordinary tax rate.

Q: Do the employees have to make an investment?

A: The employees put in nothing. The mechanics are that the ESOP trust holds the stock for the benefit of employees, and their retirement benefit is to receive the appreciation in value as cash when they retire. They never really get shares because the shares stay in the trust, but they get the value attributable to their account.

Q: Did you have a lot of questions from employees as this moved along?

A: This whole transaction structure wasn’t very out in the open. We were working on negotiations and working with the banks. I proposed it to Jim and the board voted to accept and then we rolled it out to employees. They were thrilled with this new retirement benefit and we were fortunate enough to have one of our sales employees who had been with a company that was an ESOP and he said, “This is a good thing, guys.”

Q: How complex was it?

A: I think any transaction can take twists and turns. The wild card for us was just navigating through the Small Business Administration requirements, but it wouldn’t have happened without the support of the SBA. They provided a (loan) guarantee as part of the bank’s financing program and they were supporting a direct loan to the ESOP trust. If you think about all the SBA loans that are done in the course of a year, the average number that involve loans to an ESOP is only about four. For that reason, it was helpful to have the support of the SBA, to help us get through that process.

Q: So when were the employees brought into it?

A: We were still waiting for the dust to settle and did a full roll out with the ESOP July 27. We had a meeting with the employees about what we did, how we did it and what the benefits were, and then we had a full roll out and gave them an opportunity to ask questions. The key is ongoing education and communication. I think that they asked very good questions, very well-thought-out questions. It takes some time to sink in and as we continue on this path, more questions will come up. Our goal is to have a continuing education program to help bridge that gap. I’ve reached out to other ESOP companies in the state, like Moody’s Collision Centers and Cianbro, and it’s nice to have those resources, with companies that are already doing this.

Q: Is there a downside to this ownership structure?

A: I’m not seeing a drawback at the moment, but what I am seeing and hearing is genuine appreciation of putting this plan together.

Q: Are you a member of the ESOP?

A: The governance and the hierarchy of the company don’t change. I’m still president and CEO of the company. I’m not a participant in the trust.

Q: What are the benefits of this ownership structure, beyond the retirement benefits possible for employees?

A: One is employee retention, and two is attracting talent. Those are the two primary benefits going forward. I sit around the table and look at our group and there are a number of people who have been 40-plus years. They’re happy to see (the ESOP) because we set our program up on the shortest vesting timetable we could, which is three years. (The company still has a 401(k) for employees.)

Q: Are employees more engaged and focused on the bottom line because of their financial stake in the company?

A: I believe that’s the case. Time will tell if that’s true, but based on what I’ve heard from other companies that are set up that way, that’s very much the case.

 

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A Word With the Boss: From a master’s Down Under to a leader downtown http://www.pressherald.com/2015/07/23/a-word-with-the-boss-from-a-masters-down-under-to-a-leader-downtown/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/07/23/a-word-with-the-boss-from-a-masters-down-under-to-a-leader-downtown/#comments Thu, 23 Jul 2015 08:01:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=680735 Casey Gilbert traveled a long way to get from her native New Hampshire to Portland, where she began work this month as the executive director of Portland’s Downtown District, a nonprofit group that promotes the area’s economic vitality.

From her hometown in Laconia, New Hampshire, the first step was small – to the University of Vermont, where she majored in community development and applied economics. After she returned to New Hampshire and the family business of managing apartments, Gilbert took a much bigger step: She was accepted to Carnegie-Mellon’s graduate school, but the college was encouraging students to go to its new campus in Adelaide, Australia, instead of the main campus in Pittsburgh. There, Gilbert earned her master’s degree in public policy and management and worked on developing a strategic plan for the state of South Australia.

After she returned to the U.S. and lived briefly in Boston, Gilbert’s family bought a 1950s-style beach hotel in Melbourne, Forida, and she moved south to renovate and manage the property. While there, she volunteered for Melbourne Main Street, a downtown revitalization effort, and then was hired as its executive director. This spring, her husband took a job in Maine and Gilbert looked for work in Portland and learned that the district’s executive director, Steve Hewins, was stepping down. She started the job July 1.

Q: What about the district job interested you?

A: It feels like the perfect fit. The whole board is committed to a very holistic approach to downtown Portland and they recognize that what happens eight blocks from here will affect what happens here. They have a new five-year strategic plan and to be involved on the ground in an organization that will effect change in downtown Portland, that’s why it’s a perfect fit for me.

Q: What’s in the five-year plan?

A: It’s big. There are initiatives based on (themes of) experience, vitality, advocacy and growth. I came up with the acronym VEGA, but they don’t use it. It’s not just vague initiatives, there are strategic priorities under each.

For instance, with the experience initiative, we’re talking about street-level (impacts) instead of high-level. We’re going to be hiring a community services coordinator, who will work with property owners and managers to open up a dialogue to get what their needs are – finding out what their concerns are. And we’re also working on sidewalks and tree wells issues, like the new project on upper Exchange Street that’s underway as we speak. Graffiti removal continues to be an issue. We have an expanded cadet program, to make it safer and provide the sense of being safer. These are young 20-somethings who are training to be police officers and this year, we doubled our budget for cadets and now we have four cadets who walk the district and look for things like aggressive panhandling, graffiti and smoking. If it’s something more serious, they call the police. For visitors and merchants, it gives them a better sense of safety.

And we’re also going to relaunching our brand, changing our name from Portland’s Downtown District to just Portland Downtown and we’ll be rolling that out in September. It’s a very exciting time. We’re moving toward inclusivity … hoping to expand the district, so we’d like to see all the stakeholders involved in Portland’s downtown.

Q: After all your moving around, what’s it like to return to northern New England?

A: I’m a New Englander at heart. It’s in your blood, it never goes away. Going to different places gives you a – I don’t want to overuse the word – a holistic and broad perspective on what other people are doing, the best practices, if you will. And the people in Portland have been so welcoming. There’s a stigma about (not welcoming) people from away, but I don’t feel that. And more and more, people are moving to Portland from other states and countries; people are looking for the quality of life we have here. So, it’s been a very comfortable transition to me.

Q: What do you think Portland has and what is it lacking?

A: I really think Portland has it all. You’ve got a very robust tourism industry, you’ve got great colleges and universities, it’s a booming foodie city, the focus on economic development is huge and it’s a walkable city. Thinking up something that’s lacking is something I’d really have to grasp for. If there is one need, it would probably more residential housing in downtown, so there would be more 24-hour people downtown. They would be here 24 hours a day and it would be great to have more people on the peninsula. But Portland has so much going on that I would be nitpicking to find try to find something wrong.

Q: Have you encountered any surprises in Portland?

A: The variety of cultural, arts, restaurants and retail choices has been a pleasant surprise. If I want to buy something, I can buy it downtown. I’m always impressed with how much is going on. And Portland is a very giving community. I personally have not had any negative experiences, but parking is something that’s come up on a number of levels and it’s tough to wrap your brain around. But if you go to any city, that’s probably number one on the list, so it’s not a surprise.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish personally in your new job?

A: I want to work really closely with the city and our other private stakeholders to make all these visions a reality. I want to be able to assist in the execution and look back and say, “That was something on our list and I improved that, we got that done.” The board has given me a vision and now it’s up to me to execute it. I would like to see Portland as a world-class destination and compete on the national and international level for talent and investment.

Q: Do you live in Portland?

A: I will be closing on a house in August in Deering Center. … I want to be a Portlander.

 

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A Word With the Boss: Tall ships organizer’s days are long http://www.pressherald.com/2015/07/16/word-with-the-boss-ships-are-tall-and-organizers-days-are-long/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/07/16/word-with-the-boss-ships-are-tall-and-organizers-days-are-long/#comments Thu, 16 Jul 2015 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=676422 This weekend, more than a dozen tall ships will enter Portland Harbor to take part in a festival the likes of which the city hasn’t experienced in 15 years.

The event – its official title is “Iberdrola USA Tall Ships Portland Festival 2015” – is the brainchild of Alex Agnew, a local business owner and sailing enthusiast. Agnew is the president of Navigator Publishing, which publishes several maritime-focused trade magazines, such as Ocean Navigator and Professional Mariner, out of offices in the old Portland Co. complex on the city’s eastern waterfront.

While the event is significant in its own right – the U.S. Coast Guard in January designated it a “Marine Event of National Significance” – it also marks the birth of a new Portland-based nonprofit. Sailing Ships Portland will be officially launched at an event Thursday night. Its goal is to provide at least 50 scholarships a year to Maine high school students so they can spend a week learning about sailing on some of the roughly 15 tall ships that will be visiting Portland this weekend. In fact, the organization has already provided scholarships to 17 students who are training on tall ships headed to Portland now.

Agnew expects tens of thousands of people to watch the Parade of Sail on Saturday, and the actual festival will take place Sunday and Monday. The festival – the first of its kind since OpSail Maine 2000 – will include tours of the vessels along the city’s waterfront. Tickets cost $15, and Agnew said the organization hopes to sell 30,000 tickets to the two-day event. It has already sold 3,000 advance tickets. Iberdrola, which owns Central Maine Power Co., is the festival’s chief sponsor.

Agnew talked about the event, sail training, and the future of his nonprofit in this edited interview.

Q: Why did you want to organize this event?

A: I got into this because I love sail training. I love sailing. But also, the price of used cruising sailboats is falling and the number of new boats being built is falling – those are bad indicators for our business. People are not going cruising under sail as much as they used to. Cruising under sail was growing and very successful into the 1970s, ’80s and doing pretty well in the ’90s, and now participation has been declining. I identified that as something we need to solve in our (publishing) business so I came up with two program ideas, one of which is tall ship-focused. I think getting people down to the tall ships and by really experiencing them, they’ll make the connection with their own cruising adventures of the future. So we’re planting seeds of the future here. We have 17 kids out sailing right now. They’re doing one- and two-week trips. Even if those kids never sail again, their lives will be transformed by this experience.

Q: What do you like about tall ships and sail training?

A: I like that each one is a school and that you’re forced to work as a team, your cellphone doesn’t work and you don’t get to select your work hours, you don’t get to negotiate anything. You’re part of a watch, you’re told when to stand that watch, you’re told what to do and you’re told exactly how to do it, and everyone’s safety revolves around your ability to absorb that information and perform. No one gets left out, everybody performs a role and it’s minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. If you’re on watch when the ship is underway you’re making sure you’re not hitting anything. If you’re on watch when the ship is at anchor, you’re making sure the ship doesn’t drag. But you have a role to play, and everyone else is depending on you because they can’t go down below and sleep if they can’t trust that you’re doing your job on the helm or on the watch or whatever your job is.

Sail training is a growing industry. And we have evidence that it’s a really good and efficient way of educating people in leadership. It’s good for at-risk youth, it’s good for disadvantaged youth, it’s good for the advantaged. It actually takes the advantaged down a peg and puts them on equal footing with kids from all walks of life. It doesn’t matter if your parents have no money or if your parents are millionaires. You’re all put in the watch system and it’s a meritocracy. You get more responsibility as you show you’re worth it.

Q: When did you begin lining up these tall ships to come to Portland?

A: I went to Philadelphia (in February) for this Tall Ships America conference and I put up a sign for Portland. I had nothing … nothing. But I put up a sign and I got there at 5:00, I was set up by 5:05 and by – not kidding – 6 o’clock we had our four Class A’s signed up to come to Portland. Class A’s are the big square-riggers. The big four are the Eagle, the Perry, Picton Castle and El Galeon. Any one of them would have been enough for an event. We have four in Portland, that’s 10 percent of the world fleet of big sailing ships. It’s a really significant event.

Q: Tell me about the logistical challenges of getting more than a dozen tall ships situated in Portland Harbor.

A: It is very difficult to organize a tall ships event in Portland. Fortunately, we had a very enthusiastic partner in the city of Portland. The city required that we cover their overtime and out-of-pocket expenses during the festival, but they’ve been very supportive in changing the pier so it works for us. The Coast Guard has also been an absolutely phenomenal partner, Tall Ships America has been an amazing partner, the ships have been amazing. This thing just fell into place and part of the reason it did is people love Portland and want to be here. The city is a magnet, an attraction in itself.

Q: Is your plan to make this a reoccurring event?

A: Canada’s 150th birthday is in 2017, so there’s a big rendezvous planned for the birthday. They’ve been planning it for like 10 years. So the ships come over, they visit Bermuda in June. They’re going to Boston for a nice event in June and to Quebec in July. We would be in a good position to invite them back here in August of 2017. These events bring attention and they help us fund our school program, so it’s kind of a triangle.

Q: What aspect of the event areyou looking forward to the most?

A: When you’re running an event like this, you just hope things go well, so I don’t think I’ll have any time to enjoy this event myself. But I will say the thing that gets me the most excited is seeing these kids, meeting them and hearing their stories. Those 17 kids. That first night out at sea they had no idea what they were getting themselves into. I just want to ask them, “What did they think that first night out?” For me, that’s really what it’s about.

 

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http://www.pressherald.com/2015/07/16/word-with-the-boss-ships-are-tall-and-organizers-days-are-long/feed/ 0 http://www.pressherald.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/676422_747056-20150713_wwtbtalls2.jpgThu, 16 Jul 2015 13:14:30 +0000
A Word With the Boss: Maine entrepreneur goes from one thing to another, successfully http://www.pressherald.com/2015/06/18/a-word-with-the-boss-maine-entrepreneur-goes-from-one-thing-to-another-successfully/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/06/18/a-word-with-the-boss-maine-entrepreneur-goes-from-one-thing-to-another-successfully/#comments Thu, 18 Jun 2015 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=660009 Although it sounds sinister, Jason Cianchette happily accepts the mantle of serial entrepreneur. The Falmouth native said he has a naturally curious personality and a desire to learn new things, apply what he’s learned to start a company and then move on.

It didn’t start out that way – after graduating from Tufts University, he worked for Accenture, a huge consulting firm.

“That’s not exceptionally entrepreneurial, with 150,000 people,” he said, but he learned about business and launched, with some friends, a startup called “Somebody Loves Me,” that was selling care packages to be sent to college students.

“It was a disaster,” Cianchette said, but he still learned some lessons that he was eventually able to apply to his own company when he started Liquid Wireless, now just Liquid, in 2008. It developed marketing campaigns aimed at mobile phone users and he sold the company three years later to Publishers Clearing House for an undisclosed amount. He has since started Huzzapp, a company that is developing video that is interactive and changes based on a user’s responses. The company has developed a prototype, based on a trivia game, in which the “host’s” responses change, based on the user’s answers. For instance, the game might ask what would the national bird be if Ben Franklin had had his way? If the user chooses “turkey” the app’s host response doesn’t just say, “Correct,” but interacts with the user and encourages him or her to try the next question. After each successive answer, a profile of the user emerges, providing valuable user data. Perfecting that technology to use in mobile advertising is the basis for Huzzapp. Cianchette said he also has some other interests that he might soon turn into startups in Portland.

Q: How did you hit on the idea behind Huzzapp?

A: After leaving Liquid, I was looking around for different opportunities and a big emerging area is video on mobile devices. I was shocked that of 20 people I worked with (at Liquid), none of them had cable. The audience is moving very quickly to mobile devices and consuming video content on mobile devices. So I thought about how video could be different with this technology. Video has been linear – it started at a certain time and it would run and then it would be over. Now we have it on-demand and it can start at any time, but you can pause it and that’s about it. So I thought of how that could relate to advertising. Basically, the way commercials run on YouTube is the same way they ran on “I Love Lucy.” The hope is to make that more interactive and more engaging.

Q: How do you make money from that?

A: I don’t know yet. We made a pilot app with a concept of daily trivia contest. Now, we’re hoping to apply that to advertising and other entertainment. For example, if you’re Jeep and you want to advertise to me, you should talk to me differently because I own a Jeep. So the conversation changes.

We’ve been building the technology out and now we’re in the process of identifying ways to commercialize it and find partners where it could be most readily used.

Q: Does that mean you’re ready to move on?

A: I’m naturally restless and like to push stuff forward. Huzzapp is my current focus but I’ve got a couple of other ideas percolating. One is to make a fundraising app for peer-to-peer loans because I personally make a lot of loans with Lending Club and Prosper (two firms that bring together companies seeking to borrow and investors willing to lend) and my thought is to make a fund to help other investors do it. I’m also working with a friend who’s a commercial real estate developer to help that field use more data technology.

Q: Why does moving on frequently appeal to you?

A: My two favorite things are learning and teaching and, with a new opportunity, it’s exciting to learn. It’s almost like there’s a brand-new game that no one’s played before and it’s great to learn how to play it and do it well. I like that aspect, the competition and the learning and, as a manager, I like teaching others how the games are played. But I get to the point where that’s repetitive and I’m ready to learn the next game.

Q: Is Maine a good place for someone like you to follow that model?

A: Maine’s good at some parts of that, with a modest cost of living and a lot of very talented young people who are eager to learn. At my last company, we hired a lot of people right out of Bowdoin and Colby (colleges) and taught them how they can learn new games, but there aren’t a lot of people around to have conversations with about where the next games are being played. In other parts of the country, like in California, that’s what people are talking about. Here, those kinds of conversations aren’t taking place as much.

Q: Why are those conversations important?

A: It gets people thinking about those issues and getting exposed to new ideas. Most inspiration isn’t from a single person, but from a collection of people looking at a problem in different ways. That leads to inspiration.

Q: And Maine isn’t so great at fostering those conversations?

A: A lot of people in Maine are very friendly and open – it’s basically a big town – so you have connections to a lot of people. That’s a really positive aspect, but a lot of people are also risk-averse. They’re easy to engage and talk to about stuff, but harder to get them to quit their great job and go on and do it with you.

 

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A Word With the Boss: Filmmaker plays a leading role in Portland’s women-centric film festival http://www.pressherald.com/2015/06/11/a-word-with-the-boss-filmmaker-plays-a-leading-role-in-portlands-women-centric-film-festival/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/06/11/a-word-with-the-boss-filmmaker-plays-a-leading-role-in-portlands-women-centric-film-festival/#comments Thu, 11 Jun 2015 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=655580 Kate Kaminski has been making films in Maine for 25 years, even when she was pursuing a master’s degree in film production at Boston University. Fellow students’ films were mostly shot in Boston and had a big urban feel, she said, while hers “didn’t look like everyone else’s films, which was fun.”

Kaminski has produced films including “The Crew” and a film series called “Willard Beach.” She is continuing to produce films – “A Home for Women” will be released Friday in Augusta – and also teaches film courses at the University of Southern Maine and the Maine College of Art.

Her Bluestocking Film Series will be held July 17-18 at Space Gallery in Portland. Kaminski said the film festival is the only one in the world that requires films to pass the “Bechdel Test,” developed by cartoonist Alison Bechdel. To pass the test, a film has to have at least two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than men.

Q: Why did you start the festival?

A: I realized that Portland in the past had a couple of women’s film events here, but weren’t any longer. I just thought, there’s a gap and I’m going to fill that gap because it’s important.

It’s a one-of-a-kind thing, the only film event in the world that requires that all films feature a female protagonist and pass the Bechdel test. We’re the only ones who do that. There are a lot of film festivals that are called women’s film festivals, but they focus on the directors’ side. Our real focus is representation on screen and we want to really see a big jump in women’s stories and voices. We’re a solution to the problem of poor representation of women in films.

Q: Why is that important?

A: It’s important because I personally feel a lack of something when I go to the movies. I’m a huge film lover and I hope that for the film industry in the bigger world, some of these ideas will percolate up and we’ll see a wider range of expression, which right now seems pretty exclusively male. There are more films with women’s roles, but it’s far from a 50 percent split and we buy half of the movie tickets.

Q: How does a film with a women-centric approach differ from other films?

A: It doesn’t differ at all. Nothing is missing, and a lot of these films have male characters in them, but it’s a bit more unusual because there’s not a focus on male characters. We have, in past screenings, had a huge range of expressions and genres.

But it’s that female voice. That is, in a sense, suppressed by the film industry. There’s nothing missing and there’s a lot added. I’ve had people come up to me and say, “Oh my God, how amazing was that, to sit through all these movies with women in them doing all kinds of stuff that you just don’t get to see in standard fare at the theater?” It’s, “Wow! Look at all these women doing things.” We’ve been running a social media campaign to get men to support this idea of supporting women in movies, asking, “Are you a bluestocking guy?”

Q: Where does “bluestocking” come from?

A: Bluestocking became an idea around in the late 19th century and the early 20th century to describe people engaged in intellectual pursuits. It referred to men and women who were interested in a life of the mind, a life of the intellect and my feeling is that women don’t get a chance to show the intellectual side on screen. So I thought, smart, strong women on screen … bluestocking … I like it.

Q: Has the response been what you expected?

A: It’s been incredible. Every screening we have has proven we’re here to stay. Last year, we essentially sold out both nights. I think it’s going to be a really hot ticket this year.

Q: Does it have an impact beyond Maine?

A: It does, because we have a touring show of the best of the Bluestocking Film festival and it’s gone to Massachusetts and New York City. Sweden has film activists who have initiated a campaign called the “A rating” and we were the first film festival to get the A rating, indicating all the films passed the Bechdel test. Because they’re really pushing that over there. So, we’re popular in Sweden and that feels great.

Q: What about the future?

A: First and foremost, we want to screen more films every year and perhaps, one day, add a screenwriting competition and other features to the program. Next year, we’ll have a connection with a U.K. charity, an organization called the Matthew Martino Benevolent Fund (which supports filmmakers, actors and other performing artists). We’re going to give out an MMBF award this year – a “rising star” award, and we give prizes as well. Even though it’s not huge amounts, we hope someday it will be. We hope to continue to build on that and reach the bigger industry if we can. We think we’re making inroads and we hope next year to bring in an actress and a “Real Women Rule” award to the festival. I hope we become a destination festival. I think we have the bones to do it.

 

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A Word With the Boss: Agitator for entrepreneurship nurtures Maine’s startup community http://www.pressherald.com/2015/05/28/a-word-with-the-boss-agitator-for-entrepreneurship-nurtures-maines-startup-community/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/05/28/a-word-with-the-boss-agitator-for-entrepreneurship-nurtures-maines-startup-community/#comments Thu, 28 May 2015 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=647024 Jess Knox figures he was born to stir things up.

Born in Waterville, he grew up in York and then spent some time working on grass-roots political projects around the country. In 2009, he joined Karen Mills’ senior executive team at the U.S. Small Business Administration, where he oversaw regional administration offices.

He spent three years at the SBA, “looking at what was working and what could be improved” while commuting between Washington, D.C., and Maine.

“It was a liberal interpretation of living in Maine,” Knox said.

He returned to the state hoping to help encourage entrepreneurship and innovation. He founded Olympico Strategies, a business consulting firm, and last year co-founded Maine Startup & Create Week in his capacity as coordinator of Blackstone Accelerates Growth. The event featured a weeklong series of workshops, panel discussions and networking sessions designed to help people start and grow businesses.

The second and expanded version of Maine Startup & Create Week will be held June 22 to June 28.

Q: How did you come to help create Maine Startup & Create Week in Maine?

A: I went to a conference in Boulder (Colorado) with Brad Feld (a high-tech investor and proponent of fostering startup companies). He talked about the movement of creating startup companies around the world and encouraged people to do the same in their hometowns. So I was in the right place and right time, but I’m also a pretty good agitator, and we started to do it and had a successful first year last year.

Q: What’s the idea behind the week’s events?

A: We try to use the power of convening people from not just Maine, but all over the region and all over the country, to focus on the skills and mindsets to create a community of entrepreneurship. Using the intensity of multi-day events, we engineer serendipitous connections between people and resources and have workshops on skills. It’s for people who want to take more risks with their companies or for people in the food industry. It’s intended to be a mix of people with different backgrounds.

Q: Why do people with enough confidence to start their own company need help like that?

A: People have seen the “valley of death” (the time between a company’s initial startup and when it develops a product or service enough to bring it to market) as a barrier. They need talent, mentoring, the community encouraging them and a risk-taking profile to help them get through that. That’s what we’ve seen around the country – that a community can help grow its entrepreneurship. Maine is really great at building small companies, but when it comes to growing to a higher-level company, sometimes we’re not as successful. And that’s where job creation comes from – high-growth, high-impact companies.

Q: Can you explain more about the valley of death?

A: It’s this construct of economic theory that companies get to a certain level that they can’t get by. People thought that the way to grow entrepreneurship and innovation is only through (access to) capital, but what we’ve learned is it’s more than just capital. That effort can be accelerated by creating networks of people who know that they’re not the only person in their community doing it. Having a network to encourage you, help you get the resources, helping you get back up if you fail is a very important part of a startup-and-create community.

Q: What are some of the features of a community that helps entrepreneurs?

A: How communities focus on conditions for growth is important, like a transparent and predictable regulatory environment. It’s also about encouraging collaboration between existing companies and nascent companies. Partnerships and joint ventures are important, capital is important, and talent and an attitude of embracing the possibility of the future and not just the challenges of the past are important.

Q: How will the second Maine Startup & Create Week be different from the first?

A: It’s an evolution from last year. We’ve had more than 35 volunteers meeting every week since mid-February to go over three tracks: the specialty food track for people in the food industry; the track for small-business owners who want to take more risks; and the scaling growth track. We’re trying to put together content for innovators and what they’re facing. We’ve looked at trends, like different models for businesses. We’ve put together panels and sessions that are focused on them and we’re trying to mix together folks from Maine and folks who are not from Maine. It’s important to mix people together. Then we recruit people from all over the country to be here. It’s an all-volunteer effort and there’s a lot of persuasive outreach that happens. One thing different this year is we have a different keynote speaker every day – speakers who are looking at the future from a 100,000-foot level.

Q: Why the focus on food businesses?

A: Because it’s here. We’re not trying to create things that aren’t happening and we have a very vibrant food industry and a lot of people who are working to create that. We have the agricultural side and the restaurant side, so part of it is looking at the capacity we have in the community. Last year we had two sessions on food-related companies and they were packed. We see a lot of food companies that want to grow, so we want to create content for a week of that. There are a lot of industries that we could have done tracks for this year, but we thought the food industry would be a good one. We think it will be value-added.

Q: What do you see down the road for Startup & Create Weeks?

A: Time will tell. That’s the advantage of being an event, not an organization – we can be really agile. If we get great feedback on something, we’d look at that. Or if another partner comes in and wants to do something, we’d look at that. That’s the advantage of this – we’re really open, we try to be as agile as possible and we’re open to different models along the way. Every year, we’ll look and evolve and see how we’re doing. That’s the fun part of it.

 

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A Word With the Boss: At Freeport shop, a smashing selection of British goods http://www.pressherald.com/2015/05/14/a-word-with-the-boss-at-freeport-shop-a-smashing-selection-of-british-goods/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/05/14/a-word-with-the-boss-at-freeport-shop-a-smashing-selection-of-british-goods/#comments Thu, 14 May 2015 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=638667 England’s been in the news lately, with a big election and a new royal baby. But the kingdom is always in vogue at Bridgham & Cook, a store in Freeport that focuses exclusively on British imports.

The store opened in 1985, run by brothers Bob and Bill Bussey – the store’s name is drawn from their middle names. Both had British blood, said Lisa Bussey, who was Bob Bussey’s wife at the time.

The couple divorced around the time the store opened, Lisa Bussey said. Then Bob Bussey was diagnosed with ALS in 2000, and in 2010, as the disease progressed, he gave the store to his two children – a son he had with Lisa Bussey and a daughter from his first marriage.

Bob Bussey’s children have their own careers and now Lisa Bussey runs the store with Jay Paulus – who is married to Kate Bussey and also runs Jay Paulus Design, a firm with offices in Portland and Washington, D.C., that specializes in museum designs.

Lisa Bussey recently sorted out bloodlines that are as complicated as the royal family’s and discussed running a store with a fairly narrow focus.

Q: Are you an Anglophile?

A: If this were not his (Bob Bussey’s) store, I would probably not be working here. Neither Jay nor I had a background in retail, but I love the store. I would be lying if I said I was always an Anglophile, but I’ve been there several times and I love the country. It’s just a fun, challenging job and I love it. I’ve been an English teacher, I’ve been a tutor, I’ve been a psychotherapist, but now I’m doing this and it’s really fun.

Q: What kind of things do you sell?

A: We have lots of candy, biscuits – which we (Americans) call crackers – preserves, a lot of tea, of course, and we’ve got a lot of different fragrances from England. We’ve got jewelry, teapots and a lot of items at a variety of price points, from $1.99 candy bars to Barbour clothing. Their jackets run from $200 to $400. Most stores don’t have as wide a variety as we do. We’ve got lots of tartan scarves, blankets, pottery, a lot of barware, Guinness merchandise.

Q: Wait! Guinness is Irish.

A: This is not an English store, it’s a British store, which means England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

Q: How do you decide what to stock?

A: Jay goes overseas a little bit and he also goes to a lot of British trade shows. Now that the Internet is as vibrant as it is, he does a lot of perusing there. He buys what he thinks will be interesting and different.

Q: Freeport is the land of outlets. I doubt there are very many stores like yours.

A: I don’t think there is. Some people who walk in the door are looking for the sale corner, but we’re not an outlet store. We’re really a pretty small store that is very different from the outlets. It has worked and it’s worked amazingly.

Q: Are most of your customers local or tourists?

A: There’s really a lot of local people, especially from Portland and Bangor. We have a website that goes with a 5,000-member mailing list of people we keep in touch with. It’s probable that the people who shop from us on the website are British, or their in-laws are British. I think a lot of people go, “Oh, I was in London 20 years ago and you have these same crunchy bars that I liked!” There are a lot of people who reminisce about trips to London, or old duffers who were there in World War II who remember a jam they had. There are a lot of emotional connections for people, even if they’re not British.

Q: Are you surprised how well some items sell?

A: I’m always surprised when people come in and they make a beeline for the candy. The fragrances and toiletries have done well, as have the college scarves for Cambridge and Oxford. I don’t think the people buying those necessarily went there, but they match their college colors. I think the amount of candy that people buy is amazing – two-thirds of everything we sell is candy, in terms of volume. But something we’re dealing with now is that Hershey’s sued the importers of Cadbury’s candy (Hershey’s acquired Cadbury’s U.S. operations in 1988 and recently asserted its right to block the British candy company from exporting to the U.S.) because it was eating into their revenue. We have been able to stockpile some – we’re hoarding it. We hope it will last throughout the rest of the year, but we don’t know.

I’m astonished that these Christmas ornaments that we have sell all year round. They’re really cute, from Alice in Wonderland to Henry VIII and his wives, a Beefeater and an Irish flag. They’re big hits.

Q: Which wife of Henry VIII’s is the best seller?

A: I think it’s Anne Boleyn.

Q: Tell me again how you ended up running a store that was founded by your ex-husband?

A: He gifted the store to his two children in 2010. One is my son, Nick, and the other is his daughter, Kate, from an earlier marriage. Kate’s husband, Jay Paulus, and Nick’s mother – me – run the store. Kate is in her 50s and works at Tyler Technologies in Cumberland, and Nick is a film editor in Atlanta, Georgia. Kate’s mother, who was Bob’s first wife, also works here at the store. It truly is a really interesting family store. Anybody that hears the story says, “You’re kidding.” This should be a reality TV show.

Q: What’s the future for the store?

A: Kate and Nick, they want to keep the store alive and well. Did I think I would be doing this in my 60s? Not a chance, but 10 years from now I may still be here. Nobody is intending to sell it.

 

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A Word With the Boss: Ecomaine’s CEO ensures recycling’s at your disposal http://www.pressherald.com/2015/05/07/word-with-the-boss-ecomaines-ceo-ensures-recyclings-at-your-disposal/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/05/07/word-with-the-boss-ecomaines-ceo-ensures-recyclings-at-your-disposal/#comments Thu, 07 May 2015 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=634695 Kevin Roche’s first job after graduating from the University of Buffalo with a degree in geography was mapping the garbage truck routes for the city of Rochester, New York, where he grew up.

“That’s how I got knee-deep in trash,” said Roche, who 27 years later is chief executive officer of ecomaine, which operates a recycling and trash-to energy plant in Portland. At the plant, on Blueberry Road, garbage and recyclable material from more than four dozen communities in Greater Portland is recycled, incinerated or sent to a landfill.

Ecomaine is owned by 20 communities, has seven towns that are considered associate members, and handles the trash and recyclables of 27 other communities on a contractual basis. The plant employs about 75 people.

Q: What changes have you seen in the industry over the course of your career?

A: The industry has evolved over the last 27 years. I remember going out to a community meeting for our first recycling meeting, and people were saying no one would do it, but we have 85 percent of people recycling and they feel good about it. We started out with newspapers and it seems like the programs have really grown over the years, although we still have a long way to go. It’s all about landfill diversion. We have a landfill, but we try to conserve the space in that landfill for stuff that can’t be reduced, recycled or reused.

Q: Your plant was originally built to burn garbage to produce electricity. Is that still its primary role?

A: We’re much more than a trash-to-energy plant. We look at the waste-to-energy role as way down on the waste hierarchy. Our efforts on recycling are our priority.

We have marketed all the recyclable material successfully and what’s left over is non-recyclable trash and that goes through the waste-to-energy facility. We would rather recycle materials first, but after that, the waste-to-energy facility still has its place.

Q: How do you sort the recyclables?

A: We have some optical sorting and mechanical sorting as well, to separate the cardboard and the newspaper and the mixed paper and junk mail. We use (computer-controlled) optical sorting to recognize plastic bottles. We have a magnet to pull out metal cans and a reverse magnet to sort the aluminum – it repels aluminum. With water bottles and soda bottles that are made from plastic, that’s all automated – we have a scanner that “sees” the material.

Everyone’s efforts are going to good use – our bottles go to bottlers to make new bottles and our paper goes to paper mills that make new paper, and our cardboard goes to make new cardboard.

Q: What’s the route of the waste you get?

A: If you live in one of our communities – and we have 54 – and you’re recycling, the material is picked up, it comes into our facility and the material is metered into our system. The first thing that it crosses is the cardboard separator to separate larger cardboard boxes, because those are usually the largest items. It then goes over a sorting area where things that shouldn’t be in there – like bowling balls and even pet snakes – are sorted manually. We’ve found two pet snakes, very large snakes (both dead) and they have to go to the waste-to-energy plant. In the winter we get a lot of snow in the recycling, which means we get a lot of wet stuff, and we ask people to not leave their bins out overnight in the snow. We don’t want diapers, we don’t want sharps, and we don’t want medical wastes. Diapers are made with a material that there is no market for. Items like mattresses and diapers and cushions and old stuffed animals, the best choice is to recover energy from them.

Most of the material is handled through an automated process. Hand sorting is only for the mistakes or material that was never recyclable in the first place. We have a residue rate – recyclable material that goes to the facility but that’s not really recyclable – and our rate is about 6 to 7 percent. That’s exceptional. I’ve been in communities where the rate was over 20 percent. So the mistakes are few and far between. For the most part, we don’t have many mistakes.

Q: What kind of material do people put in their recycling bins that they shouldn’t?

A: We get all kinds of bags of leaves, which I guess people think is compostable and we shouldn’t throw that in the trash. We get tree branches, grass clippings, medical waste and chemicals.

Q: Do you ever try to track down people putting the wrong things in the trash or trying to recycle material that can’t be recycled?

A: We do. Usually when somebody throws something away, there’s usually some ID in it so we can track them down if it becomes a very significant issue for us. We’ve actually done that. Once, we had a route that came in with a lot of landscaping debris, like grass clippings and leaves, and we actually found out what neighborhood it was coming from and did some targeted education and went house-to-house and told people they were making a mistake here. Those things work. That problem went away. We actually knocked on the doors and we did it in a positive way. We went into the neighborhood and if they agreed to comply, we gave them a blue (recycling) box for inside their house as a reward.

Q: How much trash and recyclable material do you handle?

A: We bring in about 180,000 tons of trash versus 43,000 tons of recycling annually. About 6 percent of that will be deemed not recyclable. The trash number includes commercial trash, but the recycling rate does not include commercial recyclables. (Companies often recycle their waste because) that’s a revenue stream for them.

Q: What’s the market like for recyclable material?

A: It was strong, but it’s very poor right now. Recyclable material is a commodity and the commodities market in general is poor. Steel was a very strong market last year and the year before, but that collapsed. When fuel prices came down, that collapsed the market for plastics. Lower energy costs and the export market have hurt the prices for recyclables. China is a huge buyer of scrap from the U.S. and when their economy stumbled, they stopped buying scrap. If you eliminate the export market, that brings the domestic prices down. It’s supply and demand. For paper material as well, the market is depressed, but it’s cyclical and I’m confident it will go up. I just don’t know when.

Q: Are you able to sell all the recyclables? Does some sit while waiting for the market to improve?

A: Every bit of it is being shipped. After 27 years in this business, those materials that are indeed recyclable are going to the right place.

Q: Portland recently imposed a surcharge on plastic bags from retailers and banned foam food and drink containers. What kind of impact are you seeing as a result?

A: Portland is one of only 54 communities that we deal with, so it’s too soon to tell, but I would think that there will be fewer bags and less foam. You can recycle just about everything if you want to pay the cost and the question is, do you want to recycle at any cost? With foam, I can collect a whole trailer load of foam, but it’s still not going to weigh anything because I’m transporting air and does it make sense to transport air across the country for next to nothing? Plastic bags don’t have air in them. I can actually sort plastic bags and densify the material, but the markets for bags are very limited. There are not that many buyers that want post-consumer bags. Post-consumer bags are more expensive (because they need to be cleaned) and a lot of the bags end up in the environment and end up going airborne very easily. If it goes to the landfill, the wind comes up and takes all those bags and puts them in the trees. Litter is the huge problem with the bags.

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A Word With the Boss: Portland Public Library director says no more shushing http://www.pressherald.com/2015/04/30/a-word-word-with-the-boss/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/04/30/a-word-word-with-the-boss/#comments Thu, 30 Apr 2015 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=631052 An unlikely action figure adorns the desk of Sarah Campbell, who will become the new executive director of the Portland Public Library on July 11. Campbell, a Chicago native, majored in psycholinguistics in college and worked in education afterward. Occasionally she worked in libraries and returned to that profession after moving to Portland 22 years ago. She was the director of library and learning research at York County Technical College (now York County Community College) and then joined the Portland Public Library, where she’s now associate director.

Clad in a modest below-the-knee skirt and holding a finger to her lips in the quintessential “shush” pose is an action figure of Nancy Pearl, a librarian of epic renown. Campbell explains why.

Q: You mentioned you were planning to attend a speech by Nancy Pearl this week. Who is she and why are you excited to hear her?

A: She is a public librarian who has become a national speaker to talk about the love of books and how people can learn about books they should read next. She wrote a series of books called Book Lust, and it goes genre by genre – if you like this book, you will like these others. She’s wonderful and contagious in her enthusiasm and amazingly prolific. She’s coming to Maine to talk about how we recommend books to our communities. She’s kind of a national hero and an action figure was made of her. I inherited one.

Q: So despite the action figure’s pose, you say libraries are no longer the place where you get shushed. How are they changing?

A: People have interests and need to learn at various stages of their lives, and have needs to connect to information and other people. The library of old, with shelves of books, is one way to do that. Now, given all the tools available, we can offer programs, experiences and spaces that are welcoming for interaction. What is quite different is the levels of partnership. Libraries are tapping into what the community can offer and we develop partnerships around that. Obviously, we are committed to working with children and teens and early literacy. We also have a teen library with resources and programs and experiences we offer. And, we’re deeply committed to lifelong learning. Those are sort of the age categories. We’re also focusing on working with the business community and we do a lot of programming and offer online resources and physical resources for people who are trying to grow their businesses. We work with government to make resources more available and we’re also working on providing health resources and offer programs for adults to build a sense of being a citizen-scientist. We’re trying to make available more resources about Portland’s history.

Q: In this digital age, libraries are on the decline and rarely used. True or false?

A: That is false. The role that libraries play for people is making connections for them. Certainly, people can search for information and pursue interests themselves, but part of our role is to help people know how to make those connections and we can be guides and conveners.

Q: Do people still find libraries a comforting place to go?

A: We value very much becoming a welcome and trusted place, and libraries are trusted only second to the fire department. We know people value the library, whether they’re using it that day or not. We are relevant, attentive and engaged. We also are very spontaneous, we are always looking for ways to be creative and match the curiosity of the area – to provide a way for people to try something new, and sometimes we’re trying something new at the same time. It’s also important to make the point that public libraries are democratic, with a small d. We want to make information available so people can be informed citizens.

Q: Do you feel Portland’s libraries are further along in this evolution, or are other libraries around the country also changing and adapting?

A: This is very much the direction that public libraries are going. There are libraries that are father down the road, but the idea of being a community center is true throughout the world.

Q: What’s your favorite book?

A: The book that I’m reading right now that I’m really enjoying is “The Boys in the Boat” (about the U.S. rowing team in the 1936 Olympics). It’s a wonderful story of an unlikely success and speaks to all sorts of ways that people lead one another and collaborate and have success with each other.

Q: Do you ever find weird things in books that people use as bookmarks?

A: We mostly find beautiful bookmarks – real bookmarks – though occasionally dentist bills, photographs and even sometimes dollar bills. Once it was a $50 bill! We try to contact the person who had the book and hold it for them to come back for it.

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A Word With the Boss: Gorham flag seller ready for a banner season http://www.pressherald.com/2015/04/16/a-word-with-the-boss-gorham-flag-seller-ready-for-a-banner-season/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/04/16/a-word-with-the-boss-gorham-flag-seller-ready-for-a-banner-season/#comments Thu, 16 Apr 2015 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=622927 With Patriot’s Day kicking off a string of patriotic holidays, Derek Auclair is gearing up for the busy part of his year at the Gorham Flag Center. The family-owned business sells American flags, state flags and custom-designed flags. It also sells and installs flagpoles. The store was started by Auclair’s great-uncle in 1965 and passed down to Auclair’s father in 1994. Auclair, who has worked in financial services in New York City and in real estate in South Carolina, has been running the store since 2012.

Q: Presumably, American flags are your biggest sellers. True?

A: Definitely, U.S. flags are the biggest seller and we also sell flagpoles, which are big. We’re open year-round, but we’re a seasonal business, where the first quarter is definitely our worst. It’s actually amazing to see, we had a day in the 60s a few weeks ago and we were busy, then we had a few inches of snow and it was dead. When it’s warm, people are thinking of more summer things and getting out more. And, obviously, with the flagpoles and installations, we can’t do that in the winter.

Q: Was the seasonality a big surprise?

A: When I came back to run the business in January 2012, I had forgotten the jump (in business). It’s so quiet in January and February and most of March, you get nervous and do things like check if the phone is working or send myself test emails because there are days that are so quiet. Then one day it will just come falling in, with phone calls and all that other stuff. I see the numbers when I do the sales tax report and the spike in the quarters is amazing. It’s a sort of a shock to the system. It’s also a stress, even though we’ve been here 50-plus years, you get nervous because we’re not exactly Wal-Mart.

Q: Do you do custom flags?

A: We do. We’ve done stuff like family crests and then some other stuff that frankly I don’t know what they are, so I don’t ask. As long as we have the artwork, we can make the flag. There are some requests for historical Maine flags that I don’t think existed. The Betsy Ross (flag with 13 stripes and 13 stars in a circle) is a popular historical flag and then the Bennington flag (with 76 in the field with the stars) is a popular flag.

Q: Is it difficult to make a custom flag?

A: It needs to be in vector (a process used to convert an image to a computer graphic) and then we can transfer it over. It can get pricey, depending on the detail, but we can transfer anything over. If you come in with just a drawing, it can take about two weeks. Almost all of them are screen-printed, but we can do them as an applique, as long as it’s not elaborate. We just did the flag for the new Press Hotel (in Portland) and they wanted it appliqued.

Q: Do you make any of the other flags in your shop?

A: They’re all made in the U.S. and they come out of mostly Virginia or New Jersey. There are a couple of plants there that specialize in flags.

Q: What’s the biggest holiday for flags?

A: Memorial Day, because it kind of coincides with the beginning of summer. It happens to fall when people want to start getting their flags for their camps. And we do (pole) installations too, so we’re ready to go once the ground softens up enough.

Q: What does a flagpole run?

A: We have a 20-and 25-foot residential fiberglass poles. The 20-foot one is $550 and the 25-footer is $675 for the pole and all the fittings. Installation is about $250, depending on how far we have to go and the difficulty. Some people want it put in ledge and I’ve had to tell them we can’t do that.

Q: Do people know about flag etiquette?

A: I think there’s definitively been an uptick in interest in that. We have pamphlets on it and there’s a lot of what I would call “opinion” on what’s right or wrong. The common one is that the U.S. flag has to be bigger than other flags (in a grouping), but it’s really that the other flags don’t supersede it, like displaying them higher or bigger.

Q: Is it true that American flags need to be disposed of by burning? Do you do that?

A: They’re supposed to be burned and we take them here for disposal. And there will be (disposal) events, like the Boy Scouts or the American Legion will have a ceremony. A couple of weeks ago, they were doing an event to cut the stars out (of old flags) and give them to veterans.

Q: Does it upset you to see a really faded or tattered U.S. flag on display?

A: Yeah, but that’s a tough one. I’m surprised that people even put them up (in bad condition), but I’m not going to call someone and say, ‘Your flag looks bad.’ That seems a little self-serving.

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A Word With the Boss: State apiarist warns of harsh winter’s effects on Maine’s hives http://www.pressherald.com/2015/04/09/a-word-with-the-boss-maines-beekeepers-have-friend/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/04/09/a-word-with-the-boss-maines-beekeepers-have-friend/#comments Thu, 09 Apr 2015 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=618657 Bees have been having a rough time of it. In addition to a long-standing infestation of deadly mites, hives were subjected to a particularly cold winter this year and blueberry growers and other farmers will have to import thousands of out-of-state hives to pollinate their crops. Overseeing that process and encouraging Maine beekeepers is the job of Tony Jadczak, the state apiarist and bee inspector.

Jadczak started beekeeping as a teenager, taking over about 12 hives that had been tended by his grandfather and uncles. He was first attracted to the insects by warnings from his parents to “stay away from the bees. You don’t say that to small boys.”

Q: What was it about bees that interested you?

A: It just fascinated me, everything about them, swarming, the way they work, all those smells and activities, it’s almost mesmerizing.

Q: We hear a lot about declines in hive populations over the winter. How was it this year?

A: This winter was extremely difficult. Even with good healthy hives, there was a lot of loss around the state. The bees eat more honey when they’re cold. They eat honey and shiver to keep warm.

I’m hearing more and more from beekeepers who are losing substantial numbers of their hives. I would say, the midsized beekeepers are losing anywhere between 30 and 75 percent. The bees fared better in the southern part of the state, but losses were higher than normal elsewhere. It was largely weather-related, but the mites were also out of control. April is tough because it’s the turnover of the hives – they’re starting to brood up and the bees that went into winter at the end of their lives are going to die off at a higher rate. We call it spring dwindle. Also, last year, the hives started bringing in pollen by March 10. We’ll see if they get it in by April 10 this year.

Q: Why is winter so hard for the bees?

A: We need good flying weather for the bees to get pollen and they need water too. There’s also a lot of dysentery among the bees this year because they couldn’t take cleansing flights (when they fly away from the hive to defecate). That didn’t really occur. March was pretty tough because this March was brutal.

Q: Are the bees affected by heavy snow?

A: The snow is actually good, because when the hives are buried, they’re insulated. But we had a really cold snap in January before the snow fell. In December, it was pretty good and they took cleansing flights then, but they really needed it February and March. Their metabolism is ramping up and they have to cleanse themselves. A number of hives that actually starved to death had honey in the hives. Because they start to brood and they need to keep that part of the hive around 92 degrees for the brooding, they won’t abandon the brood to (eat) the honey.

Q: How bad is the mite problem?

A: The varreo mite is the major problem globally. The only place left relatively clean is Australia. They have a strict quarantine there. We have geneticists working on lines of bees that show some tolerance or resistance. We’re using miticides and there are management techniques that can keep mites at bay. The goal is to have to the last brood in late summer or fall to be relatively mite-free. It’s easier said than done, but that’s the key to success. I tell the beekeepers to think of it as chemotherapy, where everything has a side effect.

Q: What about bringing in bees for pollination?

A: We’re bringing in more bees, primarily to pollinate the blueberries. When I was hired in ’83, about 11,000 hives were brought in. As the blueberry crop has grown, we’ve brought in more bees – last year we brought in 83,000 hives. We also use them for cranberries and other crops. Guys in California want to bring them here now; I told them they need to bring a snowplow. They have to get the bees out of farm areas (because farmers are spreading pesticides), but there’s nowhere to put them now.

Q: Do you think they’ll be brought in later than most years?

A: We’re kind of anticipating that this year. Beekeeping is farming, and one of the reasons the bees are migratory is because of winters like this. Our bees have gone out to California to help with the almonds (crops) and some are in Florida now. Quite a few are in Georgia now, too. We have resident migratory beekeepers and nonresident migratory beekeepers and most of the bees that service Maine are nonresident.

Q: How do you make sure the bees from out of state don’t bring diseases or more mites?

A: We have reciprocal agreements with states that issue health certificates for their bees. I issue permits for Maine – I look at a percentage of bees and issue a health certificate basically saying this is what I see.

Q: What else does your job involve?

A: The job entails regulatory functions, licensing and permitting, writing out health certificates and a lot of education, particularly this time of year, at clubs or bee schools. Now and then, I get involved in a little research, collaborating with the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) and primarily lately looking at mite controls.

When I was hired by Maine in 1983, I was hired to work with beekeepers and get a beekeeping industry going. American foulbrood (disease) was going around. It’s called foulbrood because it has a terrible odor about it, so much of those first years on the job was trying to clean up that disease. The focus switched in 1985 due to the introduction of the honey bee tracheal mite. We had to kill the hives that had that parasite. That only lasted a little while, but within a few years, we lost about a million hives in the U.S. It was pretty devastating. Then the varroa mite was found in ’87 in the U.S. We’ve been dealing with this thing for about 25 years or so now. When we hear about catastrophic bee loss, it’s directly related to this parasite.

Q: What’s the overall state of beekeeping in Maine?

A: There’s a tremendous resurgence in hobby beekeepers. In 1984, we had 802 registered beekeepers and a little more than 10,000 hives and in 2014, we finally got back to that number. We hit rock bottom in 2003 with 5,000 hives. With more tools to control the mites, the success rate has gone up.

Q: How often have you been stung?

A: I really couldn’t tell you, but I would have to say thousands of times. It still hurts, but I don’t swell up and itch and burn or have an allergic reaction. I get more irritated by a mosquito or black fly bite. Yellow jackets are different, but I’m pretty much immune to honey bee venom.

Q: Do you like honey?

A: Oh, yeah. I use it in tea and it’s great on ice cream or plain yogurt. My favorite is wildflower, which is a nice, mild honey. I love it, just like the bears.

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A Word With the Boss: For Maine State Ballet director, passion is the pointe http://www.pressherald.com/2015/04/02/maine-state-ballet-director-gets-to-the-point/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/04/02/maine-state-ballet-director-gets-to-the-point/#comments Thu, 02 Apr 2015 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=614517 Linda MacArthur Miele grew up in New York City, attended the School of American Ballet and danced for the New York City Ballet Company, where she was the youngest member at 14. After dancing at Lincoln Center and in Broadway shows, she met her husband, Jonathan Miele, who grew up in Maine. Together, they created the Maine State Ballet and the Maine State Ballet School in 1985. The Maine State Ballet is currently staging “Le Corsaire.”

Q: With all of the other options kids have – sports, school activities – is it difficult to keep dancers involved?

A: I think one of the keys is we do these very beautiful performances, so there’s an incentive for dancers to stay and want to be a part of it. With a lot of dance schools, they do a spring recital and that’s it, but we do 40-plus performances a year, so we’re continually putting on these productions and young dancers see that and say. “Oh, if I stay here five years, I could be a part of that.” We have 5 to 10 percent of our older high school students who are staying in Maine for college specifically so they can dance with the Maine State Ballet. We keep these artists in Maine and the productions get better because we get older dancers. They’re really talented. We want this in Maine where the quality of life is wonderful; we want the quality of art to be wonderful as well.

Q: Can they make it a career?

A: The dancers who are doing this professionally, some of them teach or are involved in the production end of it, or they’ll get second jobs. If they’re really going to stay here past college, they need to do something else and that can be teaching in the school.

It’s not something you do for the money. Even at larger companies, you’re employed 40 weeks a year. That’s the top company in the country – most companies will employ 25 weeks a year. So it’s not something you go into thinking, “Oh, I’ll make lots of money.” You do it because it’s your passion and you build your art around being able to make it a life. They love what they do and we need artists. Maine is very accepting of artists. We have a lot of art for a small state. We have a great symphony, a great ballet company and a great museum for a small population.

Q: How packed is your schedule?

A: The school has its recital in May, June is sort of a downtime and then we start our summer intensive classes and then we have a large three-act play at the end of the summer and then we have a fall ballet and then the “Nutcracker.” And we have classes and we’re always working toward something. That’s how you make dancers. If you just practiced football all day and never had a game, you’d lose all your football players.

Q: What do you do if a student comes to you, and he or she just doesn’t really have the talent?

A: I’m very honest with families. I would tell them don’t spend your money. If she loves to dance, let her dance, I will help her, but don’t put money into something that I can tell you is not going to happen. But prior to 14 or 15 years old, you can’t tell, because anything is possible with good training and hard work, but once in a while there are people who can’t structurally do it. That happens on occasion and I try to be honest with the kids. But we try to make it fun for them to dance, to get on stage and make those memories. And for a lot of kids, they spend a lot of time in the ballet studio, so that becomes their team. I call it the varsity team and they want to hang out and spend time with their team.

Q: How much time is required?

A: The kids are in class four days a week and two-and-a-half to three hours a day and then, additionally, there are rehearsals for productions. So there are four or five hours on Saturday and some more time on Thursdays. It’s a big commitment for a lot of kids, but most of them don’t do other things. You have to make a choice, but usually that’s not until high school that you have to make that choice. As you get more involved and move higher up, other choices have to go. There’s a place for kids who just want to be recreational dancers, and the poise and confidence they get, that’s part of the whole experience.

Q: What do you enjoy most about it?

A: One of the things that’s the most fun for me is just watching students’ progress. We’re not just teaching dance, we’re teaching life skills and discipline and health and getting along with people. For some of these kids, this is their lifeline – it’s what gets them though high school. It’s an outlet emotionally and physically. That for me overrides everything on stage. When I have a mom come and say, “Thank you so much, this has been great for her,” that’s what makes it rewarding for me. You come out of this feeling good about yourself and bringing to individuals a sense of their worth.

Q: What are the audiences and dancers like for ballet in Maine?

A: I find there’s a lot of very savvy ballet audience in Maine. Many of them either travel to Boston or New York for shows or sometimes they’re transplants from New York. And there’s a younger audience that’s grown up with Maine State Ballet. They’re dancers and they get drawn into ballet and they love it and it introduces a whole new family audience into the ballet world. We do family-friendly performances so all audiences can enjoy them. Once in a while, we’ll do something cutting edge, but our real mission is to make memories with families. We’re finding it’s a generational thing that’s going on and it’s become traditions with families, in particularly the “Nutcracker.”

Q: What about your current production?

A: This ballet is not as well-known as some others and it’s a pirate ballet. We have a lot of boys, which is unusual. We wanted to do something to create a whole new audience of boy. It’s a three-act ballet, and a simple story of captive maidens and sailors coming to rescue them. There’s some choreography original to the ballet and those parts are very technically difficult. It seemed a good time to produce this and we went whole hog on it with all new scenery, new costumes, some new choreography that I do. As a ballet company, you have to produce new work. There’s only so many times you want to see “Swan Lake” or “Sleeping Beauty,” so you need to produce new works. We have about 30 ballets in our repertoire and we rotate them. It’s always good to do something brand new.

Q: How much does this production cost?

A: It’s about $30,000. The bulk of that is the backdrops, the painted backdrops, which were about $23,000 – but there are 10 of them. They’re large and intricate and heavy. And costuming is about another $5,000 that we do all ourselves. That’s basically the fabric, but they’re stunning and the rest goes to marketing and posters and print ads.

Q: What has the response been?

A: We opened last weekend and people just love it. People are telling me, “Oh, this is my favorite so far.” People are excited about the energy and the quality of the production. I think people are just excited and we have people who come up from Boston who tell us, “I can’t believe you’re here.” We’re like a little jewel in the woods.

 

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A Word With the Boss: Shelter boss has no pet peeves about Maine’s pet owners http://www.pressherald.com/2015/03/26/word-with-the-boss-shelter-boss-has-no-pet-peeves-about-maines-pet-owners/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/03/26/word-with-the-boss-shelter-boss-has-no-pet-peeves-about-maines-pet-owners/#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=610691 Joe Montisano has transitioned from a job where his main role was to keep animals from getting out to one where the primary goal is to move them out.

For the past 11 years, he was the chief executive officer of the Central Florida Zoo in Sanford, Florida, and is now executive director of the Coastal Humane Society in Brunswick.

Montisano has a strong background in caring for animals, first with Sea World in Ohio and then with Wildlife Safari in Oregon, before moving to the Florida zoo.

While in Oregon, he helped local officials set up an animal shelter and said he always hoped to devote more time to shelter work, focusing on getting people to adopt abandoned pets to avoid having to euthanize them.

He also recommends rats and Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches as pets. From personal experience.

Q: What have you learned about Mainers and their animals in the time you’ve been here?

A: Maine is an interesting state for sheltering. Other places have excess animals and have to euthanize them. But because citizens here are so responsible, they take care of their animals, (reducing the numbers that go to shelters.) We actually bring in animals from other states. Most other shelters are dealing with capacity issues and have to make awful decisions (to euthanize). But Maine shelters are in a different situation – they’re not having to euthanize based on capacity. That’s why shelters are doing well.

Q: Why do you think that’s so?

A: It’s due to Maine citizens being responsible pet owners. They get their pets spayed and neutered and when you buy pet food, there’s a tax that goes to a spay and neuter program that helps people who can’t afford it to get their pets spayed and neutered. That really helps with preventing an overpopulation of dogs and cats. We have like a 98 percent live release rate (at the shelter) and that’s certainly not very common. That’s why we’re able to bring animals in from out of state and we’re saving lives. In other places, they have to put down 30 dogs a week or something ridiculous. So it’s certainly unique here – we pull in animals from states like Tennessee, Florida, Georgia and Virginia.

Q: Is your shelter ever full?

A: We have a pretty full shelter now (there are 40 animals) but at certain times of the year it goes down to only a few animals. So it’s not an issue for us to be at capacity. We have our “spring fling” this weekend and we’ve got 12 puppies from Georgia. In other places, it’s different. You can build a new shelter and the day it’s open, you’re at capacity. And it’s a horrible side of this business if you have to make a decision to euthanize a perfectly healthy animal.

Q: How is the shelter doing financially?

A: We’re a nonprofit, so we’re good at losing money. Actually we’re very stable. We have service contracts with a lot of local towns to take animals from animal control officers and also from the public. But our main income is from donations. The majority of the revenue is from adoptions and donations.

Q: What’s your plan for the future?

A: We’re focusing on facility-related things we need to do. But also humane education is important, so kids can understand the relationship between people and animals. I have a son who’s 18 and wants to adopt a dog and he lives in an apartment and I tell him, no, no, that’s not the best thing. And there are problems with people who have pets that are not appropriate – at the zoo, we’d get calls a few times a week about unwanted pets, exotics.

Q: What do you suggest for pets for people in apartments?

A: I recommend rats. They make great pets because they only live about two or three years and don’t need a lot of attention. My kids had pet cockroaches – Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches – and they’re great pets. My daughter had rats and my son had cockroaches. Rats warm up very quickly and are cuddly and kind and smarter than a whip. My daughter really loved them growing up – she had several sets. And rats are quiet. We had guinea pigs and they squeal. They would squeal when you opened the refrigerator – it would curl your hair.

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Unity College president advances sustainability science by degree http://www.pressherald.com/2015/03/19/a-word-with-the-boss-unity-college-president-advances-sustainability-science-by-degree/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/03/19/a-word-with-the-boss-unity-college-president-advances-sustainability-science-by-degree/#comments Thu, 19 Mar 2015 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=606748 Stephen Mulkey was named president of Unity College nearly four years ago and immediately set out to remake the school.

He said sustainability is now the framework for academic programming at the school, which bills itself as “America’s Environmental College,” and currently has 600 students. Mulkey said Maine is a perfect setting for such a college and the state should be leading the way in preparing for and trying to mitigate climate change. He also led Unity’s divestment of its $15 million endowment, getting rid of holdings in leading fossil fuel-based companies, becoming the first major college to do so in the United States. Before coming to Maine, Mulkey co-founded the International Center for Tropical Ecology at the University of Missouri in St. Louis. He holds a bachelor’s degree in fisheries and wildlife, a master’s degree in ecology and a doctorate in ecology.

Q: Why focus immediately on sustainability?

A: Sustainability is a central element of a knowledge-based economy. Reductions in emissions and those sorts of things are important, but they’re just a starting point. It’s the management of continued life on this planet for human beings. At Unity College, we’re focused on natural resources and Maine has the perfect laboratory classroom for that. It’s an easy sell because Maine is all about natural resources, so we have the perfect location for teaching sustainability science, which is a new way of understanding environmental problems. It’s not interdisciplinary, it’s transdisciplinary.

Q: How does that manifest itself in the classroom?

A: For the first time in human history, everybody has access to virtually all knowledge, so the role of a faculty is to structure the problem and help the students find the information and vet it. I’ve been told that undergraduates aren’t ready to think in that manner, but my experience has been that’s not the case. So what we’re trying to do here is different than what’s done in other colleges.

Q: How does Unity College fit in with other higher education institutions in Maine?

A: Maine is in trouble. I’ve never seen a university system in such disarray and I’m deeply concerned. It’s got good bones; it’s well-respected around the nation. That’s nothing to throw away lightly. The Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine is recognized as one of the best such centers in the world. But I’m very concerned about the kind of funding I see there, and it’s certainly threatened by the severe financial situation they have. So we have to have a national brand and national reputation for what we do. Sixty percent of our students come from away. We think what’s drawing them to the college is the emphasis and the focus on sustainability. We’re the first college in the nation to divest our portfolio (of holdings in companies that are heavily involved in fossil fuels) and we’re effective in marketing the college. This year we’ll have the highest enrollment in the history of the college and next fall we’ll have our maximum enrollment.

Q: Doesn’t divestment threaten Unity’s finances?

A: There is no financial penalty to divesting. The literature shows that again and again and again. We have beaten our own index and all the other market indices, sometimes by a wide margin. If we start to lose the return, it won’t be a consequence of divestment. That’s a fundamental misunderstanding of divestment.

Q: Is it difficult to figure out which companies are heavily involved in fossil fuels, given the broad reach of some of the big multinationals?

A: It’s very difficult, and if you’ve got a large number of derivative or hedge funds, it’s hard to tell what they’re in. It’s easy to be a cynic about this, but if you have a broker, it’s his problem, not your problem. Aligning those things in an era of climate change is imperative. Apartheid, as important as is was to make a statement on apartheid, it pales by comparison to climate change. If we don’t get serious about climate change, we’re screwed and the generations behind us are screwed. Getting out of coal is a low-hanging fruit. Divestment takes time and you have to do it in an orderly manner.

Q: How was your interest in divestment sparked?

A: What happened is a member of the community called me and said institutions of learning were being asked to divest and I pulled out of my pocket every rationalization that everyone has to avoid that. But I knew the ethical imperative was real. There was no crass marketing advantage that we were trying to seek, but this has resulted in extensive publicity because we were the first in the nation to do so and the first to focus on sustainability as the framework.

I saw divesting as an ethical imperative and when I went to our broker, they were initially taken aback and said that it would be tough, but they took it seriously and came up with a plan to satisfy all the fiduciary concerns for the board. The question was, “Would we lose money?” and the answer was “No.” I almost fell out of my chair that the board voted unanimously to do it. But the word fiduciary also includes a moral duty to the institution.

Q: What’s your next priority for Unity College?

A: Our next step is to build our graduate programs – we’re building graduate degrees in three areas: In sustainability science, including climate-change sustainability science; in management of ecological change; and the third is sustainable management of natural resources. The second one is critical and climate zones are going to change dramatically across the state. Those are really sobering patterns and I don’t see any proactive planning (in the state). If you know what kind of forest you want in Maine in 2070 and you know that climate zones are on the move at accelerating rates, you need to manage that forest today for what it will be in 2070 and none of that is happening. We have to get off a focus on individual species in individual locations – we need a much more dramatic approach. All of this assumes that at some point we will have stopped climate change and if we don’t, all bets are off, but we have a window of opportunity for proactive adaptation, which is far less expensive and disruptive than reactive adaptation.

What bothers me about higher education is that leadership has little scientific training. Climate change isn’t something we can choose to address as one in a portfolio of issues. It’s critical and we have to face sustainability and climate change challenges. It is extreme and complex.

Q: You mentioned marketing as something that Unity College is focused on. How important is marketing in higher education these days?

A: If UMaine-Orono was ever dedicated to the kind of marketing we’re doing, they would leave us in their dust. Every time someone from away crosses the border with their wallet in their hand, that’s a big plus. The poverty in Maine is just astonishing, so there’s an ethic of living with less and no emphasis on excellence and what’s possible. Money flows to where the innovations are taking place. We have a very real brain drain in this state and it’s got to be reversed or else we’re in serious trouble. I’m deeply concerned by what I see and that’s why Unity College needs a brand cachet, to be seen as the leading edge of what’s relevant. We need to focus on what we do that’s truly relevant to the 21st century.

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Shannon Bard fills a niche with modernized Mexican cuisine http://www.pressherald.com/2015/03/05/a-word-with-the-boss-shannon-bard-fills-a-niche-with-modernized-mexican-cuisine/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/03/05/a-word-with-the-boss-shannon-bard-fills-a-niche-with-modernized-mexican-cuisine/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=599104 Shannon Bard grew up in a small town in Oklahoma. Her path to running Zapoteca, a Mexican restaurant in Portland that has developed a national reputation, included stops in San Diego, San Antonio and New York City, where she cooked at the prestigious James Beard House.

She has also appeared on the Food Network, where she won $25,000 on “Kitchen Inferno.” She has published a new cookbook, “The Gourmet Mexican Kitchen,” and also owns a restaurant in New Hampshire. Right now, she’s trying to make the most of Maine Restaurant Week.

Q: How did you start?

A: I was a corporate recruiter, but after I had kids, I was a stay-at-home mom. Twenty years ago, being a chef wasn’t such a great option as it is now, but once my youngest son enrolled in kindergarten, I decided it was time to enroll in culinary school. I went to the Culinary Institute of America in San Antonio.

Q: Why Mexican?

A: I was raised in Oklahoma and that had a huge Mexican influence. My grandmother had a restaurant and she would do Mexican cuisine sometimes. And I always had Mexican in my home, which is strange for a blonde, green-eyed woman. My husband also loved Mexican cuisine and we met in San Diego and I just knew I would focus on Mexican cuisine.

Q: But why in Maine?

A: I knew there was a need for traditional Mexican cuisine. I take traditional dishes and I modernize them and make them my own, using as many local ingredients as possible. People have their preconceived idea of what Mexican is, but they’ve had border Mexican (cuisine). A huge majority hasn’t had interior Mexican cuisine. That was the biggest challenge – people having ideas of what Mexican food should be. I could bring up traditional produce and fish from (Mexico), but it would cost a lot more money and I want to focus on local products as much as possible.

Q: Any surprises?

A: I think the surprising thing was how my cooking style has evolved. When we first opened the restaurant, we were more rustic, but I think we’re showing Mexican food can evolve and that has been the most surprising thing – that people realized they will come to my restaurant and they’re not going to get tacos and burritos, that’s not what we focus on.

Q: It’s currently Maine Restaurant Week. How important is it to have a time when Mainers are encouraged to go out to restaurants during what is a very slow tourist time – and it’s been such a hard winter.

A: It’s huge. We’re fortunate enough to be busy most of the time, but with this winter, there have been days when we’ve shut down, and most people aren’t going to drive – and we don’t want them to drive 30 or 45 minutes – in bad weather. We’ve had to shut down early and to close, and for our employees, we have to cut their hours, or send them home earlier. That’s the way of the restaurant industry as a whole. I really love the fact that this (Restaurant Weeks) is a time when my team is getting well over their allotted hours and they’re loving it. It’s also an opportunity for people to try out the restaurant. We have a pretty big menu and I wanted to pick some of the things that I love and am passionate about (to showcase). Because of our huge menu size, people might not try some things I want them to try, so I’m excited about it.

Q: There’s a lot of talk about increasing the minimum wage. Is that an issue in restaurants?

A: A minimum wage increase would not affect us. There’s no one making close to minimum wage in the restaurant. All the team makes good money.

Q: Maine has developed a reputation for its restaurants in the last few years. What’s it like working in such a foodie town?

A: I think it’s a great thing. I trained in Spain at one of the top restaurants in the world. They worked to develop a reputation for top dining. I think we’re working the same way, and I think that as a restaurant group, we do that. We’re always referring people to other restaurants and the other restaurants are referring people to us. We’ve had a lot of publicity on a national level. And it helps the economy in general.

Q: You were on – and won – “Kitchen Inferno.” Do shows like that satisfy your competitive urge?

A: It’s immediate gratification, but even when you’re cooking in the restaurant, it’s immediate gratification because you can look at people’s faces and see if they’re enjoying it or not. Chefs are competitive, but we just want to get better so we all can succeed. But I don’t seek out those (TV cooking competitions), they approached me. They sought me out after seeing my name. I’ve said “No” to more invitations than I’ve said “Yes” to. I’m very selective about what I do and I’ve worked hard to set myself apart. It’s fun, but every time you go (on a cooking competition show), you have to do your best and make sure that you don’t do something to wreck your restaurant and your career.

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Director ready to expand Portland jetport’s horizons http://www.pressherald.com/2015/02/26/a-word-with-the-boss-paul-bradbury-portland-international-jetport-director/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/02/26/a-word-with-the-boss-paul-bradbury-portland-international-jetport-director/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=595105 Paul Bradbury has worked at the Portland International Jetport for nearly 23 years, the last seven as airport director. His background as a professional engineer served him well while overseeing a huge, $120 million expansion of the terminal and parking garage. With that done, Bradbury said he’s focusing on trying to attract an ultra-low-cost airline and possibly adding an international flight to the airport. The airport’s annual budget is $19.3 million and the airport has 55 employees, not counting those working at concessions.

Q: How do you deal with a snowy winter such as, perhaps, this one?

A: We have an exceptional snow crew, with veteran leadership, so they’re here from the first snowflake to 24 hours after the event. There’s a big focus on keeping those runways clear because if you lose it, it’s hard to get it back. We budget conservatively on winters. Right now we’re running right at the numbers for payroll and overtime: We’ve gone through 58 percent of our fiscal year as of the end of January and we have spent 62.4 percent of our budget, with the extra mainly due to snow removal and the chemicals we use for deicing. We had a lot of icing events in December. We prefer fluffy snow, but we got killed early in the season with icing events.

Q: The airport stays open all the time, so what is the impact of a lot of flight cancellations?

A: We’ve taken it on the nose. February’s a short month, so every day we have a cancellation, 3.6 percent (of the revenue stream) for the month is lost. You need to try to recover that, but unfortunately the trip is just entirely canceled. We had a tough time with the storm just before February vacation, because there were a lot of cancellations for that Sunday. It’s a loss at the end of the day and you’re dealing with those other expenses.

Q: As a city-owned facility, do you rely on property taxes for your budget?

A: We are considered an enterprise fund. It’s user-based and we have to compete in the marketplace for the business, so the only people who are paying are the people flying out of here. Only 31 percent of our revenue comes from our airline partners and 69 percent of our revenue comes from our concessions. Which is really impressive compared to other airports.

Q: How do you market the airport?

A: We’re trying to sell a product that we don’t control. If there was a big demand for a destination, I’d like to just go down in the basement and manufacture more seats. They don’t put another plane into service (when demand grows), they just charge more. We go to the airlines and say, “You’re under-serving this market,” and we also go to the market and say, “Hey, you can fly out of Portland,” so there’s a push-pull on how we market. We think we need an ultra-low-cost airline operating out of Portland, like Spirit Airlines or Allegiant, those kinds of operations. We want that same opportunity in the market out of Portland. They might run an Orlando nonstop for two months with a really low price point. There’s a fixed cost in running an airport, so there’s an advantage in having more passengers and then our pricing per-passenger goes down.

Q: What else is on the radar, so to speak?

A: We’re going to look for international markets for a nonstop out of Portland. You can run a 737 across the pond now and you couldn’t do that 10 years ago, so there’s an opportunity for a low-cost international service. If we can do more on low-cost domestic service and get the low-cost international service, there’s an opportunity there.

Q: What has been the major change at the jetport since you’ve been there?

A: A lot changed in the industry after 9/11. We used to have a lot of flights down to Boston, but now, anything less than a four-hour drive is not where you fly because of (the time involved in) security protocols. We had a security screening area that was nowhere in line with what we needed. We had lines backed up and the perception was terrible. We also had large, lobby-mounted explosives-detection devices and they were very inefficient. So the terminal expansion allowed us to put all that behind the scenes.

Q: What’s been the impact of the expansion project?

A: The project really exceeded expectations, from the wood on the ceiling to the baggage-handling system. There were kinks, but we have those worked out and now the next phase is making sure you keep the building looking like the day we opened. Things start to look worn and the ideal is to not let that happen. … One of the areas we know we have to work on is some form of a business lounge. We don’t have one right now. We haven’t put it in our capital program yet.

Q: How is such a costly project paid for?

A: The passenger facility charge is how we funded it, a $4.50 charge per passenger (that airports are allowed by the federal government to charge). If Portland didn’t charge that, airports downstream could. You’re still going to pay it, but it will be given to JFK or Newark, so why shouldn’t that economic impact accrue to Portland?

Q: How satisfied are you with the current level of service?

A: We connect to every international airport and we have exceptional services for an airport that serves roughly 519,000 people. Just incredible service for an MSA (metropolitan statistical area) that size. We have a ton of leisure traffic in the summer. We do twice as many passengers a month in July and August as we do in January.

Q: What about longer-term growth?

A: Our demographics are changing – we’re getting older and there’s another opportunity for us is to do better at offering the product to an aging population. We need to offer a better level of service and that can be value-added. We already have a short walking distance and you compare that to Logan, it puts us in a good position for that demographic change.

 

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For maple syrup maker, kindergarten lesson stuck for a lifetime http://www.pressherald.com/2015/02/19/a-word-with-the-boss-a-kindergarten-lesson-that-stuck-for-a-lifetime/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/02/19/a-word-with-the-boss-a-kindergarten-lesson-that-stuck-for-a-lifetime/#comments Thu, 19 Feb 2015 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=591084 In a normal year, Lyle Merrifield’s maple trees on his farm in Gorham produce enough sap to allow him to make about 180 gallons of syrup. But this has not been a normal winter and the trees aren’t producing any sap yet. With Maine Maple Sunday – the day most sugarhouses in the state open to allow visitors to see syrup being made, and to get a taste – a little more than a month away – March 22 – the state’s syrup producers are starting to get a bit nervous.

Merrifield is the new president of the Maine Maple Producers Association. He has a “gentleman’s farm” in Gorham with a few animals on it, and started tapping maple trees and boiling sap to make syrup about 35 years ago. He now taps about 600 trees each year while his wife, daughters and a few nephews help him produce the syrup.

Q: How did you get interested in making maple syrup?

A: When I was kindergarten, the first tree I tapped was with our kindergarten teacher. She showed us how to tap the tree and get the sap and make the syrup in the classroom and that kind of stuck with me. I did it in Boy Scouts, too.

Q: Do you connect the trees via tubing to the sugarhouse or do it the old-fashioned way, with buckets hung on the taps?

A: We hang very few buckets. Most of our trees are on tubing and some are on vacuum systems.

Q: Using a vacuum system sounds like cheating.

A: What you’re doing is creating the right environment for that tree to run on days when you’re not getting the barometric pressure right. It makes for a healthier environment in the tree. It helps to pull that sap out so it keeps a good clean hole. And, as long it’s done properly, it’s healthy for the tree. We want the freezing nights, freezing by six or seven at night and then up to 35 or 40 by 9:30 or 10 in the morning. That really gets the gases and pressure moving in that tree and it pushes the sap out of the tree.

Q: With the unreliable weather over the last five years, it must be hard to forecast how much syrup you’ll produce.

A: I can’t say we’ve ever had a really bad year, but some years are better than others. Last year, it was just hurry up and wait and the weather was never right. We need that temperature swing (freezing nights and 35 to 40 degree days). We never got that.

Q: How much sap do you get per tree?

A: We plan on enough sap for between one quart or a half gallon of syrup for that season. There are variables, like the crown size of the tree and where it is in the woods. The larger crown on the tree, the more sap you’re going to get. The branches in the crown collect the heat and that helps get the gases moving in the tree.

Q: What do you like about making syrup?

A: I enjoy the product, but I enjoy the family working all together on it, and when it’s running decent, we’ll boil every night. It’s intense for three weeks or so, when you have a decent season, and I like the crowd getting together to make the syrup. Also, I like the process of taking something out of the tree and boiling it and it makes a product that’s so good.

Q: Do you plan to make syrup a long time?

A: As long as I’m able. I’m only 52, so I think I’ve got a few years left in me. But last year I had a broken foot and didn’t do too much at all. It was mostly my daughters and nephews who did it all.

Q: What are prices for real maple syrup?

A: Pricing varies some by your location, but right now, our pricing on gallons is $60, half-gallons are $35 and quarts are $19.

Q: How important is Maine Maple Sunday for those in the business?

A:. Seventy-five percent of our sales are on Maine Maple Sunday.

Q: Do you sell it on the farm other than on Maine Maple Sunday?

A: We don’t have set hours, but we have customers who stop by on a regular basis.

Q: How do sales of real maple syrup stack up against the national brands, most of which have only a small percentage of real syrup in them?

A: Real syrup consumption and use is gaining nationally. It’s gaining a lot. And production is up – in the U.S. producing states, approximately a million taps are being added each year. What’s helping us, too, is the natural food movement. If you read most of the back (label of national brands), most of them have one or two percent (real syrup) and that’s about it. Some of the national brands have even adopted the look of the jug that real syrups are sold in, so the consumer has to watch that pretty close.

Q: Do syrup producers follow the practice of some vegetable and fruit producers and sell directly to restaurants?

A: We have on occasion, but it’s a little hard on us because of the amount we produce and the price point. We try to promote that and that’s one of our goals is to try to make that happen.

Q: As president of the association, what’s your assessment of the state of the industry?

A: There are more farms (making syrup) and the largest percentage of farms are small size and they’re getting pretty good numbers. It’s a good niche to generate a little revenue and Maine Maple Sunday is very popular. And that gives all the sugarhouses a good boost at that time of year. There was a study done and they estimate more than $28 million is generated (by Maine Maple Sunday, not directly from syrup, but from people coming to the state and renting hotel rooms and other purchases.

Q: Are you worried about Maine Maple Sunday, given the long, cold winter that shows no signs of ever ending?

A: I’m not worried because in four weeks, a lot can change. The snow right now is having an effect on a lot of producers. Some main lines are completely buried in snow and those are lines that are normally waist-high or knee-high. If the snow doesn’t disappear by then, it could slow the season down a bit. It’s likely we won’t see a big warm-up because we have a lot of snow on the ground, but you want to see the tree swelling up and the snow melting around the base of the tree and you need to see that before the sap will flow.

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Smalltown Maine banker appointed to Boston Fed sees Big Picture http://www.pressherald.com/2015/02/12/a-word-with-the-boss/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/02/12/a-word-with-the-boss/#comments Thu, 12 Feb 2015 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=586810 Peter Judkins put a lot miles into a banking career that started in rural Maine, took him to financial centers in some of the country’s largest cities and eventually returned him to Maine. He’s bringing that experience with him to the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, where earlier this month he was appointed to a full term after completing the term of another director who resigned.

Judkins grew up in Farmington and graduated from the University of Maine. After a stint at Depositors Trust Co. – later part of KeyBank – he left the state for a career in financial services at American Express.

Over the next 15 years, that job took him from New York to Pittsburgh; Washington, D.C.; Boston; Salt Lake City; and then back to Boston.

In 1999, he returned to Maine to become president and chief executive officer of Franklin Savings Bank, which has seven branches, 110 employees and assets of $344 million. It had net income of $3.3 million in 2014.

Q: How did you get on the Boston Fed board?

A: I’ve been pretty involved in the state with the Maine State Housing Authority and a local economic development board and the Maine Bankers Association. I was selected many years ago from our district to be on the Thrift Institutions Advisory Council. We would go into Washington and they would want a perspective from Main Street, so we’d sit and meet with (Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke) and the board of governors (of the Fed).

They don’t have the perspective from the people on the street, so I was fortunate to be part of that and that probably led to my appointment to the (Boston Fed) board of directors. I finished the term of a director who had resigned before his term was up, so now I’m into my second term and was selected as chair of the Audit Committee.

Q: Being on an audit committee for a Federal Reserve bank has to be a bit intimidating.

A: It’s a little daunting. It’s quite a complex operation. Two of the other committee members are bankers and then there’s the president of BJ’s Wholesale Club. We get a lot of presentations from the staff and there’s an external auditor who reports to us to give assurances that bank is in good hands. Cybersecurity is a big issue right now.

Q: What’s involved with being on a Federal Reserve Bank board?

A: The board meets 10 times a year for regular board meetings and the committee meets four or five times a year. Our role is really to give input. We get economic reports updating us on the local economy and the world economy. The directors are involved in different businesses, so we all spend about 10 minutes giving the ups and downs of a particular market.

I talk about what drives Maine, like in the winter the ski industry and the snowmobile industry. I also talk about the housing industry. It’s input that’s taken to the Open Market Committee (which sets policy for the central Federal Reserve). They try to tie that information into the economic data that they have to make decisions on where to go with economic accommodations.

You want to make sure you cover everything. Now it’s only me for Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, so I try to reach out to people in the northern part of New England, with contacts in the snowmobile industry and ski industry and people I call on about tourism and bankers around the state that I’ll call to get the feeling about where the market is going. I try to give a general feel for where the economy is going. It’s a real interesting time to be involved with this, with the accommodations the Fed has made to keep interest rates down probably coming to end.

Q: The Fed is expected to raise interest rates from near zero soon, possibly by summer. What impact do you think that will have?

A: It’s going to have some positive and negative effects. A lot of banks have held loans on the books that are at very low interest rates. Those rates have been stimulating the economy, but it’s not sustainable, there’s not enough revenue from that. If all those mortgages are held (by banks, rather than sold on the secondary market) for 30 years, you’re going to see a lot of strain on banks and you’re going to see some consolidation in the industry. You’re going to have to pay more for deposits and if those low-rate mortgages are held, there will be some strain on those banks.

I think you’ll see some of that same thing we saw in the late 1970s and early ’80s. I doubt you’ll see rates return to where they were then – 18, 19 percent. It could happen, but I doubt it. But that will dictate what happens to the industry and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the number of banks decline because you’ll see mergers and consolidations.

In addition to the rates, there’s also a regulatory environment that puts a lot of burden on banking institutions, so it adds costs to your business. It takes so long and so many people to document a mortgage that it’s almost getting out of hand, especially for banks like ours that did things right. We never made a loan to someone who we didn’t think would pay it back.

We’re probably processing half the mortgages we were in peak times and we have more people doing that, more people processing fewer mortgages, which adds to expenses.

But I feel good about the place we are in. We’ll have some strain in the short term, but long -term were going to be fine.

Q: If rates are raised, what impact do you think that will have on the Maine economy?

A: I think a positive impact. Banks generally have money to lend and commercial deals normally don’t go as long as consumer mortgages. I feel good about where it’s going. We’ll have more jobs in the next couple of years than we have people to fill them.

And Portland is headed in the right direction, with a vibrant young community. The rest of the state I’m a little concerned about because of the paper industry. We’re not going to see the industry we have today in 10 years. Overall, though, things seem to be turning and people are optimistic and the great state of Maine will make it just fine.

Q: Six different postings in 15 years is a lot of moving. Do you appreciate the consistency of living in one place now or miss the constantly changing scenery?

A: It was a great experience, but it was nice to come home and run the hometown bank. We didn’t mind any of those moves.

Q: Why did you choose Franklin Savings to come back to?

A: I came back to a really strong bank. It was a nice strong community bank and we’ve had slow, calculated growth. We’re considered the strongest bank of Maine. It’s well capitalized and the earnings stream is strong. It’s a savings bank, but it’s really a small commercial bank.

Q: How was it to go from such a big company to a community bank?

A: It was a pretty big adjustment for me. I had a lot of flexibility (at American Express) and it was quite a transition to go through, to come back to a quieter pace where I wasn’t jumping on a plane every day. But it was nice to adjust. We’re able to give back to the community and we’re a mutual company, so we essentially report to our depositors. There’s not as much pressure for financial performance and we’ve made it through the last seven years of such a terrible economy and have come back very well. We’re well-positioned to move forward with the traditions we’ve had since 1868.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2015/02/12/a-word-with-the-boss/feed/ 0 http://www.pressherald.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/586810_950461-DSC_6507.jpgSun, 15 Feb 2015 20:55:54 +0000
Equipment dealer happy to serve small farms http://www.pressherald.com/2015/01/22/a-word-with-the-boss-equipment-dealer-happy-to-serve-small-farms/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/01/22/a-word-with-the-boss-equipment-dealer-happy-to-serve-small-farms/#comments Thu, 22 Jan 2015 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=575010 When Waterman Farm Machinery Co. was founded in 1956, agriculture in Maine and Sabattus, where the farm implements company and dairy farm is located, was decidedly different than today.

“Sabattus, back then, had probably 30 dairy herds in town,” said Bob Waterman Jr., who now runs the family business. “Now we’re down to one – mine.”

Waterman said his equipment business, which employs 15 people and takes in about $4 million in revenue a year, is also being transformed as it adapts to changes in Maine’s agricultural landscape. There are more weekend gardeners, more small-scale farmers tapping into the farm-to-table movement and also younger farmers, an echo of the 1970s back-to-the-land movement.

Waterman started working for the business full time after graduating from the University of Maine in 1978 with a degree in elementary education.

Q. Is your degree relevant to your work today?

A. I teach my customers to buy from me and I tell them I can do that at an elementary level.

Q. How has your business changed since your father and uncle started it?

A. The equipment has changed – it’s more sophisticated. Back then it was all plows and harrows and mowing machines and that kind of thing. We still sell a ton of loaders, but it’s for a homeowner who might have two or three acres. There are some weekend gardeners who we’re selling tillers and planters and things like that to. We used to have a lot of customers who came here with (manure) on their boots, and we don’t get many of those now. We have white collar people in here spending money. But I believe everybody should have a tractor.

Q. Is there more small-scale farming now?

A. There’s a ton of little farms, and they’re being recorded as a farm but some might not consider them a farm. They might have only a goat or two, but they all need a tractor. There’s a definite move back (to the land) and people are trying to be more self-sufficient and know where their food is coming from.

Q. How is the equipment different?

A. They all have a standard three-point hitch on the back to make it easy to grab an implement and there’s more electronics, for ease of control – nice and easy to operate. We did sell some 200-horsepower or 300-horsepower tractors, but the biggest one lately is a 120-horsepower, with a nice cab and air conditioning and heat. People are in there a lot and they want it comfortable. The buyer for that probably has 150 head (of cattle) and 300 or so acres.

Q. Most cars these days have computers that let mechanics diagnose problems. Is it the same with farm equipment?

A. On some of the new tractors, we need a laptop to go into the field and service it. The old days of just needing a lever and a nut and bolt were better. I miss those days.

Q. Do you buy and refurbish a lot of used machinery?

A. We sell a lot of used equipment. They (buyers) might not be full-time farmers, it might be a weekend farmer who is buying a tractor for $12,000 instead of $30,000.

Q. What kind of farming are people getting into?

A. A lot of people plant just a few trees for fruit and it doesn’t take a lot of garden to get a lot of vegetables out of. Beef is on the rise, too. Beef is easier, you don’t have to milk them – you feed them and get the meat so you don’t have as much to do.

Q. Are you seeing younger farmers getting into the field, so to speak?

A. For a long time the farmers were getting older and older, but now there are young people coming in and doing their thing and their families are into it, too.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2015/01/22/a-word-with-the-boss-equipment-dealer-happy-to-serve-small-farms/feed/ 0 http://www.pressherald.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/575010_172038-20150120_WordWTB_01.jpgThu, 22 Jan 2015 08:39:14 +0000
Business owner wants to make sure a good, safe trip is in the bag http://www.pressherald.com/2015/01/15/a-word-with-the-boss-business-owner-wants-to-make-sure-a-good-safe-trip-is-in-the-bag/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/01/15/a-word-with-the-boss-business-owner-wants-to-make-sure-a-good-safe-trip-is-in-the-bag/#comments Thu, 15 Jan 2015 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=571087 To say that Sam Hirsh grew up in the luggage business isn’t an overstatement. He was a stock boy with a luggage company in his native Chicago at age 15 and a buyer for the firm at 19. He ran his own sales agency until he was about to “follow the lifelong dream of every Jewish boy – open a hot dog stand.” But two days before he was scheduled to open, a nationally franchised sandwich shop next door threatened to file suit against his landlord to block the stand and the competition it represented. So Hirsh and his wife, Kate, moved in 2007 to her home state of Maine, where they opened up TripQuipment, a travel goods store, on Route 1 in Falmouth. The store has three full-time employees and one summer employee. He declined to give details on annual sales.

Q. What’s the idea behind your store?

A. It’s a reflection of everything we wanted when we were (luggage manufacturer) representatives. We wanted a store that was more all-encompassing than just luggage. We wanted to reflect our store’s catchphrase: “Around the corner, around the world.” We offer everything from travel underwear, to electrical stuff you need for traveling, to travel clothing. The idea is that when people walk in here, we get them ready for their trip. We have a wonderful loyal local clientele, and there’s a very big shop-local movement here, which I love. That doesn’t happen in big cities as much.

Q. If someone comes in your store and says they’re going on a trip, what’s the first thing you suggest they get?

A. The most important thing is something secure to travel with. When people go overseas, they need to safeguard their passport. If there are two things we sell every day, it’s something to hide your passport in that goes under your clothes, and electrical items. If you’ve ever lost your passport, it’s a tough thing to get replaced. Guard your passport. Money and credit cards can be replaced and smartphones can be wiped remotely and easily replaced, but a passport you want to safeguard.

There is not a week that goes by that we don’t have someone tell us about places where pick-pocketing is a problem – Italy, Spain or France, primarily. People also get a false sense of security about things. People tell you that you should use room safes, but you don’t use those because housekeeping can open them up. Use a manager’s safe. Use common sense and don’t try to look like a tourist. If you don’t know where you’re going, look like you know where you’re going.

Q. Do you travel a lot?

A. I love to travel, but I got into this business because I’ve been in it so long. We decided this is what we know and we know it well. I think the idea is to love the idea you’ve come up with, have a game plan, learn as much about that business as you can and use good common sense. Common sense is a great thing.

Q. What’s the biggest mistake people make in traveling?

A. People need to be realistic about how they travel. Now that airlines charge for a checked bag, everyone wants to be a carry-on traveler, but not everyone should be a carry-on traveler. People need to be realistic about their needs and outfit themselves accordingly. The most-sold piece of luggage in my store is a carry-on, but when you buy that, you need to learn how to deny yourself, because that makes you more efficient. You can tell the people who shouldn’t be a carry-on traveler. You see them going through security. Some people say, “I’m going away for three or four weeks and I really want to be a carry-on.” So I talk to them about whether they can really do it. You want people to realistically look at it.

If I have someone going off to India, they come in and talk about things like water, and they say they’ll use bottled water. But if you don’t know the source of bottled water, it can make you sick, so you have people take water purification items. If you get a waterborne illness, it’s a terrible thing. We want people to think about that stuff.

We also try to make people understand that they should be taking as much information as they can about themselves, like health history, whether it’s on a piece of paper or a smart device. When I was 41, I had a heart attack on a plane crossing the Pacific. Luckily, it was mild and I didn’t even know it was a heart attack, but when I got back to Chicago, I went to a doctor and it turns out I had had a heart attack. If it had gotten worse and I had to go to a hospital, I wanted to have a health history to give them.

Q. OK, tell me about travel underwear.

A. Travel underwear is the biggest category in my store, along with electrical connections. The fabric is like Under Armour and it breathes. You can wash the underwear out in a sink and it dries in about two hours and it’s fresh the next day, so you don’t have to take a suitcase full of underwear. We also sell a lot of wool clothing – it’s a temperature-management fabric and keeps you warm when it’s cool and cool when it’s warm. It’s absolutely phenomenal.

Q. What about luggage?

A. Our main product line is Briggs and Riley. It has lifetime coverage, including airline damage, and that’s good because the airlines don’t cover as much as they used to.

Q. What’s your main thought about travel these days?

A. Travel isn’t as glamorous as it used to be, when people used to dress up to fly. So treat the people at TSA with courtesy and respect. It goes a long way, and it does with airline employees, too. You have to temper your reactions, but a smile and some kindness go a long way. People are far more apt to do things for you. It goes far in terms of how you will be treated.

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Maine’s new tourism leader welcomes the opportunity http://www.pressherald.com/2015/01/08/a-word-with-the-boss-maines-new-tourism-leader-welcomes-the-opportunity/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/01/08/a-word-with-the-boss-maines-new-tourism-leader-welcomes-the-opportunity/#comments Thu, 08 Jan 2015 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=566857 Christopher Fogg is leaving his post as executive director of the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce – just a few months after being named Maine’s chamber executive of the year – to take on a new role as CEO of the Maine Tourism Association.

Fogg, who also has worked chamber and tourism association jobs in Vermont, will start his new job Feb. 2. We asked Fogg some questions about his background and his vision for promoting tourism in Maine.

Q: What is the Maine Tourism Association and what does it do?

A: The Maine Tourism Association is made up of over 1,600 tourism businesses across Maine. We work in partnership with Maine Office of Tourism, the state government entity to produce Maine Invites You, the Official State Map and other publications which help promote visitation to Maine. We also work with the Office of Tourism on operating the state’s visitor centers. Beyond that, we represent our members’ interests on the state level by working with the state Legislature on tourism and business issues. We have a talented team that represents one of Maine’s largest industries.

Q: What made you want to be in charge of promoting Maine tourism?

A: Well, we are not solely in charge of promoting Maine tourism. We work in partnership with other associations, chambers of commerce and the state Office of Tourism. I think what is so great about our industry is the impact it has on visitors to our state. Running two visitor centers, you get to hear about all the great memories people have made while visiting and how much it means to them. I have heard so many stories about family reunions, marriages, anniversaries, and even people whose last wish was to visit Maine. It is incredibly rewarding to be able to share this place we all love so much with others and see the positive impact it has on their lives, even if it is only in a small way.

Q: What’s the strangest question you’ve ever gotten from an out-of-state visitor?

A: Someone asked, “When do the deer turn into moose?” They thought that deer were baby moose. Another visitor once looked at the low tide and said, “Wow, the drought is really bad here.”

Q: In your experience, what are the most effective approaches to attracting tourists?

A: I think it starts with having a quality product, and we have that with Maine. There are so many diverse recreational opportunities all set within an incredible backdrop, which make us a really attractive place to visit. The (methods) of getting your message out to potential visitors change over time, so as someone who promotes tourism, you need to keep up. But, at the same time, you need to constantly look at what your customers are doing, how they are finding you, and what they want. For years, we have heard that print is dead. It is simply not true, at least in the tourism industry based on the numbers. Last year, the Maine Tourism Association had to initiate a second print run of its Maine Invites You, the official visitor guide for the state, because requests for this printed information was so high. I have heard from other local chambers of commerce who have printed guides and are experiencing the same thing. I think it is important consider how our customers consume information and use a mix of media like social media, Web, television and radio, and print to attract them to the state.

Q: What strengths and ideas will you be bringing to the table in your new job?

A: I am a strong leader who brings over 20 years of marketing New England destinations to potential visitors. Our organization will continue to be focused on providing unparalleled customer service to those visiting our state. Our staff is often the first point of contact for visitors, and we need to make sure we are doing all that we can to help them find what they need, create a positive experience, and do our part to hopefully make them a repeat customer. The way we deliver services to potential visitors has changed dramatically over my career. You will see our organization using more technology in our visitor centers and working to engage visitors with the use of social media platforms while still maintaining our important print pieces. We will continue to be strong advocates for the tourism industry and our members. It is one of the things I have significant experience in and something the Maine Tourism Association does best. Representing over 1,600 tourism businesses across the state gives us an incredibly strong and unified voice when it comes to matters of public policy.

Q: What’s your favorite vacation spot in Maine?

A: I hate to say it, but it’s Acadia National Park.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2015/01/08/a-word-with-the-boss-maines-new-tourism-leader-welcomes-the-opportunity/feed/ 0 http://www.pressherald.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/566857_943081-Chris.jpgThu, 08 Jan 2015 14:32:48 +0000
Longtime Bangor Savings executive steps up to presidency http://www.pressherald.com/2015/01/01/longtime-bangor-savings-executive-steps-up-to-presidency/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/01/01/longtime-bangor-savings-executive-steps-up-to-presidency/#comments Thu, 01 Jan 2015 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=563287 For a bank that has been around for 163 years, Bangor Savings Bank has had relatively few presidents – fewer than a dozen.

But today, bank executive Robert Montgomery-Rice will take over as its 12th president.

He will add CEO to his title on April 1, completing a long-planned leadership transition from current top executive Jim Conlon. Bangor Savings said in February that Conlon planned to retire in spring 2015 and Montgomery-Rice had been chosen to replace him.

Since joining the bank in 2004, Montgomery-Rice has worked in a variety of executive leadership roles including as head of the consumer banking, information technology, human resources and real estate management departments.

We sat down with him to learn more about his background and what he hopes to achieve as president and CEO.

Q: How did you become a banker?

A: I didn’t start out as a banker. I actually started out in retail, working for TJX Cos., which owns T.J. Maxx stores. In the mid-1990s, the leading retail bank in Massachusetts, BayBank, was looking for people with retail experience. They wanted to hire people who understood customers. At that time, banks were still just banks, and they didn’t really focus on customers. BayBank wanted to change that. So I was recruited to go there, and I have been involved in banking ever since.

Q: What is the most exciting thing about your profession?

A: Banking is really interesting, and you get to interact with all types of customers. There is an opportunity to learn about something new every day. It’s a level of diversity that you won’t find in most other professions. I especially enjoy working with small businesses. Maine is a small business state, and as a bank we become a partner to them. That’s the exciting part of being in the profession.

Q: What are the biggest frustrations?

A: The greatest frustration is the level of regulation that we have to deal with today. There has been a lot of new regulation imposed since the economic downturn. Some of it needed to happen. Unfortunately, in some cases you have customers for whom things are now more difficult. An example is increased paperwork and longer wait times for home mortgage loans. The intent and the purpose of the regulation I actually agree with, but it has not been implemented well. We are still able to help our customers, but it doesn’t make it easy.

Q: How does it feel to be taking over as the 12th president and CEO of Bangor Savings Bank?

A: I’m honored – it’s a great opportunity. I see myself staying in this position for a long time. It’s a great bank, and I love being back in Maine, so why would I want to do anything else? I do think about what a big responsibility I have as president and CEO. We have over 100,000 customers and 750 employees. So there’s a little bit of gravity to that. Also, the history of the bank’s leadership is a bit humbling. The first president and CEO of Bangor Savings was Elijah Hamlin, the older brother of Abraham Lincoln’s first vice president, Hannibal Hamlin. There have been a lot of great people before me, and I’m sure there will be a lot of great people after me.

Q: Describe the process of transitioning into your new role.

A: A proper transition is really important for the bank. There was a lot of preparation beforehand. I’ve been with the bank for 11 years, and I have worked closely with Jim Conlon the entire time. We knew we had a year to try to orchestrate this transition, and I put a lot of effort into it. I had more than 50 one-on-one meetings with both key managers and customers, then worked with senior managers to develop a three-to-five year strategic plan. Our board of directors approved the strategic plan, which was communicated first to a group of 225 employees, then to the entire bank. After the strategic plan was in place, the board then gave the nod for me to assume the title of president and to fully complete the transition to president and CEO in April.

Q: What are the primary goals you hope to achieve as president and CEO?

A: My primary goal is to continue to grow the bank. Mainers deserve a bank that is local and provides great service. Since we started in Bangor, we are pretty dominant in this county (Penobscot), but we want to build market share in Cumberland and York counties. We’re about 50 percent of the market in Penobscot County, but less than 10 percent in southern Maine. Another goal is making sure we are offering customers the latest technology to make banking easier. Technology is changing the banking industry. You don’t even have to step foot into a branch anymore. But we want to make sure those who do go into a branch still get the same personal experience they did before, that they can still go in there and speak to a real person.

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An adaptable Santa Claus is coming to town http://www.pressherald.com/2014/12/25/a-word-with-the-boss-an-adaptable-santa-claus-is-coming-to-town/ http://www.pressherald.com/2014/12/25/a-word-with-the-boss-an-adaptable-santa-claus-is-coming-to-town/#comments Thu, 25 Dec 2014 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=560161 Santa Claus – or St. Nicholas, as he is sometimes called – doesn’t talk much about how he started his career, but it’s clear he now dominates the holiday-toy delivery industry. His signature innovations include the “naughty/nice list” gift delineation process and the trademark “Rudolph, Guide My Sleigh Tonight” GPS-free navigation system. With headquarters at the North Pole (low real estate prices and lack of regulations), Santa supposedly works with legions of elves to make toys and deliver them on one ridiculously efficient night (that’s his story, anyway). He declined to provide financials on his operation, claiming he doesn’t have any. We caught up with Santa at the Maine Mall, where he has been chatting with local children for the past several weeks.

Q: Santa, how are you?

A: I’m jolly, as always.

Q: I know that this is your busy time of year. What are you up to?

A: I’m trying to meet with the boys and girls and collect all their Christmas lists to make sure they get what they want. There are lots and lots of lists, but I’ve got the elves and Mrs. Claus to help out.

Q: Do you still keep lists on paper, or have you switched to an electronic system?

A: Santa’s pretty old-fashioned; I still use a pencil and paper. I’m sure Mrs. Claus and the elves have an updated system. Just like everyone else in the world, we surround ourselves with good people.

Q: As long as we’re talking about lists, is it still a straight naughty-or-nice system? Isn’t there some gray area?

A: I believe that all boys and girls are basically nice. Everyone has a bad day. We all have a little misfit in us. It’s the idea we all want to be better if we can.

Q: With shifts to new heating systems such as gas conversions or heat pumps, how do you handle the no-chimney home?

A: Santa is based on belief in the magical and I have a magical key to open up a door to get into the room where I need to leave the presents. Also, the elves are pretty small and can help out if we need them need to.

Q: People have done calculations and determined it’s physically impossible for you to get presents to all the children in the world in one night. They say it doesn’t add up.

A: The belief in a lot of things doesn’t add up. I believe I can do it, and every year I accomplish it. It’s a team effort, and there’s a lot of magic and love in the world that helps me do it.

Q: Are global warming and melting polar ice caps limiting your ability to make all those toys? Does it impact your logistics operation?

A: Not at all. Santa’s right there at the top of the world, working on toys, and the elves are working on new things. We don’t let anything get in the way.

Q: What are the criteria for deciding whether Rudolph’s on the team each year?

A: There’s bad weather all over the world so Rudolph is always hitched up just in case he’s needed.

Q: Now that you’re done for another year, what’s next for you?

A: Santa takes a long, well-deserved nap, but shortly afterward, it’s time to begin again for next year.

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Manning the helm of Shipyard Brewing Co. http://www.pressherald.com/2014/12/18/a-word-with-the-boss-manning-the-helm-of-shipyard-brewing-co/ http://www.pressherald.com/2014/12/18/a-word-with-the-boss-manning-the-helm-of-shipyard-brewing-co/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=555966 Fred Forsley hit on the idea for what would become Shipyard Brewing Co. in 1991 in a Florida brewpub. At the time, he was a real estate broker and trying to figure out what to do with a failed real estate deal in Kennebunk. The solution: a brewpub. Soon after, Federal Jack’s restaurant was created with Shipyard as the onsite brewery. Demand grew and soon a larger brewery in Portland was added. With its Sea Dog Brewing Co., Shipyard now has breweries and seven brewpubs in Maine and Florida and also makes Capt’n Eli’s soda. The company has more than 100 employees is on track to produce 2.2 million cases of beer and 235,000 cases of soda this year.

Q: Are you involved in brewing and creating more types of beer?

A: I’m really the business end of it. I know brewing, but I’m not the brewer in any sense. I was lucky enough to find (master brewer) Alan Pugsley and we’ve been together for more than 20 years.

Q: From the business perspective, is it complicated?

A: It looks like a simple business, but it can be complicated in the sense of getting a brand to grow and to get more than an initial sampling. From day one, the product was world-class and that made it easier to sell. At the end of the day, sales and marketing is a key ingredient, but it’s the quality of the product.

Q: How do you and your brewers come up with new flavors?

A: Luckily, we have a pilot system at the brewery (to test new flavors). Our brewers are very excited because it allows them to come up with new recipes, like Ginger BreadHead, which is going phenomenally well. You’ve got to stay creative and come up with products that are unique, but we also have the flagship Shipyard Export Ale that’s still going well. Now some of the extreme beers out there, we’ve reacted to that with things like the Monkey Fist IPA, which is more of a California IPA. We’re doing what the wine business did or what Ben & Jerry’s did with ice cream – there will be certain brands that stand the test of time. In the last couple of years, we’ve come out with a lot of new products, which is exciting, but it’s also expensive and takes a lot of energy.

Q: How do you determine if you’ve got a winning new flavor?

A: We do a lot of things at the brew pub, where you can get the consumers’ direct response. We’re also able to pass it through 10 different brewers here, so we get a lot of opinions. Everybody’s got a different taste. We came out with the Sea Dog Sunfish, and it’s going well, but a lot of people say, “It’s not my style.” It’s a grapefruit-peach concoction.

Q: In 2012, it was discovered that the Shipyard brewery was billed for only a fraction its actual sewage fees and ordered to pay $300,000. Is that issue over?

A: We resolved it, we settled and everybody moved on. It’s settled. (A city investigation determined that there was no wrongdoing on either the city’s or brewery’s part.)

Q: Where is your beer distributed?

A: We’re not in every state, but we’re in most places where people like to get microbrews – in Florida, in California. We’re really aggressive in New York and growing in New Jersey. The Eastern Seaboard is really important for us. I was down in Key West recently and we have our beer in the Green Parrot Bar, which is one of the e oldest bars in the U.S. That’s fun for me to see. Our product is growing through the country and we have relationships s with Marton’s in England – we have over 500 draft lines over there.

Q: What’s your growth strategy?

A: We’ve been doing strategic relationships to grow. Like with ScubaNation – it’s a (Florida-based) TV show that we’ve used to market our beers – and also with New England Boating (a magazine and TV show) in Boston. We’ll use unique ways to grow our brand.

We can’t afford major marketing, so we do a lot of guerrilla marketing. We would do something like sponsoring the Ragnar race from Miami to Key West in 24 hours and gave out 10 kegs of beer at the finish line. It’s a good way to get exposure to those types of people who are active and involved. We’re going to do more of that. And we’ve been a sponsor of Beach to Beacon since it began and we do a lot of cycling events. We do a lot with active sports for people to connect.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2014/12/18/a-word-with-the-boss-manning-the-helm-of-shipyard-brewing-co/feed/ 0 http://www.pressherald.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/555966_826962-20141217_FredForsl6.jpgThu, 18 Dec 2014 08:23:57 +0000
Portland Food Co-op’s outreach coordinator builds community http://www.pressherald.com/2014/12/11/portland-food-co-ops-outreach-corrdinator-builds-community/ http://www.pressherald.com/2014/12/11/portland-food-co-ops-outreach-corrdinator-builds-community/#comments Thu, 11 Dec 2014 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=552248 The Portland Food Co-op held its grand opening Wednesday, marking the transformation of the organization from an entirely volunteer-run food co-op, where members volunteered and picked up food at a warehouse, into a retail operation. Mary Alice Scott, the co-op’s education and outreach coordinator, said the store at 290 Congress St. now employs 20 people.

Q: How did you get involved with the co-op?

A: When I lived in Lancaster County (Pennsylvania), I got very interested in local foods and when I moved up to Portland four years ago, I came with an appreciation for farmers. I started volunteering with Cultivating Community (a local group which uses agriculture as a community and youth development tool) and their food corps program. I’ve always been fairly politically active, so the combination made the food co-op a natural fit for me. When the job arose, I jumped at the chance.

Q: What is the Portland Food Co-op?

A: It’s a community-owned grocery store. Anybody who wants to can be an owner and get a vote and help shape the structure of the organization, along with access to special deals and sales. For instance, today (Wednesday) all members get 10 percent off their first purchase. And, we’re here to serve the community and not just sell food.

Q: How much does it cost to become a member?

A: It’s $100, one time.

Q: Why join a co-op instead of going to a mainstream grocery store?

A: It’s a mission-driven idea. People want to support businesses that are locally owned and know they’re generating jobs. Our mission is to have a huge amount of organic and local products and buy from local vendors whenever practical. It’s not just fruit and vegetables, it’s local cleaning supplies and other local items. We already have relationships with more than 120 local producers.

Q: The co-op was once an all-volunteer program. Was it hard to switch to being primarily staff-driven?

A: It was an enormous volunteer effort, and the strength of our member-owners has shown how well we were able to carry that. Our board was very active to keep those operations going. It was a good way for us to build community support to get the retail operation going.

Q: What drove the decision to open the store?

A: The plan was always to do a retail operation, which usually takes five years. It’s a matter of getting the right people together. It was about a year and a half ago that the board started looking into a viability study. We got in some national consultants and local groups to put together a business plan.

Q: The store actually opened its doors three weeks ago. Why go with a soft opening?

A: That’s one of the best practices we found in looking at how other co-ops developed retail stores. Normally, when a grocery store opens, it takes about two years to really get going; we gave ourselves three weeks. We are continuously seeking feedback and want to make sure were serving the needs of the community.

Q: How is the co-op different from a conventional grocer?

A: When you walk in, you still see a grocery store, with fresh produce. Our produce manager has worked incredibly hard and we have 99 percent organic produce and more than 50 products from local farmers – and it’s mid-December, so I think that’s awesome. The staff is also excited to engage with customers. We put up a map showing all our local producers.

We have worked with local designers and architects to beautify the store and we have our mission statement on a beautiful piece of art by the checkout: “The Portland food co-op beings local producers and consumers together in a member-owned marketplace to grow a healthier community. We model cooperative values, operate with transparency and foster trusting relationships with our customers, employees and suppliers.”

We still have volunteers but we have kind of shifted from all volunteer to all-staff now. We’ve created 20 local jobs in the community.

Q: Do you still work with other community organizations?

A: For the past few years, we’ve had the opportunity to purchase food and donate it to Preble Street. Something like 50 or 60 percent were local items, like eggs, butter and beans. We will continue doing that and we will also be working with organizations like Cultivating Community and holding volunteer days at local farms.

Q: Where do you see the co-op in a few years? Are more retail operations possible?

A: At the very minimum, in three to four years we want to have hundreds of Maine products and regional products. We are working hard to develop those relationships and we want to further our mission to work to improve the local food economy, whether it’s purchasing more from local vendors, or out in the community.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2014/12/11/portland-food-co-ops-outreach-corrdinator-builds-community/feed/ 0 http://www.pressherald.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/552248_137990-20141210_WordWithBos.jpgWed, 10 Dec 2014 22:47:15 +0000
New owner builds on Chilton Furniture’s past http://www.pressherald.com/2014/12/04/a-word-with-the-boss-new-owner-builds-on-chilton-furnitures-past/ http://www.pressherald.com/2014/12/04/a-word-with-the-boss-new-owner-builds-on-chilton-furnitures-past/#comments Thu, 04 Dec 2014 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=548205 Jennifer Levin said she didn’t want to go back to practicing law after taking a break a decade ago to raise her three children. After considering other options for returning to work, she and her husband, Jared Levin, who live in suburban New York, heard that Maine-based Chilton Furniture was for sale. Levin has ties to Maine. She spends summers at Ocean Park with her family and graduated from Bates College. Chilton dates back to post-Civil War Maine – the company claims links to Mayflower passengers – and began as a paint company before shifting to furniture-making in the 1970s. It has showrooms in Scarborough and Freeport and employs 15.

Q: Why did you decide to buy Chilton Furniture?

A: This is not only a chance to be creative, but it will deepen my connections to Maine and also, hopefully, get (to move there) permanently.

My husband and I were looking into buying something. We considered a wide range of things – both of us love to cook so we thought we would do a restaurant. Then we thought we would do a bed-and-breakfast. We had signed up for emails that inform you of businesses for sale and last winter, while we were skiing, I said I want to look in Maine and Chilton came up. I thought it was special. There’s a real story there – it has such a history and there’s a real value, a real sense of providing something of high quality that’s reasonably priced. And the management team was so seasoned and confident that I thought that it would work for me.

Q: Are you in Maine a lot or are you managing the company from New York?

A: There’s a lot of time on the phone – I’m on the phone and emailing every day. I think even if I were there all the time, I’d be on the phone and email every day. I come up a lot. I bring my daughters up and drop them off at my mom’s in New Hampshire, so I make a lot of trips.

Q: The sale was completed in September. How is it going?

A: It’s going really well. I spent a lot of time with the management team, making sure we have similar visions. The Martens (the previous owners) themselves have been willing to provide advice and help. The team itself has been wonderful. I think we’re all simpatico.

Q: What are your plans?

A: Probably the biggest challenge I face is to give the business some flavor of my personality, while preserving what’s there. I need to read more about the Shaker philosophy and learn about them. I’ve been to Sabbathday Lake and met with some of the Shakers. It’s been wonderful to learn about it and the more I learn, I think it’s beautiful. There’s a real need for what they offer – utility, quality and simplicity – and the Shaker philosophy has always been to produce to meet a need. The furniture there, there’s nothing frivolous about it; it’s high quality and it’s simple and not overly adorned. That kind of furniture can go anywhere and that’s what I love about it.

The changes I have in mind are enhancing the shopping experience, with renovations of the stores, inside and out, to simplify the presentation of the furniture. And to rebuild the website – right now, it has no shopping cart but we’ll offer that to our customers in 2015. Chilton has always had great service, but there are always things you can improve. We just added a new position for customer service, to deal with customer concerns in an even more timely manner and we also hired a new head of warehouse. And we’re stocking up on popular items so we can deliver them in a more timely manner. For new products, there’s a real connection between Danish designers who were influenced by the Shaker style, and Maine cottage furniture and Craftsman furniture. It all fits inside our framework.

Q: How are people reacting to the idea of integrating some new designs into the line?

A: The management team is so confident and seasoned and we have some designs in play and it’s exciting. It’s amazing to me how delighted they are to work with me – they feel the same and love to develop new things.

Q: Do you expect to add staff?

A: We’re discussing right now whether to add an additional salesperson or two. We just added a couple of salespeople and we might want to add another, so people can do things like take vacations.

Q: Do you or your husband have any experience in building furniture?

A: None at all. We both had retail experience when we were younger and were both interested in furniture and love design.

I have a quote on my wall that says, “What you do while you procrastinate is what you should do the rest of your life,” and I was almost obsessive about decorating our house. In Maine, I always admired Thomas Moser (furniture) from when I was a student at Bates. All of it is inspirational. I’ve always filled my homes with things I love, and I come at it from that perspective as a customer.

Q: Do you have any longer-range plans?

A: We have a broad distribution capability, so there isn’t really much expansion there other than reaching new audiences and increasing the marketing. And I’d also like to expand our Web presence and social marketing and create more of a relationship with our customers on a regular basis. There are a lot of near-term projects, like redesigning and building a new website and increasing the market and, as we grow, making sure our processes remain smooth. Given the high quality, our prices are very reasonable – finding a way to continue that, that’s going to be our challenge going forward.

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Black Friday’s business as usual at L.L. Bean – only busier http://www.pressherald.com/2014/11/27/a-word-with-the-boss-black-fridays-business-as-usual-at-l-l-bean-only-busier/ http://www.pressherald.com/2014/11/27/a-word-with-the-boss-black-fridays-business-as-usual-at-l-l-bean-only-busier/#comments Thu, 27 Nov 2014 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=544853 Corey Bouyea, a fixture in the L.L. Bean flagship store, has only briefly left Freeport for his career. He started working in town at the Gap outlet after graduating from the University in Southern Maine. He started working for L.L.Bean 10 years ago and helped open stores for the company in Massachusetts and Maryland, but then came back to Bean, where he is now district manager, overseeing the company’s Freeport stores.

Q: How important is Black Friday for L.L. Bean?

A: We really, for years, have just looked at it as the kickoff to the holiday season. It’s one of our busiest days of the season, but it isn’t usually the busiest, that’s usually the weekend before Christmas. Thanksgiving is a pretty big day for us and it’s part of the heritage and tradition. It’s a fun day, just a true kickoff to the whole season.

Q: Does Bean have any hot items it will be pushing this season?

A: Christmas for us is really all about our core items, shirts and sweaters and outdoor gear and equipment. We certainly put all that stuff front and forward, and we really try to appeal to those doing gift shopping and we queue up those things. We put a lot more strategy in the holiday season and we do a lot of clinics and in-store demonstrations to ramp up the exposure.

Q: How has the season gone so far? Are people buying early?

A: For us, it’s been an early selling season for footwear and outerwear and cold weather gear. That’s a category just off the charts right now. You can see it in the store – we have deep sales reporting and I’m obsessing about it in the morning. Anything cold weather-related right now is performing really well. Weather always plays a big part in our sales and my sense is people seem to be out early this year, buying for themselves and getting a jump start on Christmas shopping. The reps who are working the floor are saying people seem to be jump-starting the shopping earlier and there’s more traffic this year.

Q: Is the economy better? Are lower gas prices giving people a little more to spend this year?

A: I definitely get the sense folks are spending a little bit more. Fall traffic has been good and I’m sure gas plays into that.

Q: How much do you change the store to accommodate the season?

A: We try to strike the right balance in keeping things fresh new and exciting, to appeal to new customers while still staying true to people who have been coming here for decades. We keep the layout of the departments the same, but we also respond to what the customers experience, on the service side and to get in and out on their own quickly.

Q: How much do you ramp up staffing for the season?

A: We’re hiring all year long and when it’s all said and done, by the holiday season, we’ve more than doubled our staffing count and we have a high rehire rate when it comes to seasonal staffers. We’re just lucky in that respect with a lot of loyal seasonal employees. Some are snowbirds who jockey back and forth and stay through early January and then come back in late summer.

Q: Is it hard to hire for the overnight shift, because Bean never closes?

A: It’s easier than you might think. It’s certainly harder to staff a third shift and we do a really early first shift, with some people coming in at 4 a.m. But there is usually somebody for every shift and most of them love it – it works for their lifestyle. We have a very high retention rate with people working that (overnight) shift.

Q: How busy is it overnight?

A: As we get closer to Christmas, the overnight gets to a place I would call busy. People who don’t want to deal with traffic or want a low-key shopping experience come in. But, really, every single night of the year we have people shopping here in the middle of the night.

Q: Do you get any odd requests from customers?

A: We get a bunch of requests for weddings (to be held in the store). We’ve had, since I’ve been here, probably three weddings. I remember one outside, one was at the top of the stairs in the hunting and fishing (department). Last year, a customer wanted us to help select some (Christmas) products for her father, all wrapped up and ready to be given to him when he came in on Christmas Eve. We presented them to him because she couldn’t be there for Christmas. We bend over backward to help.

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When it comes to customer service, Steve Giroux delivers http://www.pressherald.com/2014/11/20/a-word-with-the-boss-when-it-comes-to-customer-service-steve-giroux-delivers/ http://www.pressherald.com/2014/11/20/a-word-with-the-boss-when-it-comes-to-customer-service-steve-giroux-delivers/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=540827 The Giroux family has defied the odds. Business experts will tell you that only a small fraction of family-owned businesses will survive multiple generations, but Giroux Energy Solutions has. It’s now led by Steve Giroux, whose grandfather who founded the oil delivery business in 1959. On Wednesday, the company strengthened its chances of continuing to the next generation by buying the oil delivery business Yerxa’s in Portland (the deal did not involve Yerxa’s power equipment business and the price was not disclosed). The acquisition will expand Giroux’s customer base by about 15 percent and – almost as importantly, he said – bring on an additional oil burner technician, a trade much in demand. The company has about 25 employees during the peak winter season.

Q: It seems the oil delivery industry is increasingly being consolidated. Is the purchase of Yerxa’s part of that?

A: We certainly have been seeing it. Quite a few of the bigger companies have sold out because of the extreme changes going on in the industry. One of the biggest oil companies in New England, Dead River, is still family-owned, but Downeast Energy got bought out by a company from Oklahoma a few years ago.

But I think Mainers like that personal connection. Our goal is to remain family-owned. It’s into my generation, so there is youth involved and my dad and his two brothers (who have retired but still own the company) have stood behind us 100 percent. There’s a lot of family pride involved.

Q: It seems like more customers opt for price protection plans rather than pay market prices. Is that the case with your customers?

A: In our particular company, we have a high percentage of folks who do price protection, either a cap program or a fixed price option. The fixed price is a set price for the season, no matter what the market does. In a cap price, they lock in a cap and pay a downside fee (of 25 cents a gallon) that allows them to benefit if the price goes down. I think this is the first year since 2008 that prices have drastically dropped – they’re drastically lower.

The price protection plans have definitely increased in popularity the last 10 to 12 years. These plans have been around for a long time but because of price volatility over the last few years, they’ve become increasingly popular.

Q: It seems like customers are very reluctant to change oil companies. True?

A: Customers are very loyal. In order for us to gain new customers, we either have to buy another company or a customer has to have had a very bad experience. We’re available 24 hours a day for our customers. That’s a harder thing this day and age, finding people who want to be available. These guys (the service people) make a good living because there’s not a huge talent pool. It’s not a sexy thing to be a tradesman – an electrician, a plumber. I’ve got a son in college and a daughter in high school and they’re into iPads and iPhones. There are a lot of distractions out there. But you’re always going to need tradesmen. The best technicians over the years have been trained in-house by us. We’ll take them on green and put them through school and our trade association, the Maine Energy Marketers Association, is doing a great job. They make sure kids get into trade schools and when the kids graduate, they’ll invite all the (fuel) companies in the state to a kind of job fair.

The good thing is, the more guys you have, the more spread out the on-call schedule is. And we work well as a team. If we’re in the middle of a cold snap, the rest of the team is good about helping the guys on call. And we’re seasonal, so come April through November, the night calls are minimal. The same holds true for delivery.

Q: Have you seen a lot of customers convert from oil to natural gas? How has that affected your company?

A: It’s gone from like 90 (percent of homes heated by oil) down to 70 (percent). But we’ve diversified and got into propane about 10 years ago and that’s helped us battle the defections to natural gas. Natural gas is a utility that can’t provide the service that a local dealer provides. The utilities are not a local company like us. A lot of my customers may have my cellphone number or my service manager’s cellphone, so they can get a hold of us. In Maine, there’s still high value attached to that. Of course, oil prices dropping like they are doesn’t hurt our cause. It’s certainly slowed down the mass exodus. People are stopping and thinking about conversions now.

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Rising Tide brewers tap emergent passion http://www.pressherald.com/2014/11/13/word-with-the-boss-rising-tide-brewers-tap-emergent-passion/ http://www.pressherald.com/2014/11/13/word-with-the-boss-rising-tide-brewers-tap-emergent-passion/#comments Thu, 13 Nov 2014 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=537050 To say Heather and Nathan Sanborn followed a winding path to Rising Tide Brewing is a bit of an understatement. After graduating from Deering High School, they went west and became ski bums for a while; she taught high school; he designed books; she got a master’s degree in education and decided she didn’t want to teach; he did freelance graphic design and was a stay-at-home dad; and she graduated from law school and became a lawyer. Then, four years ago, they decided it was time to open a micro-brewery. They expanded two years later into East Bayside and now employ 11. Their beer is available in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts. On Monday, Rising Tide Brewing was named Small Business of the Year by the Portland Development Corp. and the city of Portland. And in September, Heather was tapped to join the board of directors of the Maine Small Business Development Center, which advises the state on fostering entrepreneurship.

Q: How did you get started?

A: We started on a nano-scale, with a one-barrel system, essentially a triple-sized home brew system. We started on Industrial Way (in Portland), where Allagash (Brewing) is just up the street and (D.L.) Geary Brewing is around the corner. Nathan was doing everything, and we did that for about a year and a half and were able to put in a larger system, with 15 barrels and a 30-barrel fermenter, and moved to Bayside in 2012.

Q: What is the output?

A: On any given day we can make 15 barrels of beer at a time. So we make two 15-barrel batches of beer and put it into a 30-barrel fermenter on a brew day. We’re able to make beer more efficiently and on a bigger scale.

Q: How did you make the leap from home-brewing to a commercial operation?

A: Nathan had been home-brewing with accelerating levels of passion. He’s a great chef as well, and we’d have dinner parties with home-brewed beer. Soon, he was making more home brew than any dinner party could use up.

It was at a time, 2010, when starting at that scale and without experience of working in a brewery could be done. But if you ask him, he would say, “Don’t start that way.” There’s a lot to learn, and a lot of mistakes (could be avoided) by working for someone else.

Q: Is it expensive to gear up?

A: It’s not prohibitively expensive and every piece of equipment you buy lets you make better beer. As a small brewer, you don’t have control over all the variables the way a bigger brewer could. It’s more difficult if you’re brewing on a cobbled together nano-scale. So you can get in on a small scale and it’s tens of thousands of dollars instead of hundreds of thousands. But when you get to that next level, the beer quality improves by leaps and bounds.

Q: Is there a downside to getting bigger?

A: No, it’s all pretty much upside. One of the things we’re focused on is making improvements for the safety for our employees and improving workplace environment – get rid of the jobs that are no fun to do, automate those as much as possible.

Q: Safety? I never envisioned beer-making as a dangerous pursuit.

A: We use hot chemicals to clean our tanks and cleanliness is job one, because that’s where the quality comes from. Working with chemicals is certainly dangerous and climbing ladders can be dangerous. It’s a factory and there are risks.

Q: But clearly safe enough for daily tours?

A: The tours allow us to tell our story and show people what we do and the passion we have. We run tours every day and several times on Fridays and Saturdays. All of our beer is made right here and everything is done in our facility in East Bayside. You can see people brewing a pilot batch of beer, labeling beer, and our tasting room is open as well.

Q: Since the business has grown, have you stepped back from the actual brewing?

A: As we’ve grown, I have been able to do less and less on the production side. Back when we had one employee, I would work on the bottling line and clean out the tanks and brew a pilot batch now and then, but now I can focus on other things I like. And I can say, “I want a beer that tastes like this,” and Nathan and the others can come up with the recipe and try that. The thing I enjoy doing the most is working on financial projects – how we can finance the next tank and making sure everyone gets paid and working on hiring plans. We’re a team of 11 right now and we hired our first full-time employee in 2012. So there’s an HR role and CFO role that falls to me as well.

Q: What’s next?

A: We have seven 30-barrel fermenters and this winter we’ll be adding out first 60-barrel fermenter that will allow us to continue to increase the amount of beer we make, particularly for our summer brew, Maine Island Trail Ale. It’s canned in a lightweight, light-proof package. Perfect for a backpack or a kayak, and we partnered with the Maine Island Trail Association, which is a great organization and the beer is a fundraiser for them.

Q: Part of the fun of the business has to be tasting how the latest recipe turned out.

A: An attraction of working with beer is we get to drink what we make and we wouldn’t be in this business if we didn’t love beer and we wouldn’t sell beer we didn’t love. So tasting is important, but we also rely on science and we have a lab here to process each batch of beer. But ultimately, it comes down to whether it tastes good. There’s a science to beer, but it’s an art as well.

Q: How did you come up with the name?

A: It comes from the concept that a rising tide lifts all boats and that’s what’s happening in the beer world now. As more people make better beer, more people drink great beer and then we all win.

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A Word With the Boss: Two guys make jams, and word spreads fast http://www.pressherald.com/2014/11/06/a-word-with-the-boss-two-guys-make-jams-and-word-spreads-fast/ http://www.pressherald.com/2014/11/06/a-word-with-the-boss-two-guys-make-jams-and-word-spreads-fast/#comments Thu, 06 Nov 2014 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=533288 Jonathan King and Jim Stott didn’t set out to become jam moguls.

But when they met while working at different restaurants in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, they had talents that meshed: King had a gift for gardening, and Scott could turn the fruits and even herbs that came from the garden into delicious jams and jellies. One of King’s co-workers suggested that they sell their products at a New Hampshire farmers market, and soon store buyers were jostling with residents to get their goods.

Stonewall Kitchen, headquartered in York, has turned into a big business. It has 440 employees, including more than 200 in Maine. The company declined to provide revenue or sales figures, although King said in a 2011 interview that annual revenues were more than $50 million.

Last month, King, interviewed here, and Stott announced that Centre Partners, a New York private equity firm, was investing in Stonewall Kitchen and that one of its partners would become Stonewall’s CEO.

Q: Does Stonewall Kitchen’s existence owe more to serendipity than a strategic plan?

A: If that co-worker had not said that to me, that I should sell the jams and jellies at the farmers market, I probably would not be here today. I graduated with a psychology degree (from the University of New Hampshire) with plans of becoming a child psychologist, and Jim owned a construction company.

Q: How did you parlay the farmers market sales into such strong growth?

A: In the very beginning, we bought what was available and would go to the farmers market and barter with the other vendors. We would trade maybe a case of red pepper jelly for a barrel of pumpkins. We started creating the things that people really wanted. We would use a huge variety of things – I’m an unbelievably passionate gardener and crazed horticulturist – and we were selling herb and jams and sauces. But my herb business never took off.

Q: You hand-labeled your jams and jellies, but made a big mistake early on, right?

A: Our largest customer early on was Crate and Barrel. They discovered us when they were on vacation in Maine and they got a jar of orange marmalade, which they said was the best they ever tasted and they wanted to order so much. But when I did the labels, marmalade was misspelled – it was missing the “r.” I said, “That’s how we say it in Maine.” They thought it was great marketing. They still tell that story at Crate and Barrel. But it was really because I couldn’t afford to take back the whole order and re-do them.

Q: Have you been surprised by the company’s trajectory?

A: It’s amazing how quickly the business grew, but when you’re in, it doesn’t seem to be at that pace. We were selling just at the farmers market and doing it just like you do it in your kitchen, working out of an old grocery store in York. Then we went to the Fancy Food Show (in 1995) in New York – we drove a U-Haul down from Maine – and we won the most coveted award, the Outstanding Product Line award and Outstanding Jam (for roasted garlic onion jam) and got a tremendous amount of publicity.

Q: So how did you manage that sharp rise in interest?

A: At the time, there weren’t a lot of artisanal goods out there, people making crazy things. It just completely took off, but we could not find a bank to lend us any money. We were funding the business ourselves, out of cash flow. We had to control the demand by taking on new accounts only when we could handle it. We literally would call people and say, “You can become a customer now.” We knew nothing about the business end so we hired great people. First were family members, like my sister, who had been a sales manager at the Mount Washington Hotel. She took on most of the sales operation with me and we hired my sister-in-law to take control of the finances and the operations so Jim and I could concentrate on product development and packaging – things that we liked to do. (King’s sister, Natalie King, is now executive vice president, and his sister-in-law, Lori King, is president and chief operating officer.)

Q: What led you to sell part of the company and bring in Centre Partners?

A: Jim and I have been at this for 24 years and the company is financially very strong. The growth is strong. There were two reasons: Jim and I wanted to sell the majority of our stock for our own personal reasons, our own nest egg and future. We also had a plan to retire in the next few years. Jim has retired and I plan to retire in 36 months. We wanted to find a partner that could take Stonewall Kitchen to the next level and grow the company as we have.

The number one issue with the Stonewall Kitchen brand is that it’s hard to find, which is hard for us to believe. But the growth plan is to increase the availability of the brand, and that takes a big company.

Q: What changes do you expect to see?

A: You’re going to find the product more available in the mass market than we allowed in the past. We’ve always protected the brand by eliminating some of the mass retailers. When we started, the product was so special and it’s always been somewhat of a luxury item. But as it’s evolved, it’s become much more of a doable product in, say, a Hannaford, than it would have been 10 years ago. So we see a lot of growth through more penetration of grocery stores and more availability around the country. The Northeast is our biggest area of sales right now, but we see a massive opportunity and huge growth in direct-to-consumer (sales), especially online.

Q: Is it hard to let go of something you and your partner created?

A: It is an emotional decision. The process began a year and a half ago, making the decision to do it, hiring the investment banking firm to find us the right partner, and we had an enormous number of interested buyers. We were overwhelmed by the process. I don’t think we’ve gone through the full stages of bereavement; we may still be in the denial and the bargaining phases.

John Stiker (who will be the company’s new CEO) is an amazing fit with our company and our philosophies. I’m in my same office as the chief creative officer, so I get to do what I really want to do. At the end of three years, I have the option to continue my employment, if I wish. They (Centre Partners) love our management team and everyone is staying on. They have no ideas of cutting people, they only want to grow it. And they can never take away that we’re the founders. When we see our jams, it’s always our names on the jars.

 

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Lobster shells help make organic compost his bag http://www.pressherald.com/2014/10/23/a-word-with-the-boss-lobster-shells-help-make-organic-compost-his-bag/ http://www.pressherald.com/2014/10/23/a-word-with-the-boss-lobster-shells-help-make-organic-compost-his-bag/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=523623 Carlos Quijano grew up primarily in New York, but developed an early and deep relationship with Maine from visits to his grandparents’ Lincolnville farm. After spending more than 20 years with Chase Manhattan Bank, primarily in Europe and Asia, he retired in the late 1980s and moved to Maine.

When a friend mentioned that a mussel farm was having trouble disposing of its waste because a composting operation wasn’t working well, Quijano – an avid gardener and compost user – offered to take a look. What he saw inspired him to form Coast of Maine Organic Products in 1996 to make and market organic compost created, in part, with shellfish waste. Lobster shells are rich in nitrogen and chitin, which helps the composting process.

The company is wrapping up the year with sales up about 16 percent over last year, Quijano said, and is looking to expand. It formed a partnership with a composter in Michigan and is looking at expanding into the mid-Atlantic states and may add a satellite composting space in southern Maine. Coast of Maine Organic Products has about 10 full-time employees and adds a seasonal staff of another seven or eight in the spring.

Q. What was the market for compost at the time you started the company?

A. Consumer awareness of compost would probably rate higher in Maine at that time and my theory was that the farther south you went, the lower that awareness became. We grew the company slowly, we raised a little bit of equity and our growth over 18 years has been largely financed by retained earnings and a very good relationship with our bank because it’s a very seasonal business.

We compost at our facility but we also work with other composters, overseeing their production, which we also pull from, and we’ve spent an enormous amount of time building a customer base and distribution system. I think we were the first people to focus on bagged soil as an essential value-added product for the backyard gardener. The success of your garden is largely a function of the quality of your soil.

Q. How did you learn about composting?

A. My wife and I have always been fairly serious gardeners, although I was the one that did the lifting and digging. We understood the consumer, which is very important. We spend our weekends during the gardening season as consumers and gardeners in our own backyards and that keeps you in touch with who your consumer is.

The most import component is the lobster waste. We have a shellfish compost called Quoddy blend – we’ve always given our products a Maine coast name.

We had shrimp compost, but the supply of shrimp ran out and then we started to work with lobster waste. At first it was all from New Brunswick – we’re only 35 miles from the Canada – but with the opening of a number of lobster processing plants in Maine, most of our lobster is coming from Prospect Harbor, Rockland and Tenants Harbor. To produce compost, you need to balance nitrogen, carbon and moisture. You are carefully keeping track of those balances and we mix the lobster with sawdust and that turns it into soil and we add some manure and we take in a lot of the blueberry litter from the blueberry harvest. That’s only available for the short time so we build up stockpiles of that. We have a number of recipes that we use.

The active composting depends on the weather, but we lay out windrows and use a mechanical turner to pulverize whatever is there and aerate the piles. That ensures uniform quality. Then after six months, we pile them up, screen them and let them cure. It takes about a year. Good, well-made compost should smell like the forest floor.

Q. How big is the business now?

A. We’ve gone from just me and my wife to two or three people in our offices on Newbury Street. We have two people in our sales team in Connecticut and our production facility is in Marion Township, between Calais and Machias, in the eastern part of Washington County. It’s literally a clearing in the woods. We took over the operation of a very small composting facility that was run by the county and several local towns, and we leased that for a long time and were able to get a grant to build out the infrastructure. That facility has grown and we’ve bought the land, 23 acres. It’s the perfect place for composting, with no neighbors, and we have since built a big steel building and expanded the pad several times. We also have a “compost cam” now.

Q. You distribute throughout New England. How did you build that network?

A. We built a distribution system focused on the individual garden store. We’ve never sold to the big chains and we provide the independents with a quality product.

We focus a great deal on creating relationships with, for the most part, family-owned companies and we’re family-owned as well. A lot of our sales and marketing is focused on what can we do to help the garden center not only promote their product, but promote gardening as well and helping to educate people about not only our products, but the importance of soil quality in general.

Q. What’s the seasonal cycle you follow?

A. We compost through the year, but the selling season is in the spring, especially early spring, because a lot of what we make is soil amendments that people add when planting. We also do potting soils, but the heart of our year is from whenever the weather breaks in early spring until the middle of May. Right now, we’ve finished the trade show season and now we’re doing early orders and shipping to garden centers that like to build their inventories over the winter so they’re stocked in the spring.

The two things that determine the seasons are the growing season and the weather. We’ll be bagging right up to about Thanksgiving and then we go into a kind of winter hiatus and we bring the bagging crew back usually around April 1st. We try to put down a lot of inventory now. When we send the bagging crew home, we have probably 6,000 pallets on the ground and we have about 60 bags per pallet. That’s enough inventory to get us to the latter part of April, but by that time we’re bagging again. We try to not let demand get ahead of supply. The summer is usually quiet for us and then we do a lot of shipping in the fall again.

Q. How did this year go, with the harsh winter?

A. It looked like it wasn’t going to be a good year, but we ended up having a very long season. It never really got hot and a lot of times things slow when it gets hot. We had a nice, long summer and we’re probably going to end up the year up 16 percent.

The thing about this business is it tends to be recession-proof. When the economy is bad, people have a tendency to stay at home and tend to their gardens.

Q. What’s next?

A. We’re trying to expand our business geographically. There’s a limit for how far we can travel from eastern Maine, probably as far as the Hudson River and northern New Jersey. Beyond that, trucking becomes far too expensive. There comes a point where the cost of getting it to your customer overwhelms you. We’re in the process of establishing product capabilities in other locations. We’re looking in the mid-Atlantic now and thinking of setting up our own production capability around the Chesapeake Bay. We have a production facility in Michigan in a partnership and also one in southern Ontario, which helps us reach upstate New York and Pennsylvania. I’ve long wanted to do something in on the West Coast. A lot of the same conditions that allowed us to get going in Maine are in northern California, with the vineyards and fishing.

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After 37 years at New Meadows, lobster seller needs a break http://www.pressherald.com/2014/10/16/word-with-the-boss-after-37-years-of-at-new-meadows-lobster-seller-needs-a-break/ http://www.pressherald.com/2014/10/16/word-with-the-boss-after-37-years-of-at-new-meadows-lobster-seller-needs-a-break/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=519610 Pete McAleney walked into New Meadows Lobster on the Portland waterfront 37 years ago, intending to buy lobsters for visiting in-laws. He walked out with an offer to become a partner in the business, which he would soon accept.

McAleney, who had been a teacher, went on to buy out the partner in short order and New Meadows eventually became one of the state’s largest lobster dealers, supplying Hannaford supermarkets and many of the city’s restaurants, including the one next door – DiMillo’s on the Water.

Last week, a partnership of the family that owns DiMillo’s bought New Meadows for $1.6 million, which includes the wholesale and retail business and a 26,800-square-foot pier.

McAleney and his wife, Kathleen, will continue to run the business, although the new owners have asked McAleney to start thinking about a successor.

Last year, New Meadows sold about 2 million pounds of lobster and had about $10 million in annual sales. McAleney runs the business with his wife and son and one other employee.

Q: Why did you decide to sell?

A: My wife came up with the idea two or three years ago. We started looking when we were around 64 and decided we would like to enjoy things instead of working seven days a week. We had a couple of people interested, but DiMillo’s really wanted it.

I don’t want to leave the business and I’m not going to. I’ll be here as long as the DiMillos want me as partner. My wife, being from Louisiana, wants to go south for the winter, so we’re going. I haven’t had a vacation in a long time, even a weekend off. When you’re dealing with a live commodity and you’re not there, things tend to happen.

Q: What has the reaction been among your customers?

A: Everybody’s good with it. Portland is unique, there are a lot of good restaurants in town. I’m going to keep giving them good prices.

Q: There are a lot of concerns about the health of the lobster industry, even though catches seem to keep rising. What’s your take?

A: When we got in the business 37 years ago, the catch was about 20 million pounds and now it’s about 130 million pounds, so the lobster fishermen and the dealers have been doing something right and Mother Nature has been doing something right.

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges the industry faces?

A: The state of Maine is in the upper right-hand corner of the country, so if you’re going to ship things, you’ve got to ship south. Or you’ve got to go by plane, which means going to Boston or New York for air freight. You have to be down there (four hours) early because of new regulations. It takes us two hours to get to the airport and then four hours to wait. So it’s difficult because of the regulations.

And we don’t have enough hard shell (lobsters) to take care of the world demand. When people say, “You’ve got to sell to new people,” they need to realize that people want hard shell lobsters and there’s not enough. The (soft shell) product is good, it just won’t live that long. Because airplanes can leave soft shells on a tarmac where it gets hot, we do a lot more trucking of soft shells. The profit margin is smaller, but you form a good relationship with the customer.

Q: Is seasonality a big problem?

A: You need lobsters in the summertime – that’s when people want them. You also have to realize you’ve got your business associates in Canada – notice how I said that – whose season will open up in a month right at the time our lobsters will be getting a firm hard shell. But it’s November and you don’t sell a lot of lobster in November. Then demand comes on strong in December and then it’s kaput. When you ship out at Christmastime, you have to worry about storms. We used to be big shippers to Belgium and France for the holidays – a lot of fishermen would help us pack the trucks and take them to Bangor (for shipping to Europe). But if there was snow, the flight would sit there and you would go crazy. You have to have a sense of humor in this business.

Q: Last year, there was a glut of lobsters, then there were concerns that the stock was down earlier this year. How is the year shaping up?

A: Every year is different in the lobster business. Last year, there was complaining and growling to get rid of the lobsters, but you couldn’t. We’ve got some (Maine) processors, but they (couldn’t handle the amount of lobster needing processing). This year, the catch didn’t hit until mid-July. Lobstermen love to get the lobsters just before the 4th of July, but we didn’t have any lobsters (for the holiday this year). The catch came in hard in mid-July and the lobsters were super soft.

So now, in October, the catch is going good and there’s nobody here (to buy lobsters). My customers down Route 1 closed up yesterday (Tuesday after Columbus Day). So it’s a son of a gun.

Q: What happens when you’re ready to retire fully?

A: They want me to train someone to take over my position. I haven’t decided yet, you have to find someone who’s half dumb like myself and someone big and strong to unload the lobster. We have an unwritten rule that there needs to be two people here when we unload. Two years ago I fell overboard on Jan. 2 – that water was cold. My son, Matt, was in the office, good thing. I hit my head hard and broke my nose. He (Matt) hears me and says, “Hey Pop, what are you doing down there?” Walking out, we were both laughing like hell, but that’s why you have two people with you.

Q: Is your son interested in running the operation?

A: He’s been here since he was eight years old and he’s got other interests. He’s 40 (years old) and has a young family and knows you have to work seven days a week. It’s tough on the wife. I’ve got a good wife, but she’s about had it because it’s working seven days a week and 10, 12, 15 hours a day.

Q: DiMillo’s opened up a few years after you took over New Meadows. Have you had a good relationship as neighbors?

A: We used to send Matt over (to DiMillo’s) for an order of hamburgers when he was really young. We’ve known each other for years. I remember when Steve DiMillo (now the manager of the restaurant) used to stand on a milk crate to wash the dishes. We all had the same business philosophy: “You make a little bit of money, I make a little bit of money.”

I really think Portland will grow by leaps and bounds. I would like to be a part of it, if I was younger. I’ve got so damn many stories, I’m going to write a book about the waterfront. It will be X-rated, too. All the bars are located straight up from here and we’ve seen some things. It’s been an interesting 37 years.

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Belief in education burns in dean of Lewiston-Auburn College http://www.pressherald.com/2014/10/09/a-word-with-the-boss-belief-in-education-burns-in-usm-campus-dean/ http://www.pressherald.com/2014/10/09/a-word-with-the-boss-belief-in-education-burns-in-usm-campus-dean/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=515961 Joyce Gibson said she grew up in a family that prized education. For her, a career in education isn’t as much a choice of vocation as a calling. But her sixth year as dean of the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College might test that devotion to education as the school struggles with cutting budgets and programs. Gibson said she’s up for the challenge and expects that other campuses within the university might learn a thing or two from L-A, especially around creating connections between the campus and the community.

Q. How did you become dean of Lewiston-Auburn College?

A. My parents believed deeply in education and social justice, both of which I carry with me, even in selecting positions. I’m committed to education as a means of helping people complete their lives. So many poor and disenfranchised people in our society can’t get a break except through education. And in this area, where the people in this community started this college, it smacked of social justice and opportunity and it appealed to me. I was raised in Mississippi and my father was one of 10 children, and my dad is the most celebrated of his siblings because he went on to finish dental school and completed an education. They drummed it into us to get an education and they said, “They can’t take it away from you and you use it to help others.”

Q: How does the Lewiston-Auburn campus fit in with USM and the broader college system in the state?

A: The people in these two cities fought for this college for a long time. The UMaine System wasn’t really interested in having another institution here – they said people could go down to Portland or go up to Augusta. But our college is more in tune with the community than any in the UMaine System. Our classes (are held) just once a week, not two or three times a week, because our population works, they have families. The majority of the students who attend here are women and have child care needs and jobs. So we try to make this as accessible as possible. We’re moving toward the whole vision of a metropolitan university.

The faculty members have a responsibility to help with writing skills and we have a writing center. We also have a community engagement office that is credit-bearing. Classes have a component of community service that’s part of the curriculum. Students don’t see it as extra because it’s part of their course work. All of the deans from the inception of this college have been actively involved in the community; for instance, this is my fifth year on the executive committee of the local chamber of commerce, so I’m involved in the life of the business community, because that’s part of what we do.

Q: What are the changes your campus will see from cuts announced this week?

A: The arts and humanities program here has been eliminated, so we will be working with the College of Arts and Humanities and Social Sciences in Portland to replace some of those classes. But it’s akin to our nursing program: We have a program here, but the base of the program is in Portland.

Q: It sounds like the cuts are intended to pull the three campuses together more, with some professors teaching at more than one location.

A: A lot of people don’t understand that in many ways we’re already well-integrated in Portland and Gorham (campuses). We have degree students who take courses here, some of it’s online, some is blended and some is face-to-face, so it will be an interesting challenge because a lot of faculty hasn’t taught at more than one campus before. We’re a small campus with four undergraduate degrees, and we have two graduate programs, but our bachelor’s in occupational therapy is a stunning program. Our students have an 89 percent first-time pass rate on the state exam and they’re all placed (in jobs). So while we have had a decrease in our enrollment, we have been pretty efficient. The university wants to downsize to fit the number of students we actually have, but part of the decrease in enrollment is due to competition. Here in Lewiston-Auburn we have Kaplan and we also have a community college and we don’t have a lot of flow agreements (to steer students toward USM after community college), and we’re trying to develop stronger relationships and make our curriculum align a little better. Our institutions are not as nimble as they could be. We’re trying to downsize to a more manageable institution financially, but we have to continue to attract students and bring in new majors and concentrate things. As one of our former presidents used to say, we can’t cut our way to success.

Q: So what do you see five years down the road?

A: We have to grow. Part of our challenge is getting more exposure – there are more than 200,000 people in our state who have some college education, but not a degree. Our population is a lot of older students and transfer students, but we are seeing more traditional-age students because of the economy – people who are going to stay closer to home to save money.

We also have a program with the high school to offer a three-year degree with early college courses and summer courses. We’re hoping to launch a pilot project to attract high school students to come here. A student could get perhaps up to a year or more (of college credits) if they began early college classes.

We have to think of innovative ways to be attractive to our community.

Q: Lewiston-Auburn has a large population of Somali immigrants. What are you doing to attract them as students?

A: Most of the (immigrant) students we have are interested in sciences and health. We have a number of Somalis in our nursing program and as science majors. We also have a strong relationship with the adult education community. We have regular (outreach) sessions to give people exposure to us and we are focusing our recruitment in the immigrant community so they can think about the value of a college education. There’s a group called College for Me Androscoggin that has businesses and nonprofit groups working to raise people’s aspiration levels to go to college. They have scholarships to help adults come back to college and they also support the early college initiative. We’re all interested in pushing the degree attainment of people in this region.

And the university system is thinking of a systemwide degree, where you could take some courses at a regional university, rather than get all the courses commuting to Portland or Orono. We’re trying to meet the needs of this community and I think people will always need a university that offers what we offer. This whole place was designed to pay attention to students. This building used to be an indoor tennis court, but we try to have a bright and open campus, and it’s a lovely spot.

Q: How is being dean at Lewiston-Auburn College different from heading up one of the other campuses?

A: I’m responsible for facilities, for marketing and communications, for our book store and our relationships with the community. We have a full campus and that’s different from being a dean within an institution where other people are responsible for those things. It makes us kind of unique and I love that part. We operate a little differently, but there’s a greater sense of community. It’s different from the way the other colleges are run and that makes it challenging to establish our programs in Portland and Gorham because they’re so interconnected. But we can show them how to connect with the community the way that we have with ours.

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Moran’s in Portland adapts to challenges http://www.pressherald.com/2014/10/02/a-word-with-the-boss-enduring-neighborhood-market-adapts-to-challenges/ http://www.pressherald.com/2014/10/02/a-word-with-the-boss-enduring-neighborhood-market-adapts-to-challenges/#comments Thu, 02 Oct 2014 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=512054 Bernie Larsen and his brother-in-law, Tommy Moran, opened a small market on Forest Avenue in Portland’s Riverton neighborhood in 1956. Moran died a few years later, but Larsen kept the name of the store – Moran’s Market – and has continued to run the shop since. It became a true mom-and-pop store when Larsen’s wife, Dorothy, joined her husband at the business, which has become a neighborhood fixture. Dorothy died two years ago, but Larsen said the store has kept going despite serious challenges, including the arrival of convenience stores, fast-food restaurants and a supermarket within a short distance of his store. Recently a citation from Portland police for selling alcohol to an underage customer added to his challenges.

Q: How have you adapted to so much competition nearby?

A: Sunday business was a big thing with us (before 1990, when a state law that barred most large stores from opening on Sundays was repealed). When that changed, we decided to look into more of the food service business. I remembered they had a salad bar in the art gallery downtown and I thought it should go in my store. That took off, and then I put in a hot bar for a lunch buffet. The meat (butcher’s shop) has always been stable. On groceries, I can’t buy like Hannaford can, but we can compete in produce, and in the summer we have good connections on the native products.

Breakfast is a big thing with us. And I’ll sell a lot of hamburger because we grind it here, cut it here, and we do 150 sandwiches a morning.

We put on a couple of additions over the years and put apartments in upstairs. We’ve grown and I’ve got good help – my two boys work here and my grandsons, also. My boys do all the cooking. They’re very good, but they didn’t get it from me. They must have gotten it from their mother.

We’re not dead, it’s just a little struggle.

Q: What’s been the biggest challenge over the years?

A: Hannaford (building a supermarket nearby) put the damper on our grocery (sales). It hurt, but it’s amazing to me that we’re still doing well. That’s a big outfit. Before the blue laws were changed, that’s when I made some money, but it was bound to come.

Q: Moran’s was recently cited, along with about a dozen other stores in Portland, for selling alcohol to an underage customer. What happened?

A: I had a new girl put on the register and another one was supposedly there to instruct her, but she was down doing the payroll. She was just inexperienced, but that’s the first thing you tell them, to check IDs. They (Portland police) have been in and checked again three times since then and we passed.

Q: Why are you continuing to work at 85?

A: There’s still that touch, that personal touch. People just love to come in and that’s why I’m still working – I enjoy people. I work six days a week, but I go in at 6 (a.m.) and get out at 1 (p.m.), so I don’t want to sound like a hero. It keeps me young, even though my body says no.

Q: What was it like to open a shop in 1956?

A: It was not as bad as it is now. Government and paperwork is a killer. It’s terrible. You have to deal with workers’ comp and the Department of Labor or (the Department of) Health and Human Services. And it’s hard to get good help. We have to screen them to make sure they’re responsible.

Q: You said your sons work in the store?

A: I have two. Peter Larsen and Paul Larsen.

Q: Are you planning to pass the store to both of them, 50-50?

A: Yes, but I worry about it, because in-laws are always a problem.

Q: What’s the future look like for stores like yours?

A: I don’t think it looks too good. You have to be a full-service type like myself. You have to be very flexible and there’s more I’d like to do to help the business. I’d like to get in a rotisserie and have chicken and roast my own roast beef. That’s very popular. And we’re always looking for more bakery products, homemade.

I’m not as good as I should be, but I feel like I’ll go another few years, as long as I feel able.

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Karl Francis helps connect virtual classroom to a real education http://www.pressherald.com/2014/09/25/a-word-with-the-boss-karl-francis-helps-connect-virtual-classroom-to-a-real-education/ http://www.pressherald.com/2014/09/25/a-word-with-the-boss-karl-francis-helps-connect-virtual-classroom-to-a-real-education/#comments Thu, 25 Sep 2014 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=508184 Karl Francis certainly has no beef with traditional public schools. He attended them. His children attend them. And he worked for public schools for nearly 20 years.

But Francis jumped quickly when he heard that a virtual charter school had been approved in Maine and was looking for someone to head up the effort.

“I’ve always been of the state of mind of let’s look at the individual student and find some programming that meets their needs,” said Francis, now principal of Maine Connections Academy.

The school, which relies primarily on an online curriculum purchased from a British company, opened this month with 297 students, the maximum allowed by the state, and a long waiting list for any spots that open up. Interest was so high that Portland school officials, worried about the number of students attracted to the privately-run charter school, recently considered setting up its own online curriculum to draw back MCA students. School officials were also hoping to bring back the state aid that flows to charter schools, which now goes to the districts where the charter school’s students live. Portland school officials ultimately decided not to pursue that option, at least for now.

Francis grew up in Casco and worked in the hospitality industry before selling most of his goods, buying a backpack and traveling the world. Returning to Maine, he taught at Lake Regional Vocational Center and was a school counselor in Saco and Westbrook.

Maine Connections Academy has 12 employees, eight of them teachers.

Q: What about the charter school attracted you?

A: I knew instantly that it was a concept that applies directly to my philosophy and who I am as an educator. It’s all about student choice, family choice and the individual needs of a student. Public schools offer a great education. I think they do a great job, but there are some students who need something different and that’s where the charter schools come in. I talk with families, and kids and parents who have been looking for other options because their children don’t learn in a traditional setting, whether it’s the classroom or the time of day, and charter schools are a great option. It all boils down to individual choice and what’s best for that student and family.

As far as taking away from (public) schools, I’m of a different mind – the money is following the student and the individual needs of the students. We have a cap out there; we can’t (enroll) more than 5 percent of a class (in a single district), so were not going to decimate an entire classroom or eliminate a teacher. That’s to help safeguard those local schools.

Q: What do you think of Portland considering starting its own online curriculum?

A: My hat’s off to the superintendent for trying to meet the needs of his kids. There’s only a handful of kids going to charter schools out of Portland, but the superintendent did a great job, saying let’s look within and see if we can offer that. It’s a question of whether it’s cost-effective.

Q: You actually have a bricks-and-mortar location, even though the students are at home, right?

A: It’s a central location (in South Portland) for the teachers to work from and collaborate. We have teachers here every day, like in an office setting, and students can come in to visit and say hi and meet the teachers. The teachers have high-end technology to work with kids through the day and they give live lessons, so the teacher has a lesson that they broadcast (once a week) and students from Fort Kent to Kittery join that streaming broadcast.

Q: What do you think are the advantages of an online school?

A: The curriculum is rigorous and aligned with (the academic standards of) Common Core and Maine Learning Results. It’s a very good, accredited curriculum and kids have a daily lesson plan. They chip away at their own pace, typically five to six hours a day. Some move quickly in the program and some need more support. As they work through the lessons, the teachers monitor progress and look at work completed, do grading work, provide feedback and communicate with the kids and families. It’s more of a facilitation of learning than being in front of the classroom teaching every day. A majority of a teacher’s time is spent marking progress and helping a child to learn at their own pace. It really meets the needs of the kids, because they come to us for different reasons. Some just learn differently and may have had A’s and B’s in their school, but they want to try something different. Some students have physical limitations or anxieties in the classroom and this eliminates those barriers. Some are high-level athletes and are at a remote location for training, or a ballerina taking lessons or a singer taking vocal courses. When competition or training (occurs) during school hours, this just works.

Q: What about students who want to play on a school team or take part in a school play?

A: Students are allowed to participate at their local school based on superintendent approval. So a student in Windham could go to Maine Connections Academy and play football, as long as they go to the superintendent and receive local permission.

Q: How many students do you have?

A: We have offered 297 enrollments, which is our maximum. We have 175 on our waiting list. I think there will be an opportunity for a little growth next year. The Maine Charter School Commission sets the parameters and it allows for some growth the second year and a little growth beyond that.

Q: How do you deal with just eight teachers for nearly 300 students?

A: We have eight teachers and a guidance counselor and a special education coordinator and administrative assistant and me. Four of the teachers are focused on middle-school level classes and the other four on the grade 9-12 curriculum.

There’s a personalized plan for each student and the teachers team up to talk about how to align the curriculum the best way we can or look at intervention on a particular student. They all sit down at the table together and when one teacher has a student in live lesson they can offer some advice on all subjects. It’s a complete collaboration and you can invite just four or five students who need more support to a live session and work on it together. Or if you see four or five students flying through (the curriculum), you can invite them into an honors cohort and go deeper. It’s really the best of both worlds.

Q: What do the teachers tell you about it?

A: One veteran teacher said he’s having deeper and better conversations with kids than he’s ever had. In a traditional setting, everything is so rushed. Here, he said, he can call the kid directly, talk to them, talk to their parents and really get to know the kids.

Q: What’s the next step for MCA?

A: I definitely would love to spend some time with the state to talk about enrollment and funding. We have some things to work out. I think we’re strong and it’s important for us to get things right this year and then work on the details and talk about how to become an even better school for Maine. Most of my energy in my career has been spent on creating non-traditional programming in a traditional setting. Here, it’s about what we want to do and how to make it work.

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