The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Business Sat, 22 Oct 2016 04:10:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Cyber attack disrupts access to popular websites Sat, 22 Oct 2016 01:41:00 +0000 Withering cyberattacks on server farms of a key internet firm repeatedly disrupted access to major websites and online services including Twitter, Netflix and PayPal across the United States on Friday. The White House called the disruption malicious and a hacker group claimed responsibility, though its assertion couldn’t be verified.

Manchester, New Hampshire-based Dyn Inc. said its data centers were hit by three waves of distributed denial-of-service attacks, which overwhelm targeted machines with junk data traffic. The attacks, shifting geographically, had knock-on effects for users trying to access popular websites across the U.S. even in Europe.

“The complexity of the attacks is what is making it so difficult for us,” said Kyle York, the company’s chief strategy officer. “What they are actually doing is moving around the world with each attack.” He said an East Coast data center was hit first; attacks on an offshore target followed later.

The data flood came from tens of millions of different Internet-connected machines – including increasingly popular but highly insecure household devices such as web-connected cameras. It was an onslaught whose global shifts suggested a sophisticated attacker, though Dyn said it had neither suspect nor motive.


The level of disruption was difficult to gauge, but Dyn serves some of the biggest names on the web, providing the domain name services that translate the numerical internet addresses into human-readable destinations such as “”

Steve Grobman, chief technology officer at Intel Security, compared an outage at a domain name services company to tearing up a map or turning off GPS before driving to the department store. “It doesn’t matter that the store is fully open or operational if you have no idea how to get there,” he said in a telephone interview.

Jason Read, founder of the internet performance monitoring firm CloudHarmony, owned by Gartner Inc., said his company tracked a half-hour-long disruption early Friday in which roughly one in two end users would have found it impossible to access various websites from the East Coast.

“We’ve been monitoring Dyn for years and this is by far the worst outage event that we’ve observed,” said Read.

Dyn provides services to some 6 percent of America’s Fortune 500 companies, he said. A full list of affected companies wasn’t immediately available but Twitter, Netflix, PayPal and the coder hangout Github said they experienced problems.


Members of a shadowy collective that calls itself New World Hackers claimed responsibility for the attack via Twitter. They said they organized networks of connected “zombie” computers called botnets that threw a staggering 1.2 terabits per second of data at the Dyn-managed servers.

“We didn’t do this to attract federal agents, only test power,” two collective members who identified themselves as “Prophet” and “Zain” told an AP reporter via Twitter direct message exchange. They said more than 10 members participated in the attack. It was not immediately possible to verify the claim.

Dyn officials said they have received no claim of responsibility, but are working with law enforcement.

The collective, @NewWorldHacking on Twitter, has in the past claimed responsibility for similar attacks against sites including in September and the BBC on Dec. 31. The attack on the BBC marshaled half the computing power of Friday’s onslaught.

The collective has also claimed responsibility for cyberattacks against Islamic State. The two said about 30 people have access to the @NewWorkdHacking Twitter account. They claim 20 are in Russia and 10 in China. “Prophet” said he is in India. “Zain” said he is in China. The two claimed to their actions were “good,” presumably because they highlighted internet security problems.

Another collective member the AP previously communicated with via direct message called himself “Ownz” and identified himself as a 19-year-old in London. He told the AP that the group – or at least he – sought only to expose security vulnerabilities.

During the attack on the ESPN site, “Ownz” was asked if the collective made any demands on sites it attacked, such as demanding blackmail money. “We will make one demand actually. Secure your website and get better servers, otherwise be attacked again,” he said.


For James Norton, the former deputy secretary at the Department of Homeland Security who now teaches on cybersecurity policy at Johns Hopkins University, the incident was an example of how attacks on key junctures in the network can yield massive disruption.

“I think you can see how fragile the internet network actually is,” he said.

Dyn officials said attacks stemmed from tens of millions of devices connected to the internet – closed-circuit video cameras, digital video recorders and even thermostats – that were infected with malware.

“The Internet of Things sort of ran way ahead of how the Internet was architected,” Dyn’s York said on a call with reporters. He said there are between 10-15 billion such devices online.

Dyn first became aware of an attack around 7:00 a.m. local time, focused on data centers on the East Coast of the U.S. Services were restored about two hours later. But then attackers shifted to offshore data centers, and problems continue.

“It is a very smart attack. As we start to mitigate they react and start to throw something that’s over the top,” York said on a call with reporters.

The second attack broadened its net, affecting the U.S. West Coast. “Prophet” of New World Hackers said hacktivists of the broad, more amorphous Anonymous collective piled on in the third wave on Friday afternoon.

“We’ve stopped all our attacks,” he said at midafternoon. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security was monitoring the situation, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Friday. He said he had no information about who may be behind the disruption.

Security experts have recently expressed concern over increasing power of denial-of-service attacks following high-profile electronic assaults against investigative journalist Brian Krebs and French internet service provider OVH .

In a widely shared essay titled “Someone Is Learning How to Take Down the Internet,” respected security expert Bruce Schneier said last month that major internet infrastructure companies were seeing a series of worrying denial-of-service attacks.

“Someone is extensively testing the core defensive capabilities of the companies that provide critical internet services,” he said.

]]> 1 Fri, 21 Oct 2016 21:41:39 +0000
New toys reflecting increasing diversity Sat, 22 Oct 2016 00:44:02 +0000 NEW YORK — Toy companies are working harder to think outside their usual box, offering more-inclusive items like dolls with disabilities, female superhero figures and characters with a range of skin tones.

Many of the products breaking down the barriers started with smaller businesses, but big names like Mattel and Hasbro are getting into the game and offering lots more options this holiday season.

What that means on the shelves is Barbies that have a greater variety of body types, eye colors and facial structures, a Lego mini-figure of a man who uses a wheelchair, and an American Girl doll with accessories like a diabetes kit and arm crutches in addition to the hearing aids and service dogs it has offered before. Other items include coding toys, robots and circuit builder sets aimed at both girls and boys.

Jennifer Weitzman, whose 5-year-old daughter Hannah has cochlear implants, has the American Girl doll with hearing aids and a Tinker Bell doll with a cochlear implant that Weitzman bought from a British site called

“She lit up when she was given them. She thinks it’s awesome that they have implants just like her,” said Weitzman, of Mount Kisco, New York. “For many kids, it helps them identify and makes them feel included.”

The trend started a few years ago, pushed by parents who didn’t see enough diversity in the toy aisle and were turning to the internet or startups to find items.


Increasingly, the inclusiveness in the toy aisle means dolls with disabilities. Toys R Us has carried an exclusive line since 2013 called Journey Girls, which includes a wheelchair and a crutch set. Its partnership with American Girl to carry the Truly Me collection starting this month will include dolls that also use crutches, diabetes kits and wheelchairs.

While Lego has had larger figures before that use wheelchairs, the mini-figure introduced this year comes as part of the “Fun in the Park” set, mixed in with several figures that don’t.

“The designers were thinking about what might you see in the park in the city,” said Lego spokesman Michael McNally.

Lego mini-figures had been yellow so that children could imagine their own identity for the characters. “We’ve always been about helping kids find themselves,” McNally said. But in 2004, it introduced flesh tones when representing real-life personalities.

Experts say it’s critical for children to play with toys that don’t perpetuate stereotypes about what’s considered beautiful. They say the toys children play with have lasting impressions on their careers and their confidence.

“There’s been some good progress, but there is a lot of work that needs to be done,” said Elizabeth Sweet, a sociologist and lecturer at California State University in Sacramento, California. “Kids need to see themselves in the toys and objects they interact with.”

For building toys, the company GoldieBlox, founded in 2012, was among the first to disrupt the pink aisle by offering construction sets aimed at girls. But it also realized it needed more racial diversity, and last fall introduced a black character called Ruby Rails and has since then added a Latina engineer called Valentina and other characters.

Many experts have been closely watching the moves made by Mattel, particularly with its iconic Barbie, whose business has been rebounding amid a makeover after seeing its sales suffer. The nation’s largest toy maker launched the Barbie Fashionista collection last year that offered more skin tones, eye colors and facial structures. This year, it added three body types – curvy, petite and tall. It said those items have been doing well. Spokeswoman Michelle Chidoni says the company is also looking to add different body shapes to the Barbie career line and the Fairytale doll collection.

Racial diversity can also be key. American Girl, which is owned by Mattel, launched a doll this year whose story is that she is growing up in civil rights-era Detroit. Wal-Mart’s My Life As doll collection has expanded the number of skin shades available, and Hasbro is adding more skin tones to its Baby Alive doll for next year.


Beyond introducing dolls and games that feature all kinds of characters, companies are starting to think differently about toys that have traditionally been aimed at boys or girls. The White House held a conference on gender stereotypes in media and toys, drawing executives from major toy companies.

Target Corp. phased out gender-based signage in the toy aisle last year. It also was for a time the exclusive seller of Mattel’s DC Super Hero Girls, including Wonder Woman and Batgirl, which were the first 6-inch action figures designed for girls. They join other female characters in the action figure aisle that include Black Widow and Star Wars heroine Rey, says Jim Silver, editor-in-chief of TTPM, an online toy review site.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is selling its first 18-inch boy doll this holiday season under the My Life As brand, and Hasbro plans to launch a boy doll under the Baby Alive brand next year.

John Frascotti, president of Hasbro Brands, cited My Little Pony, which originally was aimed at girls, and Nerf, which was traditionally for boys. Hasbro found the brands attract both boys and girls, so three years ago, it launched Nerf Rebelle that was styled for girls. As for My Little Pony, it’s expanding into comic books, usually more a domain for boys.

“We are focusing on storytelling and worrying less about gender,” he said.

]]> 0, 21 Oct 2016 21:00:02 +0000
ImmuCell closes on $3.5 million private funding round Fri, 21 Oct 2016 21:20:51 +0000 Portland-based ImmuCell Corp. said Friday that it has closed on a $3.5 million round of private investment to help fund a $20 million production facility for a new animal health product for which the company is seeking U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.

The company, which makes products that improve bovine health and productivity in the dairy and beef industries, said net proceeds from the offering are roughly $3.2 million after deducting placement agent fees and other expenses. Craig-Hallum Capital Group LLC acted as exclusive placement agent in connection with the offering, it said.

On Tuesday, ImmuCell said it had agreed to sell nearly 660,000 shares at $5.25 per share to outside investors. In all, 19 different investors purchased shares as part of the offering, the company said Friday.

ImmuCell raised the money to build a production facility for Nisin, the active ingredient in a new product it has developed called Mast Out, for which it is seeking FDA approval.

Mast Out is a novel treatment for dairy cows with mastitis, an inflammation of the udders that is often caused by a bacterial infection. Nisin is a preservative with antibacterial properties that is made from milk and used in processed cheeses, meats and other products.


]]> 0 Fri, 21 Oct 2016 20:39:18 +0000
New hires across Maine Fri, 21 Oct 2016 18:35:26 +0000 NEW HIRES
1098000_121952 Hannah Clark.jpgSarah Stebbins and Ben Williamson joined Down East magazine.
Stebbins, of Portland, was recently hired as a special projects editor for the magazine. She spent the past eight years working as a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including Every Day With Rachael Ray, Family Circle, Ladies’ Home Journal and O: The Oprah Magazine.


1098000_121952 Dave Chapman.jpgWilliamson was hired as photography director. Williamson has been photographing for the magazine for the last four years.




Adam Wiles-Rosell has joined Scott Simons Architects as an architectural designer.
He graduated from Norwich University in Vermont in May 2016 with a master’s degree in architecture. He lives in Portland.

1098000_121952 Kirk_Mullen.jpgThe Rowley Agency Inc. has hired Kirk Mullen as a commercial insurance account executive.
For the past four years, Mullen worked as a project manager for a commercial construction management firm in Portland. He lives in Portland.



SymQuest hired David Kerkhoff as a regional sales manager.
Before joining SymQuest, Kerkhoff was a branch manager and strategic development director for Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A. Inc.

121952-jenna-lucasJenna Lucas joined Volk Packaging Corp.’s design group as a graphic designer.
Lucas, of Saco, has degrees in graphic design and multimedia communication from the Maine College of Art.




121952-andrea-kingMaine Media Collective has hired Andrea King as chief operating officer and associate publisher.
Before joining MMC, King founded Aristelle, a retailer of fine lingerie.



1098000_121952 Hannah Clark.jpgHannah Clark recently joined Down East Enterprise Inc. as a circulation assistant and production representative.
Before joining Down East, she was filling customer service and sales roles at Camden Falls Gallery and Linda Bean’s Maine Wyeth Gallery.




1098000_121952 Susan MacArthur.jpgSusan MacArthur joined Strategic Talent Management as vice president.
MacArthur was previously a business and event management consultant for many years. She also served as the first executive director for the Blue Hill Peninsula Chamber of Commerce.



Nicholas Crosman joined Macpage LLC as a senior tax associate.
Crosman has practiced in public accounting since July 2011. He previously worked at Berry Dunn as a tax specialist and a senior tax specialist.

1098000_121952 Dave Chapman.jpgCES Inc. has hired David Chapman as project geologist in its Lewiston office.
Chapman previously worked as a project geoscientist in New Hampshire.




Melissa Vigue joined Diversified Communications as a customer service representative.
Vigue previously worked at gymNation in Kennebunk.

]]> 0, 21 Oct 2016 13:03:17 +0000
Volume up but prices flat in latest Maine home sales report Fri, 21 Oct 2016 16:10:25 +0000 Maine home sales spiked more than 6 percent in September, but median prices barely moved – two trends that diverge from what’s happening nationally.

A report Thursday from the Maine Realtors Association shows the volume of single-family home sales up 6.1 percent over September 2015 sales, while national home sales rose only 0.6 percent. But median prices here nudged up only 1.4 percent to $188,083, compared with a 5.6 percent increase nationally to $235,700.

In September, sales in the Northeast jumped 5.7 percent, and the median price rose 2.1 percent to $261,600. A median sales price indicates half the homes were sold for more and half were sold for less.

Ed Gardner, president of the Maine Association of Realtors and owner of Ocean Gate Realty, said the September data show stability in most markets across Maine.

Southern Maine markets saw the greatest year-over-year increase in sales prices from July through September. Cumberland County had the highest median sales price of $275,000, followed by York County at $247,000 and Lincoln County at $225,000.

Some rural counties saw decreases in their sales price. Aroostook County had a 17.75 percent drop in its median sales price over the same three-month quarter in 2015 to $82,250. Franklin County saw its median price drop by nearly 6 percent to $128,000.

Washington County, however, saw a 25 percent increase in its median sales price, rising from $80,000 to $100,000 over the quarter.

]]> 3, 21 Oct 2016 17:51:35 +0000
AT&T approaching Time Warner merger talks cautiously Fri, 21 Oct 2016 15:41:07 +0000 AT&T may be interested in a deal with media giant Time Warner, but the phone carrier’s ambitions are constrained by its hefty $120 billion debt load and its desire to keep an investment-grade credit rating.

Senior executives of AT&T and Time Warner have met in recent weeks to discuss various business strategies, including a possible merger, people familiar with the situation told Bloomberg Thursday. Time Warner shares surged 4.7 percent on the news, valuing the company at $64.5 billion.

If talks progress to a deal, the combination would remake the Dallas-based phone giant into a media colossus. But investors would be asked to swallow another heap of debt, and probably a diluted equity stake, just a year after the company borrowed to acquire DirecTV for $48.5 billion. AT&T, with the third-lowest investment-grade rating, could make a deal work without getting downgraded to junk – but it would be tough.

“AT&T generates a great deal of free cash flow, and it definitely has the capacity in the debt market,” said Dave Novosel, an analyst with Gimme Credit. “If it was done with a combination of equity and debt there’s a pretty good chance they could stay investment-grade,” based on a premium valuing Time Warner at about $70 billion, he said.

Fletcher Cook, an AT&T spokesman, declined to comment.

The phone company, which has $7.2 billion of cash on hand, has said it will generate more than $16 billion in cash from operations this year. AT&T, which has a Baa1 credit rating from Moody’s Investors Service and a BBB+ rating from S&P Global Ratings, has said it wants to reduce its debt and return to a single-A credit rating.

Even a single-notch downgrade would raise the company’s borrowing costs and go against the company’s interests in keeping “strong market access,” said Mark Stodden, a senior credit officer at Moody’s.

“They’ve been fairly consistent in their message that they were targeting lower leverage, so we did not anticipate another megadeal,” Stodden said. “On the other hand, the company has a very low growth profile so I understand the strategic rationale.”

A deal with a media company like Time Warner — the owner of HBO, CNN and the Warner Bros. movie studio – would help AT&T shift its business toward ownership of programming, instead of being reliant solely on video distribution. AT&T Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson is focusing on buying businesses to expand into media and entertainment, people familiar with the plans said earlier this month. Targets have included companies worth $2 billion to $50 billion, the people said.

For a Gadfly take on AT&T’s media ambitions, click here

The informal talks with Time Warner executives have been aimed at building relations between the companies rather than establishing the terms of a specific transaction, the people familiar with those discussions said, asking not to be identified as the deliberations are private.

Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes is a willing seller if he gets an offer he thinks is fair, said one of the people. Bewkes and his board rejected an $85-a-share approach in 2014 from Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox Inc., which valued Time Warner at more than $75 billion.

Beyond financing, a deal with New York-based Time Warner has a number of other challenges.

The companies would face scrutiny from regulators in trying to combine distribution and content, Mike McCormack, an analyst with Jefferies Group LLC, said in an interview Thursday. AT&T hasn’t yet completed its integration of DirecTV, he said. And maintaining AT&T’s 5 percent dividend yield could be tough, he said.

“They’d have a couple choices with the dividend – either they bulk up the payout or they cut the dividend and explain that they are trying to become a different kind of company,” McCormack said. “The caveat there is a lot of their investors are looking for their dividends.”

“If AB InBev could get financing to acquire SABMiller, I think AT&T could get this done,” Novosel said, referring to the recent beer merger.

“Look, it would take 12 months to close the deal,” he said of AT&T and Time Warner. “That’s plenty of time to pre-fund it, raise money and put it in escrow. They are probably thinking, ‘With these interest rates, why wait?’ “

]]> 1 Fri, 21 Oct 2016 20:38:28 +0000
Crackdown looming on illegal Airbnb rentals in New York Fri, 21 Oct 2016 14:26:28 +0000 ALBANY, N.Y. — New York state may soon enact one of the nation’s toughest restrictions on Airbnb, the popular online short-term rental service.

Legislation awaiting action by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo before the end of the month would authorize fines of up to $7,500 for tenants and landlords who advertise rentals for 30 days or less in violation of a 2010 state occupancy law.

Supporters of the measure say many Airbnb rentals are already prohibited under that law. They say fines will help bring an end to illegal, unlicensed rentals that hurt local hotels and reduce the number of affordable apartments in New York City.

Cuomo hasn’t said what he intends to do, and Airbnb is pushing hard for a veto. The San Francisco-based company has proposed regulations intended to prevent property owners from running unlicensed hotels.

]]> 0 Fri, 21 Oct 2016 10:49:37 +0000
Bait crisis is over, but Maine lobstermen are still feeling the pinch Fri, 21 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The lobster bait crisis that plagued New England this summer is finally over, now that fishermen have begun to catch herring off Georges Bank.

But the price of lobstermen’s favorite bait fish, which rose dramatically when the offshore fleet wasn’t landing enough herring to refill empty bait freezers, has remained high through the end of peak lobster season, typically August through late October. Although there’s been no appreciable effect on consumer prices, lobstermen agree the shortage hurt their bottom line.

“Earlier this year, when prices were at their highest, I paid $170 for a barrel of herring and I usually pay about $110 for that same barrel,” said Jeff Putnam, a lobsterman out of Chebeague Island. “Like a lot of guys, I like to fish herring, but with prices like that, I turned to pogeys, but then pogey prices went up, too. Overall, I would say my bait costs are up 15 percent this year.”

Putnam has fared better than other lobstermen, especially those who fish out of the more isolated wharves or island communities and always have had a harder time securing a steady and affordable source of fresh bait. Prices vary from wharf to wharf, and the impact of bait costs varies from one boat to the next. Terry Savage Sr., who fishes out of the Cranberry Isles Fishermen’s Co-Op, said his bait costs have almost doubled this year,

“Some of it is because I hired a new sternman this year, and I had to teach him how to bait the traps, how to stack the new bait over the old and ration herring out, using pogeys and redfish heads to make it last,” Savage said. “But also, our bait is barged out to the island, and the barge company jacked prices up, and I’ve got no choice but to pay. I can’t fish without bait.”

The price of herring has come down from the summer high in most harbors, although not all the way down, lobstermen say. But in more far-flung places like Cranberry Island, fishermen like Savage say the prices remain high, even though the offshore herring are finally coming in. Prices rose when Maine lobstermen had to rely entirely on the inshore herring catch and alternative bait fish like menhaden to lure lobsters to their pots.

The lobster industry is Maine’s most lucrative commercial fishery. Last year’s catch was valued at more than $500 million.


The bait crisis began early this summer when the offshore fishing fleet that trawls for herring off Georges Bank, an underwater plateau in the relatively shallow waters off the New England coast between Maine and Cape Cod, was coming up empty. Some fleet captains said the herring simply weren’t there, while others said they were, but were mixed in too closely with the quota-restricted haddock to fish.

Herring also is a managed fishery, with a quota that is divided up among four different zones and rules about what kind of fishing, like purse seine and trawling, can occur in each zone. Most of the nation’s Atlantic herring comes from Georges Bank – about 40 percent of the 108,975 metric tons of herring allowed to be landed in 2016. So a dry period in Georges Bank can empty bait freezers pretty fast.

At the start of September, when Maine lobstering is in the middle of peak season, the offshore fleet had only landed 8,700 metric tons of herring, which wasn’t even 20 percent of its maximum allowable catch for the year. At the same time last year, the offshore fleet had landed three times that amount of herring. Even that amount had lobstermen grumbling about scarce bait fish conditions.

An offshore shortage puts tremendous pressure on the inshore herring fishery in the Gulf of Maine, where summer fishing is limited to purse seine vessel fishing, with no trawling allowed. Regulators worried the inshore fleet would run through its much smaller herring quota too fast, leaving lobstermen in Maine and Massachusetts with no bait at all during the busiest time of their year.


The agencies that manage the herring fishery – the Maine Department of Marine Resources, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the New England Fishery Management Council – took steps to limit inshore herring fishing, adding days-out-of-the-water provisions and daily catch limits in hopes of stretching that inshore quota through the end of peak lobster season.

The strategy appears to have worked. Regulators had worried about hitting the inshore quota in late summer, but with additional management, they kept it open through Oct. 18, after having landed 27,908 metric tons, or about 93 percent of the annual herring quota. Despite tremendous pressure, that is just about two weeks earlier than the inshore fleet hit its quota last year.

Patrice McCarron, the director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, applauded the way regulators handled the bait shortage. Lobstermen didn’t want the high prices or bait shortage in July, but they could live with the situation then, and learn to ration their herring use, McCarron said. But running out of herring during peak season, when most lobstermen earn the bulk of their profits, could have been catastrophic, she said.

Luckily, the offshore fleet finally began to find haddock-free schools of herring off Georges Bank in mid-September, according to weekly herring landing reports from the fisheries division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They doubled the amount of herring landed in the zone, which traditionally stands out as one of the nation’s most productive fisheries, in just three weeks.

“There is always a risk of something like this in a wild-caught fishery,” McCarron said. “You can’t create supply. Herring just wasn’t available, and no manager can fix that. I think the managers did the best they could to stretch the inshore bait out as long as they did, but there’s no doubt, it cost us more than ever to bait our traps this year.”

The association has been monitoring the bait situation throughout the summer, but its board won’t have the time, or the data, to analyze the way that it played out until the winter when many Maine lobstermen crunch their year-end budget numbers. The association expects to consider what steps should be taken to avoid or at least mitigate the impact of another shortage in the future.

Some lobstermen already have some recommendations. Putnam, the Chebeague Island lobsterman, sits on the Department of Marine Resource’s Lobster Advisory Council and wants Maine to push federal regulators for a bigger share of the national herring quota, as well as the most popular alternative bait fish, menhaden, which are also called pogeys. Fishermen know both of these fish are here in greater numbers now, he said, and government surveys are backing that up.

]]> 4, 21 Oct 2016 08:27:41 +0000
Downeaster’s $13 million layover facility in Brunswick ready to roll Fri, 21 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Jim Russell of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority gives a tour of the new train shed in Brunswick on Thursday. Longer than two football fields, it will become fully operational Nov. 21. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Jim Russell of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority gives a tour of the new train shed in Brunswick on Thursday. Longer than two football fields, it will become fully operational Nov. 21. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority will finally unveil its new train layover facility in Brunswick this weekend, more than five years after it first proposed the project to improve service on the Amtrak Downeaster.

The 60,000-square-foot facility, which is longer than two football fields, will allow the rail authority to begin the overnight servicing of Amtrak Downeaster passenger trains starting in November.

Tucked between a quiet residential neighborhood to the south and the congestion that clogs traffic on Pleasant Street to the north, the facility is barely noticeable.

Once it becomes fully operational Nov. 21, the layover building will allow the Amtrak Downeaster to operate a third train between Brunswick and Boston – a service that Amtrak officials say is sorely needed, especially by passengers who might want to spend the day and night in Boston at a Bruins or Celtics game. Currently, Amtrak only operates two passenger trains north of Portland on a daily basis.

Siting and construction of the $13 million train shed between Stanwood Street and Church Road did not come without challenges. Neighbors fought the project aggressively, saying that it would pollute the air around their homes, produce loud noise while they tried to sleep, and degrade property values.

They lost their last chance of stopping the project when a citizen oversight board of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection rejected an appeal of a stormwater permit for the layover facility last year. The appeal filed by the Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition was the residents’ last line of defense after the town of Brunswick and Federal Rail Authority gave their approvals.

“It’s over. It’s done and we are learning to live with our loss. It’s hard to fight the big people,” said Dan Sullivan, a member of the coalition. “We did the best we could.”

Sullivan’s home on Bouchard Drive, where he has lived for 12 years, is about 25 yards from the layover facility.

The 60,000-square-foot facility is barely noticeable, between a quiet neighborhood to the south and busy Pleasant Street to the north. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The 60,000-square-foot facility is barely noticeable, between a quiet neighborhood to the south and busy Pleasant Street to the north. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The rail authority is planning to hold a public open house at the layover shed from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Rail authority spokeswoman Natalie Bogart said Saturday’s event may be the last opportunity for the public to actually see the interior of the massive building, which is accessible from Lombard Street and Church Road. Once crews start parking trains overnight for servicing, the doors to the facility will be mostly closed to the public for security and safety reasons.

Amtrak has been servicing and cleaning its trains outdoors in Portland near the Portland Transportation Center and Thompson’s Point.

That system has proven to be inefficient, Bogart said, because crews have to crawl under trains in winter to clear their undercarriages of ice and snow. The trains in Portland run for 24 hours, but in Brunswick the trains can be shut down for several hours while crews empty sewage, clean coach cars and inspect each train’s brake system.

In Brunswick, the layover facility has the capacity to park three full-sized trains – each comprising a locomotive and six coaches – in a fully enclosed, heated building, said Jim Russell, the rail authority’s special projects manager. Ice and snow will melt off the trains and enter drains that empty into a drainage system.

Russell jokes when he calls the layover facility, “one big barn.” “It’s an extreme improvement over what we have now,” Russell said.

Trains can enter or exit from either end of the layover facility through 18-foot-tall bay doors. The trains will then roll onto three sets of tracks that run the entire length of the 655-foot facility.

The north side of the building – facing Pleasant Street – holds space for staff, including offices, a locker room, bathrooms, a train crew briefing room and a break room. There is also a loading dock and storage area where a vendor can load trains with food and beverages.

Russell said the insulated concrete walls on the south side of the building facing Bouchard Street and several abutting neighborhoods were designed to be soundproof – a measure that Russell says was done in response to residents’ concerns about noise.

Construction of the facility began in October 2015 and is mostly complete. Downeaster crews will begin training in the new facility next week.

Sullivan, who is a member of the neighborhood coalition, said the rail authority refused to consider other locations that he claims would have had less of an impact on residents.

Sullivan said that he first heard about the rail authority’s intentions in the spring of 2011 after the project came before the Brunswick Planning Board.

According to its website, the passenger rail service operates five round-trips daily between Boston and Portland – with stops in Wells, Saco and Old Orchard Beach. Two of those round-trips continue on to Freeport and Brunswick. Its ridership since 2005 has grown from just under 300,000 passengers to more than 500,000 annually.

Consigli Construction of Portland designed and built the facility.


]]> 118, 21 Oct 2016 08:27:55 +0000
Following boom, Cuba puts freeze on new licenses for Havana restaurants Fri, 21 Oct 2016 00:53:32 +0000 HAVANA — Cuba is freezing new licenses for private restaurants in Havana as it struggles with the runaway success of one of the most important openings in the state-run economy.

The country was once famed for its dire state restaurants and cafeterias, but it’s developed a vibrant dining scene since private restaurants were legalized two decades ago. A sector that began with enterprising Cubans setting up a handful of tables in their backyards has expanded into an industry of hundreds of restaurants with offerings ranging from freshly caught sushi to sophisticated interpretations of classic Cuban dishes.

However, the private restaurateurs lack a wholesale market or legal way to import supplies and equipment. So they’ve been emptying the shelves of retail shops and buying other goods on the black market. That has led to rising food prices and shortages of goods for other Cubans.

Acting Vice President Isabel Hamze told state media on Wednesday that Havana’s provincial government is temporarily freezing the approval of new licenses and is inspecting restaurants to detect violations ranging from prostitution, drug use and excessive noise to illegal importation and purchase of stolen goods.

She said one business had been closed because it was operating a bar and nightclub in violation of a license exclusively meant for restaurants.

Hamze’s statements appeared intended to reassure restaurant owners and residents that the measures were not a crackdown on private restaurants but rather an attempt to impose common-sense regulations on issues ranging from closing times and parking spaces.

“We recognize the importance that these businesses have for the city, and the government wants them to be successful, but within legal limits,” she said.

The city is also starting to impose more limits on private bed-and-breakfasts, another flourishing sector of the new private economy.

Draft regulations being circulated among bed-and-breakfast owners and real estate agents would limit the number of bathrooms and kitchens built in private homes, and the division of high-ceilinged old homes into de facto apartment buildings with the use of concrete intermediate floors.

A boom in tourism set off by the declaration of detente with the U.S. two years ago has fueled furious growth in private restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts.

]]> 0 Thu, 20 Oct 2016 20:53:32 +0000
Spending on luxury items stalls amid election in U.S., terrorism Fri, 21 Oct 2016 00:23:23 +0000 MILAN — The terror threat in Europe, a strong dollar and uncertainty over the U.S. presidential elections have eroded the confidence of the globe’s big spenders, holding luxury purchases flat in 2016, according to a study released Thursday.

Spending on luxury apparel, accessories and other personal items is expected to hold steady at 249 billion euros ($273 billion) this year, according to a study by Bain Consultancy for the Altagamma association of Italian high-end luxury producers. Add in spending on luxury cars, yachts, jets, cruises, hotels, fine art, design and food, and the market tops a stunning 1 trillion euros.

As political events and monetary policy exert greater influence on luxury spending patterns, brands have turned their focus to wooing buyers in their home countries rather than counting on tourist arrivals to buoy sales, said Bain partner Claudia D’Arpizio.

“This is not happening by default,” D’Arpizio said. “Brands are refocusing on the local customer base and working to develop products that are more affordable and more inclusive to meet their needs.”

For the first time, spending by China’s super-consumers shrank, albeit slightly from 31 percent of the total to 30 percent of the total. Part of the shift was due to an increase in the number of middle-class Chinese travelers, who collectively spend less than higher rollers, she said.

While U.S. presidential elections always put the freeze on consumer spending, D’Arpizio said this year’s squeeze was a little tighter because of a strong dollar, which also hurt tourist spending, and higher oil prices.

In Europe, brands are also working to cultivate local buyers as the threat of terrorism has hurt tourism. They are seeing local consumption recover in Italy, Germany, Spain and Britain. But spending remains soft in France, with terror attacks affecting the sentiments of both tourists and locals, D’Arpizio said.

Britain’s decision to exit the European Union so far has proven a boon for luxury spending, with the falling pound encouraging both domestic consumption and travelers to spend.

“Currently, London is the cheapest luxury market,” D’Arpizio said.

]]> 0 Thu, 20 Oct 2016 21:13:40 +0000
Snoopy shot down again, this time as MetLife icon Thu, 20 Oct 2016 23:42:20 +0000 MetLife, the largest U.S. life insurer, will phase out the use of Snoopy and Peanuts characters in its marketing.

The insurer announced a new tagline, “MetLife. Navigating life together,” in what the New York-based company called the most significant change to its brand in three decades. The company plans to roll out its new logo, featuring a green and blue letter M, through next year.

CEO Steve Kandarian has been rethinking the company’s business model, and will increasingly focus on group benefits, such as dental and disability coverage. He announced a plan this month to spin off the U.S. retail business, which was recently given the Brighthouse Financial name.

“We brought in Snoopy over 30 years ago to make our company more friendly and approachable during a time when insurance companies were seen as cold and distant,” Chief Marketing Officer Esther Lee said in a written statement. “As we focus on our future, it’s important that we associate our brand directly with the work we do and the partnership we have with our customers.”

Iconix Brand Group holds the majority stake in the Peanuts characters.

]]> 0, 20 Oct 2016 20:51:11 +0000
Wal-Mart steps up online push into China Thu, 20 Oct 2016 23:26:24 +0000 Shoppers in remote villages could see Wal-Mart products being delivered by drones.

Wal-Mart Stores has hit the reset button on its China strategy in dramatic fashion.

The world’s largest retailer is making an ambitious push into e-commerce in China and aims to deliver goods from its stores around the world to Chinese consumers within hours. Shoppers in select remote villages could even see their Wal-Mart products being delivered by drones as part of a pilot project by its Chinese partner,

After unsuccessful efforts to scale up its own e-commerce network, Wal-Mart launched several new initiatives this week through a tie-up with – China’s second-largest e-commerce website, with almost 200 million active users. With this partnership, Wal-Mart said it will now be able to deliver its goods, ranging from American vitamins to Japanese hand cream, to more than 90 percent of China’s 1.4 billion consumers.

“There isn’t another country in the world that represents the kind of retail growth opportunity that China does, given the growth rate of the market itself and the consumer demand here,” CEO Doug McMillon, 50, said in an interview in Beijing. “We see opportunities to partner together to provide goods to our customers, to leverage our supply chain and their digital capabilities.”

Wal-Mart has a lot riding on its new online strategy aimed at getting a bigger slice of the world’s biggest e-commerce market. The retailer this month forecast that earnings will be flat the next two years while it invests in e-commerce. As it looks to China to fuel growth, cracking the Chinese online game will be more important than ever.

“They have found a clever way to leverage someone else’s network to help them sell things online, and it’s easier to jump on the back of,” said Chan Wai-Chan, a senior partner at Oliver Wyman’s Asia Pacific consumer practice. “They need to do something online to stop e-commerce from taking away their business. This is Wal-Mart’s solution.”

Wal-Mart shares gained 12 percent this year through Wednesday in New York trading, outperforming the Bloomberg World Retail Index, which was down 1.1 percent. That still lagged the U.S.-listed stocks of its major e-commerce competitors, Inc. and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., which gained 21 percent and 28 percent, respectively, over the period.

McMillon, who took over the top role in 2014, said the initiatives will keep the company’s China operations on track to contribute a quarter of its global retail growth in the next five years. That’s despite sluggish sales at Wal-Mart’s retail stores in China, while shoppers there increasingly turn to online websites for convenience. The strategy also gives it access to new Chinese consumers in smaller cities where Wal-Mart doesn’t operate stores.

“The scale of the last mile here in China is unique – the economics related to it are different,” McMillon said. “We could have built this ourselves, but everything requires investment. What we are doing is being very deliberate about where we’re putting our resources and being open to working with others. In today’s world, there’s different ways to build that ecosystem that serves customers.”

To reach customers, Wal-Mart is relying on and its extensive logistics and delivery network. founder and CEO Richard Liu said the company wants to build a fully-automated delivery infrastructure that includes automated warehouses and distribution centers, self-driving delivery cars and drones.

The company is delivering products to a number of remote villages in southern China by drones. Villagers who order Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club products could see some goods flown to them, according to spokesman Josh Gartner.

Wal-Mart operates 420 stores and Sam’s Club membership outlets in the country. Wal-Mart’s global online sales are about $14 billion, or 3 percent of worldwide revenue, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. About 20 percent of China’s retail sales are online, according to Ben Hassing, senior vice president for China e-commerce. Wal-Mart, which posted $482 billion in annual sales, doesn’t break out China revenue.

The initiatives include guaranteed deliveries within two hours to customers who live within a few miles of 20 Wal-Mart stores initially. The U.S. retailer will also stock a warehouse with imported products from its stores globally to capitalize on Chinese consumers’ preference for overseas goods. That means things such as dried cranberries from the United States, toothpaste from Japan and face masks from Korea available at Wal-Mart stores overseas will be available to Chinese consumers for the first time. The company plans to offer tens of thousands of items it imports from around the world to Chinese consumers within 18 months, Hassing said.

The other twist: Sam’s Club stores’ upscale products are now available to all Chinese. A range of products from the membership store, which sells $3,000 rice cookers and $1,800 bottles of red wine, will be available for the first time to nonmembers online in China – at a 10 percent price premium.

Wal-Mart has struggled in China with multiple attempts to get a foothold in the market since its entry two decades ago. In 2007, it acquired Taiwanese chain Trust-Mart, though the company struggled to integrate it into its wider business. In the last few years, it’s pulled back on an expansion as it closed stores in mostly second- and third-tier cities while opening new ones at a slower pace. The new strategy follows Wal-Mart’s decision to sell its Chinese e-commerce platform Yihaodian in June in exchange for a 5 percent stake in

]]> 0 Thu, 20 Oct 2016 19:26:24 +0000
Long-term U.S. mortgage rates rise again Thu, 20 Oct 2016 23:11:04 +0000 WASHINGTON — Long-term U.S. mortgage rates rose this week for a second straight week, reaching their highest levels since June.

Mortgage giant Freddie Mac said Thursday the average for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage increased to 3.52 percent from 3.47 percent last week.

Rates still remain near historic lows. The benchmark 30-year rate is down from 3.79 percent a year ago and close to its all-time low of 3.31 percent in November 2012.

The 15-year fixed-rate mortgage, popular with homeowners who are refinancing, rose to 2.79 percent from 2.76 percent.

Rates on adjustable five-year mortgages averaged 2.85 percent, up from 2.82 percent last week.

]]> 0 Thu, 20 Oct 2016 19:11:04 +0000
More Americans have income they can bank on Thu, 20 Oct 2016 23:06:39 +0000 NEW YORK — Fewer Americans are without access to a checking or savings account, according to a survey released Thursday by federal regulators, a sign that the improving economy is helping lift the nation’s poorest households.

Having a checking or savings account is considered a cornerstone of financial stability in the U.S. Without one, households must rely on check-cashing services, prepaid debit cards and other costly ways to pay bills and make routine transactions.

While the gains were modest, the results of the survey from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation are an encouraging sign that more people are getting access to bank accounts.

The portion of Americans who do not have a bank account, known in industry jargon as “the unbanked,” declined to 7 percent in 2015 from 7.7 percent in 2013, according to the FDIC. The improvements mostly came from households making less than $15,000 a year.

The FDIC report is the most recent piece of data showing that the economic recovery is beginning to help those at the bottom. In September, the Census Bureau said median household income rose 5.2 percent from 2014 to 2015, the first annual increase in that metric since before the Great Recession.

There are several reasons why people would choose not to have a traditional bank account. Some do not trust banks or want to avoid their fees, or they have privacy concerns. There is also a perception among the unbanked, according to the FDIC, that banks do not want to do business with the poor.

But the No. 1 reason why Americans say they do not have a checking or savings account is because they believe they do not have enough money to get an account. The FDIC says roughly 57 percent of all unbanked households cited lack of money as a reason not to have an account, and roughly 38 percent of those same people said that was the main reason.

The FDIC does a survey of the unbanked and underbanked every two years, gathering the data on odd years and releasing the results roughly a year later. The figures released Thursday were gathered in June 2015, so the results do not reflect the ongoing improvements in the U.S. economy since then.

]]> 0, 20 Oct 2016 20:51:54 +0000
Home sales surge, set
 best pace 
since June Thu, 20 Oct 2016 23:03:54 +0000 WASHINGTON — More Americans bought homes in September, many for the first time, despite a persistent shortage of properties for sale.

The National Association of Realtors said Thursday that sales of existing homes rose 3.2 percent from August to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.47 million, the strongest pace since June. Sales rose across the country: 5.7 percent in the Northeast, 5 percent in the West, 3.9 percent in the Midwest and 0.9 percent in the South.

The supply of available homes stood at 2.04 million units, down 6.8 percent from a year ago. Tight inventories drove the median price of existing homes up 5.6 percent from a year ago to $234,200.

Institutional investors who bought up homes in recent years have continued to rent them out rather than putting them on the market. Moreover, homebuilders have not stepped up construction. The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that home construction fell 9 percent in September to the slowest pace in 18 months.

But buyers have been lured into the market by mortgage rates near historic lows.

The association said first-time home buyers accounted for 34 percent of the purchases. On Tuesday, the real estate firm Zillow reported a surprise increase in first-time home buyers over the past year, as home ownership rates for adults under 34 have been at record lows.

The strong demand for homes combined with tight inventory suggests that would-be home owners could wind up in bidding wars when the home buying season heats up in the spring.

]]> 0 Fri, 21 Oct 2016 10:21:31 +0000
Starbucks starting new upscale chain with up to 1,000 cafes Thu, 20 Oct 2016 18:37:18 +0000 Starbucks plans to open as many as 1,000 locations of a new upscale chain that will tout its premium Reserve coffees, escalating an effort to reach more sophisticated customers.

The world’s biggest coffee-shop operator had previously set a target of 500 globally for the Reserve chain, which hasn’t rolled out yet. The first location, scheduled to open next year, will sell more expensive small-lot coffee, along with food from Starbucks’ Italian bakery partner, Princi.

The push is part of a move by Starbucks to add different store concepts around the world. It’s also opening giant locations known as Roasteries, which offer tastings and spotlight its premium coffee and the roasting process. The company announced plans on Thursday to open its next Roastery in Tokyo, following a location in Seattle and planned sites in Shanghai and New York.

“The customer is going to demand an upgraded experience,” Chief Executive Officer Howard Schultz said in an interview. “We’re becoming much more bullish on what we believe the Reserve brand, in multiple forms, represents.”

Between the Roasteries, the smaller Reserve locations and its regular cafes, Starbucks is increasingly varying the look and experience of the 45-year-old chain. It also has been opening flagship stores around the world that spotlight local tastes, and it’s been adding upscale coffee bars to more of its standard locations.

A common theme is the desire to sell more of its Reserve premium brand, a product line that traces its origins to 2004. It was that year that Starbucks began offering a single-origin coffee as part of its Black Apron Exclusives. The program evolved into the Reserve brand in 2010. Starbucks opened its first Roastery & Tasting Room store in its hometown of Seattle in 2014 to showcase Reserve coffees. The new Roastery planned for Tokyo’s Nakameguro district will be its fourth such location.

In the Seattle Roastery, customers can get specialty drinks such as espresso-topped ice cream and sit at bars to watch beverages being made with French presses and Clover brewers. That location is 15,000 square feet (1,400 square meters), roughly nine times the size of an average Starbucks. The stores planned for Shanghai and New York will both be two levels.

Despite Starbucks’ increasing ambitions for the Reserve stores, they’ve taken time to get off the ground. The company has been discussing plans to open the stores since 2014. The rollout of the large Roastery locations also has been gradual: The New York location, for instance, won’t open until 2018.

Upgrading the brand may allow Starbucks to better compete with regional and local coffee chains that tout coffee origins, locally made pastries and different brewing styles. Reserve coffees are typically produced in small batches and cost more than drinks made with traditional beans, which is helping pull in more sales.

“The Reserve stores will be a significantly higher average unit volume than the traditional Starbucks,” Schultz said, declining to give specific figures. “Our enthusiasm to accelerate our growth all things Reserve is indicative of what’s happening.”

]]> 1 Thu, 20 Oct 2016 16:52:33 +0000
Day’s Jewelers picked as Maine Retailer of the Year Thu, 20 Oct 2016 18:31:50 +0000 The Retail Association of Maine has named Day’s Jewelers as its Retailer of the Year.

The trade group, which represents 400 businesses in Maine, announced the selection of the Waterville-based jewelry chain Thursday. The award will be presented at the association’s annual meeting Oct. 27 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Freeport.

“Day’s was chosen for its reputation as a growing family business, patient and careful long term growth, social, ethical and environmental responsibility, and staff development procedures,” according to a release from the association. “Day’s Jewelers’ values aligned perfectly with the award criteria and they were unanimously selected as this year’s recipient.”

The annual award is given to a Maine retailer that demonstrates continued growth in employees or sales; commitment of company resources to community projects; and creation of a positive work environment.

Day’s was one of the first jewelers in America, and one of only six independent companies in the United States to achieve certification by the Responsible Jewellery Council, a nonprofit organization that established a set of best practice business standards and audits for the global jewelry industry, according to the release.

In the last few years, Day’s Jewelers has worked collaboratively with their staff, customers and suppliers to donate to more than 40 charitable organizations and has developed a program, called “Diamonds for Peace” to help Mainers in need by donating $10 for each loose diamond or piece of diamond jewelry sold, said the release.

Day’s was also lauded for growing a family-owned enterprise in a competitive industry dominated by large corporate chains.

“It is a true honor for our company to be named as Retailer of the Year,” said President David Harris in the release. “Kathy, Jeff and Jim (Corey) have come a long way from their humble beginnings in Madawaska and Fort Kent to make Day’s one of the most respected retailers in the U.S. jewelry industry. It has been a pleasure to work in a company where customers and employees are treated like part of the family.”

Day’s operates seven stores, and recently opened a new location in Augusta.

The retail association has bestowed its retailer of the year honor every year since 1980.

]]> 0, 20 Oct 2016 20:46:02 +0000
Apple: Many ‘genuine’ Apple products on Amazon are fake Thu, 20 Oct 2016 18:06:29 +0000 SAN FRANCISCO — Apple says it has been buying Apple chargers and cables labeled as genuine on and has found nearly 90 percent of them to be counterfeit.

The revelation comes in a federal lawsuit filed by Apple against a New Jersey company on Monday over what Apple says are counterfeit products that were sold on Amazon.

In the lawsuit, Apple says Mobile Star imprinted Apple logos on cables and chargers that “pose a significant risk of overheating, fire, and electrical shock.” It says the chargers and cables were being sold on Amazon as genuine Apple products.

Apple says it purchased the products on Amazon and later told the online retailer that they were fake. Amazon then identified Mobile Star as the source.

Amazon isn’t named in the suit. Mobile Star didn’t return a voicemail seeking comment.

]]> 0 Thu, 20 Oct 2016 14:12:59 +0000
The future of cannabis sales: tiny brownies Thu, 20 Oct 2016 14:58:37 +0000 “Well, you know the Maureen Dowd story,” sighed Tim Moxey. “And it’s just not a good story.”

True, Dowd’s experience was less than ideal: She ate a couple bites of a pot-infused candy bar, then curled into a ball in her Denver hotel room and had a panic attack. The next day she discovered the bar was supposed to have been broken into 16 pieces, not munched on bite by bite.

Two years after that story went viral, it still haunts edible marijuana bakers like Moxey, the co-founder of Seattle edibles producer Spot, who says the New York Times columnist’s mishap was bad for the entire industry.

At Spot, Moxey is crafting edibles that will get people high enough – but not too high – and testing them to ensure the dosage is correct. Just 17 percent of edibles are accurately labeled with the proper THC level, according to a June 2015 research letter published by the Journal of the American Medical Association. As a result, many cannabis consumers have no idea how much they’re ingesting and are subject to a multitude of unpleasant effects.

Spot’s cookies and brownie bites are dosed with exactly five milligrams of THC, an amount that leads to a considerably more mellow high than what Dowd experienced. “It’s not going to make you lose control,” Moxey said of the amount. “It’s my belief that five milligrams is the right level to be at.”

It’s not all about being at the “right level.” Spot launched the line of microdosed edibles in part to adhere to state laws. Washington is effectively a microdose state, because the legal limit is 10 milligrams of THC per serving, with a limit of 100 milligrams in an entire package. Each serving must be individually wrapped, which prevents producers of edibles from selling a mega-brownie and saying it has 10 servings within.

This single-serve soft cookie is among a variety of edibles marketed by Spot. The cookie contains 10mg THC, the compound that makes marijuana psychoactive. Product photo from Spot website

This single-serve soft cookie is among a variety of edibles marketed by Spot. The cookie contains 10mg THC, the compound that makes marijuana psychoactive. Product photo from Spot website

Not all states that have legalized some form of marijuana use are so strict. In Colorado, the limit is 100 milligrams per unit. In California, which has no limit at all, a vaguely terrifying 700 milligram brownie is available for purchase. Such a brownie contains more than 35 times the amount of THC necessary to feel a high, but it’s unlikely that the brownie’s purveyor will eat only one 35th of it.

Even though the move to microdosing came out of legal necessity, Spot found these products were perfect for first-time cannabis customers-a gateway to a gateway, if you will. “No one is going to get weirded out at five milligrams,” Moxey explained. “That’s why these products are selling so quickly.”

A five-milligram peppermint produced by Moxey was the top-selling edible in Washington State last quarter, according to data reviewed by the cannabis analytics firm Headset. “For routine customers, eating a five-milligram mint isn’t always to get high, but more about overall wellness and mood enhancement,” explained Jess Henson, Headset’s lead market analyst. “More low-dosage edibles will emerge as cannabis attracts a larger mainstream audience.”

Spot is planning to expand to Oregon and, pending recreational legalization, to California, where the company could theoretically sell higher-dosed edibles. But given the success of microdosed products in Washington, the company plans to continue hawking these little bites in every new market it enters.

“There are vastly more people that don’t consume cannabis that do,” said Moxey. “You have to make it an enjoyable enough experience that someone will say, ‘Oh, I’ll have another.’ “

]]> 1, 20 Oct 2016 18:52:11 +0000
Maine’s wood innovators gathering to explore next-gen products Thu, 20 Oct 2016 14:24:49 +0000 Entrepreneur Nadir Yildirim is among those convinced that Maine’s troubled forest products industry is merely going through a period of transition, as innovative minds develop new products that will catalyze a resurgence in demand for the state’s most abundant natural resource.

His stake in this next generation of wood-based products is a foam insulation board made from the molecular building blocks of wood called cellulose nanofibers. The boards made by Yildirim’s high-tech startup, Revolution Research Inc., are 100 percent recyclable, unusual among the other foam insulation boards on the market that are typically made from petroleum-based materials.

“I personally believe these (cellulose) nanofibrils will be the raw material of the future,” said Yildirim, who has a Ph.D. in forest resources from the University of Maine. “It will create a significant change for the future of the Maine forests.”

Yildirim is among those who see new, innovative uses that can come from Maine’s 17 million acres of forest. Those innovations include wood-based biofuels, plastics and chemicals, engineered construction materials that rival the strongest steel, and cellulose nanofiber additives from wood that can boost the durability of products ranging from paper to concrete.

Yildirim, whose company has received several grants from scientific and economic development organizations, is speaking at an upcoming conference on the next generation of wood products that he described as an opportunity for innovators and forest industry leaders to share information about the industry’s future potential with each other and the public.

“We need to show them we can use trees in a better way,” he said. “Instead of making $100 from a tree, you can make $1,000 from a tree.”

A group of industry leaders, researchers, entrepreneurs and academics will meet Saturday in Hiram for the Wood Innovators Conference, organized by Forest Works!, a working-forest conservation partnership, and Tear Cap Workshops, an educational nonprofit based at the Hiram Works business incubator for innovative wood products, located in a former saw mill.

The all-day conference will feature a variety of discussions about current trends in the development of new forest products, with an emphasis on construction materials, biofuels, cellulose nanofibers and policy initiatives to boost the nascent next-gen wood products industry. The conference, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Hiram Works, is open to the public.

“Innovation is not just about internet startups and new apps for cellphones,” said Lee Burnett, project director at Forest Works! and one of the conference’s organizers. “Some of the most promising job-producing innovation in Maine is happening in the woods, and in niche factories and laboratories.”

The focus on new wood products could revive a flagging industry in Maine and bring jobs back to communities that have been devastated economically by paper mill closures, said scheduled conference speaker Charlotte Mace, executive director of Biobased Maine. In the past two years, five mills have closed, displacing thousands of workers.

Mace said part of the reason she wanted to participate in the conference is that she was raised near Hiram in a community that has suffered because of decreased demand for traditional forest products. She sees the new generation of innovative wood products as a solution to that problem.

“We just want that sector of the industry to grow,” Mace said.

Habib Dagher, director of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the University of Maine in Orono, oversees one of the world’s largest laboratories experimenting with nanocellulose composites, engineered lumber and other innovative products. The center operates like a business, with a staff of 180 people and about 500 clients all over the world. More than 95 percent of the center’s funding comes from outside of Maine, from organizations that support the development of high-tech products made from wood.

“It’s our largest natural resource right now,” Dagher said. “We need to come up with next-generation ways to use it.”

Products being developed or tested at the center include panels of “cross-laminated timber,” a construction material that is as strong as concrete and steel but lighter and easier to work with. Dagher said it can be used to construct buildings of 10 stories or higher with frames made entirely of wood.

The center also is working with a variety of composite materials that contain cellulose nanofibers from wood. Dagher said the nanofibers have an unusual ability to add strength to whatever material they are mixed with, including plastics, cement and concrete. The center is using composites to make sheet piling for sea walls that can last 100 years underwater without corroding like steel.

Nanocellulose-based plastics can be used to build any number of molded or even 3-D printed structures that combine the best properties of both plastic and lumber, Dagher said.

“In 20 or maybe 30 years we may be talking about nanomills in Maine,” he said.


]]> 1, 21 Oct 2016 21:09:09 +0000
U.S. claims for unemployment benefits at highest level in 5 weeks Thu, 20 Oct 2016 13:13:57 +0000 WASHINGTON – The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits rose to the highest level in five weeks but still remained close to the recent 43-year lows.

Applications for jobless benefits rose by 13,000 last week to 260,000, the Labor Department reported Thursday. That was the highest level since an identical 260,000 claim applications were filed the week of Sept. 10.

Since that time, claims had fallen to the lowest levels since November 1973. Even with last week’s gain, claims, which are a proxy for layoffs, remain at levels indicating that workers are enjoying job security despite sluggish economic growth.

The four-week average for claims, a less volatile measure, rose by 2,250 to 251,750 last week.

Overall, 2.06 million Americans are collecting unemployment checks, down 6 percent from a year ago.

The labor market has continued to show steady improvement this year although at a slower pace than in 2015. Employers added 156,000 jobs in September, fewer than the 167,000 jobs added in August and below last year’s average monthly gain of 230,000.

The unemployment rate inched up to 5 percent in September, compared to 4.9 percent in August, as more than 400,000 people entered the labor market to look for jobs but not all of them were immediately successful.

Still, the unemployment rate is just half the 10 percent high hit in October 2009 as the country was struggling to pull out of the Great Recession.

]]> 0 Thu, 20 Oct 2016 09:13:57 +0000
Dunkin’ takes revenue hit on store sales, but profit rises Thu, 20 Oct 2016 13:11:52 +0000 CANTON, Mass. – Dunkin’ Brands’ third-quarter revenue dipped on the sale of its remaining company-run stores and for a second time, it lowered revenue expectations for the year.

The Canton, Massachusetts-based company earned $52.7 million, or 57 cents per share, for the three months ended Sept. 24, up from $46.2 million, or 48 cents per share, a year earlier.

Earnings, adjusted for one-time gains and costs, were 60 cents per share, which was 2 cents better than Wall Street had expected, according to analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research.

Revenue slipped 1.3 percent to $207.1 million, well short of analyst projections of $213.3 million.

Chief Financial Officer Paul Carbone said in a written statement Thursday that the sale of the remaining company-run stores pushed revenue lower, but that the company is now 100 percent franchised.

Sales at Dunkin’ Donuts stores in the U.S. open at least a year increased 2 percent on strong drink sales, while the figure fell 0.9 percent at Baskin-Robbins, which the company owns.

Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc. now anticipates full-year revenue growth of about 2 percent. Its prior guidance was for revenue growth 3 percent to 5 percent. Before that, the company had predicted revenue growth of 4 percent to 6 percent.

Dunkin’ Brands also announced a fourth-quarter dividend of 30 cents per share. The dividend will be paid on Nov. 30 to shareholders of record on Nov. 21.

]]> 0 Thu, 20 Oct 2016 09:47:15 +0000
‘Prime-age’ males exiting Maine’s labor force Thu, 20 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 A growing share of men in the prime of adulthood are dropping out of the labor force in Maine, adding to the state’s loss of able-bodied workers from the aging population and lack of in-migration.

Labor force participation of males age 25 to 54 has declined over the past four decades in Maine, with a sharp drop-off beginning in 1990, according to a report by the Maine Department of Labor’s Center for Workforce Research and Information. The labor force is the combined number of employed workers and active job-seekers.

The share of “prime-age” males in Maine who are working or looking for work declined from nearly 95 percent in 1970 to slightly more than 86 percent in 2014, the report says. The primary reason is the loss of manufacturing and the middle-income jobs it created for workers who lack higher education. Many men who were laid off from such jobs appear to have given up on finding new employment, it says.

Nationally, a similar trend occurred, although the sharpening decline started earlier, around 1980, and male participation began to rebound more than a decade ago, unlike in Maine.

The report dispels any optimism that the majority of men leaving the labor force in Maine were busy seeking a higher education or raising children full time. While those men do exist, the report found that 93 percent of the 25- to 54-year-old males who were not in the labor force also were not in school, and 75 percent had no children in their homes.

The report’s authors say it is essential to Maine’s economy that the state come up with ways to bring more of those prime-age men back into the labor force.

“In the years ahead, the labor market is expected to tighten considerably because the number of baby boomers who will be retiring exceeds the number of young people who will begin working,” the report says. “For this reason, it imperative that we find ways to engage prime-age men who are not in the workforce by helping them gain the education and job skills employers need.”

Glenn Mills, chief economist at the Maine Center for Workforce Research and Information, said the drop in labor force participation is specific to males.

“The labor force participation among women has not been going down at the rate that it has among men,” Mills said.

Reasons why female participation has remained more stable include fewer stay-at-home moms, births and marriages, Mills said, adding that labor force participation actually has increased among women 55 and older.


Geography and education both play critical roles in the labor force decline among men, according to the report. Men without high school diplomas have been hit the hardest, as have those in rural areas.

The trend of declining participation among men without an education beyond high school coincides with the decline in manufacturing jobs, the report says. Historically, the manufacturing sector provided large numbers of production, transportation and repair jobs that did not require post-secondary education but offered middle-income wages.

“The decline of textile mills, shoe shops, paper mills and other forest-products industries, and other types of manufacturers left a void of opportunity for many men whose experience is not in demand in such well-paying, hiring sectors as health care and professional services, nor in the modern manufacturing environment that increasingly involves complex processes and requires higher education and skills,” the report says.

Areas of the state that relied most heavily on manufacturing for employment have seen the greatest losses in labor force participation among prime-age males. From 2012 to 2014, it was lowest in Oxford, Franklin, Somerset and Piscataquis counties, followed by Washington, Aroostook and Penobscot counties, the report says. Meanwhile, participation was highest in York, Cumberland, Sagadahoc and Androscoggin counties.

Mills noted that Androscoggin County’s relatively high immigrant population has helped it buck the statewide trend of a declining and aging labor force. “Androscoggin County is one of the younger counties, and I believe it has a lot to do with the Somali population,” Mills said. “It’s true that our lack of diversity (statewide) is the huge reason that we’re in this place.”

Economists have been warning for years that Maine is headed for a significant labor shortage that could spell trouble for its economy and opportunity for tomorrow’s job-seekers. The exact size of the shortage remains unknown, but predictions that it will occur are based on simple math.

In 2012, the number of Maine residents between the ages of 45 and 64 totaled roughly 411,000. Most members of that group are expected to exit the labor force by 2032. There were 302,000 residents under age 20 in 2012, most of whom are expected to enter the workforce by 2032.

Even if none of those young people left the state, the aging of Maine residents alone would generate a shortfall of up to 109,000 workers – a significant problem in a state where the civilian labor force totaled about 689,600 in August.

In March, a Portland Press Herald analysis of state unemployment data found that Maine’s shrinking labor force appeared to be a key factor driving the decline in the state’s unemployment rate. Maine’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped to 3.6 percent in February, its lowest rate at that time since March 2001, according to the labor department. However, Maine had roughly 3,300 fewer employed workers in February, a decline from about 653,000 a year earlier. The unemployment rate went down because the size of the state’s labor force decreased by 11,500 to 673,700 during the same period. Maine’s unemployment rate then fell even lower, to 3.4 percent in March and April, before rising gradually to 4 percent in August, the most recent month available.

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

Twitter: jcraiganderson

]]> 54, 20 Oct 2016 15:48:17 +0000
Obama administration expanding airline passenger protections Thu, 20 Oct 2016 00:50:34 +0000 Travelers may soon be able to get refunds for delayed baggage, more accurate information about on-time performance of the airlines they fly and more transparency when booking tickets with online travel services, under executive actions announced by the Obama administration Wednesday.

“Airline passengers deserve to have access to clear and complete information about the airlines they choose to fly and to expect fair and reasonable treatment when they fly,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in making the announcement. “The actions we’re taking today and in the coming months will expand aviation consumer protections we have previously enacted.

“These actions will enable passengers to make well-informed decisions when arranging travel, ensure that airlines treat consumers fairly, and give consumers a voice in how airlines are regulated,” Foxx said.

He said the announcement builds on previous efforts to promote competition and protect consumers at a time when mergers mean they have fewer choices when it comes to flying.

But Nicholas Calio, president and chief executive of Airlines for America, an industry trade group, said the public should be cautious about new efforts to “re-regulate” the industry.

“It would be difficult to find an industry that is more transparent than the airline industry; customers always know exactly what they are paying for before they buy,” Calio said. “Further, the fact that a record number of people are flying underscores that customers are benefiting every day from affordable fares and the ability to choose among carriers, amenities and service options that best meet their needs. Dictating to the airline industry distribution and commercial practices would only benefit those third parties who distribute tickets, not the flying public.”

Foxx said the administration already requires airlines to refund bag fees when luggage is lost, but he said officials soon hope to add a requirement that airlines refund fees when luggage is “substantially” delayed. Officials offered no details on how “substantially” would be defined.

]]> 0 Thu, 20 Oct 2016 08:47:02 +0000
Fed’s economic outlook ‘mostly positive’ Thu, 20 Oct 2016 00:45:06 +0000 The U.S. economy maintained a steady growth pace between late August and early October, as a tight labor market with nascent wage pressures contributed to a “mostly positive” outlook, a report from the 12 Federal Reserve districts showed.

“Most districts indicated a modest or moderate pace of expansion,” according to the Fed’s latest Beige Book, an economic survey by reserve banks. “Outlooks were mostly positive, with growth expected to continue at a slight to moderate pace in several districts.”

The job market “remained tight” with modest employment and wage growth, according to the report. In the San Francisco district, some small business owners said they needed to bring back health-care benefits to attract applicants.

“Wage growth held fairly steady at modest levels, although some districts reported rising pressure for certain sectors,” the report stated. Three districts – Dallas, Richmond and San Francisco – noted a shortage of construction workers, which in some cases constrained building activity.

A tight labor market has yet to lift inflation to the Fed’s 2 percent target. The report characterized price growth generally as “mild.”

Overall, prices increased “slightly on net,” the report said.

Housing expanded in most districts, and “contacts in a few districts expressed optimism about future growth,” the Beige Book said. Even so, home inventories were reported to be low enough to restrain sales in some districts.

The oil and gas sector showed signs of stabilizing, and Dallas Fed energy business contacts expect 2017 to be a better year.

Commercial real estate contacts in a few districts expressed concern about economic uncertainty surrounding the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election.

]]> 0 Wed, 19 Oct 2016 21:28:57 +0000
California targeting Wells Fargo over suspicion of ID theft Thu, 20 Oct 2016 00:32:54 +0000 LOS ANGELES — The California Department of Justice is investigating Wells Fargo & Co. over allegations of criminal identity theft related to its creation of millions of unauthorized customer accounts, according to a search warrant sent to the bank’s San Francisco headquarters this month.

The warrant and related documents, served Oct. 5 and obtained by the Los Angeles Times through a public records request, confirm that California Attorney General Kamala Harris, in the final weeks of a run for the U.S. Senate, has joined the growing list of public officials and agencies investigating the bank in connection with the accounts scandal.

Harris’ office demanded that the bank turn over a trove of information, including the identities of California customers who had unauthorized accounts opened in their names, information about fees related to those accounts, the names of the Wells Fargo employees who opened the accounts, the names of those employees’ managers, and emails or other communications related to those accounts.

Her office is also requesting the same information about accounts opened by Wells Fargo workers in California for customers in other states.

Kristin Ford, a spokeswoman for Harris’ office, said she could not comment on an ongoing investigation. Wells Fargo spokesman Mark Folk said the bank is “cooperating in providing the requested information,” but would not comment further.

Documents filed along with the search warrant argue that there is probable cause to believe Wells Fargo violated two sections of the state penal code – one outlawing certain types of impersonation, the other outlawing the unauthorized use of personal information. Both violations can be charged as felonies, punishable by imprisonment for more than a year.

It’s not clear whether Harris’ office is considering charges against individual bank workers, high-level bank executives or the bank itself. The investigation could lead to charges beyond the identity-theft allegations used to secure the search warrant.

In the weeks since Sept. 8, when the Los Angeles city attorney’s office and federal bank regulators announced a $185 million settlement with Wells Fargo over the creation of the accounts, lawmakers and other regulators have questioned whether the bank may have violated fraud, labor and securities laws.

At a fiery Capitol Hill hearing last month, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., told former Wells Fargo Chief Executive John Stumpf that he should be criminally investigated. Stumpf abruptly retired last week and was replaced by longtime Wells Fargo executive Timothy Sloan.

There also have been questions about when and how much former bank executive Carrie Tolstedt, who led the bank division at the root of the accounts scandal, knew of the practices. She retired this summer, just months before the settlement was announced.

But identity theft has not been a central issue in the matter, and it’s noteworthy that it seems to be at the heart of Harris’ investigation, said Paul Stephens, policy director at the San Diego nonprofit Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

“One wouldn’t typically think of a financial institution opening an account in the name of a customer as being an act of identity theft,” Stephens said. “It’s a creative way of looking at these activities and finding them unlawful under a statute that arguably could be prosecuted in state court.”

U.S. attorneys in San Francisco, New York and Charlotte, N.C., have opened their own investigations, although the scope of those inquiries is not clear.

Irving Einhorn, a retired white-collar criminal defense attorney and former head of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s regional office in Los Angeles, said there are few charges that a state attorney general could bring that federal prosecutors could not.

Still, he said it’s not surprising that Harris’ office is investigating the bank on its own. “With a big national bank like this, there are overlapping jurisdictions,” he said.

Not to mention political ramifications. Elected officials of all political stripes have jumped on Wells Fargo in the weeks since the settlement was announced, holding hearings, enacting sanctions and calling for legislation aimed at reining in big banks or even breaking them up.

In California, State Treasurer John Chiang last month said his office would cut off several business relationships with the bank, a move that’s since been followed by officials in San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago and the states of Illinois and Ohio.

At this point, Einhorn said, no one wants to be left out.

“You have to remember how it looks to constituents in a particular state when their officials get tough with the big, bad banks,” he said.

]]> 0 Wed, 19 Oct 2016 22:02:50 +0000
Safety gets spruced up for a day in streets of Waterville Thu, 20 Oct 2016 00:04:09 +0000 WATERVILLE — What looked like colorful fall decor popped up Wednesday morning near busy intersections on Main and Front streets here.

The hay bales, pumpkins and flowers weren’t just to celebrate fall, though. They were actually curb extensions, also known as “bump-outs,” used to increase pedestrian safety at crosswalks.

At the intersection of Front and Temple streets, the hay bales and pumpkins were set out just outside the curb. The extension served a few purposes, said Jim Tasse, assistant director of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine.

While the curb extension did not change the width of the driving lanes, it did change the perception of width, slowing traffic. It also forced cars to make better turns and provided space for pedestrians to step out farther and look for oncoming traffic, Tasse said. “With just a few hay bales, you can see that instead of coming through here at 40 (mph), people are coming through at 25,” he said.

The demonstrations around downtown were part of the morning session of GrowSmart Maine’s annual conference, which was held in Waterville this year. Carol Morris, vice president of the board of directors for GrowSmart, said the group likes to hold its conference in cities that are working to revitalize their downtown areas. Waterville has a number of downtown revitalization projects underway, which were further buttressed by the announcement Tuesday night of a $20 million fund from the Harold Alfond Foundation and Colby College.

Samantha Herr, the coalition’s community advocacy coordinator, was stationed Wednesday morning at the intersection of Appleton and Main streets, where the hay bales and flowers lined the crosswalk for the length of the parking bay.

With this simple and cost-effective solution, “the perception of safety is greater,” Herr said. It also has a “place-making” effect, making the experience of downtown happier and more enjoyable for people.

The third demonstration, which was in front of the Camden Pocket Park, let people see what it was like to be visually impaired or a wheelchair user. Groups that partnered with GrowSmart had people put on goggles to impair their vision or use wheelchairs to get around.

“This is to raise awareness about what it’s like to live with a disability on the streets, about what it’s like to go get a cup of coffee every day using a wheelchair,” said Jill Johanning, an architect and access specialist at Alpha One.

GrowSmart Maine is a statewide organization based in Gardiner that works to preserve downtowns, agricultural land and forest land, among other things, Morris said. The objective is to keep “Maine the way people love it,” she said.

The organization covers a broad range of topics, including how to make downtowns more walkable and more accessible to people with disabilities.

For its afternoon session, GrowSmart hosted a panel at Thomas College on the changes in the workforce and how climate change affects downtowns.

Morris said the organization goes to downtowns that are going through a revitalization for its annual conference, and that she is “very impressed” with Waterville and what it’s doing.

“It’s great when the public and private sector work together,” Morris said. “Maine’s downtowns are a treasure.”

The board and partnering organizations that attended the conference also took walking tours around the area.

“I think that we’re seeing increasing excitement about renovating Maine’s downtowns, as well as Maine’s agricultural sector, and those are two things that can help Maine on the economic level,” Morris said. “So we’re feeling good about the trends we’ve been seeing.”

Madeline St. Amour can be contacted at 861-9239 or at:

Twitter: @madelinestamour

]]> 0, 19 Oct 2016 20:04:09 +0000
Regulators unveil proposed rules to tighten bank cybersecurity Wed, 19 Oct 2016 23:14:41 +0000 Banking regulators outlined a new set of rules Wednesday aimed at tightening cybersecurity requirements to protect financial markets and customers from online attacks.

A proposal from the Federal Reserve Board, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation suggests minimum standards and requirements for how the nation’s largest financial institutions are supposed to prepare for, track and respond to potentially catastrophic hacks.

The proposals do not spell out what fines or other consequences would be meted out should banks not meet the “binding requirements.” The notice of proposal rulemaking serves as a starting point for the industry and others to begin offering feedback. The deadline for comments is Jan. 17.

The proposal suggests banks with more than $50 billion in assets would be subject to the requirements, sparing all but the smallest community banks, whose vulnerabilities are less likely to wreak havoc on the global financial system.

Under current regulations, individual institutions are largely responsible for their own systems, governed by a network of frameworks and guidelines.

Those who lobby on behalf of big banks prefer to keep it that way, arguing that blanket requirements can be counterproductive because individual banks differ in their cybersecurity needs. The American Bankers Association, which represents banks, supports a broad framework that “harmonizes” existing regulations but argues against strict requirements.

“What we’re accustomed to having in place particularly as it relates to cyber risk is the ability to utilize our own discretion,” said Doug Johnson, senior vice president for payments and cybersecurity policy at the bankers association. “Different organizations have different risks based on the types of organizations that they support.”

The suggested requirements mostly concern how banks manage the cyber risk, but also proposes new requirements on how banks should prepare for and recover from harmful hacks. Such standards could make winners and losers out of an already-thriving cottage industry of corporate cybersecurity firms using advanced technology to identify threats.

The proposal floats a possible requirement that banks have separate senior leaders in charge of cyber-risk management with direct access to company boards of directors. Such a requirement would formalize a trend that has been percolating in much of the business world for years, as more chief information security officers take their seat in top management.

Perhaps in response to a slew of ransomware attacks over the past year – in which hackers take control of critical data and threaten to delete it unless they receive a payment – the proposal demands “secure, immutable, offline storage of records” relating to things like loan data and account records. And the draft rules would require that banks have the capacity to recover from a disruptive cybersecurity attack within two hours.

]]> 0 Wed, 19 Oct 2016 19:14:41 +0000
Texas conglomerate buys Maine-based glass installation company Wed, 19 Oct 2016 17:50:01 +0000 Cumberland County Glass, an installer of glass for office buildings, hotels, shopping centers and other commercial projects, has been acquired by a Texas-based competitor.

The Dwyer Group, which is based in Waco and operates Portland Glass in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, purchased the Bowdoinham-based company this month for an undisclosed price.

Cumberland Glass founder and former owner Ken Boucher is now director of commercial accounts for Portland Glass. Boucher said his former company and its 20 employees will continue to operate under the Cumberland name and will serve as the commercial division of Portland Glass.

Portland Glass has a large presence in northern New England with 34 locations in three states. Boucher said his bigger competitor had been interested for a long time in buying him out.

“Portland Glass was chasing me for three years,” he said.

Boucher said he had been pursuing an exit strategy for the 23-year-old business that would ensure its continued operation. Although he has family members involved in the business, Boucher said none of them was interested in taking it over when he retires.

“I wanted to make sure my employees were taken care of as the years progressed,” said Boucher, who is 55.

Some of Cumberland’s notable projects include the Hilton Garden Inn in Portland; the recently renovated Cliff House Maine resort in Cape Neddick; Greely Middle School in Cumberland; and the former Goodall Hospital, now part of Southern Maine Health Care, in Sanford.

Dwyer Group said in a news release that the Cumberland purchase is its seventh acquisition in roughly the past two years, and that it contributes to the expansion of the group’s only non-franchised, corporate-owned network. In addition to operating Portland Glass, Dwyer is also a franchisor of several business chains including Mr. Appliance, Mr. Electric, Mr. Handyman, Mr. Rooter and Molly Maid.

“We are happy to welcome Ken and his employees to Dwyer Group,” Mike Bidwell, the company’s president and CEO, said in the release. “We believe the combined businesses will now be even more competitive in this important commercial glass projects market.”

Boucher said Cumberland customers probably won’t notice any major changes under the new ownership, but that the Dwyer acquisition greatly expands the company’s reach.

“It should make us more competitive in a number of areas,” he said.

]]> 1 Wed, 19 Oct 2016 21:30:24 +0000
Heating costs likely to rise moderately this winter in Maine Wed, 19 Oct 2016 17:37:44 +0000 The statewide average price for fuel oil inched above $2 a gallon this week for the first time since last November, ushering in a heating season in which oil prices are expected to rise moderately.

With winter temperatures predicted to be closer to normal, Mainers can expect a heating season that – on balance – is also likely to be closer to normal. It appears that there will be a sufficient supply of all fuels.

“It’s going to be a little more expensive than last year, based on higher prices and colder temperatures,” said Lisa Smith, senior planner at the Governor’s Energy Office. “But we were at decade-low prices last year.”

The latest price survey by Smith’s office, released Wednesday, shows fuel oil at an average of $2.01 a gallon statewide, ranging from a low of $1.76 in western Maine to $2.20 in central, eastern and northern regions. That’s up 4 cents over last week, and 13 cents a gallon since Oct. 1.

The survey follows projections last week from the U.S. Energy Information Administration that higher crude-oil costs will push up retail prices for heating oil by 42 cents a gallon over the winter.

The federal agency also is forecasting moderate price increases for propane and natural gas.

While propane prices fluctuate with the market, retail natural gas supply rates in Maine are reviewed by utility regulators and vary by service area. An average home served by Unitil, the state’s largest gas provider, will pay $1,178 this heating season, according to company estimates, compared with $1,080 last year.

Mainers who heat with wood should find plentiful supplies and prices that are either on par or lower than last year. Last winter’s bargain oil prices and mild temperatures kept firewood stacks and wood pellet bags from being depleted, creating a surplus in many homes.

Fuel oil remains the most-watched barometer for Maine heating costs, because two-thirds of homes burn it as their primary way to keep warm. And until this month, retail prices had more-or-less been falling since February 2014, when the statewide average hit $3.89. Last March, they bottomed out at below $1.70.

If temperatures this winter are in the normal range and oil prices average $2.20 statewide, that means a home that burns 800 gallons will pay $1,760.

“If it’s a normal winter, I don’t see any issues,” said George Gyorgy, co-owner of Charlie Burnham Heating Services in Freeport. “I think it will be fairly uneventful, which is good for everybody.”

Burnham’s cash price on Wednesday was $1.85 a gallon.

At Dead River Co., one of the state’s largest dealers, Wednesday’s cash price in Portland was $2.05 a gallon. But Deanna Sherman, the company’s president and chief executive, said many customers had taken advantage of pre-buy programs earlier this year to lock in at $2 a gallon for the season, or signed up for a price cap with a ceiling of $2.14 a gallon. These programs offer stability and predictable monthly payments, she said.

“Prices were down and people wanted to take advantage of it,” she said.

Above-average temperatures this fall have led cash-price customers to delay fill-ups, she said. But with a cool-down expected this weekend, Sherman expects phones to be ringing Monday morning.


The most recent forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is calling for temperatures 17 percent colder in the Northeast this winter compared with last year, but slightly warmer than the average of the five preceding winters.

Michael Cempa, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Gray, said the data he’s seeing for December, January and February is highly uncertain, as the El Nino weather pattern that has spiked global temperatures to record levels fades away.

“To me, it’s probably more of an average type of winter,” Cempa said, “although there is always the possibility for warm and cold spells.”

Portland typically experiences 7,001 heating degree days, a calculation that uses average temperatures to gauge heating demand. Last year, the city tallied only 6,119 heating degree days, which contributed to the second-warmest winter on record.

That warm weather meant people who heat with firewood, or use it to supplement their central heating systems, didn’t use as much.

“Most folks have leftover firewood,” said Kris Hutchins, operations manager at Southern Maine Firewood in Gorham. “Sales have been slower than last year.”

Hutchins said customers who typically order three cords of green wood in the spring asked for only one. At this time of year, people start calling for seasoned wood.

“We’ve run out of seasoned wood every year by December,” Hutchins said. “It doesn’t look like that will be the case this year.”

Slack demand also has lowered prices. Last year, seasoned wood ranged from $285 to $295 a cord. This year it’s going for $260.

Supplies of wood pellets and wood bricks are robust, said Bob Maurais of Southern Maine Renewable Fuels in Windham. Wood pellet inventories aren’t overflowing like cord wood, he said, because the lack of demand last winter forced several mills to shut down or curtail production.

A typical home customer buys three to four tons of pellets or two to three tons of bioproducts, such as compressed wood bricks and logs. The company expects to sell more than 3,000 tons of pellets and bricks this year.


Still unclear is the rate for standard-offer electric service next year in Central Maine Power and Emera Maine service areas. The state Public Utilities Commission is expected to approve rates in late November, based on bids received from competitive energy suppliers.

Whatever the new rates, ductless electric heat pumps continue to be the most popular new heating source noted by Efficiency Maine, which offers $500 rebates for approved units. More than 15,000 homeowners have installed heat pumps over the past three years, with 1,650 units put in since July. Recently, the agency began offering an additional $250 rebate for second units.

The latest generation of ductless heat pumps are proving capable of warming homes, even at extremely low temperatures, said Dana Fischer, residential program manager at Efficiency Maine. Depending on the cost of electricity, the super-efficient units can provide heat at a price that’s equivalent to fuel oil at between $1.50 and $2.20 a gallon.

“We are seeing an increase in the number of homeowners choosing to install a second unit to provide heating and cooling to a second floor or the distant end of a ranch home,” Fischer said.

But even though energy prices are relatively low this winter, Fischer suggested all Mainers tighten up their homes with air sealing and insulation. That will make them more comfortable and save owners money every year, he said, regardless of what energy prices do in the future.


]]> 3, 20 Oct 2016 00:08:08 +0000
Alfond Foundation, Colby to inject $20 million in downtown Waterville revitalization Wed, 19 Oct 2016 04:02:44 +0000 WATERVILLE — Downtown revitalization efforts got a boost Tuesday night as the Harold Alfond Foundation and Colby College officials announced that they will infuse $20 million into projects to launch what will become a further investment of “tens of millions of dollars more” in the city’s center.

The Alfond Foundation is pledging a $10 million grant toward the effort, matching Colby’s $10 million investment toward revitalization.

The announcement came Tuesday night at Harvest on the Square, a celebration of community and the arts, held downtown in Castonguay Square, next to City Hall.

Gregory Powell, chairman of the Alfond Foundation, Colby President David Greene, and former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, a Waterville native, spoke to the crowd.

Powell spoke of Waterville philanthropists Harold and Bibby Alfond, for whom the foundation is named, and their love for and support of the city and its institutions, including the Alfond Youth Center, Educare Central Maine, Colby and Thomas colleges, Kennebec Valley Community College, MaineGeneral Medical Center, Waterville Creates! and Maine Children’s Home.

“Over the past year, like so many of you, the foundation has been awed by the outstanding leadership of David Greene and the prominent role Colby College is playing in the revitalization of Main Street, to nurture the conscience and soul of this community,” Powell said in the text of a speech released in advance of the event.

Powell said the foundation will join Colby by matching the college’s $10 million investment, dollar for dollar, creating a $20 million downtown fund.

Shannon Haines, president and chief executive officer of Waterville Creates!, which sponsored the event along with Colby and Waterville Main Street, was emcee of the event.

In his speech, Powell recalled Harold Alfond’s love of sports, arts and teamwork and said Waterville’s future is all about teamwork and leadership on display Tuesday night in the form of officials from Waterville Creates!, Waterville Opera House, the Maine Film Center, Waterville Main Street and Waterville Public Library.

Last year, Greene hosted meetings with city officials, downtown organizations, businesspeople, arts advocates and others to discuss ways to help revitalize downtown, expand art offerings, draw businesses, bring more people to live and work downtown and to help boost economic development.

Colby College bought five vacant and deteriorating buildings downtown with plans to partner with investors to redevelop them; and shortly after that, Bill Mitchell, owner of GHM Insurance Agency downtown and nephew to George Mitchell, followed suit by buying two historic buildings on Common Street. He has been redeveloping them into office space and several weeks ago opened the Proper Pig restaurant in one of those buildings with the owners of The Last Unicorn.

Colby alumnus Justin DePre and his brother Thomas, and another brother, also Thomas, bought two buildings on Main Street and have been renovating them as well.

Meanwhile, Colby is buying the northeast corner of The Concourse from the city for $300,000 and plans to build a residential complex for students, faculty and staff, expected to be open in 2018.

The college also bought the former Hains building at 173 Main St. and plans to redevelop the building into offices.


]]> 4, 19 Oct 2016 00:05:49 +0000
Moody’s Collision Centers buys former racetrack in Gorham Wed, 19 Oct 2016 03:09:49 +0000 Moody’s Collision Centers, the auto collision repair chain, has increased its footprint in Gorham by buying a 62-acre former racetrack from Hannaford supermarkets.

Shawn Moody, founder of Moody’s Collision Centers and a Gorham native, said he intends to unveil plans for the site in the next few weeks, after the company undertakes a cleanup of the property. In an interview with the Portland Press Herald, Moody said he is excited to share his vision for the Gorham location and framed his company’s purchase in terms of its larger responsibility to its employee investors.

“That’s really become a big part of my job,” Moody said. “To make sure our co-workers are supported and we provide the best investment opportunities for our company’s future.”


Moody said the purchase is part of a broader effort to expand and diversify the company’s holdings as it approaches its 40th year in business. Moody’s 150 employees, called co-worker owners internally, own a 34 percent stake in the business.

The company paid $1.2 million for the former racetrack. It owns a Moody’s Collision and Auto Body Repair Center just up the road from the new site.

Gorham town officials say they are grateful that the land, known locally as The Fairgrounds, will be developed after sitting on the market for three years.

“We’ve wanted to develop that part of town and particularly that property for some time,” said Thomas Ellsworth, president of the Gorham Economic Development Corp. “We’re very pleased to have a local business owner, somebody of Shawn’s caliber, as the purchaser.”

Moody started his network of collision repair centers while he was a senior at Gorham High School. Today, there are nine centers, and Moody serves on a number of boards, including the trustees of the Maine Community College System and the University of Maine System.

In September, the Gorham Town Council adopted a revised 10-year comprehensive plan for the town. Under that plan, which has been submitted to the state for review, the Fairgrounds purchase would make up part of a larger vision for integrated mixed-use development in the area. Over the next decade, officials say, they hope to see multi-family residences built alongside offices, manufacturing and recreational facilities as well as hotels and restaurants.

“In the big picture we’re looking for tax base expansion which means development and job creation,” Ellsworth said. “So our preference is on the commercial side.”

The former racetrack is on Narragansett Street and Route 112, across town from Gorham’s other business and industrial parks and over a mile from the main business district. Charlie Craig of NAI The Dunham Group, who represented Hannaford in the sale, says a recently constructed bypass around the town of Gorham has helped improve access to the site and opened the area to new development.

“It’s much easier to get there now,” Craig said. “You no longer have to weave through downtown Gorham.”

Hannaford originally purchased the property after the company was unable to find space to expand its downtown Gorham location. The supermarket chain ran water and sewer lines to the parcel before successfully securing land next to its existing store. Hannaford is one of the largest employers in the Gorham area with 150 employees.

The future for development in Gorham appears bright. Located less than a half hour from Portland, the town is one of the fastest-growing in Maine, surpassing Waterville in the 2010 Census to become the 15th-largest municipality in the state.


]]> 2, 19 Oct 2016 13:23:52 +0000
Developer proposes 108 more apartments for Westbrook project Wed, 19 Oct 2016 02:52:31 +0000 A developer wants to add nine new apartment buildings to a Westbrook subdivision that has already prompted calls for a moratorium on residential construction and substantial changes to the city’s zoning.

That new construction would add 108 market-rate units to Blue Spruce Farm, where nearly 200 single-family homes and apartments are already being built. Risbara Bros. had previously hoped to build an even larger extension to the existing neighborhood, but scaled back the plans because of a legal dispute with the landowner. The Westbrook Planning Board reviewed the most recent sketch plan for the newer extension on Tuesday night.

“We know we’re meeting a need,” company president Rocco Risbara said. “We know we’ve got some neighborhood opposition, but we’re going to continue through the process. We’re going to listen. We’re going to try to meet all of the requests that we can.”

The board members also heard testimony from consultants about the development’s potential impact on schools and roads, though a handful of residents questioned the accuracy of those figures. Risbara said he cannot build condos or single-family homes in this phase, after both members of the public and the planning board disapproved of the number of apartments in the plans.

“There’s no condos,” said Dennis Isherwood, who represents the ward that includes Blue Spruce Farm. “There’s no single-family housing at all. I really expect to see a blend of the two.”

Kate Bergeron, who lives nearby on McKinley Street, said she would like to see a development that is more compatible with the surrounding neighborhood.

“We can require better for ourselves,” she said.

The conversation alluded to the ongoing push for a moratorium on residential building permits. A group of residents has called for a 180-day stay in order to revamp the city’s land use ordinance, increase the minimum lot size for new homes and make other changes to Westbrook’s zoning code.

“Unfortunately, our ordinance gives us no teeth to dictate what we would like to dictate as far as the layout,” Planning Board member Rebecca Dillon said. “Our ordinance is our ordinance. What people need to realize is they need to be involved when the comprehensive plan is written. We just can’t decide that we’re going to apply the ordinance to one project and not to another.”

The next public hearing has not yet been scheduled, but the planning board will go on a site walk on Nov. 5 at 9 a.m.


]]> 9, 19 Oct 2016 13:33:09 +0000
Shopping plaza will move forward at Westbrook quarry Wed, 19 Oct 2016 00:19:48 +0000 The Westbrook Planning Board has approved a large shopping center to be built at a former quarry.

Wal-Mart has been the only confirmed tenant at Dirigo Plaza for months, but the latest documents presented to the Planning Board on Tuesday night included the layout for a Chick-Fil-A restaurant as well. Those national brands will be part of 500,000 square feet of new retail on the 80-acre parcel at the intersection of Main Street – Route 25B – and Larrabee Road, between two exits on the Maine Turnpike.

The developer, Jeffrey Gove, estimated about 25 retailers and restaurants will eventually open in Dirigo Plaza, but he declined to name any others. The project could open by fall 2017.

“We’ve still got a lot of leasing left to do,” Gove said. “I’m very sensitive to allowing them to make their own announcements.”


Across the street is another large retail area anchored by Kohl’s department store. The Chick-Fil-A will be part of a strip mall of businesses along Main Street, and two sit-down restaurants will be located near the lake. The Wal-Mart will be an anchor store for the development in an approximately 155,000-square-foot space next to Larrabee Road.

Wayne Morrill, from Jones and Beach Engineers, described the strip mall as a “streetscape look,” with brick walls and black awnings. He also told the board about wide sidewalks to be built on Main Street with plantings, an information kiosk, bike racks and benches.

“The No. 1 comment from staff was to have a consistent feel up and down Main Street,” Morrill said.

Gove plans to transform the empty 20-acre quarry into a lake surrounded by a recreational area. The existing land and gravel pit are currently owned by Pike Industries. The developer has previously said it will take about five years to fill the 314-foot-quarry, which would be surrounded by a multi-use trail and could be used for ice skating and other activities.

The new construction will also include traffic improvements on Main Street and Larrabee Road – new turning lanes, bike lanes, street light configuration and traffic islands.

“We’re trying to avoid congestion on Main Street,” Morrill said.

City Planner Jennie Franceschi said Gove will spend more than $6 million on those projects, which will also improve traffic flow around Exits 47 and 48 on Interstate 95.

“They are providing significant improvements to public facilities,” she said.

Gove had been waiting for approvals from state agencies as well, but said Tuesday night his team can now move forward with its plans.

Members of the public had previously raised concerns about traffic, safety and the types of businesses in the space, but none spoke at Tuesday’s meeting. The Planning Board’s approval was unanimous.

“I just want to congratulate Westbrook on this great project,” board member Dennis Isherwood said.


]]> 13, 19 Oct 2016 10:11:44 +0000
Few balk as most Volkswagen owners sign up for payments Tue, 18 Oct 2016 23:20:08 +0000 SAN FRANCISCO — Several angry Volkswagen owners told a federal judge on Tuesday that a $10 billion settlement does not adequately compensate them for the automaker’s emissions cheating scandal, part of a vocal minority who objected to the deal as hundreds of thousands of others signed up for payments.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer will determine whether the settlement is fair to consumers and should receive final approval. He said he was “strongly inclined” to approve it but would make a final decision by Oct. 25, giving him time to consider the owners’ objections and whether he should recommend any changes.

“We got played the fool,” Mark Dietrich, an Audi owner from San Francisco, told the judge earlier at a hearing in San Francisco. “This settlement does not go far enough.”

Dietrich demanded the full purchase price of his car as well as part of his registration fee.

The settlement calls for the German automaker to spend up to $10 billion to buy back or repair about 475,000 Volkswagens and Audi vehicles with 2-liter diesel engines and pay their owners an additional $5,100 to $10,000 each. Any repair options have yet to be finalized.

It also includes $4.7 billion for unspecified environmental mitigation to make up for the excess pollution and to promote zero-emissions vehicles. The combined $14.7 billion deal would be the largest auto- scandal settlement in U.S. history.

Attorneys who helped negotiate it said it was fair and had received support from the vast majority of eligible car owners. Volkswagen’s lawyer said Tuesday that it was a good deal for buyers and would help the company regain people’s trust.

But Blair Stewart, a Volkswagen owner from Palo Alto, said the company engaged in a “program of deception” that should not go unpunished. More than a dozen people spoke against the settlement at the hearing, among them people who sold their vehicles and objected that the new owner would get a windfall in the deal.

The scandal erupted in September 2015 when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Volkswagen had fitted many of its cars with software to fool emissions tests. Car owners and the U.S. Department of Justice sued.

The software recognized when the cars were being tested on a treadmill and turned on pollution controls. The controls were turned off when the cars returned to the road. The EPA alleged the scheme let the cars spew more than 40 times the allowable limit of nitrogen oxide, which can cause respiratory problems in people.

Volkswagen attorney Robert Giuffra said the deal includes compromises but provides “massive relief” to consumers.

“This settlement is something that I think is very good for consumers,” he said. “It’s good for the environment, and it’s a way for Volkswagen to regain the trust of its customers, the American people, regulators and do right by the environment.”

As of last week, more than 330,000 people had signed up for settlement benefits, with about 3,200 opting out, said Elizabeth Cabraser, lead attorney for the plaintiffs. She said the deal’s buyback option would give consumers the “retail replacement value” of their vehicles.

“This was a broken situation. It was broken for the environment. It was broken for consumers,” Cabraser said. “I think we’ve all … put this back together again.”

Volkswagen still faces potentially billions more in fines and penalties and possible criminal charges.

]]> 1 Tue, 18 Oct 2016 20:27:08 +0000
First-timers gaining bigger share of home sales, Zillow survey finds Tue, 18 Oct 2016 23:11:55 +0000 WASHINGTON — For years, the U.S. housing market looked bleak for young couples hoping to buy their first homes but struggling with high student debt, low pay and meager down-payment savings.

But a new survey by the real estate firm Zillow suggests that first-time buyers may be entering the market in greater numbers than industry watchers had assumed.

Over the past year, the survey found, nearly half of home sales have gone to first-timers. That’s a much higher proportion than some other industry estimates had indicated. And it comes as a surprise in part because ownership rates for adults under 34 are at their lowest levels since the government began tracking the figure in 1994.

Zillow’s survey results suggest that the trend is shifting, and that some of this year’s growth in home sales has come from a wave of college-educated couples in their 30s, who are the most common first-time buyers.

They are people like Natasja Handy, a 32-year-old lawyer and new mother. She and her husband, a doctor, are about to close on their first home in the Northeast section of Washington, D.C. – a row house with about 1,900 square feet that cost $720,000.

The couple worked with brokers at Redfin and made a 5 percent down payment after having lost two bids on other homes.

“We waited a very long time to purchase our first house,” Handy said. “We’ve always felt like we were giving someone else our money, instead of putting it into something we own.”

The 168-page report that Seattle-based Zillow released Tuesday also found that home ownership is increasingly the domain of the college-educated. And it reported that older Americans who are looking to downsize are paying premiums for smaller houses.

A breakdown of the findings:

Forty-seven percent of purchases in the past year went to first-time buyers. Their median age was 33. By contrast, surveys from the National Association of Realtors have indicated that first-timers account for only about 32 percent of buyers.

The difference between the two surveys may stem from their methodologies. The Realtors association used a mail-based survey for its annual figures. Zillow used an online survey that might have generated a greater response rate from younger buyers.

Zillow’s findings might help explain a persistent shortage of homes for sale: Unlike move-up buyers, first-time purchasers don’t have a home to list for sale, thereby depriving the market of supply.

It’s become harder to realize the dream of home ownership without a college degree. Sixty-two percent of buyers have at least a four-year college degree. Census figures show that just 33 percent of U.S. adults graduated from college.

The gap between the education levels of homebuyers and the broader U.S. population indicates that workers with only a high school degree are becoming less likely to own a home. In 1986, just 12 percent of homeowners were college graduates, according to government figures.

Out of the 74 million U.S. households that own their homes, a sizable majority – 77 percent – are white. But these demographics are changing fast. Only 66 percent of millennial homeowners are white. The big gains have come from Latinos, who make up 17 percent of millennial homeowners but just 9 percent of all homeowners.

Asians also make up a greater share of millennials. This means that as today’s millennial generation ages, the housing market may look considerably more diverse than it does now.

Starter homes are no longer popular.

When millennials buy, they’re leapfrogging past the traditional, smaller starter home. This younger generation paid a median of $217,000 for an 1,800-square-foot house. That median is nearly identical to what older generations buy.

Across the United States, the typical home costs $222,000, has three bedrooms, 2½ baths and 1,900 square feet. For someone with children at home, that figure swells to 2,000 square feet and a median price of $234,000.

]]> 0, 18 Oct 2016 20:30:18 +0000
Financial industry news Tue, 18 Oct 2016 19:45:34 +0000 NEW HIRES
Josephine IannelliJosephine Iannelli was named executive vice president, chief financial officer and treasurer of Bar Harbor Bankshares and Bar Harbor Bank & Trust and its subsidiary Bar Harbor Trust Services, effective Oct. 24.
Iannelli most recently served as senior executive vice president, chief financial officer and treasurer of Berkshire Hills Bancorp in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.


921690-michelle-curtis-2016Michelle Curtis joined First National Bank as assistant vice president, business relationship officer in the Camden office.
Curtis previously worked for Bank of America as a specialty account review analyst and senior credit analyst. She had been with them for 20 years.


921690-sis-bank-hires-cassandra-mosher-as-new-market-managerSIS Bank has hired Cassandra Mosher as assistant vice president and market manager for its Springvale and south Sanford branches. Mosher, of Wells, brings more than nine years of experience in working with community banks in York County.


921690-benguerretteCPort Credit Union recently promoted Benjamin Guerette to training manager.
Guerette began his cPort career in 2014 as training coordinator and is a University of New Hampshire graduate.


921690-chrisvdChristian Van Dyck was promoted to vice president of compliance and audit.
Van Dyck was previously with the Maine Bureau of Financial Institutions. He received his law degree from Dalhousie Law School in Halifax, Nova Scotia.


921690-rick-maltz-copyBar Harbor Bank & Trust promoted Richard Maltz to executive vice president, chief operating officer and chief risk officer. Maltz, of Hampden, has more than 30 years of banking experience. He joined the bank in 2014.


Camden National Bank recently recognized two employees for exemplary service.
Kathleen Dodge was recognized as Employee of the Year and Josh Nash as Officer of the Year.

Tracy Harding, a principal at BerryDunn, was appointed to the Auditing Standards Board.
Harding, a principal for more than 30 years, is director of quality assurance and the Bangor office coordinator for the firm’s financial services group.

]]> 0, 18 Oct 2016 13:12:09 +0000
Herring fishery along New England coast shut down Tue, 18 Oct 2016 19:26:34 +0000 The herring fishery along the New England coast was shut down Tuesday until further notice.

The National Marine Fisheries Service said fishermen in the inshore Gulf of Maine – from Cape Cod to the eastern edge of the Maine coast – have caught about 90 percent of their quota.

Herring are an important bait fish, especially for the lobster industry. A shortage of the fish in offshore waters caused a bait shortage in New England during the summer.

The fish are also used as food. Fishermen typically catch between 175 million and 200 million pounds of Atlantic herring every year.

]]> 2 Tue, 18 Oct 2016 17:03:50 +0000
ImmuCell seeks $3.5 million from private investors to complete new facility Tue, 18 Oct 2016 15:29:37 +0000 Portland-based ImmuCell Corp. said Tuesday that it plans to seek $3.5 million in private investment to help fund a $20 million production facility for a new animal health product for which the company is seeking U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.

ImmuCell also released a preliminary earnings estimate for the third quarter, in which product sales were down 20 percent from a year earlier.

Maine’s smallest publicly traded company, which makes products that improve bovine health and productivity in the dairy and beef industries, said it has entered into agreements with institutional and accredited investors for the private placement of roughly $3.5 million of ImmuCell’s common stock.

ImmuCell said in a news release that it has agreed to sell nearly 660,000 shares at $5.25 per share to outside investors. ImmuCell stock, which trades on the Nasdaq exchange under the symbol ICCC, was trading at $7 a share when the market opened Tuesday.

“This new capital, plus cash flow from operations and possibly some incremental bank debt, fully funds our $20 million capital expenditure budget for the construction of our pharmaceutical facility to produce Nisin, the active ingredient in Mast Out,” said ImmuCell President and CEO Michael Brigham in the release. “We look forward to completing this offering, which will supplement the offering we completed earlier in the year.”

In February, the company completed a $5.9 million public offering in which it offered for sale 1.1 million shares of stock, also priced at $5.25 each. The offering diluted the value of ImmuCell’s existing pool of 3.1 million outstanding shares by roughly one-third.

Mast Out is a novel treatment for dairy cows with mastitis, an inflammation of the udders that is often caused by a bacterial infection. Existing mastitis treatments require dairy farmers to throw away the milk for a certain time period following treatment, but Mast Out would not. The product has not yet received FDA approval, and building a production facility for its key ingredient, Nisin, is one of the prerequisites. Nisin is a preservative with antibacterial properties that is made from milk and used in processed cheeses, meats and other products.

Also on Tuesday, ImmuCell released a preliminary earnings estimate for the third quarter. It estimated sales of $2 million for its flagship product First Defense during the quarter, a 20 percent decrease from sales of $2.5 million a year earlier.

The company explained that while it completed an expansion in early 2016 to double capacity and eliminate an 18-month backlog of orders, some customers moved on to competing products because of the wait time to obtain First Defense. The product boosts immunity to scours, or diarrhea, in newborn calves and must be administered within a few days of birth.

ImmuCell also said a competing product that had been off the market in 2014 and the first half of 2015 returned, and that some customers switched back to that product.

ImmuCell estimated that its net income for the quarter could range anywhere from a slight profit of $33,000 to a loss of $67,000, down from a profit of $351,000 in the third quarter of 2015. The company’s official earnings report is expected to be released Nov. 10.

After receiving approval for $375,000 in tax increment financing from the Portland City Council in September, ImmuCell began construction of its Nisin production facility on Oct. 11. As of Sept. 30, the end of the third quarter, ImmuCell had spent about $650,000 on the project, which contributed to its relatively flat estimated earnings along with the reduced sales of First Defense.

“The decrease in sales will correspondingly affect our profitability for the quarter,” Brigham said.

]]> 1, 19 Oct 2016 11:37:37 +0000
Stock market slides on mixed U.S. economic data Tue, 18 Oct 2016 01:08:13 +0000 Treasuries rebounded from a four-month low and the dollar fell after mixed economic data in the world’s largest economy bolstered the case for accommodative monetary policy. Oil declined.

U.S. government bond yields dropped and the dollar retreated against most of its major peers after a measure of manufacturing in New York unexpectedly contracted, while the nation’s factory production rose for the third time in four months. Stocks declined with energy shares as investors assessed corporate earnings. Oil fell as OPEC members added supply and American producers increased drilling, threatening to compound a global surplus.

Traders have monitored economic data and remarks from policymakers for clues on the path of interest rates. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York said its Empire State index declined this month as analysts projected expansion, while data on U.S. manufacturers signaled recovery. Investors also weighed comments from Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer, who sees limits to how far the central bank can pursue a strategy to push unemployment ever lower.

“People are trying to figure out what the Fed is going to do,” Thomas Garcia, head of equity trading at Thornburg Investment Management in Santa Fe, New Mexico, said by phone.

Futures indicate a 67 percent probability the Fed will raise rates by its December meeting, up from around 50 percent as recently as Sept. 27, according to calculations by Bloomberg.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 51.98 points, or 0.3 percent, to 18,086.40. The average was down as much as 75 points earlier in the day. Its two biggest decliners: McDonald’s and Nike, each down 1 percent.

The S&P 500 index slid 6.48 points, or 0.3 percent, to 2,126.50. The Nasdaq composite index fell 14.34 points, or 0.3 percent, to 5,199.82.

]]> 2 Mon, 17 Oct 2016 21:08:13 +0000
Netflix again reports slowing U.S. growth Tue, 18 Oct 2016 00:59:24 +0000 SAN FRANCISCO — Netflix is testing the financial limits of its streaming video service as the rising cost of producing original programming pushes up subscription prices.

The latest reminder came Monday with the company’s third-quarter earnings report, which revealed that Netflix added 370,000 U.S. subscribers. That marks its second consecutive quarter of slowing U.S. growth since lifting a two-year rate freeze and increasing prices by as much as 20 percent for more than 20 million existing subscribers.

While the latest quarterly subscriber gain exceeded management’s modest projections, it fell far below the 880,000 U.S. customers that Netflix picked up at the same time last year. The deceleration occurred even though the latest period included the July debut of “Stranger Things,” which turned into one of the summer’s surprise hits.

Netflix is now faring far better overseas as it tries to diversify its video library to suit the tastes of 189 other countries. The company added 3.2 million international subscribers in the third quarter, surpassing the 2.7 million it gained at the same time last year when it was operating in about 130 fewer countries.

Investors were thrilled with the international progress and the better-than-expected showing in the U.S. Netflix’s stock surged nearly 20 percent to $119.91 in extended trading.

The drop-off in U.S. subscriber gains underscores the delicate balancing act the company is trying to pull off as it seeks to retain and attract customers while also financing its ambitious expansion overseas amid fierce competition from Amazon and HBO.

It’s an expensive challenge, which is why Netflix raised the price for its most popular U.S. plan from $8 to $10 per month. And the pressure to keep increasing rates every few years seems likely to continue, though Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said Monday that that there are no plans to raise prices again anytime soon.

On average, Netflix said, it is collecting 10 percent more for its subscribers worldwide than a year ago. About 25 percent of the U.S. subscribers still covered by the rate freeze imposed in 2014 will have their prices raised by year’s end.

“With more revenue, we can reinvest to further improve Netflix to attract new members from around the world, while continuing to delight our existing customers,” Hastings wrote in a letter reviewing the third-quarter results.

After spending $5 billion on original programing and licensing rights to other shows this year, Netflix has earmarked another $6 billion for next year. Only Walt Disney Co. and NBC are spending more on programming, based on an analysis of 2015 data, according to the research firm IHS Markit. Netflix expects to offer 1,000 hours of original shows and movies next year, up from 600 hours this year.

But the price increases that help finance new shows threaten to become counter-productive if they drive away too many of the existing 47.5 million U.S. subscribers or discourage potential new customers from signing up.

Netflix does not disclose how many of its subscribers cancel each quarter, but Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter estimates that about 1 million U.S. households opened new accounts from July through September. That means about 600,000 subscribers abandoned the service during the third quarter, if Pachter’s calculations are accurate.

Even at $10 per month, RBS analyst Mark Mahaney contends that Netflix remains a bargain for the average U.S. subscriber, who watches about 60 hours of programming each month, more time spent viewing other popular cable TV channels. By Mahaney’s calculations, the average Netflix subscriber in the U.S. is paying the equivalent of 17 cents per hour of programming watched versus a range of 25 cents to 38 cents per hour for every hour of programming watching on AMC, FX, CNN, CBS, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon.

For that reason, Mahaney believes Netflix will still be able to raise its monthly prices by a few more dollars during the next four years and still reach 160 million worldwide subscribers in 2020. Netflix ended September with nearly 87 million worldwide customers.

For now, Netflix is leaning on its streaming and DVD-by-mail business in the U.S. to subsidize unprofitable overseas operations. The company is promising to make money internationally next year. Overall, Netflix’s third-quarter earnings nearly doubled from the same time last year to $51.5 million, or 12 cents per share.

Netflix had hoped to expand into China on its own, but said Monday that it will instead license some of its content to other providers that already have cleared the country’s regulatory hurdles governing the kind of video that can be shown there.

]]> 1, 17 Oct 2016 20:59:24 +0000
Japan gives visiting Mainers the scoop on scalloping Mon, 17 Oct 2016 23:54:00 +0000 A group of Maine fishermen from Cape Elizabeth to Stonington traveled to northern Japan this month to study mechanized techniques for growing scallops.

Funded in part by a grant from the United States-Japan Foundation, the 10-person group traveled to the coastal region of the Aomori prefecture to learn about the machines that the fishing and aquaculture cooperatives there use to grow scallops on vertical lines suspended in the sea, a farming method proven to speed up their growth. The group also learned about shellfish processing and value-added shellfish products.

“We want to get key people there to see what’s possible in scallop farming and to believe it can be replicated in Maine, although at a much smaller scale,” said trip leader Hugh Cowperthwaite, fisheries director for Coastal Enterprises Inc., which promotes rural economic development. “This exchange allows us to make new and deeper connections. Can this industry find its footing and create jobs in Maine?”

This isn’t the first time that Mainers have traveled to Aomori, which is more than 6,200 miles from Portland. The Japanese shellfish community started the information exchange in 1999, with a focus on how to collect wild seed and grow scallops from juveniles to adults. During Cowperthwaite’s first trip in 2010, he learned how Japan has mechanized several of the most labor-intensive steps of scallop farming.

Now, CEI is using a $68,500 grant from the Maine Technology Institute to buy machines to put pins in the vertical hanging lines, drill holes in the “ears” of the scallop shells, and then clean the growth off the scallops with a boat-top washer as they remain growing on the lines. Maine shellfish farmers have always done these time-consuming parts of the grow-out process by hand.

The delegation believes scallop farmers here can learn how to expand Maine’s struggling scallop industry. The fishery reached a low in 2009 when only 80,000 pounds of meat were harvested, the result of closures and a severely shortened scallop season to protect the mollusk.

The Maine fishery was worth $5.7 million in 2015, down from $7.6 million in 2014, because of a drop in meat pounds from more than 605,000 to about 453,000. The price per pound fell just 3 cents, however, from $12.70 to $12.67. The 2016 numbers aren’t in yet, but the season likely ended strongly.

For Matthew Moretti, president of Bangs Island Mussels and Wild Ocean Aquaculture of Portland, the trip to Aomori was “proof of concept.” Moretti currently grows mussels from rafts at leased sites off Falmouth Landing and Bangs Island, as well as kelp, which is Wild Ocean’s latest product line. He went on the Japan trip to decide if he wanted to expand into scallops, too.

“I wanted to see if it was possible,” Moretti said. “The trip to Japan proved to me that we could do it, but now it’s a matter of working the numbers, and trying to figure out what scale we would need to do it on, just how big we would have to go, to make a profit. We’ve been playing around with the idea for some time now, but I feel like I now know exactly what I need to do to make it work, if the numbers work.”

In addition to Cowperthwaite and Moretti, the delegation included Sebastian Belle, director of the Maine Aquaculture Association, and fishermen Gordon Connell of Spruce Head Island, Nate Perry of Cape Elizabeth, Marsden Brewer of Stonington and Robert Brewer of Deer Isle. Dana Morse of Maine Sea Grant, Chris Davis of Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center and Don Hudson of Maine Aomori Sister-State Advisory Council also attended.

The group visited several fishing cooperatives there, went out with scallop farmers on their boats to see how they set their lines and used a wash machine, toured several processing plants to see how the co-ops prepared the scallops for market – including one that freezes the scallops – and visited fish markets to see how Japanese scallop farmers make use of most of the scallop. Americans usually only eat the abductor muscle.

The relationship between Maine and Aomori dates back to 1889, when the 1,500-ton Cheseborough ship, which was made in Bath, wrecked off Japan’s coast. Locals rescued several Mainers from the water and buried those who didn’t survive. A few members of the 2016 Maine delegation who had stayed for a second week of touring traveled to the Cheseborough wreck site this month.

“Two weeks of studying the farming and culture of scallops in Mutsu Bay, Aomori,” wrote Hudson on his blow-by-blow Facebook account of the visit. “We have many memories to process, and a lot of work at home to set up a vibrant new aquaculture fishery.”


]]> 3, 18 Oct 2016 00:59:02 +0000
Save-A-Lot stores to be sold to Canadian firm Mon, 17 Oct 2016 18:15:46 +0000 A discount grocery chain with nine locations in Maine is being sold to a Canadian private equity firm for $1.36 billion.

Supervalu, the Minneapolis parent company of the Save-A-Lot chain of small supermarkets, announced the agreement to sell the chain to Onex Corp. of Toronto on Monday. The deal is still subject to customary closing conditions.

In connection with the sale, Supervalu will enter into a five-year professional services agreement to provide management of day-to-day operations for Save-A-Lot, including cloud services, merchandising technology, payroll, finance and other services, according to a news release announcing the sale.

Supervalu, which is one of the largest grocery chains in the U.S. with more than 3,300 stores, intends to use the money from the sale to pay down $750 million in debt and to grow its other divisions.

“(The sale) provides us with a stronger balance sheet that will allow us to further build on our core strengths and growth opportunities,” said Supervalu President and CEO Mark Gross. “It has been a pleasure to work with the Save-A-Lot team, and, once this transaction is completed, I look forward to continuing to work with them as one of our largest professional services customers.”

According to Supervalu’s website, there are Save-A-Lot stores in Portland, Lewiston, Waterville, Presque Isle, South Paris, Farmington, Millinocket, Brewer and Dover-Foxcroft.

The stores are typically 15,000 to 20,000 square feet – about one-third to one-half the size of a typical supermarket such as Hannaford or Shaw’s. Save-A-Lot operates more than 1,300 stores in urban, suburban and rural areas and reaches more than 5 million shoppers each week, according to its website.

The company, which offers discounted food, meat and produce, saw a slight decrease of 1.4 percent in its annual same-store sales in February 2016 compared with a year earlier. In February of 2015, it had reported a 5.8 percent annual increase in same-store sales over 2014.

The deal is expected to close in early 2017 pending regulatory approval and other conditions.

]]> 3 Mon, 17 Oct 2016 18:47:22 +0000
Arguments over homeowner solar take focus at Maine PUC hearing: Who pays? Mon, 17 Oct 2016 16:58:17 +0000 HALLOWELL — A parade of residents and small-business owners told the Maine Public Utilities Commission on Monday that its proposal to reduce financial incentives for homeowners using solar panels would stifle the growth of solar and already is having a chilling effect on installations. Several who testified at a public hearing said the commission should withdraw its proposal and let the Legislature set solar policy.

But those comments were tempered by testimony on behalf of utilities and by Gov. Paul LePage’s energy director, and from a consumer affairs consultant who said the current financial incentives for rooftop solar hurt other ratepayers. And the state’s public advocate said the PUC’s proposal failed to determine the actual impact on electric customers and should be withdrawn for further analysis.

Overall, though, it was a day for solar installers, clean-energy advocates and their allies to voice frustration with the PUC’s actions.

“The PUC failed to do its job, which was to properly review net metering,” Vaughan Woodruff, owner of Insource Renewables in Pittsfield, said at a rally of supporters before the hearing.

At issue is a decades-old rule that requires utilities to credit the bills of homeowners with rooftop solar panels for the full retail price of all the electricity they send into the grid. Those credits chiefly help homeowners recover the costs of solar-electric panels, which can average $10,000 or so. The credits continue to be paid as long as power is generated.

This arrangement, called net-energy billing or net metering, was set up in the 1980s to help jump-start solar when the technology was new. But panel costs have fallen sharply in recent years, and utilities and some policymakers say it’s time to trim the incentive. As solar’s popularity grows, they say, the credits are shifting the cost of serving homes with solar panels onto other customers.


Last month, the three PUC commissioners – all appointed by LePage – proposed the change that would grandfather net-metering credits for current solar homeowners for 15 years, and gradually reduce benefits for new solar owners over 10 years.

Advocates point to jobs as one important facet of growing Maine’s solar economy.

At the hearing, John Egan, a senior vice president for lending at Coastal Enterprises Inc. in Brunswick, said he had made $3 million in loans to solar businesses and that net metering is an effective tool to attract this investment. But the uncertainty now surrounding Maine’s solar policy, he said, already was slowing activity.

Sadie Lloyd, assistant planner for Belfast, said the city had two solar-electric installations that were supplying 20 percent of Belfast’s needs, but it wouldn’t take on a third project without net metering.

Woodruff, from Insource Renewables, said he was aware of one fellow solar installer who has gone out of business and another that went more than three weeks in the summer – the prime construction season – without a project.

But Barbara Alexander, a former director of the PUC’s consumer assistance division who is now a national consultant, said if lawmakers want to support a solar industry for job creation, they should do it through taxes, not electric rates.

As net metering now stands, she said, costs are shifted from wealthier residents, who are more likely to have panels, to lower-income households. That’s because net metering shifts the cost of distributing power to homes of non-solar customers, by crediting solar customers for the full retail rate.

“This is not a debate about whether solar power is good or bad or whether we need to address climate change,” Alexander said. “The issue is what ratepayer-funded subsidies should be given to rooftop and community solar customers.”

Solar supporters dispute this point of view and say net metering isn’t a subsidy. They say the value of this energy actually is greater than its cost, citing a study done for the PUC in 2015, and updated last summer, to prove their point.

The updated study concluded that the value of power produced near its point of use is worth roughly 27 cents per kilowatt hour over 25 years. In Maine, the average home electric rate today is less than 16 cents per kilowatt hour.

But teasing out the components that contribute to that 27-cents figure paints a more complicated picture. The PUC’s consultant found that just over 17 cents of the total value was primarily from reducing the demand for power from the grid. The other 9 cents or so were “societal benefits,” linked to emitting less climate-changing carbon dioxide and pollutants into the air.

That leads opponents to say that while there may be benefits to solar, they don’t offset the financial costs to ratepayers.

Central Maine Power Co. contends that net metering cost ratepayers $1.3 million last year. It says the cost will grow as more capacity is installed, although solar advocates say they haven’t seen the math. Although the company detailed its position in written testimony, CMP officials didn’t testify Monday.

Ashley Brown, a seasonal Maine resident and executive director of the Harvard Electricity Policy Group, laid out his reasoning why net metering should be discarded and replaced with a price structure that reflects the fluctuating value of electricity on the market. That argument also was made by the director of LePage’s energy office, Patrick Woodcock.


In a more-nuanced critique, Tim Schneider of the Maine Office of the Public Advocate said the PUC hasn’t done the analysis to estimate how much its proposal will cost consumers. He suggested it be withdrawn and modified with some of the approaches contained in a compromise bill that was vetoed by LePage.

The debate Monday reflected similar fights about the future of solar energy development taking place across the country, as utility regulators and politicians try to define the value and benefits of small solar-electric installations, as well as determine who should pay, and how much, to help expand their use. At least 17 states have undertaken value-of-solar studies, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The PUC has said it plans to make a decision before year’s end.

That will set the stage for a rematch in the Legislature. Last spring, a compromise solar bill that had been the result of a year-long study and negotiations among stakeholders failed to become law after the Legislature fell two votes short of overriding a LePage veto.

Clean-energy advocates have vowed to reintroduce a solar bill and are awaiting the outcome of next month’s election to assess the make-up of the incoming Legislature. But at a news conference Monday before the hearing, solar supporters read a statement from Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, who said he intends to sponsor a bill next year to “modernize Maine’s solar economy.”

Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at:

Twitter: TuxTurkel

This story was changed from its original version to correct the scope of the PUC’s proposal.

]]> 67, 21 Oct 2016 11:03:24 +0000
Maine gas prices steady at $2.26 per gallon Mon, 17 Oct 2016 14:19:46 +0000 CONCORD, N.H. — Gas prices have stayed about the same in northern New England over the last week, while they went down slightly nationally.

GasBuddy shows that the average retail price did not move in Maine or in New Hampshire. In Maine, the price averaged $2.26 a gallon. In New Hampshire, it was $2.17. In Vermont, the price went down less than a penny, to about $2.27 a gallon.

The national average of $2.23 has fallen 2.4 cents a gallon in the last week. It stands 3.4 cents per gallon lower than a year ago.

]]> 2 Mon, 17 Oct 2016 10:24:33 +0000
An industry’s answer to deadly opioid addiction: More pills Sun, 16 Oct 2016 16:43:08 +0000 Cancer patients taking high doses of opioid painkillers are often afflicted by a new discomfort: constipation. Researcher Jonathan Moss thought he could help, but no drug company was interested in his ideas for relieving suffering among the dying.

So Moss and his colleagues pieced together small grants and, in 1997, received permission to test their treatment. But not on cancer patients. Federal regulators urged them to use a less frail – and by then, rapidly expanding – group: addicts caught in the throes of a nationwide opioid epidemic.

Suddenly, Moss said, investors were knocking at his door.

“As clinicians, we wanted to help palliative patients,” said Moss, a professor and physician at University of Chicago Medicine. “The company that bought our work saw a broader market.”

Today, Moss’s side project is hailed as the next billion-dollar drug. And the once-disinterested pharmaceutical industry is bombarding doctors and the public with information about a serious, if previously unrecognized, condition common among the millions of Americans who take prescription painkillers. They call it “opioid-induced constipation,” or “OIC.”

The story of OIC illuminates the opportunism of pharmaceutical innovators and the consequences of a heavily drug-dependent society. Six in 10 American adults take prescription drugs, creating a vast market for new meds to treat the side effects of the old ones.

Opioid prescriptions alone have skyrocketed from 112 million in 1992 to nearly 249 million in 2015, the latest year for which numbers are available, and America’s dependence on the drugs has reached crisis levels. Millions are addicted to or abusing prescription painkillers such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that, from 1999 to 2014, more than 165,000 people died in the United States from prescription-opioid overdoses, which have contributed to a startling increase in early mortality among whites, particularly women – a devastating toll that has hit hardest in small towns and rural areas.

The pharmaceutical industry’s response has been more drugs. The opioid market – now worth nearly $10 billion a year in sales in the United States – has expanded to include a growing universe of medications aimed at treating secondary effects rather than controlling pain.

There’s Suboxone, financed and promoted by the U.S. government as a safer alternative to methadone for those trying to break their dependence on opioids. There’s naloxone, the emergency injection and nasal spray carried by first responders to treat overdoses. And now there’s Relistor, the drug based on Moss’s work, and a competitor, Movantik, for constipation.

In colorful charts designed to entice investors, numerous pharmaceutical makers tout the “expansion opportunity” that exists in the “opioid use disorders population.”

Indivior, a specialty pharmaceutical company listed on the London Stock Exchange, sees “around 2.5m potential patients, the majority of whom are addicted to prescription painkillers,” as opposed to illicit drugs such as heroin. Another company, New Jersey-based Braeburn Pharmaceuticals, highlights “growth drivers” for the market, noting that millions of additional Americans not yet identified are also likely to be dependent on opioid painkillers.

Analysts estimate that each of these submarkets – addiction, overdose and side effects – is worth at least $1 billion a year in sales. These economics, experts say, work against efforts to end the epidemic.

If opioid addiction disappeared tomorrow, it would wipe billions of dollars from the drug companies’ bottom lines.

– – –

From a profit-making standpoint, opioids are a potent product. Chronic use can cause myriad side effects that usually are mild enough to keep people taking painkillers but sufficiently uncomfortable to send them back to the doctor.

Andrew Kolodny, executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, said this domino effect can turn a patient worth a few hundred dollars a month into one worth several thousand dollars a month.

“Many patients wind up very sedated from opioids, and it’s not uncommon to give them amphetamines to make them more alert. But now they can’t sleep, so they get Ambien or Lunesta. The amphetamines also make them anxious, paranoid and sweaty, and that means even more drugs,” said Kolodny, who also serves as chief medical officer to Phoenix House, a nonprofit organization that offers drug and alcohol treatment in 10 states and the District of Columbia.

Women, in particular, are ideal customers. About 57 percent of working-age women who take opioids have four or more prescriptions, according to a Washington Post analysis of participants in the latest National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Among working-age women who don’t take opioids, 14 percent have four or more prescriptions, the analysis shows.

Among men, the numbers are significantly lower. About 41 percent of working-age men on prescription opioids have at least four prescriptions. Among men who don’t take opioids, 9 percent have four or more.

Studies show that constipation afflicts 40 percent to 90 percent of opioid patients. As recently as a few years ago, doctors typically advised people to cut down the dosages of their pain meds, to take them less often, or to try non-drug interventions such as changing their diets or increasing physical activity.

By promoting opioid-induced constipation as a condition in need of more targeted treatment, critics say the drug industry is creating incentives to maintain the painkillers at full strength and add another pill instead.

“The pharmaceutical industry literally created the problem of OIC,” Kolodny said. “They named it, and they started advertising what a serious issue it is. And now they’ve got the solution for it.”

– – –

Opioid-induced constipation burst onto the biggest possible public stage in February, when AstraZeneca, maker of Movantik, aired a spot during Super Bowl 50, one of the most expensive ad opportunities of the year. It featured a middle-aged man wistfully watching another man triumphantly adjusting his belt, a dog peacefully relieving itself under a tree and a woman striding by with a banner of toilet paper trailing victoriously from one high-heeled shoe.

“If you need an opioid to manage your chronic pain, you may be so constipated it feels like everyone can go – except you,” a narrator intones.

That ad was aimed at men, but many others in the Movantik campaign target women, airing on “Good Morning America,” movies on the Hallmark Channel and specials about former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, Princess Diana and singer Whitney Houston.

In one, a slightly overweight dark-blonde woman talks about “struggling to find relief.” In another, a giant cartoon pill looms sympathetically over a middle-aged brunette, who complains that opioids really helped with her pain but left her with some “baggage.”

“So awkward,” she sighs.

The Super Bowl ad, aired before an audience of more than 100 million people, quickly became the latest flash point in the country’s war against opioids. Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) called the ad “a shameful attempt to exploit America’s addiction crisis to boost corporate profits.” White House chief of staff Denis McDonough tweeted: “Next year, how about fewer ads that fuel opioid addiction and more on access to treatment.”

AstraZeneca and its marketing partner Daiichi Sankyo defended the commercials, calling opioid-induced constipation “a legitimate medical condition” affecting millions of Americans.

“The ad has driven good dialogue about OIC, and just as importantly, also added to the increasing and necessary conversation about the appropriate and safe use of opioids,” a spokeswoman said.

Paul Gileno, president of the U.S. Pain Foundation, a patient advocacy group that worked with AstraZeneca on the ads, notes that many people use opioids responsibly.

“People ask, ‘Why are you helping addicts?’ That’s not the case,” Gileno said. “We are trying to help people who are suffering from chronic pain to be able to continue on their medicines and live their lives.”

– – –

Each tiny pink pill of Movantik retails for about $10, and most insurance plans cover it. Since the Super Bowl, prescriptions have jumped from 6,600 to 8,800 a week, AstraZeneca recently reported.

Movantik holds the dominant market share, but Canada’s Valeant Pharmaceuticals – one of the companies under fire by Congress for jacking up prices of old drugs – won approval in July from the Food and Drug Administration to sell Relistor, its version of the pill. Analysts estimate that as many as six other drugs may be on the market by 2019.

Investors have been talking about the “blockbuster potential” of these drugs since at least 2008, when Movantik had been tested on only a few dozen human subjects, and long before it received FDA approval in 2014. While it is illegal to market a drug before approval, it is fine to market the condition the drug is designed to treat. And so “OIC” was born.

The branding began around 2010, when “OIC” began appearing in papers in some of the top medical journals, in poster presentations and on the lips of panelists speaking at major medical conferences. “Opioid-induced constipation” suddenly replaced what had been a vast vocabulary used to describe the problem, including terms such as “bowel dysfunction” and “gut motility.”

Last year, after it won government approval to sell Movantik, AstraZeneca rolled out a number of free continuing-education classes. Doctors and nurses must take such classes to remain licensed. The titles included: Opioid-induced Constipation: A Neglected Complication and Unmet Needs in Opioid-Induced Constipation.

The companies have also asked pain doctors to show patients a chart about stool “health,” with diagrams to help assess shape and clumpiness.

Adriane Fugh-Berman, a researcher at Georgetown University Medical Center who studies drug marketing, called the Movantik strategy “brilliant.” She compared it to other recent “disease awareness” campaigns focused on “premenstrual dysphoric disorder” (treatable with a new version of Prozac packaged in pink instead of blue) and “binge-eating disorder” (for which there is a new pill called Vyvanse).

The OIC campaign created the perception of great need for the drug when the market should be “vanishingly small,” Fugh-Berman said – certainly not big enough to justify ads during the Super Bowl.

“The best way to treat opioid-induced constipation,” she said, “is to prevent it in the first place by not overusing opioids.”

– – –

Constipation is different for people on opioids. Opioids bind to a receptor that makes the gastrointestinal tract go awry, decreasing the secretion of fluids and inhibiting the muscle contractions that propel waste. As a result, stool gets “stuck.”

While mostly a nuisance, the condition can be serious, especially among people already weakened by end-stage cancer. Some patients have been rushed to the emergency room to have the material removed from their bodies.

In the early 1990s, Moss and his colleagues at the University of Chicago began working on a drug that would block what are known as mu opioid receptors, which are responsible for the side effect. The drug showed promise, and Moss was devastated when investors told him the potential profits were too small to be worth the risky investment.

“If you’re a drug company, who wants to make a drug for people who weren’t going to be around in a couple of months? They wanted to aim for something people could take for 10, 20 years,” recalled Moss, who specializes in anesthesiology and critical care.

The researchers decided to fund the work without industry help, but ran into another roadblock: The FDA said it was too risky to continue testing the experimental drug on cancer patients. Regulators suggested a different population: opioid addicts being treated with methadone.

Moss was reluctant. He considered the idea a detour that would slow down his work. “Our hearts really sank,” he said.

Thinking that he had no choice, Moss began the testing, and the results were published in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, in 2000. Pharmaceutical companies immediately came calling.

Moss’s drug was picked up by a biotech company and, after changing hands a few times, eventually became Valeant’s Relistor. Nearly all the profits will go to the companies. The licensing deal through the University of Chicago calls for Moss and four colleagues to receive a modest initial payment of several thousand dollars, plus a tiny slice of sales royalties. They also get “milestone payments” when the drug reaches a certain stage of approval or a certain market size.

Parallel efforts took off at other companies. Nektar Therapeutics, a small San Francisco firm specializing in drug research and development, had been working on a drug known as NKTR-118, which was aimed at limiting opioid penetration of the central nervous system and reducing side effects such as dizziness and sleepiness. But researchers found that it also helped with constipation.

In 2009, Astra Zeneca bought the rights for the drug and recruited William Chey, director of the Gastrointestinal Physiology Laboratory at the University of Michigan, to help design and execute the first large-scale human study. The results, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2014, were a crucial part of pushing Movantik over the FDA finish line. Last year, it became the first drug on the market specifically approved to treat opioid-induced constipation.

Chey said that he has seen many patients with cancer and other serious illnesses suffering from the condition and that he believes Movantik can improve their quality of life. However, Chey said he also recognizes the concern that Movantik could enable chronic opioid use and worsen the nation’s epidemic of addiction.

“I’ve thought a lot about the potential good and bad,” he said. “Used responsibly, this is an incredibly valuable drug. Hopefully, people will use it that way.”

]]> 9, 17 Oct 2016 07:55:33 +0000
Portland jetport gets new de-icing fluid recycling system Sun, 16 Oct 2016 16:33:35 +0000 A new facility designed to recycle aircraft de-icing fluid at the Portland International Jetport is described as the first of its kind in the country.

The Inland Technologies facility will not only recapture used de-icing fluid in Portland but will also accept used recycling fluid from other airports in the region.

The new facility was formally commissioned into service on Friday.

Paul Bradbury, airport director, said it’s both good for the environment and good business sense to recover the de-icing fluid so it can be reused.

The old facility that opened in Portland six years ago has collected nearly 6 million gallons of used aircraft de-icing fluid and processed it to remove the glycol and other contaminants. Nearly 1 million gallons of pure glycol have been recovered.

]]> 0 Mon, 17 Oct 2016 07:55:02 +0000
Week in review: Credit unions set record, and tourism is on track for one Sun, 16 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 TOURISM

Summer indicators point to record year for tourism

Maine’s summer tourism-related revenue was on track at the end of August to break all previous records, driven largely by strong sales in Portland, the southern coast and Bar Harbor. However, restaurant and lodging professionals noted that not all tourism-related businesses across the state have benefited equally from the boom. Summer 2015 was a record season for Maine tourism, but in summer 2016, Maine’s restaurant sales of $1.11 billion for the four months ending Aug. 30 were up nearly 5 percent from the same period year earlier. And its lodging sales of $559.3 million for the four months were up more than 7 percent from the same period of 2015, according to Maine Revenue Services data. Figures for August are preliminary, and September figures are not yet available. The numbers reflect the highest summer revenues for both industries in Maine’s history. Read the story.


State reopens parts of coast closed because of bloom

Parts of the Down East coast have been reopened to shellfish harvesting because of declining levels of a potentially harmful biotoxin produced by an unusual algae bloom. On Thursday, the Department of Marine Resources re-opened some of the coastline between Calais and Cutler for the harvest of clams, mussels and carnivorous snails, and said clamming will be allowed on a portion of the coast between Isle Au Haut to Winter Harbor. Shellfish harvesting on much of the Down East coast remains restricted because of an algae bloom that produces a toxin that can cause amnesic shellfish poisoning, or ASP, in humans. Read the story.


City lauded for assets in food processing

Greater Portland ranks high in a study of prime processor sites for its low labor costs and its port. A study by a national site-selection firm identifies greater Portland as one of the lowest-cost locations for food and beverage processors in the United States and Canada, primarily because of the area’s lower labor costs. Only companies based in eastern Tennessee and eastern Ontario have lower overhead costs, according to the analysis from the New Jersey-based Boyd Co. The study compared estimated annual operating costs for a 300,000-square-foot plant with 500 hourly workers in 24 regions across North America. Factors considered were labor, energy and certain taxes. Read the story.


Barber Foods’ parent acquires New Jersey firm

AdvancePierre Foods, the parent company of Portland-based Barber Foods, has acquired Allied Specialty Foods for $60 million, the company said Monday. The Cincinnati-based AdvancePierre, a national producer and distributor of sandwiches, sandwich components and other entrees and snacks, said it acquired Allied to boost its offering of Philly steak sandwiches and sandwich components. It described Allied as “a pioneering manufacturer of raw and cooked beef and chicken Philly steak products.” Allied’s customer base is primarily in the food service industry, which it currently serves from a 20,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Vineland, New Jersey. Read the story.

Roastery earns sustainability label

Coffee By Design, a Portland specialty roastery, has been certified as a B Corp., an internationally recognized designation of the company’s commitment to sustainability and other standards. “We adhere to the ‘three-legged-stool model’ for our business, emphasizing people, planet and profit,” co-owner Mary Allen Lindemann said in a news release announcing the designation Thursday. There are nearly 1,900 certified B Corps. in the world and 10 in Maine, according to the B Corp. website. Unlike traditional corporations, certified B Corp. companies are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on all their stakeholders, including workers, suppliers, community, consumers and the environment. Read the story.

Bangor call center closing

Verizon is closing call centers in five states, including the one in Bangor that will affect over 200 workers. The company said Thursday a consolidation of its call centers will impact about 3,200 workers in Bangor; Rochester, New York, and New York City; Lincoln, Nebraska; Wallingford and Meriden, Connecticut, and Rancho Cordova, California. Besides the 200 jobs in Maine, some 850 will be lost at the two New York locations. In California, 700 jobs are being cut and another 300 are being relocated. The other cuts include 320 in Nebraska, and 550 in Connecticut. Another 175 jobs at a customer service facility in Huntsville, Alabama, are being relocated to Hanover, Maryland, the company said. Bangor workers are expected to be offered jobs at other centers. Read the story.


JAX launches partnership with university in China

The Jackson Laboratory is partnering with a university in China to collaborate on genomic research to speed treatments for diseases. The Bar Harbor biomedical research institution announced Tuesday that it intends to work with Wenzhou Medical University and its affiliated hospitals in the Ouhai District in southeast China to focus on individualized therapies for cancer, heart disease and other illnesses. The partnership combines JAX’s expertise in scientific research with WMU’s clinical expertise. Read the story.


Credit unions reach new asset, membership records

Maine credit unions reached a milestone in the first half of 2016, with combined assets surpassing $7 billion for the first time. According to mid-year statistics about Maine’s 58 credit unions from the Maine Credit Union League, combined assets had reached an all-time high of $7.04 billion as of June 30. Total membership in Maine credit unions also reached a record high of nearly 680,000 members, according to the league. Loans outstanding to members for the six-month period increased by nearly $200 million, or 4.1 percent, to $4.9 billion, it said. Savings at Maine credit unions also reached a milestone, growing by more than $200 million for the period to rise above the $6 billion mark for the first time to $6.02 billion. Read the story.


Solar farm proposed for former air base

A solar power developer has signed a lease for what could become the state’s largest solar farm, producing up to 100 megawatts of electricity, officials said Tuesday. Ranger Solar wants to develop more than 600 acres at the former Loring Air Force Base, but first the Yarmouth-based company must clear regulatory hurdles and negotiate power purchase agreements with buyers of the energy. Ranger Solar, which approached the local development authority last year, would like to see construction underway before 2019, which would allow for time for necessary approvals. The lease covers several parcels at the 3,800-acre Loring Commerce Centre, as the base is now known, said Carl Flora, president of the Loring Development Authority. Read the story.


Vaccine maker plans multi-million expansion

A poultry vaccine manufacturer is moving ahead with plans for a composting facility and other upgrades at its Winslow location. Lohmann Animal Health International Inc., which is owned by Elanco Animal Health, a division of Eli Lilly, says the composting facility should save the company money and will improve its waste efficiency. Construction costs are estimated at $160,000. The company also applied in mid-July for a permit to upgrade Building H, which holds the main laboratory and research and development building. This project has an estimated cost of $2.67 million, according to the application for a town building permit. Lohmann Animal Health develops vaccines and food components to help prevent diseases of animals used in food production. It employs more than 100 people at the Winslow site. Read the story.

]]> 1, 15 Oct 2016 17:10:19 +0000
Michelle Singletary: Love can’t be measured by a will Sun, 16 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Money is a funny thing.

People might claim it doesn’t matter to them, but its power as a symbol is undeniable. This is particularly evident when it comes to what parents leave their adult children in their wills.

In a recent column, I addressed leaving an inheritance and argued that sometimes it’s not fair to divide one’s assets equally among your children. I also maintained that people are acting entitled when they get angry over not inheriting what they feel is just. (The caveat is when a parent purposefully aims to punish or discriminate in a will.)

On occasion, I publish readers’ counterpoints in the Color of Money “Talk Back” feature. One person thought I was wrong when I wrote that a disinherited daughter was guilty of giving in to a sense of entitlement.

“I think you are missing the point of being disinherited,” the Louisiana reader wrote. “It’s happened twice in my family, and it forever changed the opinion the survivors had had about the deceased person.”

Before I respond, let’s go through the person’s points:

 “Inheritance to your children isn’t about money; it’s about love. To leave a child out of the will is the ultimate rejection, a total denial of love for them in a situation that can never be revisited, readdressed or repaired.”

 What parents decide to leave their children is a declaration about their love for them, the reader contends, writing: “It’s the final word on the way you have felt your whole life, wiping away the assumptions of a lifetime in favor of a single, final act.”

 “Sibling relationships are often destroyed just at the time they are most needed.”

 “My son will inherit every penny I have, because it’s the way it should be. He’s a generous person, so if he doesn’t need it, I’m sure he’ll find good use for what he doesn’t need. I would never cause him the sort of hurt, pain and self-doubt a disinheritance can cause.”

 “I will never forget the voice of my relative saying, ‘I never thought my brother would do such a thing. He was my mother’s favorite for all those years.’ She needed the money, but that wasn’t what she was mourning. Or the voice of my friend saying, ‘My father didn’t even leave me his watch. Nothing.'”

To further make a point, the reader claimed that, under Louisiana law, you cannot disinherit a child. Actually, the law says you cannot completely disinherit a child under 24 or a child of any age who is permanently incapacitated. These so-called “forced heirs” are entitled to a certain portion of their parents’ assets.

 In summation, the reader wrote that being disinherited is an irrevocable statement of love being “withheld.”

Wow. That’s a lot of love measured strictly by the money or possessions that are left to heirs.

The reader made the assumption that I had never been involved in situations where people were disinherited. I have. And it was ugly.

People are imperfect. And sometimes they use money to express their hurt or disappointment. Parents might not leave money to an adult child who married someone of a religion or race they didn’t like. Maybe they weren’t cared for in their old age. They disagree with their children’s life choices. Sometimes parents decide on the allocation of their property for reasons that seem fair to them – one child is in need, the other isn’t.

I would hope people really consider the consequences and potential fallout of their inheritance decisions. Nonetheless, whatever is in the will is still the right of the person drawing it up.

But, and I’m speaking to heirs now: What you get is not the summation of your relationship with your parents. If you choose – and it is a choice – to fight or resent your siblings for a decision that ultimately was not theirs (absent any malfeasance), that’s on you and an indication of your character or maturity. Even if – by a reasonable assessment of the situation – you were unjustly slighted, you are still not entitled to your parents’ money.

Your inheritance, or lack thereof, is not a placeholder for the physical or emotional support you did or didn’t receive. Look at this issue another way: If you weren’t properly cared for, would receiving a hefty inheritance make up for poor parenting?

It’s human if you are upset at being left out or if you didn’t get something you thought you deserved. But don’t measure your worth – or your parents’ love – by the contents of a will.

Michelle Singletary can be contacted at:

Twitter: SingletaryM

]]> 2 Fri, 14 Oct 2016 18:05:36 +0000