The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Business http://www.pressherald.com Mon, 30 May 2016 03:50:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.3.4 NYC ‘trophy’ apartment could list for $250 million http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/29/nyc-trophy-apartment-could-list-for-250-million/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/29/nyc-trophy-apartment-could-list-for-250-million/#comments Sun, 29 May 2016 22:48:40 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/29/nyc-trophy-apartment-could-list-for-250-million/ NEW YORK — Billionaires’ Row.

That’s what New York real estate experts have dubbed a lineup of a half-dozen new superluxury skyscrapers overlooking Central Park that are home to some of the world’s most expensive apartments.

One penthouse on the 89th and 90th floors of a skyscraper near Carnegie Hall that went for more than $100 million seems almost a bargain compared to what will appear next year in a high-rise being built on Central Park South: a 23,000-square-foot, four-story apartment offered at $250 million.

That jaw-dropping price was contained in documents the developer filed with the state attorney general’s office. Floor plans show 16 bedrooms, 17 bathrooms, five balconies and a massive terrace.

The multimillion dollar question is: Who can afford to buy these places?

“These are the trophy buildings of our era, and the foreign buyer clearly fuels this very, very high-end condominium tower market,” says John Burger, a broker for such properties with the Brown Harris Stevens real estate firm.

The novelty is the prestige of living in sleek, breathtaking skyscrapers with 360-degree views of New York City, thanks to advanced engineering that allows residential buildings to stay skinny while soaring to dizzying heights.

Coming in 2018 is the Central Park Tower at 111 West 57th St., which at 1,438 feet aims to become the tallest residential edifice in the Western Hemisphere.

The 54-story tower at 520 Park Ave. – also set for a 2018 completion – will be what its architect, Robert A.M. Stern, describes as “an elegant spear of asparagus rising out of the ground.”

On the financial front, such properties often serve as a “safe haven” for investors from turbulent regions of the world with shaky economies, says Richard Jordan, vice president of global markets for Douglas Elliman, New York’s largest residential real estate brokerage.

“They believe in the U.S. market, they love New York and they like privacy,” Jordan says.

Other global buyers consider these properties as “the new Swiss bank account” – a discreet, private way of stashing away a fortune, says Burger.

The $250 million mansion in the Manhattan sky is the prize property in the 70-story building that is still under construction at 220 Central Park South. Monthly common charges will be more than $45,000, with annual taxes of about $675,000, the documents show.

For most New Yorkers, there’s a downside to the exclusive real estate phenomenon. These properties are helping push up already record-breaking real estate prices, with a current average of $2 million for a Manhattan apartment.

The most expensive New York condo went for $100.5 million in 2014 – the penthouse in the 90-story One57 high-rise where many owners are wealthy Russians.

Those prices eclipse a previous, high-profile sale of $88 million for a penthouse just a walk away at 15 Central Park West. That was sold in 2012 to a Russian mogul by Sanford Weill, the American financier and philanthropist who had purchased the apartment four years earlier for half that. Other residents included Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez.

“That $88 million sale triggered the sense that there was this yet-to-be-harvested, nine-digit New York housing market,” says Jonathan Miller, an independent appraiser. “We started to see a frenzy of $100 million listings – what I call aspirational pricing.”

In addition, new high-rises are even sprouting in Queens and Brooklyn. Several real estate experts credit former billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg for pushing city rezoning laws that allowed these to be built in previously restricted areas.

Says Burger: “He positioned New York as the capital of the world.”

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FedEx plans to open Biddeford distribution center on time in August http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/29/fedex-plans-to-open-biddeford-distribution-center-on-time-in-august/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/29/fedex-plans-to-open-biddeford-distribution-center-on-time-in-august/#comments Sun, 29 May 2016 22:41:12 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/29/fedex-plans-to-open-biddeford-distribution-center-on-time-in-august/ FedEx is on schedule to open its new southern Maine and eastern New Hampshire distribution center in Biddeford in late August.

The Biddeford center, set to open Aug. 26 in the former Hostess Brands plant at 1 Baker’s Way, is needed because of increased demand from online shopping, said Mike Williams, senior manager at the Memphis-based company’s Saco facility. Williams will assume the role of manager at the Biddeford center when it opens.

“We’ve sort of outgrown our capacity here (in Saco),” Williams said.

Daniel Stevenson, Biddeford’s director of economic development, said FedEx has received all the necessary permits to open in the former industrial bakery this summer.

The 40-acre property, which is within a mile of the Maine Turnpike, is a good fit for FedEx, with its 32 loading docks and truck maintenance facility. Williams said it will employ 25 to 35 warehouse workers and an office staff of about 10, in addition to drivers for about 30 delivery vehicles. Those drivers will deliver 3,000 to 3,500 packages a day, he said.

The larger Saco facility – which has about 65 on-site workers and serves 80 to 85 delivery vehicles a day – will remain open, but some of its staff will relocate to Biddeford, Williams said.

Still, hiring will begin for the new facility in mid-July, he said. FedEx will advertise those positions in local news outlets and on Craigslist, and those interested in a warehouse job also can visit the company’s watchasort.com website.

FedEx announced in January that it had signed a long-term lease on the former Hostess factory.

Hostess filed for bankruptcy and shut down the Biddeford operation in 2012, after years of financial problems and a strike by the bakery union. About 380 people lost their jobs.

The Biddeford plant made chocolate cupcakes, Sno Balls and other baked goods. In 2013, it was purchased by Georgia-based Flowers Foods for $15.3 million, according to city records. Former Hostess employees held out hope that it would reopen, but it did not.

The bakery had been on the market since June 2014, when Flower Foods opted to sell the plant along with eight other bakeries across the country. In late 2014, the plant was sold to a private equity firm.

 

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Michelle Singletary: 529 plans are a smart way to save for college http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/29/michelle-singletary-529-plans-are-a-smart-way-to-save-for-college/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/29/michelle-singletary-529-plans-are-a-smart-way-to-save-for-college/#comments Sun, 29 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=899279 A recent column I wrote on 529 college savings plans didn’t sit well with one reader.

In case you don’t know – and many people don’t – there are two types of 529s. A prepaid plan allows you to pay a child’s tuition and fees in advance. The idea is to lock in today’s tuition prices. With the savings plan, you invest much as you would in a 401(k). Your earnings grow tax-deferred and are exempt from federal income tax as long as the money is used for qualified higher education expenses. In most cases, earnings are also free from state and local taxes.

But not everyone is sold on the benefits of 529 plans. In what I call my “Talk Back” feature, I occasionally allow people to respond to my columns. Here are some of the points made by the reader:

“The advantage of 529 accounts – their only advantage – is that gains are not taxed. But many stock investments lost money over the past 15 years.”

“Money in 529 accounts is counted in the college-aid formula. The more you save, the less your kid gets. Other investments, such as Roth IRAs, are specifically excluded from the aid formula. So any tax advantage on the income is more than offset by the reduction in financial aid.”

“The fees in most 529s are outrageously high.”

“If your kid decides not to go, or drops out, or gets a full ride academically or for sports, or you saved more than you need, you’re (out of luck). You have to pay tax on all the returns, plus another 10 percent penalty.”

• A smarter investment would be simply to move to “a better neighborhood” with better schools.

I asked two experts to address the reader’s arguments: Brian Boswell, vice president of savingforcollege.com, which provides advice on 529 plans; and Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Cappex.com, a free website that connects students with colleges and scholarships. They offered the following rebuttals:

Returns can be good. “Depending on timing and the selected vehicle, as with any investment, the investor may have realized significant gains,” Boswell said.

A 529 does not significantly decrease financial aid. The value of the account set up by a parent or legal guardian is reported as an asset on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. But it only increases the student’s expected family contribution by a maximum of 5.64 percent of the account value, Boswell notes.

On the other hand, most assets in the student’s name are counted at 20 percent, he said. So when you take out money from a Roth to pay for college, it will be counted as student income on the following year’s FAFSA.

By the way, a lot of financial aid is offered in the form of loans anyway. Not saving now would only increase the amount your kid may borrow.

There are low-fee plans. You often have the option to open an account that is “direct-sold,” meaning you don’t go through an adviser. The fees on these plans “are not outrageously high,” Kantrowitz said. “Minimizing fees is the key to maximizing net returns.”

As an example, Boswell said that the fee for New York state’s 529 direct-sold plan is just 0.16 percent of a fund’s assets annually, and the plan offers the investor a wide range of Vanguard funds.

There is flexibility in the plans. As Kantrowitz points out, if a student ends up not needing the 529 plan funds because he or she wins a scholarship, the 10 percent tax penalty that the reader mentioned is waived on nonqualified distributions up to the amount of the scholarship. And although nonqualified distributions are still subject to ordinary income taxes, they are taxed at the beneficiary’s rate, not the parents’ rate, he said.

Better high schools don’t necessarily mean a lot of free money. There is a great deal of competition for limited scholarship dollars. So even if your child has great grades, the odds are not in your favor for significant financial aid.

On average, about one in eight students in bachelor’s degree programs has a private scholarship, according to Kantrowitz, and the average amount is $4,000. Throw in money from the school and government grants, and less than 1 percent of students in bachelor’s degree programs receive enough to cover the full cost of attendance.

“For most savers, 529 plans are an exceptionally good deal, and getting better all the time,” Boswell said.

The way I look at it, the risks of not investing in a 529 plan outweigh any downside. I’d rather err on the side of saving.

Michelle Singletary can be contacted at:

michelle.singletary@washpost.com

Twitter: SingletaryM

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Week in review: Wayfair’s hiring on track; container business thriving http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/29/week-in-review-wayfairs-hiring-on-track-container-business-thriving/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/29/week-in-review-wayfairs-hiring-on-track-container-business-thriving/#comments Sun, 29 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=899282 LABOR

Hiring brisk for online retailer

Wayfair, the online home furnishings company, is on track to hire 1,000 workers for its operations opening this summer in Maine, a company executive said Thursday. Liz Graham, the company’s vice president for sales and service, said Wayfair is on track to open its sales and customer service operation at Brunswick Landing in Brunswick next month and another operation in Bangor in July. The company sells products ranging from furniture to flooring, lighting, plumbing and appliances. Graham said Wayfair is happy with the qualifications of the job candidates interviewed so far and has extended offers to many. She declined to provide specific information on how many employees have been hired or offered jobs, but said the pace is strong enough for the company’s plans. Read the story.

TRADE

Container shipments through port of Portland soar

The Port of Portland, which lost its container business in the wake of the Great Recession, is thriving once again, with container shipments up by more than 1,300 percent since 2011. The dramatic increase is largely attributable to Icelandic shipping company Eimskip, the port’s biggest cargo operator, which has grown its refrigerated cargo service by about 20 percent year over year since arriving in Portland in 2013. According to the Maine International Trade Center, container shipments through the port have soared from 7,400 metric tons in 2011 to 105,523 metric tons in 2015.The company, which employs 1,300 people worldwide and 10 in its Portland facility, was recognized by MITC as its Foreign Direct Investor for 2016. The president of the company said Eimskip is more than halfway to its goal of making weekly calls to Portland by 2020. Read the story.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Team AR wins Microsoft award

A Maine company that developed an app to project public property boundaries into a smart phone camera took home the $120,000 BizSpark prize at the annual Top Gun pitch-off Tuesday. Nobleboro resident and entrepreneur Chuck Benton of Team AR won the $120,000 in-kind prize from Microsoft for its app using augmented reality technology. The event, hosted by the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development and the University of Maine, marked the graduation of the 2016 class of Top Gun entrepreneurs statewide. Top Gun is a program that combines mentoring with business development instruction. Six participants from the Bangor, Rockport and Portland Top Gun classes also competed in a pitch contest for a $10,000 cash prize sponsored by the Maine Technology Institute. The cash prize winner was Nadir Yildirim and Simin Khosravani of Revolution Research. The company uses technology to develop eco-friendly products for the construction and packaging industries made from locally supplied and bio-based materials. Read the story.

 FISHERIES

Ocean plan released to guide policy-making

A regional planning group issued a sweeping ecosystem-based ocean draft plan Wednesday to guide federal agencies in New England. The draft Northeast Ocean Plan has no regulatory power, but since it was developed by a group created by presidential order in 2010, the reams of science behind the plan will guide the federal agencies that help manage the coastline and oceans of New England, according to Betsy Nicholson, a member of the regional group that wrote the plan and regional director for coastal management for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The science is drawn from hundreds of data sources, and often packaged into easy-to-use interactive maps to understand the cumulative effect of disparate industries, such as looking at how marine mammal habitat intersects with regional shipping lanes or the location of marine industry job clusters or beach renourishment projects. This is the first regional ocean plan to come out of President Obama’s executive order. Read the story.

DEFENSE

Vingtech in running for missile component contract

A Biddeford company is a finalist for a federal contract for up to $151.8 million for a sighting system for the Army’s newest class of grenade launchers. Vingtech, which opened in Biddeford in 2007, is in competition with Wilcox Industries Corp. of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to win the contract, which will be awarded in three phases through March 2022, according to Peter Rowland, a senior operations specialist with the organization managing the Army’s sighting system programs. This type of contract is often used in a developmental program because it spurs competition, Rowland said. The government plans to chose one of the finalists to receive the production portion of the contract after evaluating and testing out prototype designs. The sighting system will be used on the Heckler & Koch M320, a 40-millimeter, single-shot grenade launcher that can fire high explosive, armor piercing and illuminating rounds as well as non-lethal ones. Read the story.

REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION

New hotel gets OK from board

The Portland Planning Board has approved a new hotel proposed for the city’s eastern waterfront. The 150-room AC Hotel by Marriott at Fore, Hancock and Thames streets was approved unanimously by the six board members who voted Tuesday night. The six-story building will be near the former Portland Co. project, where city officials have established a historic district and plans are in the works for offices, retail space and housing. The new hotel, which was first proposed last fall, will cost an estimated $20 million and include a restaurant or about 4,000 square feet of retail space. Sixteen condominiums would be built on the top floor. Read the story.

Midtown project closing nears

The embattled “midtown” mixed-use development in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood is one step closer to becoming a reality. A Portland official said the city is on track to sign over a 3.5-acre plot of city-owned land to midtown’s developer, Federated Cos., by the end of the month. “We are working towards that goal of closing (the sale) on May 31,” said Greg Mitchell, the city’s economic development director. On May 16, the Portland City Council approved three amendments to the purchase and sale agreement that the Florida-based developer said would allow it to move forward. Read the story.

TRANSPORTATION

Nova Scotia ferry service expected to start mid June

The Cat ferry, which will operate between Portland and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, this summer, was refloated Wednesday after more than a month in drydock for repairs and refitting, Bay Ferries Ltd. said. The company said the ship is about to exit the drydock in Charleston, South Carolina, and then undergo inspection, some final work and dock and sea trials. The schedule for its trip north from Charleston has not been set, the company said, but it’s expected to enter service on June 15. Read the story.

TECHNOLOGY

Axiom wins Microsoft grant to connect remote residences

A Washington County Internet provider was among the recipients of technology grants from Microsoft, part of a new program launched by the software giant to help remote and economically challenged areas make connections to the Internet. Machias-based Axiom Technologies landed a $72,800 grant to provide Internet access to more than three dozen rural homes in Washington County, where it makes no economic sense to try to extend wired connections to the web. The Redmond, Washington-based company on Tuesday awarded 12 grants through its Affordable Access Initiative, part of its commitment to invest $1 billion to bring the power of cloud technology to serve the public good. The grant to Axiom Technologies was the only one in North America. Axiom plans to use the money to wirelessly connect about 40 buildings, mostly homes, to the Internet using “TV white space,” which utilizes a portion of the broadcast spectrum that had been used to broadcast over-the-air television before those transmissions were switched to digital high-definition signals. Read the story.

GENERAL BUSINESS

Sales, earnings up at Unum

Unum Group executives told shareholders at an annual meeting Thursday in Portland that the company is as strong as ever financially and well-positioned for industry changes to come. At his first annual meeting as Unum’s CEO, Richard McKenney told shareholders that he sees increasing demand for the company’s products and services, and that the Chattanooga, Tennessee-based, Unum, which has about 3,000 employees in Maine, is poised to capitalize on those opportunities and expand its reach. McKenney noted that over the past 10 years, Unum has provided a 147 percent return on investment to shareholders, compared with a 100 percent return for the S&P 500. He said Unum also greatly outperformed competitors in its industry, employee disability and life insurance. In 2015, Unum paid $6.8 billion in benefits and helped roughly 327,000 people return to work following a disability, he said. Sales and premiums each rose by 5 percent, while operating earnings per share grew for the 10th consecutive year. Read the story.

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Data on U.S. economic growth revised upward http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/data-on-u-s-economic-growth-revised-upward/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/data-on-u-s-economic-growth-revised-upward/#comments Sat, 28 May 2016 01:24:27 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/data-on-u-s-economic-growth-revised-upward/ WASHINGTON — Economic growth at the start of the year wasn’t as bad as initially estimated, boosting the chances that Federal Reserve policymakers will raise a key interest rate next month.

The nation’s total economic output – also known as gross domestic product – increased at a 0.8 percent annual rate from January through March, the Commerce Department said Friday.

Though that was still weak growth, it was an improvement over the initial estimate last month of 0.5 percent. That would have been the worst quarterly performance in two years.

In the second of three revisions to the quarterly growth figures, the Commerce Department said that the decline in business inventory investment was less severe than in last month’s report.

Gross private domestic investment decreased by 2.6 percent in the first quarter from the previous quarter, instead of the initial estimate of a 3.5 percent decline.

Still, that drop combined with declines in exports and federal government spending to cause the economy to slow from the 1.4 percent annual pace in the fourth quarter of last year.

In addition, consumers were more cautious in the first quarter as concerns about global growth triggered a steep downturn in financial markets.

Consumer spending increased 1.9 percent from January through March, down from 2.4 percent in the fourth quarter and the weakest showing in a year.

Economists expect much stronger overall economic growth in the April-through-June period.

A closely watched model from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York forecasts that the economy is growing at a 2.9 percent annual rate in the second quarter. That would be the fastest pace in a year.

Such a rebound would increase the likelihood that Fed policymakers will nudge up a key interest rate when they meet June 14-15.

In public comments at Harvard University on Friday, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said that an interest rate hike would be appropriate in the coming months if the economy keeps improving.

She said she expects the Fed to “gradually and cautiously increase” its key interest rate “and probably in the coming months, such a move would be appropriate.”

Anticipation of a rate hike at either the next June meeting or in July have been rising since the Fed last week released the minutes of its discussions at its April meeting.

Many private economists still believe a June rate hike isn’t very likely. The gathering will take place only a week before British voters decide whether to support a move to leave the European Union. The Fed may be reluctant to raise rates in advance of the British vote. These analysts believe a hike at the July 26-27 meeting is more likely.

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New legal trade group will represent craft breweries, wineries http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/new-legal-trade-group-will-represent-craft-breweries-wineries/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/new-legal-trade-group-will-represent-craft-breweries-wineries/#comments Sat, 28 May 2016 01:20:23 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/new-legal-trade-group-will-represent-craft-breweries-wineries/ DETROIT

New legal trade group will represent breweries, wineries

A legal trade group has been formed for the makers of craft beer and other alcoholic beverages, recognizing the rapid rise of the industry and a desire to deal with a thick brew of regulations across the U.S.

The Craft Beverage Lawyers Guild launched this week to represent mainly small, independent breweries, but also wineries and distilleries. The guild’s governing committee consists of about a dozen lawyers specializing in the craft beverage industry, including attorneys working directly for some of the nation’s biggest brewpubs and microbreweries.

Industry officials say there are roughly 4,200 U.S. breweries operating today – an all-time high that surpasses even pre-Prohibition levels.

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Cousins behind Market Basket return to court http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/cousins-behind-market-basket-return-to-court/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/cousins-behind-market-basket-return-to-court/#comments Fri, 27 May 2016 21:49:31 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/cousins-behind-market-basket-return-to-court/ BOSTON – Two cousins whose feud over their family’s New England supermarket chain prompted an employee walkout and a customer boycott are fighting in court again.

Arthur S. Demoulas sold his stake in the Market Basket chain in 2014 after a protest by workers upset that a board controlled by him fired his cousin Arthur T. Demoulas. The chain’s customers supported the workers and began shopping elsewhere. Arthur T. Demoulas got his job back, and the chain has rebounded.

Last week, Arthur S. Demoulas and his sister-in-law filed a lawsuit alleging they’ve been excluded from involvement in an IRS audit of the chain of 76 stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.

A spokeswoman for Demoulas Super Markets told The Boston Globe the company always planned to include Arthur S. Demoulas in the audit process.

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Maine fishermen to give electronic monitors first try http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/maine-fishermen-to-give-electronic-monitors-first-try/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/maine-fishermen-to-give-electronic-monitors-first-try/#comments Fri, 27 May 2016 19:28:37 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/maine-fishermen-to-give-electronic-monitors-first-try/ HARWICH, Massachusetts – A commercial fishing association says a group of fishermen from Massachusetts and Maine will use digital cameras instead of human monitors to collect data during trips at sea.

Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance says up to 20 fishermen who catch groundfish such as cod and flounder will use the cameras in a first-time program.

The fishermen are required to bring monitors on some fishing trips. Many fishermen say the cost of human monitors is prohibitive.

The electronic monitoring systems use cameras to record fish handling on deck. That will allow for some fish to be identified and measured before they are discarded.

The hard drives are later sent to third-party reviewers who watch the footage and count the number of discarded fish. That will allow regulators to use the information.

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Indian company offers to buy parent firm of Rumford mill http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/parent-of-rumford-mill-wooed-in-takeover/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/parent-of-rumford-mill-wooed-in-takeover/#comments Fri, 27 May 2016 18:11:23 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/parent-of-rumford-mill-wooed-in-takeover/ A paper recycling company from India has expressed interest in buying Catalyst Paper Corp., including its mill in Rumford.

Kejriwal Group International, based in Mumbai, has sent a letter to the majority owners of Catalyst, saying it would offer $6 per share for the British Columbia-based company. Kejriwal is affiliated with the company that expressed interest in buying Verso Paper’s Bucksport mill in January 2015. That mill ultimately was closed and sold for scrap.

Catalyst’s board of directors said Monday it would evaluate the offer.

“(We are) encouraged by KGI’s proposal, which could provide the company with a significant amount of capital, which further enhances and accelerates Catalyst’s planned growth initiatives,” the board said in a statement.

Catalyst bought the Rumford mill, which makes coated paper, from NewPage Holdings in January of 2015 for $62.4 million. It employs 640 people, according to mill officials.

The Rumford mill has been a bright spot in what has been a generally dismal run of news for Maine’s paper industry. In April, the mill restarted an idled paper-making machine to diversify its product line, a move that restored 51 jobs.

Mill spokesman Tony Lyons said at the time that Catalyst started to develop new products to diversify its offerings in the global pulp and paper market. One of those new products is Rumford Offset, a specialty grade paper that is coated on one side and intended for use in marketing materials.

“We’re trying to develop more options, away from commodity grades,” Lyons said.

The state’s paper industry has lost 2,300 jobs since 2011, as five mills have closed in the wake of declining demand and changing consumer habits in global markets.

The letter laying out the terms of the acquisition said if Kejriwal’s offer is accepted, the company would be obligated to invest $60 million into Catalyst’s operations within a year of the closing.

The deal would need to be struck between Kejriwal and the four investment firms that own 79 percent of Catalyst: Mudrick Capital Management, Oaktree Capital Group Holdings, Cyrus Capital Partners and Stonehill Capital Management. The majority shareholders have 30 days to reach an agreement with Kejriwal, according to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

News of Kejriwal’s interest on Monday sent Catalyst stock soaring. After closing at 45 cents a share on May 20, the stock had reached $5.75 per share when the markets opened Tuesday. It moderated to $4.26 per share in late afternoon trading Friday.

Catalyst owns another U.S. mill, in Biron, Wisconsin, and several mills in Canada, employing a total workforce of about 2,800 people. In 2015, it reported sales of roughly $2 billion.

Kejriwal Stationery Holdings Ltd, which manufactures and distributes paper-based and recycled stationery products, is a subsidiary of the Kejriwal group, according to Bloomberg. The company was formerly known as Greenearth Education Ltd.

Rahul Kejriwal, chief executive of the Kejriwal group, sent a letter to District Court Judge John Woodcock dated Jan. 16, 2015, expressing interest in purchasing the Bucksport mill. But the letter arrived too late to be entered into the official court record, Woodcock ruled, allowing a previous agreement between Verso and metal recycler AIM Development LLC to stand.

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Verizon, striking unions reach deal in principle http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/verizon-striking-unions-reach-deal-in-principle/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/verizon-striking-unions-reach-deal-in-principle/#comments Fri, 27 May 2016 17:54:56 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/verizon-striking-unions-reach-deal-in-principle/ Verizon Communications and its two unions reached an agreement in principle on a new labor contract, the Labor Department said, paving the way for about 39,000 landline employees to return to work after a 44-day strike.

The parties are putting the four-year deal in writing, and union members should return to work next week, said Labor Secretary Thomas Perez in a statement. Full terms of the agreement weren’t disclosed.

The walkout by the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers has been one of the largest in the U.S. in recent years. Perez helped broker the deal by bringing Verizon Chief Executive Officer Lowell McAdam and two union executives to Washington to discuss ways to resolve the dispute.

The labor standoff pushed the number of striking U.S. workers to the highest in more than four years and could depress the May jobs numbers slated for release next week, data from the Labor Department showed.

To try and keep up with business demands during the strike, Verizon had dispatched managers and non-union workers to call centers and field-service assignments. Yet even with the temporary help, the strike has been a drag on the company’s landline business, Chief Financial Officer Fran Shammo said during an investor presentation earlier this month. Because of the strike, Verizon probably won’t add FiOS TV or broadband customers in the quarter, he said.

The new labor contract is the first since Verizon took full control of Verizon Wireless and agreed to buy AOL, two deals worth almost $135 billion that point toward a wireless-centric future. The company has been shedding union-heavy operations, including its FiOS business in three states last month. Landlines accounted for 29 percent of Verizon’s revenue, down from almost 50 percent in 2008. And as its strategy has shifted, the ranks of union workers have shrunk by about half from 78,000 13 years ago.

Facing years of declines in the landline unit as more people opt for only wireless service, Verizon pushed to have union workers pitch in more for health benefits and be flexible on temporary job relocations. The unions, which had been working without a contract since Aug. 1, wanted to limit those transfers of workers to other regions, protect jobs from being moved offshore and preserve pension increases.

Of the workers, about 29,000 are represented by the CWA, 10,000 by the IBEW, according Candice Johnson, a spokeswoman for the CWA.

The contract covers employees in nine states from Massachusetts to Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

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One-third of Maine businesses have job openings, survey shows http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/one-third-of-maine-businesses-have-job-openings-survey-shows/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/one-third-of-maine-businesses-have-job-openings-survey-shows/#comments Fri, 27 May 2016 17:49:04 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/one-third-of-maine-businesses-have-job-openings-survey-shows/ AUGUSTA – Maine officials say a survey of more than 2,000 businesses in the state shows that a third of them have at least one job opening.

The state Department of Labor’s Center for Workforce Research and Information posted the results of the 2015 survey earlier this week. It was sent to 3,400 Maine businesses, 2,100 of which responded.

Officials say 700 of the 2,100 businesses that responded indicated that they have at least one job available.

The data reflects vacancies from the fall of 2015.

State officials say the survey found that the largest number of vacancies were in health care and social assistance. That industry had nearly 7,000 vacancies.

Accommodation and food services was second with more than 3,500 vacancies.

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Sitel plans to lay off up to 120 workers in Caribou http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/sitel-plans-to-lay-off-up-to-120-workers-in-caribou/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/sitel-plans-to-lay-off-up-to-120-workers-in-caribou/#comments Fri, 27 May 2016 15:59:24 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/sitel-plans-to-lay-off-up-to-120-workers-in-caribou/ Sales and customer service outsourcing firm Sitel is planning to lay off up to 120 workers in July at its call center in Caribou.

The Nashville-based company, which employs about 350 workers in Maine, informed the state Department of Labor that the planned layoffs are the result of the company losing a major client, Comcast.

Sitel said it still serves three other clients at the Caribou location and will try to reduce the number of layoffs by picking up new business.

Sitel issued a notice to employees on May 21 notifying them about the layoffs, which are expected to begin July 17.

Under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification, or WARN, Act, companies with at least 100 employees are required to give notice at least 60 days in advance of a plant closing or mass layoff.

“Please be assured that this is a business decision and is not a reflection on your performance or the quality of the team,” the employee notification reads. “During the transition period, we are certain that you will continue to maintain the same level of dedication and professionalism you have always shown.”

Employees who work right up until the layoff date will ensure that their separation will be regarded as a “reduction in force” and will maximize their eligibility for unemployment compensation, states the notice from Diana Grandinetti, Sitel’s senior vice president of operations.

Positions targeted for elimination include 84 customer service representatives, 16 agent support mentors, five coaches, five coach apprentices, three learning specialists, two call monitoring specialists, two operations managers and a few others.

State Labor Department spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz said the department’s rapid response team will offer sessions for affected workers prior to the layoffs to help them transition to new employment.

The announcement by Sitel underscores the uncertainty faced by employees of outsourcing companies that expand or shrink as they gain or lose client contracts.

Another customer service outsourcing firm that operates in Maine, SaviLinx, announced in March that it plans to triple its labor force by hiring 200 more people at its call center in Brunswick.

The company noted that it had recently landed a large contract that extends its scope of work for a New England-based insurance services provider, including quality monitoring and inbound phone inquiries.

Not all call centers in Maine are operated by outsourcing firms. Wayfair, an online furniture seller based in Boston, announced in February that it would be seeking 500 people to staff its new customer service center in Brunswick, and another 450 workers for jobs in Bangor.

According to the Maine Department of Labor, there were about 9,990 customer service representatives working in Maine in 2015, earning a median hourly wage of $15.43.

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

canderson@pressherald.com

Twitter: @jcraiganderson

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http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/sitel-plans-to-lay-off-up-to-120-workers-in-caribou/feed/ 9 Fri, 27 May 2016 13:26:43 +0000
Gorham Savings picks finalists for its annual LaunchPad competition http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/gorham-savings-picks-finalists-for-its-annual-launchpad-competition/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/gorham-savings-picks-finalists-for-its-annual-launchpad-competition/#comments Fri, 27 May 2016 15:34:10 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/gorham-savings-picks-finalists-for-its-annual-launchpad-competition/ Gorham Savings Bank has chosen Blue Ox Malthouse, Fluid Farms, Garbage to Garden, Good To-Go and UniteGPS as the five finalists in this year’s LaunchPad competition. The winner will receive a $50,000 grant.

The five early-stage Maine businesses were chosen from a pool of 179 applicants because of their focus on “sustainability and convenience in a busy world,” according to a Gorham Savings news release. All five will participate in a live-pitch competition to be held the evening of June 7 at the University of Southern Maine’s Hannaford Hall in Portland.

In front of a live audience, an independent panel of judges will decide which business will be awarded the $50,000 grant from Gorham Savings. This year’s judges will be WEX Inc. President and CEO Melissa Smith, Winxnet CEO and co-founder Chris Claudio, and the Director of Southern Maine Community College’s Entrepreneurial Center, Michelle Neujahr.

Now in its fourth year, LaunchPad is designed to help fund the growth of one promising, early-stage Maine business. Entries for this year’s competition were submitted via an online form during the entry period of April 1 to May 1.

“Maine’s economy is made up of thousands of small and innovative businesses, and we want to see those numbers grow and more businesses succeed,” said Chris Emmons, president and CEO of Gorham Savings Bank, in the release. “We’re constantly inspired by the success stories we hear from entrepreneurs, and we’re looking forward to giving another one a meaningful boost this year.”

Blue Ox Malthouse of Lisbon Falls turns raw grain from local farms into malt used by craft breweries. The farmer-to-brewer link the malthouse creates also promotes economic sustainability.

Fluid Farms Aquaponic Produce in Portland grows organic greens and freshwater tilapia (striped bass), and operates the state’s only Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association-certified organic aquaponic greenhouse.

Garbage to Garden, also in Portland, makes it easier for residents, schools, and businesses to divert their food scraps – including meat, dairy and bones – from landfills. Each week, participants leave their bucket of scraps at the curbside to be exchanged for a fresh, clean one, and if requested, a bag of compost.

Good To-Go, in Kittery, offers a line of all-natural, dehydrated gourmet meals catering to “active adventurers.” Each meal is handmade by nationally-recognized chef Jennifer Scism, who once defeated Mario Batali on Food Network’s Iron Chef.

UniteGPS of Portland aims to improve a different outdoor experience: waiting for the school bus. The company’s GPS solution, CrossWalk, solves the problems of parents and students not knowing exactly when the bus will arrive each day.

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

canderson@pressherald.com

Twitter: @jcraiganderson

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UMaine wind power project back in running for major federal grant http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/umaine-wind-project-back-in-running-for-major-federal-grant/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/umaine-wind-project-back-in-running-for-major-federal-grant/#comments Fri, 27 May 2016 14:42:07 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/umaine-wind-project-back-in-running-for-major-federal-grant/ The University of Maine has regained its position as a top national competitor to develop a technology for offshore wind power and create a new clean energy industry.

An experimental turbine being developed by a UMaine-led consortium for use in a floating, deep-water wind farm was chosen Friday as a finalist in the Department of Energy’s Offshore Wind Advanced Technology Demonstration program.

The UMaine consortium had been one of several competitors for the three $40 million grants to be awarded by the energy department, but it lost ground to other projects in earlier rounds of funding and was designated as an alternate proposal.

Friday’s announcement means that Maine’s project, known as the New England Aqua Ventus I offshore wind pilot project, will be one of up to three leading projects that are each eligible for up to $40 million in grant funding over three years for the construction phase of the demonstration program.

“This decision is outstanding news for Maine and a testament to the unmatched hard work and ingenuity of the University of Maine and the numerous Aqua Ventus partners,” Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King said in a joint statement Friday. “We applaud them for their efforts and will continue to support them as they strive to lead our state and nation into a brighter, cleaner energy future.”

UMaine President Susan J. Hunter described the decision as a historic opportunity for Maine and New England.

“The level of research and development by UMaine researchers, students and partners that helped make the New England Aqua Ventus project a reality demonstrates the distinction of a public research university – and the difference it can make in its state, region and beyond,” Hunter said.

The Maine project had been competing with demonstration proposals in other states for a demonstration program grant, but was passed over in 2014 in favor of ventures in New Jersey, Virginia and Oregon. Instead, Maine became an alternate, and got $3 million to continue engineering and design work.

The Energy Department wants the United States to develop an offshore wind industry because roughly 80 percent of power demand occurs in coastal states. Europe has hundreds of offshore wind turbines, mostly in shallow water on steel towers buried in the seabed.

The Obama administration is seeking new designs to radically cut the cost of wind energy. One idea is to have turbines that float far offshore, where the wind is stronger and steadier, and where people can’t see or hear them.

But things haven’t gone as planned. Each of the three winners has been unable to secure a power purchase agreement for electric output. Last November, the Department of Energy gave the projects six-month extensions to try to resolve their problems. At the same time, Maine won $3.7 million to further refine its proposal, which would be located off Monhegan Island.

Six months later, the Oregon and Virginia projects are being dropped from the program and Maine Aqua Ventus is being elevated to a demonstration project, alongside the Fishermen’s Energy project in New Jersey and the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. project, which also had been an alternate for demonstration project funding.

Maine supporters had been waiting to hear if the Energy Department would give up on any of the initial winning bids and whether it had concluded that Aqua Ventus has a better chance of coming to fruition. The project won a 20-year power-purchase agreement from the Maine Public Utilities Commission. An average Central Maine Power Co. home customer would pay an additional 73 cents a month, or $8.70 in the first year.

Maine Aqua Ventus is being developed by a for-profit spinoff that represents UMaine, Cianbro Corp. and Emera Inc. of Nova Scotia. The proposal is unique in that it’s made from advanced composite materials instead of steel, to fight corrosion and reduce weight. The hull is concrete, which, unlike steel, can be produced in Maine.

In 2013, the partners launched a one-eighth scale model and tested it off Castine. The pilot project would be full size, consisting of two turbines with a capacity of six megawatts, enough to power 6,000 average homes.

“The Aqua Ventus project represents a tremendous opportunity for the state to capitalize on our advanced and highly skilled workforce paired with our clean-energy ambitions,” said Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association. “This project brings together the best of all three worlds: economic growth and innovation; emission-free electricity; and Maine-made secure energy.”

If the pilot programs are successful, supporters envision hundreds of offshore wind farms nationwide and jobs for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of workers to install and maintain the turbines.

Clean-energy advocates see Aqua Ventus as Maine’s only near-term chance of developing an offshore wind industry.

In 2011, the Norwegian energy giant Statoil proposed an experimental, $120 million floating wind farm off Boothbay Harbor. But the company left Maine after a political maneuver by Gov. Paul LePage in 2013, and instead went to Scotland. Last week, Statoil announced plans to build the world’s largest floating wind farm involving five turbines off the Scottish coast.

Closer to Maine, other states have emerged as research and development centers for the evolving technology. In Rhode Island, Deepwater Wind began laying undersea cable this month to towers at its 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm, the country’s first offshore wind farm.

Even with a federal grant, the Maine project still needs to attract more than $100 million in private investment.

It also will seek to gain support on Monhegan Island, where at least some summer and year-round residents are concerned about the visual impact of the project and its potential interference with lobster fishing.

The turbines will be anchored 2.5 miles off the island’s southern tip and roughly 10 miles off the mainland. With turbine hubs 350 feet above the water and blade tips reaching 600 feet into the sky, the project would be visible from some locations, but not from the village, according to Jake Ward, vice president of innovation and economic development at UMaine.

Ward was on the island this week, meeting with a task force formed by the plantation. A citizen group, the Monhegan Energy Action Coalition, also has come together to question the scale of the project and the impact of an undersea cable.

“Some people like it, some don’t,” Ward said. “Like any group, there are people on all sides.”

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Eight automakers recall more than 12 million vehicles for Takata air bags http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/eight-automakers-recall-more-than-12-million-vehicles-for-takata-air-bags/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/eight-automakers-recall-more-than-12-million-vehicles-for-takata-air-bags/#comments Fri, 27 May 2016 12:44:24 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/eight-automakers-recall-more-than-12-million-vehicles-for-takata-air-bags/ DETROIT — Eight automakers are recalling more than 12 million vehicles in the U.S. to replace Takata air bag inflators that can explode with too much force.

Documents detailing recalls by Honda, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota, Mazda, Nissan, Subaru, Ferrari and Mitsubishi were posted Friday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

They’re part of a massive expansion of Takata air bag recalls announced earlier this month. Seventeen automakers are adding 35 million-to-40 million inflators to what already was the largest auto recall in U.S. history.

In addition, the Japanese transport ministry on Friday announced 7 million additional recalls related to the Takata inflators. Those recalls cover all front air bags that do not have a chemical drying agent.

Friday’s recalls include passenger air bags mainly in older models in areas along the Gulf Coast with high heat and humidity.

Takata uses the chemical ammonium nitrate to create a small explosion that inflates the air bags in a crash. But the chemical can deteriorate over time when exposed to high heat and humidity and burn faster than designed. That can blow apart a metal canister designed to contain the explosion, spewing hot shrapnel into vehicles.

The inflators are responsible for 11 deaths and more than 100 injuries worldwide. Two additional deaths are under investigation in Malaysia and may have been caused by the inflators.

The recalls are among the first to be unveiled by automakers since Takata agreed to the recall expansion, and more recalls will be announced in the coming weeks. The recalls are being phased in by the government due to a lack of available replacement parts. Models that are from 2011 or older in high heat and humidity areas will get first priority, followed by 2008 and older models in Southern-tier states, then 2004 and older models in the rest of the country.

Honda had the biggest recall total on Friday with more than 4.5 million inflators, while Fiat Chrysler reported 4.3 million. The Honda total even includes about 2,700 Gold Wing motorcycles with optional front air bags.

Honda says the latest recall covers only about 2.2 million additional Honda and Acura vehicles. The other 2.3 million vehicles were recalled previously for other Takata air bag problems. Honda expects the recalls to start in late summer for automobiles and in late fall for the motorcycles. Fiat Chrysler said it’s not aware of any crashes or injuries involving its vehicles that are part of the recall.

The latest recalls cover mainly front passenger air bag inflators without the chemical drying agent. The jury is still out on whether Takata will have to recall millions more inflators with the drying agent. Takata has to prove to the government that those are safe by the end of 2019, or more recalls will start.

Since the recalled models vary by state and age, officials say that the best way to see if your car is affected is to visit https://vinrcl.safercar.gov/vin/ or manufacturer websites and key in the vehicle identification number. That number can be found on the driver’s side of the dashboard near the windshield or on your state vehicle registration. It may take several weeks for all of the newly recalled vehicles to be entered into the databases.

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Longtime TV newsman Norm Karkos leaves WMTW http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/long-time-newsman-norm-karkos-leaves-wmtw/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/long-time-newsman-norm-karkos-leaves-wmtw/#comments Fri, 27 May 2016 02:10:30 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/long-time-newsman-norm-karkos-leaves-wmtw/ Longtime TV reporter and anchor Norm Karkos is no longer working at WMTW, Channel 8, where he spent 25 years of his career.

WMTW assignment editor Tyler Cadorette, contacted Thursday night, confirmed that Karkos no longer works at the station, but said he was not authorized to discuss the issue further. WMTW President and General Manager Dave Abel was not available for comment.

Karkos did not immediately return a Facebook message Thursday night requesting comment. His name does not appear on the station’s news team web page and his official Twitter and Facebook accounts appeared to be taken offline.

Karkos was a weekend morning anchor and a weekday reporter for the station. According to his online Linkedin profile, Karkos started at the station in 1991 and was the sports director before becoming a news anchor.

Karkos is the most recent of a number of news anchors to leave WMTW, a Hearst Television affiliate, in the past several years. In 2013, longtime morning news anchor Shannon Moss was fired from the station after management told her she was not connecting with her audience. Erin Ovalle, who anchored the morning show with Moss, left in 2015 to pursue other professional goals.

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Container shipments through Portland up by more than 1,300 percent since 2011 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/container-shipments-through-portland-soar-by-more-than-1300-percent-since-2011/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/container-shipments-through-portland-soar-by-more-than-1300-percent-since-2011/#comments Fri, 27 May 2016 01:55:17 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/container-shipments-through-portland-soar-by-more-than-1300-percent-since-2011/ The Port of Portland, which lost its container business in the wake of the Great Recession, is thriving once again, with container shipments up by more than 1,300 percent since 2011.

The dramatic increase is largely attributable to Icelandic shipping company Eimskip, the port’s biggest cargo operator, which has grown its refrigerated cargo service by about 20 percent year over year since arriving in Portland in 2013. According to the Maine International Trade Center, container shipments through the port have soared from 7,400 metric tons in 2011 to 105,523 metric tons in 2015.

“We have doubled our capacity and will do it again,” Eimskip President Larus Isfeld told a crowd of 450 gathered Thursday for MITC’s annual Trade Day.

The company, which employs 1,300 people worldwide and 10 in its Portland facility, was recognized by MITC as its Foreign Direct Investor for 2016.

Isfeld said Eimskip is more than halfway to its goal of making weekly calls to Portland by 2020. When it first opened its Portland operation, Eimskip was making 26 calls a year, but it has added five more since, Isfeld said. The potential for weekly shipments will expand its customer base, which now reaches north into Canada, throughout Massachusetts and is approaching New York City, Isfeld said.

He said government improvements to the port – including a crane, a paved space to load, unload and store containers, and the installation of stations where refrigerated cargo units can be plugged in and kept cool – helped Portland compete for Eimskip’s business with ports in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The investment cost about $30 million. The community’s support and enthusiasm, however, were what finalized the deal, Isfeld said.

“The commitment to growth is something we share,” he said. “I have big plans. We have just started. We will grow together.”

Eimskip, which ships everything from Maine cranberries to Icelandic glacial water, isn’t the only reason the port is bustling. Two significant investments at the International Marine Terminal also are boosting capacity at the port.

One is the completion of a Pan Am rail spur, which now connects the port with a 1,700-mile rail network. Shipments started in February to Ayer, Massachusetts, three times a week. The other significant investment is the construction of a cold storage warehouse, which is being built by Americold and should be completed by the end of next summer.

“All of these point to what I call the ‘intermodalism’ of the terminal, and that positions us for even greater growth,” said John Henshaw, executive director of the Maine Port Authority. Intermodal refers to the juncture of multiple modes of transportation.

Henshaw said two new customers have started using the port terminal because of these upgrades.

L.L. Bean is now sending shipments that previously went through ports in New York or New Jersey to Portland instead, where containers can be stacked in a container yard or loaded directly onto trucks destined for Freeport. Last month, Poland Spring began shipping bottled water from Kingfield to Waterville and then via rail into South Portland’s Rigby Yard. In January, it started shipping pallets of bottled water from its Hollis operation to the new rail line in Portland.

Growth in the port is one reason why Maine’s export numbers outpaced the national average in 2015, said Janine Bisaillon-Cary, MITC’s president. In 2015, Maine exported more than $2.7 billion worth of goods, almost doubling over the past two decades.

Maine companies sell products to more than 180 countries and territories. Trade supports about 180,000 jobs here, or about one in five Maine jobs, Bisaillon-Cary said.

 

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Jury finds Google had right to use elements of Oracle’s Java software http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/jury-finds-google-had-right-to-use-elements-of-oracles-java-software/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/jury-finds-google-had-right-to-use-elements-of-oracles-java-software/#comments Fri, 27 May 2016 00:30:05 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/jury-finds-google-had-right-to-use-elements-of-oracles-java-software/ SAN FRANCISCO — A federal jury has sided with Google in a $9 billion legal battle with tech industry rival Oracle, a complex copyright case that was closely watched in Silicon Valley.

Oracle had said Google stole some of its Java software to create Android, the world’s most popular smartphone operating system.

Some tech industry groups said Oracle’s claim would undercut practices that are widely used to create all kinds of software.

Oracle had sought $9 billion in damages after saying Google, without Oracle’s permission, copied certain elements of the Java programming language that helps different software programs talk to each other. Oracle said Google then reaped huge profits through ad sales on Google services like maps and search engines on Android phones and tablets.

But jurors found Google didn’t need Oracle’s permission to use certain elements of Java. The jury agreed with Google attorneys who argued that copyright law allows “fair use” of the Java elements because they were a small part of a much larger system of software that Google created for a new purpose.

The jury’s verdict on Thursday marks Google’s second victory in the case. U.S. District Judge William Alsup sided with Google in 2012, ruling that the Java elements – known in the industry as Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs – weren’t protected by copyright. But an appellate court overturned Alsup’s ruling and sent the case back for a second trial.

Oracle, which acquired the rights to Java when it bought Sun Microsystems in 2010, on Thursday immediately vowed to appeal.

“We strongly believe that Google developed Android by illegally copying core Java technology to rush into the mobile device market,” said Oracle general counsel Dorian Daley in a statement. The company said “there are numerous grounds” for an appeal.

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Uber, Lyft drivers safer than average http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/uber-lyft-drivers-safer-than-average/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/uber-lyft-drivers-safer-than-average/#comments Fri, 27 May 2016 00:12:50 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/uber-lyft-drivers-safer-than-average/ SAN FRANCISCO — Drivers for ride-hailing services such as Uber, Lyft, and HopSkipDrive are generally safer than the average American driver, according to a new study by automotive analytics firm Zendrive and research firm Aite Group.

The research compared data collected anonymously from the smartphones of about 12,000 ride-hailing drivers across the U.S. to millions of data points from trips taken by average American drivers and found that ride-hailing drivers were less likely to speed, drive aggressively or fumble with their phones during a trip.

Zendrive uses a smartphone’s sensors to detect movement such as speeding, sharp turns and hard braking. The company doesn’t work directly with services such as Uber and Lyft, but a number of apps, such as Sherpashare (which is primarily used by ride-hailing drivers for services like Uber and Lyft), HopSkipDrive, eDriving and a variety of navigation apps use Zendrive’s technology to monitor ride safety.

Data from a million trips completed by ride-hailing drivers from June to August 2015 showed that 30 percent involved speeding, compared with 41 percent for other drivers. Ride-hailing drivers were recorded fumbling with their phones for 23 seconds during a typical 15-minute trip, compared with 35 seconds for other drivers.

Ride-hailing drivers didn’t fare as well when it came to hard braking, though, with 33 percent of ride-hailing trips involving at least one hard brake, compared with 29 percent for ordinary motorists.

Factors that may have influenced driver behavior, according to the researchers, include the fact that ride-hailing drivers are rated after every trip and that, because they depend on their vehicles for their livelihood, they may have incentive to drive more cautiously to reduce wear-and-tear on their automobiles.

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Attack forces Chevron oil terminal in Nigeria to suspend operations http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/attack-forces-chevron-oil-terminal-in-nigeria-to-suspend-operations/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/attack-forces-chevron-oil-terminal-in-nigeria-to-suspend-operations/#comments Fri, 27 May 2016 00:12:28 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/attack-forces-chevron-oil-terminal-in-nigeria-to-suspend-operations/ WARRI, Nigeria — Militants and residents say an attack on Chevron’s Escravos terminal has shut down the U.S.-based oil major’s onshore operations in Nigeria.

Thursday’s attack, the third assault on a Chevron Nigeria facility this month, is the latest in a string of attacks claimed by the Niger Delta Avengers that has brought Nigerian production to a 20-year low.

Residents say a bomb on an underground pipeline forced Chevron to suspend operations at the terminal, which exports more than 160,000 barrels a day.

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Gawker weighs sale, strategies after losing defamation lawsuit http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/gawker-weighs-sale-strategies-after-losing-defamation-lawsuit/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/gawker-weighs-sale-strategies-after-losing-defamation-lawsuit/#comments Fri, 27 May 2016 00:07:05 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/gawker-weighs-sale-strategies-after-losing-defamation-lawsuit/ Gawker Media Inc. has hired an investment banker to explore strategic options, including a possible sale, as the digital media company fights a potentially crippling $140 million damages award in a defamation suit brought by former pro wrestler Hulk Hogan.

Mark Patricof, managing director at Houlihan Lokey, will advise Gawker on its options amid the legal clash secretly bankrolled by billionaire investor and Facebook board member Peter Thiel, the company said Thursday.

On Wednesday, a Florida judge denied Gawker’s motion for a new trial and said the $140 million jury verdict won’t be reduced, The Associated Press reported. Gawker can still appeal to a higher Florida court.

“We’ve had bankers engaged for quite some time given the need for contingency planning around Facebook board member Peter Thiel’s revenge campaign,” Gawker said Thursday in a statement. “We recently engaged Mark Patricof to advise us and that seems to have stirred up some excitement, when the fact is that nothing is new.”

Gawker isn’t currently for sale and there aren’t any bidders, but that could change if it loses an appeal, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Hogan, whose given name is Terry Bollea, sued the media and celebrity-focused website in 2012 over the publication of a tape showing him having sex with a friend’s wife, claiming the publication cost him endorsements and inflicted emotional harm. Thiel, the libertarian-leaning venture capitalist who co-founded PayPal, made a financial contribution to the suit.

Gawker and Thiel have a contentious history already – the website outed him as gay in 2007. Thiel has since publicly acknowledged that he’s gay, and called Gawker’s now-defunct blog Valleywag the “Silicon Valley equivalent of al-Qaida.”

In a statement Thursday, Thiel said he was proud to have supported Bollea in a fight against a “bully’s gross violation of privacy.”

“Gawker, the defendant, built its business on humiliating people for sport,” Thiel said. “They routinely relied on an assumption that victims would be too intimidated or disgusted to even attempt redress for clear wrongs. Freedom of the press does not mean freedom to publish sex tapes without consent. I don’t think anybody but Gawker would argue otherwise.”

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Gerber told to pay workers for preparation tasks http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/gerber-told-to-pay-workers-for-preparation-tasks/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/gerber-told-to-pay-workers-for-preparation-tasks/#comments Fri, 27 May 2016 00:02:16 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/gerber-told-to-pay-workers-for-preparation-tasks/ LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A sharply divided Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday said a baby food manufacturer must pay more than $3 million to workers for the time they spent dressing and undressing into uniforms and protective gear.

In a 4-3 ruling, the high court upheld a lower court’s ruling that Gerber Products Co. should have compensated more than 800 workers at its Fort Smith facility for the time they spent changing into and out of uniforms, donning protective gear such as earplugs, and washing their hands.

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CEO: McDonald’s working to meet diners’ demands http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/ceo-mcdonalds-working-to-meet-diners-demands/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/ceo-mcdonalds-working-to-meet-diners-demands/#comments Thu, 26 May 2016 22:45:02 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/ceo-mcdonalds-working-to-meet-diners-demands/ NEW YORK — McDonald’s, under intense pressure in a competitive industry, sought to reassure its shareholders Thursday that it is making changes to its food and service that customers want.

CEO Steve Easterbrook recounted adjustments he’s overseen since taking the job early last year, such as improving order accuracy, toasting buns longer to improve the taste of burgers and the launch of an all-day breakfast menu in the United States. He also said the company is working on more convenient ways for customers to get food, whether with ordering kiosks or table service and delivery in select markets.

McDonald’s Corp. is “fundamentally changing perceptions,” he said at the annual meeting in Oak Brook, Illinois.

His remarks come as the world’s biggest burger chain is fighting to revitalize its business after conceding that it failed to keep up with changing tastes and sales slumped. It’s not clear whether the efforts will pay off over the long term, but in April, the company reported its third straight quarter of sales growth for restaurants open at least 13 months in its flagship U.S. market. Globally, sales at established locations rose 6.2 percent in the first three months of the year.

Still, McDonald’s expects to shrink its U.S. store base of more than 14,000 stores this year, marking the second straight year of retrenchment after decades of expansion.

McDonald’s is also trying to improve its image as an employer amid a campaign by labor organizers for pay of $15 an hour and a union for fast-food workers. Demonstrators calling for higher pay again protested outside this year’s shareholder meeting.

The issue came up inside the meeting as well, when a shareholder asked whether the company would turn to kiosks and “automatic pancake machines” to replace workers if the government were to mandate a $15-an-hour wage.

Easterbrook said the company would always have “an important human element” because it’s in the service business. He said the kiosks and other technology options are being embraced by customers, and aren’t intended as labor replacement. “I don’t see it being a risk to job elimination,” he said.

In his remarks, Easterbrook also noted a tuition assistance program the company announced last year for workers.

As with past annual meetings, shareholders posed a mixed bag of questions and comments, including complaints about its new electronic menu boards and criticism over its marketing practices to children.

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French police search McDonald’s offices looking for evidence of tax fraud http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/french-police-search-mcdonalds-offices-looking-for-evidence-of-tax-fraud/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/french-police-search-mcdonalds-offices-looking-for-evidence-of-tax-fraud/#comments Thu, 26 May 2016 22:36:35 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/french-police-search-mcdonalds-offices-looking-for-evidence-of-tax-fraud/ PARIS — French police have searched McDonald’s headquarters outside Paris after a probe was opened for alleged aggravated tax fraud and money-laundering against the local branch of the fast-food company.

The national financial prosecutor’s office said Thursday documents were seized when the tax fraud police unit searched the headquarters in Guyancourt, west of Paris, last week.

Investigators suspect the burger chain of artificially reducing its profits and taxes in France through license fees and other money transfers to its European parent company in Luxembourg.

The Oak Brook, Illinois-based company has said it pays all its income taxes in France in accordance with current legislation.

The French branch says that, like all companies operating in franchising, it pays fees to the parent company to cover rights of know-how use and transfer and that the fees can be deducted from corporation taxes due in France.

It says that the level of the fee is subject to regular back and forth with the different national tax administrations, in France and in other countries where McDonald’s operates.

Earlier this week, the national financial prosecutor’s office ordered a search at Google’s French headquarters, also looking for evidence of aggravated tax fraud.

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Wayfair making progress toward hiring 1,000 in Maine http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/wayfair-making-progress-on-hirings/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/wayfair-making-progress-on-hirings/#comments Thu, 26 May 2016 19:58:14 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/wayfair-making-progress-on-hirings/ Wayfair, the online home furnishings company, is on track to hire 1,000 workers for its operations opening this summer in Maine, a company executive said Thursday.

Liz Graham, the company’s vice president for sales and service, said Wayfair is on track to open its sales and customer service operation at Brunswick Landing in Brunswick next month and another operation in Bangor in July.

The company sells products ranging from furniture to flooring, lighting, plumbing and appliances. Its newest feature will allow customers to use a tablet to “place” a 3-D rendering of furniture in their home to see how it will look.

Graham said Wayfair is happy with the qualifications of the job candidates interviewed so far and has extended offers to many. She declined to provide specific information on how many employees have been hired or offered jobs, but said the pace is strong enough for the company’s plans.

Some job market analysts have speculated that the company may have a hard time finding enough qualified workers in Maine’s tight labor market. Statewide unemployment was 4.5 percent in April, but it is much lower in some markets – it was 2.7 percent in April in Cumberland County, where Brunswick is located.

The jobs are largely in sales and customer service. Graham provided no details about what the company will pay its employees, but she said the jobs offer good salaries and benefits and the offices will feature open floor plans and a “very Silicon Valley” job culture. She said that means that there are no offices, employees are empowered and a “high-energy, tech- and data-driven culture” is encouraged.

Graham was in Portland on Thursday to speak at Trade Day, an event sponsored by the Maine International Trade Center. Wayfair, which was founded in 2002, is based in the U.S., but expanded to the United Kingdom in 2008, the rest of Europe in 2009 and to Canada this year. Because of Maine’s proximity to Canada, she said the company expects to hire some local employees who speak French to handle calls from francophone Canadians.

She said that online retailing is less common in Canada and Europe than in the U.S., but the markets are large and the company has so far recorded strong growth overseas. Canada, too, is seen as fertile ground, and customers there have been able to shop on the U.S. site for the past eight years before a site dedicated to that country started operating in the first quarter of this year.

“We see a lot of opportunity there for future growth,” she said, speculating that Wayfair’s market share in Canada eventually could exceed the company’s market share in the U.S.

Wayfair projects net revenues of $2.6 billion this year and growth in direct retail sales were up 93 percent in the first quarter this year.

She said Maine was attractive to the company because of its loyal employees and a stable workforce along with a strong customer service culture.

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Wiscasset Water District to get $4 million for water safety http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/wiscasset-water-district-to-get-4-million-for-water-safety/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/wiscasset-water-district-to-get-4-million-for-water-safety/#comments Thu, 26 May 2016 18:20:20 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/wiscasset-water-district-to-get-4-million-for-water-safety/ WISCASSET – A water district in Wiscasset will receive more than $4 million in federal money to replace century-old water lines.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel says the money will help the Wiscasset Water District make sure more than 1,000 residents have access to clean, safe drinking water.

The USDA says water lines in the area are in poor condition which decreases water quality and makes them susceptible to costly main breaks.

The district serves Wiscasset, Woolwich and part of Edgecomb.

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Unum execs tout company’s strong position at annual shareholder meeting in Portland http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/unum-execs-tout-companys-strong-position-at-annual-shareholder-meeting-in-portland/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/unum-execs-tout-companys-strong-position-at-annual-shareholder-meeting-in-portland/#comments Thu, 26 May 2016 17:25:23 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/unum-execs-tout-companys-strong-position-at-annual-shareholder-meeting-in-portland/ Unum Group executives told shareholders at an annual meeting Thursday in Portland that the company is as strong as ever financially and well-positioned for industry changes to come.

At his first annual meeting as Unum’s CEO, Richard McKenney told shareholders that he sees increasing demand for the company’s products and services, and that the Chattanooga, Tennessee-based, Unum, which has about 3,000 employees in Maine, is poised to capitalize on those opportunities and expand its reach.

McKenney noted that over the past 10 years, Unum has provided a 147 percent return on investment to shareholders, compared with a 100 percent return for the S&P 500. He said Unum also greatly outperformed competitors in its industry, employee disability and life insurance.

“It’s our people that set us apart,” McKenney said. “We are a people business.”

In 2015, Unum paid $6.8 billion in benefits and helped roughly 327,000 people return to work following a disability, he said. Sales and premiums each rose by 5 percent, while operating earnings per share grew for the 10th consecutive year. The company also repurchased more than $425 million of its stock, bringing the amount repurchased since 2007 to $3.3 billion, or 36 percent of outstanding shares.

The company announced that it has upped its quarterly dividend by 2 cents a share to 20 cents, making 2016 the seventh consecutive year in which the dividend has been increased.

“I truly believe we are not only stronger today than ever before, but that we are uniquely positioned for growth and continued financial success,” McKenney said.

Chief Financial Officer Jack McGarry told shareholders that Unum has maintained “consistent, predictable performance” in an environment of low interest rates that makes it more difficult for the company to achieve high returns on its investments. Since 2008, Unum earnings per share have grown by an average of 5.3 percent each year, he said.

“We significantly outperformed the S&P Life and Health Index over that same period,” McGarry said.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, Unum shareholders voted to re-elect 13 directors for terms expiring in 2017: McKenney, Theodore Bunting Jr., E. Michael Caulfield, Joseph Echevarria, Cynthia Egan, Pamela Godwin, Kevin Kabat, Timothy Keaney, Gloria Larson, Edward Muhl, Ronald O’Hanley, Francis Shammo and former Unum President and CEO Thomas Watjen, who is chairman of the board.

A.S. “Pat” MacMillan Jr. and William Ryan, lead independent director, retired from the board Thursday. Kabat became the new lead independent director.

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Pair of startups earn top prizes at Top Gun pitch-off in Maine http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/nobleboro-startup-wins-120000-prize-from-microsoft/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/nobleboro-startup-wins-120000-prize-from-microsoft/#comments Thu, 26 May 2016 15:18:05 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/nobleboro-startup-wins-120000-prize-from-microsoft/ A Maine company that developed an app to project public property boundaries into a smart phone camera took home the $120,000 BizSpark prize at the annual Top Gun pitch-off Tuesday.

Nobleboro resident and entrepreneur Chuck Benton of Team AR won the $120,000 in-kind prize from Microsoft for its app using augmented reality technology.

The event, hosted by the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development and the University of Maine, marked the graduation of the 2016 class of Top Gun entrepreneurs statewide. Top Gun is a program that combines mentoring with business development instruction. Since its inception in 2009, it has graduated 135 entrepreneurs.

Six participants from the Bangor, Rockport and Portland Top Gun classes also competed for a $10,000 cash prize sponsored by the Maine Technology Institute. Entrepreneurs gave five-minute pitches to a panel of judges, followed by a brief question-and-answer period. Scoring was based on presentation, innovation, scalability and feasibility.

The cash prize winner was Nadir Yildirim and Simin Khosravani of Revolution Research. The company uses technology to develop eco-friendly products for the construction and packaging industries made from locally supplied and bio-based materials.

Catherine Renault, board chair for the Maine center, presented Executive Director Don Gooding, who is stepping down in June, an award for his many accomplishments and dedication to the entrepreneurial community. Anthony Perkins, of Bernstein Shur, received the Compass Award for his many years of service mentoring Top Gun companies.

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Former Deering star’s use of pro basketball dollars makes sense http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/former-deering-athletes-use-of-his-dollars-makes-sense/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/former-deering-athletes-use-of-his-dollars-makes-sense/#comments Thu, 26 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=896208 Nik Caner-Medley has no intention of becoming one of those professional athletes who retire and then wonder where all the money went.

Caner-Medley, the 32-year-old power forward from Deering High School who has been playing professional basketball in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, has begun quietly building a future career for himself in Portland as a real estate entrepreneur.

In early 2014, he founded Medley Properties with friend Josh Corbeau to buy and manage residential and commercial real estate. The company’s holdings include the Edge Bar property at 61 Main St. in Biddeford.

Now, Caner-Medley is expanding the scope of his existing business and opening a new one. Medley Properties recently began development of a co-working, meeting and event space called Cloudport in the former CycleMania location at 59 Federal St. in Portland.

The athlete said his goal is to put the millions of dollars he has earned to good use.

“I want to be smart with my money and invest it in my community,” he said. “That’s part of what Cloudport is about.”

Caner-Medley has been playing pro basketball for over a decade, and he is not planning to retire anytime soon. He recently finished a two-year, $2 million contract with BC Astana of the VTB United League. Astana is the capital of Kazakhstan.

As of July, he will again be a free agent. Caner-Medley said his plan is to sign with a European team that has championship potential and plays in a city with a good quality of life.

“There won’t be a return to Kazakhstan next year,” he said. “There’s not a whole lot going on in Kazakhstan.”

Still, Caner-Medley said he does not regret his decision to play in Astana. In addition to the money he earned, that’s where he found the inspiration for Cloudport.

Caner-Medley recalled a day when his Wi-Fi service at home wasn’t working, so he went off in search of an Internet café. He happened upon the mother of all Internet cafés – a 30,000-square-foot establishment that had Internet and business services, a cafe, restaurant, theater and spaces for parties and meetings.

“I saw this vision of where you could have a one-stop shop,” he said.

Cloudport won’t be as large or multifaceted as the Kazakh business, but Caner-Medley said it will offer a wide variety of amenities to its members, including a kitchen, private shower, high-end furniture and a concierge service.

“We’ll also have local beers on tap that will be complimentary,” he said.

Co-working spaces are not new to the Portland area. More than a half-dozen such facilities have opened since 2011, including Think Tank, Peloton Labs and Casco Bay Technology Hub, which has since closed.

Co-working spaces are growing in popularity because they solve a common problem for small start-ups and independent contractors: They offer all the basic amenities of a corporate office at a much lower cost.

Pricing and services vary, but in general, co-working spaces provide professional-looking offices where clients, often referred to as members, can stop in anytime to use an office, desk or cubicle, Internet service, Wi-Fi, printer, conference room or other facilities. Most co-working spaces offer several tiers of service, ranging from limited use of a shared workspace to 24-hour use of a dedicated office within the facility.

Cloudport memberships will start at $99 a month for preopening sales and then increase to $125 a month for the most basic level, Caner-Medley said. Private office memberships will start at $500 a month.

NON-ELITIST SPACE, HANDS-ON ROLE

Caner-Medley said his goal is not to make Cloudport an elitist or exclusionary place. He plans to open up its meeting spaces for free to community groups that need a place to put on their events.

When the 6,600-square-foot business opens in July, Caner-Medley said he will personally take on the role of concierge until he has to leave Maine for the next basketball season. Corbeau, his business partner, will handle day-to-day operations.

“I want to be hands-on when this place opens,” Caner-Medley said. “I want to be here.”

Paul Greene, a sports attorney and former TV sportscaster in Portland, said money management is a well-known problem among pro athletes, with many declaring bankruptcy within a few years after retirement.

However, Greene noted that the tendency to overspend on luxury items is a societal issue that is hardly limited to the world of professional sports.

He said athletes such as Caner-Medley who receive positive guidance and values from those around them are the ones most likely to maintain their wealth.

“Nik’s definitely showing a level of responsibility in the way he’s doing things,” Greene said.

Caner-Medley said that being from Maine, he feels less pressure to spend money on flashy symbols of status and wealth than some of his fellow teammates. When he comes home to Portland, his friends and family members remind him to be frugal.

“You don’t need to have five cars, you don’t need to have three houses, you don’t need to have 20 diamond chains,” Caner-Medley said. “I want to do good work. If I end up broke because I’ve done what I think are good things for the community, I’ll still be able to look in the mirror and feel good about it.”

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Data: Rent not affordable on minimum wage nationwide http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/data-rent-not-affordable-on-minimum-wage-nationwide/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/data-rent-not-affordable-on-minimum-wage-nationwide/#comments Thu, 26 May 2016 02:44:05 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/data-rent-not-affordable-on-minimum-wage-nationwide/ A decent two-bedroom rental today will cost you on average more than you could afford working full time earning the local minimum wage everywhere in the United States – in every state, every county, every metropolitan area. No matter how you draw the geography. Whether you live in Sioux Falls or San Francisco.

What the government considers to be a local “fair market rent” for a two-bedroom would eat up more than 30 percent of a minimum-wage worker’s earnings. This fact, from updated data annually compiled by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, addresses a small number of scenarios. Most renters make more than the minimum wage. And many workers who do may not need two bedrooms or rely on just one income.

But the national pattern – the minimum wage isn’t really a “housing wage” anywhere, even at 40 hours a week – hints at the difficulty of being a low-income single parent. And it’s just the most dire expression of an affordable housing crunch affecting renters much further up the income spectrum, too.

Most renter households making 30 percent of the local median income couldn’t afford a fair-market two-bedroom, either. And even median-income renter households can’t in much of the country.

In the District of Columbia, the median renter household makes about $47,000 a year. Fair-market rent for a two bedroom (including utilities) would gobble up about 41 percent of those gross earnings – above what economists would consider “affordable.”

In Philadelphia, a decent two-bedroom would take up 53 percent of the median renter income. In the Bronx, it would take up 66 percent. Median incomes and local rents vary dramatically across the country. But in most of the United States outside the Great Plains, the former isn’t enough to afford the latter.

Of course, people find a way to get by despite these prices. Families crowd into smaller, cheaper units than what they need. Or they wind up paying far more than 30 percent of their income on housing, curbing other expenses such as health care, food and transportation. Or they settle for substandard housing that costs well below what the Department of Housing and Urban Development would consider “fair market.” (The federal agency sets these rates each year to help determine subsidy levels of programs such as housing vouchers.)

Increasingly, lower-income renters in particular are having to make such concessions as rents have risen and wages have stagnated, and as the rental market has grown more crowded. Even a median income isn’t protection against high housing costs in many parts of the country.

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Old Orchard Beach Pier in line for national honor http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/old-orchard-beach-pier-in-line-for-national-honor/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/old-orchard-beach-pier-in-line-for-national-honor/#comments Thu, 26 May 2016 02:36:49 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/old-orchard-beach-pier-in-line-for-national-honor/ The Old Orchard Beach Pier stands to be named this week as one of the nation’s top 10 boardwalks.

Paul Golzbein, who owns the pier, said voting in the national contest closed Monday, and the last time he checked, his pier was ranked seventh. “I expect to be in the top 10, for sure,” he said.

V. Louise Reid, Old Orchard Beach’s assistant town manager, sent out an e-mail blast when she heard about the contest, urging residents and pier lovers to vote.

USA Today, sponsor of the Best Boardwalk contest, will announce the top 10 on Friday, according to its website. The newspaper holds a number of Readers’ Choice contests, ranging from the Best Fourth of July festival to Best Italian Sub/Hoagie in New Jersey.

“I felt kind of proud after hearing how we did,” Golzbein said, “especially when you are going up against some of the biggest boardwalks in the country.”

Other nominees are the Navy Pier in Chicago, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in California, and the Wildwoods boardwalk in New Jersey.

There is no money at stake, only positive publicity for a Maine landmark that is already visited by one million people a year, Golzbein said.

“Every living soul that comes to this town each summer walks on the pier,” he said. “My theory is simple. People come to Old Orchard Beach to have fun. So we provide them with fun.”

Golzein bought the 600-foot-long pier at an auction 35 years ago. It first opened to the public on July 2, 1898.

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Google wins patent for adhesive that sticks struck pedestrians to vehicles http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/google-wins-patent-for-adhesive-that-sticks-struck-pedestrians-to-vehicles/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/google-wins-patent-for-adhesive-that-sticks-struck-pedestrians-to-vehicles/#comments Thu, 26 May 2016 02:17:04 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/google-wins-patent-for-adhesive-that-sticks-struck-pedestrians-to-vehicles/ Google has been granted a patent for an adhesive vehicle front that’s designed to limit the injuries of a pedestrian it strikes.

A pedestrian struck by a vehicle with the adhesive front end would become stuck to the hood and bumper. The idea is to prevent a secondary blow in which the pedestrian might strike the windshield, roof or road after an initial collision with the car’s front.

With fewer impacts, pedestrians should suffer fewer injuries. But there’s one catch – they will end up covered in an adhesive substance.

The Google patent granted this month describes the adhesive coating as being present beneath an outer egg-like shell that would break in the event of a collision with a pedestrian or another object. Some automotive and pedestrian experts contacted for this story wondered whether the adhesive would be effective at a range of vehicle speeds. A Google spokeswoman declined to offer more details on the patent and noted that product announcements should not necessarily be inferred from patents.

“It sounds wacky to me, but who am I to say?” said Bill Visnic, the editorial director of mobility media at the Society of Automotive Engineers. He’s followed the car industry for 25 years and said he’s never seen anything like this. “It’s not something that’s beyond the pale of imagination as having some potential to help.”

Pedestrian safety has become a hot topic, and automakers are looking for ways to design their vehicles to protect not just humans on the inside, according to Visnic. In December, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced plans to expand its safety ratings to assess how well a vehicle protects pedestrians in the event of an accident.

The patent’s authors write that existing car bumpers are generally designed to absorb energy to protect the vehicle but provide little protection for a pedestrian. The thinking echoes that of pedestrian advocates.

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Report: Thirty-one percent of non-retired Americans lack retirement funds http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/report-thirty-one-percent-of-non-retired-americans-lack-retirement-funds/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/report-thirty-one-percent-of-non-retired-americans-lack-retirement-funds/#comments Thu, 26 May 2016 01:46:53 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/report-thirty-one-percent-of-non-retired-americans-lack-retirement-funds/ A substantial share of Americans lacked retirement savings and fewer households were confident in the outlook for their income at the end of last year.

That’s according to a Federal Reserve report on the economic well-being of U.S. households in 2015, released Wednesday. The findings show that while respondents increasingly reported that they are “doing OK” or “living comfortably,” a smaller share said they expected income growth than in the prior year’s survey. Thirty-one percent of non-retired Americans said they had no retirement savings at all, unchanged from 2014.

At a time when presidential candidates including Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have gained ground in part by appealing to a sense of disenfranchisement and disappointment, the findings paint a picture of Americans’ contrasting fortunes.

While households have been facing improving economic prospects, the results show fewer are optimistic about the future. And though the educated are faring well, those who lack a bachelor’s degree or who shoulder student debt continue to struggle.

“Single parents, racial and ethnic minorities, and respondents with lower levels of income or education are all more likely to report that they were having some level of difficulty getting by financially,” the report said. “Economic advancement continues to be experienced to a greater degree for respondents in higher socio-economic circumstances.”

The report shows that among those with a bachelor’s degree or higher, more than twice as many respondents said they were better off financially from the prior year, compared with those who said they were worse off. For people with a high school degree or less, the proportions saying they were better off and worse off were roughly equal.

And “the types of challenges differ greatly by income,” the report found. Rent, food, gas and other bills top the list for those making less than $40,000 annually, whereas higher-income families are more concerned with retirement and education.

While about 47 percent of respondents would have been able to cover an emergency expense of $400 using cash or money in their checking or savings accounts, many would have to resort to other means: 29 percent would have put it on a credit card and paid it off in the next statement, 17 percent would have put it on their card and paid it off over time and 13 percent would have had to borrow.

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Northeast Ocean Plan proposed as guide for coastline and ocean management http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/newly-released-draft-plan-will-guide-coastline-and-ocean-management/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/newly-released-draft-plan-will-guide-coastline-and-ocean-management/#comments Thu, 26 May 2016 00:11:11 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/newly-released-draft-plan-will-guide-coastline-and-ocean-management/ A regional planning group issued a sweeping ecosystem-based ocean draft plan Wednesday to guide federal agencies in New England.

The draft Northeast Ocean Plan has no regulatory power, but since it was developed by a group created by presidential order in 2010, the reams of science behind the plan will guide the federal agencies that help manage the coastline and oceans of New England, according to Betsy Nicholson, a member of the regional group that wrote the plan and regional director for coastal management for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The science is drawn from hundreds of data sources, and often packaged into easy-to-use interactive maps to understand the cumulative effect of disparate industries, such as looking at how marine mammal habitat intersects with regional shipping lanes or the location of marine industry job clusters or beach renourishment projects. Most of the data had existed before the plan’s release, Nicholson said, but not in one place, and not in such an easy to understand and use format.

“This is a huge benefit for people like fishermen, small tourism business owners and others,” said Anne Merwin, director of ocean planning at Ocean Conservancy. They “need to be out on the water, or in their shops, not tracking down the latest ocean development proposals.”

This is the first regional ocean plan to come out of President Obama’s executive order. The Mid-Altantic region is slated to release its draft plan next, in early summer.

The plan calls for the agencies to use the data, which the regional group is making available to the public through an online data portal, and work together with the state, tribal, and local governments in the six-state region. The planning group, which worked on the draft for four years, is made up of members from nine federal agencies, ranging from the Navy to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the six New England states, regional tribes, and advisory members from New York and Canada.

The plan also points out surprising gaps in data, such as how and where lobstermen fish along the sprawling New England coast, even though the fishery is central to the economic health of coastline communities and New England states, especially in Maine, and subject to the impact of development and climate change. Nick Battista, the marine programs director at Island Institute in Rockland, said lobstermen should be involved in decisions that could impact their coast.

“The lobster fishery is the economic backbone of many coastal Maine communities,” Battista said. “Without this fishery, many of these communities might disappear.”

The data portal is available to the public at www.northeastoceandata.org.

The group invites public comment on its website, at neoceanplanning.org/plan, through July 25, and will hold hearings across New England in June and July, including three in Maine. The first Maine hearing is in Rockland on June 6 at 5 p.m. at Rockland Public Library; the second is in Ellsworth on June 20 at 5 p.m. at Ellsworth Public Library; and in Portland on June 30 at 5 p.m., although no location has yet been identified.

 

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Biddeford company competing for $151.8 million military contract http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/biddeford-company-competing-for-151-million-military-contract/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/biddeford-company-competing-for-151-million-military-contract/#comments Thu, 26 May 2016 00:02:47 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/biddeford-company-competing-for-151-million-military-contract/ A Biddeford company is a finalist for a federal contract for up to $151.8 million for a sighting system for the Army’s newest class of grenade launchers.

Vingtech, which opened in Biddeford in 2007, is in competition with Wilcox Industries Corp. of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to win the contract, which will be awarded in three phases through March 2022, according to Peter Rowland, a senior operations specialist with the organization managing the Army’s sighting system programs. This type of contract is often used in a developmental program because it spurs competition, Rowland said.

Jim Lebel, Vingtech’s vice president, said he hopes the Army chooses the Vingtech system.

“We’re still in the developmental stage, our different designs in competition with each other, and we just have to let it play out and see which one the Army likes the best,” said Lebel. “We hope to have some really good news in the coming months, news that could mean more jobs for Maine.”

The government plans to chose one of the finalists to receive the production portion of the contract after evaluating and testing out prototype designs, Rowland said.

The sighting system will be used on the Heckler & Koch M320, a 40-millimeter, single-shot grenade launcher that can fire high explosive, armor piercing and illuminating rounds as well as non-lethal ones.

Vingtech employs about 35 people and is owned by Rheinmetall Defence of Germany.

In other defense contract news, Howell Laboratories Inc. of Bridgton, a water and purification systems maker and an employee-owned business, received a small business set-aside contract for up to $10 million for membrane element assemblies for the U.S. Navy in Maine. The company, founded in 1964, manufacturers chlorinators, dehydrators and measuring equipment found on most U.S. military surface ships and submarines.

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New Marriott hotel in Portland gets Planning Board approval http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/new-marriott-hotel-gets-planning-board-approval/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/new-marriott-hotel-gets-planning-board-approval/#comments Wed, 25 May 2016 22:21:17 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/new-marriott-hotel-gets-planning-board-approval/ The Portland Planning Board has approved a new hotel proposed for the city’s eastern waterfront.

The 150-room AC Hotel by Marriott at Fore, Hancock and Thames streets was approved unanimously by the six board members who voted Tuesday night.

The six-story building will be near the former Portland Co. project, where city officials have established a historic district and plans are in the works for offices, retail space and housing.

The new hotel, which was first proposed last fall, will cost an estimated $20 million and include a restaurant or about 4,000 square feet of retail space. Sixteen condominiums would be built on the top floor.

The lot where it will be built is currently vacant and sits between the Ocean Gateway garage and the Ocean Gateway terminal.

The developer is the Portland Norwich Group, which has offices in Florida and New Hampshire. Calls seeking information about when construction would begin and when the project is expected to be completed were not returned Wednesday.

The AC brand of Marriott hotels are designed with modern European influences like breakfasts that offer egg tarts rather than traditional eggs and an assortment of cheese, meats and fruit. Snacks and tapas plates replace room service. All of the AC hotels offer mobile check-in and check-out services.

The hotel will join several other recent additions to the city’s downtown hospitality sector, including the Press Hotel and the Hyatt. According to the Maine Real Estate and Development Association’s annual forecasting conference in January, downtown hotels reported a 70 percent occupancy rate in 2015, well above the state average of 56.7 percent. Industry observers say the city’s increasing reputation as a food hub is attracting visitors and making it a destination for tourists.

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The Cat expected to start ferry service in Maine in mid-June http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/cat-ferry-expected-to-start-service-mid-june/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/cat-ferry-expected-to-start-service-mid-june/#comments Wed, 25 May 2016 20:33:47 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/cat-ferry-expected-to-start-service-mid-june/ The Cat ferry, which will operate between Portland and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, this summer, was refloated Wednesday after more than a month in drydock for repairs and refitting, Bay Ferries Ltd. said.

The company said the ship is about to exit the drydock in Charleston, South Carolina, and then undergo inspection, some final work and dock and sea trials. The schedule for its trip north from Charleston has not been set, the company said, but it’s expected to enter service on June 15.

The high-speed catamaran is owned by the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command, which took ownership of the vessel after its initial owner, a ferry service in Hawaii, went bankrupt. Bay Ferries is leasing the ship, which will replace the Nova Star, a ferry that operated the Portland-Nova Scotia run the past two summers.

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Alfonds top Forbes list of Maine’s richest residents http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/alfonds-top-list-of-maines-richest-residents/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/alfonds-top-list-of-maines-richest-residents/#comments Wed, 25 May 2016 16:47:17 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/alfonds-top-list-of-maines-richest-residents/ Two of Harold Alfond’s four children are the richest people in Maine, according to Forbes magazine.

The publication has released its annual list of the richest people in each state and Bill and Susan Alfond are listed as Maine’s wealthiest, with a net worth of $1.2 billion. Dan Alexander, the Forbes reporter who wrote the piece accompanying the list, said Alfond’s other two children, Ted and Peter Alfond, do not reside primarily in Maine and so they are not included with their siblings as representing Maine’s wealthiest.

The $1.2 billion figure is the estimated net worth of Bill and Susan Alfond together, he said.

The text accompanying the picture of the two siblings recounts how in 1958, Harold Alfond founded Dexter Shoe Co. in an old mill in Dexter after having previously started Norrwock Shoe Co. and selling it for $1 million in 1944.

Alfond pioneered the concept of a factory outlet store, selling seconds at the log cabin outlets that he had built around the state. He eventually sold Dexter to Berkshire Hathaway in 1993 and gave much of his money and stock to the foundation that carries his name and is also the wealthiest foundation in the state.

In annual letters to shareholders, Berkshire Hathaway’s chairman Warren Buffett regularly called the purchase of Dexter one of his worst decisions ever, saying he overpaid for the company at $433 million, didn’t really understand where the shoe industry was going (specifically, that it was moving away from American-based manufacturing to factories overseas where labor was cheaper) and paid for the purchase in stock, rather than cash.

Berkshire Hathaway stock is now worth nearly 20 times what it was in 1993 and the Harold Alfond Foundation is the largest private foundation in the state, with nearly $745 million in assets as of the end of 2015, much of it in Berkshire Hathaway stock.

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Female CEOs see pay rise, but numbers remain small http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/female-ceos-paid-more-than-male-counterparts-but-very-few-of-them/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/female-ceos-paid-more-than-male-counterparts-but-very-few-of-them/#comments Wed, 25 May 2016 14:30:51 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/female-ceos-paid-more-than-male-counterparts-but-very-few-of-them/ For the second year in a row, female CEOs earned more than their male counterparts and received bigger raises. But only a small sliver of the largest companies are run by women, and experts say gender parity at the top remains way off.

The median pay for a female CEO was nearly $18 million last year, up about 13 percent from 2014. By comparison, male CEOs’ median pay was $10.5 million, up just 3 percent from a year earlier, according to an analysis by executive compensation data firm Equilar and The Associated Press.

A pay hike doesn’t tell the full story though.

The jump is largely due to the small sample size: only 17 of the 341 CEOs analyzed by Equilar and the AP were women. That means any one CEO’s compensation — Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s nearly $36 million package, for example, or Mary Dillon’s 200 percent raise at Ulta — can skew the results.

Of the 10 highest paid CEOs on the list, only one was a woman: Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, whose own position is in jeopardy amid questions about the company’s future.

The next highest-paid woman was Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Inc., who earned $22.2 million. General Dynamics CEO Phebe Novakovic came in third at $20.4 million. The lowest-paid female CEO on the list was Lauralee Martin of HCP, a health care real estate investment trust, whose pay package was valued at $800,000.

The only black woman to make the list — Ursula Burns of Xerox — is giving up her CEO role soon to serve as chairman of the document technology company after the business splits in two.

Women led companies in a variety of industries including technology, defense and aerospace and retail. While there are few women at the helm, they tended to be in higher paying industries or positions — making up 10 of the top 100 highest paid overall.

A recent report by S&P Global Market Intelligence highlights the gulf between words and actions in hiring women as CEOs.

“Despite all of the attention placed on increasing the number of female executives at American companies, the needle on the gender gap has hardly moved,” the report’s author, Pavle Sabic, wrote.

Sabic looked at the entire Standard & Poor’s 500 index from 2006 to 2015 and found the number of female CEOs rose from 16 to 21 — an increase of one new female CEO every two years.

“The gender gap at the CEO level … is not closing,” he wrote.

It’s an issue of both corporate and community culture, says Serena Fong, vice president of governmental affairs at Catalyst, a nonprofit that aims to expand opportunities for women in business. She said there are conscious and unconscious biases against women in the workplace that work their way into hiring and development practices.

Proponents of equality say female CEOs can help the reputation, recruitment and bottom line of businesses.

The data is there to support the hires but change is happening slowly, said Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief reputation strategist at Weber Shandwick, which studied the reputation factor of female CEOs.

“We are going to see … more progress because companies care about their reputations and boards care about their reputations,” Gaines-Ross said. “It’s going to happen, it’s just not going to happen fast enough.”

Equilar only looked at companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index that filed proxy statements with federal regulators between Jan. 1 and April 30, 2016. To avoid the distortions caused by sign-on bonuses, the sample includes only CEOs in place for at least two years.

That methodology means some CEOs, such as Mary Barra of General Motors, were not included.

To calculate pay, Equilar adds salary, bonus, perks, stock awards, stock option awards and other compensation. To determine what stock and option awards are worth, Equilar uses the value of an award on the day it is granted. For options, this includes an estimate of what the award could be worth in the future. Their actual value in the future can vary widely from what the company estimates.

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Ford recalls 271,000 F-150 pickups to fix brake fluid leak http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/ford-recalls-271k-pickups-to-fix-brake-fluid-leak/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/ford-recalls-271k-pickups-to-fix-brake-fluid-leak/#comments Wed, 25 May 2016 13:22:49 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/ford-recalls-271k-pickups-to-fix-brake-fluid-leak/ DETROIT — Ford is recalling some of its top-selling vehicles in the U.S. to fix a fluid leak that can reduce braking power.

The recall covers about 271,000 F-150 pickups in North America from the 2013 and 2014 model years that have 3.5-liter V6 engines.

Ford says brake fluid can leak from the master cylinder. That could reduce the ability of the front brakes to stop the trucks.

The company reports nine crashes with no injuries, but one person was hurt in an unspecified interaction with the brakes.

Dealers will replace the brake master cylinder for free. They’ll also replace the brake booster if they find leaks from the master cylinder.

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In Maine’s last open lobster zone, a feud over limiting newcomers http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/effort-to-close-lobster-zone-divides-fishery/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/effort-to-close-lobster-zone-divides-fishery/#comments Wed, 25 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=895284 In most of Maine, adults who want to make their living trapping lobster must wait until a licensed lobsterman dies or forgets to file a license renewal.

There is only one place in the state, in the waters of eastern Penobscot Bay off Stonington, Vinalhaven and Isle au Haut, where a resident who completes the necessary training and safety classes can get a license to lobster without waiting for at least a decade. But the lobstermen who oversee Maine’s last open lobster territory are now fighting over whether to cap the number of lobstermen who can fish those waters, effectively closing the last open door to the state’s largest commercial fishery.

The debate is pitting islanders who worry that a cap would eliminate an incentive for adult children to return home against mainland fishermen who want to protect this lucrative industry from outside exploitation. After years of debate, the local lobster council has tried to put the issue to a vote twice before, but the meetings have fallen through, with members missing meetings or walking out moments before a closure vote could be held.

The council was scheduled to try again this week, at a meeting where zone closure was the only topic on the agenda, but had to cancel because it lacked the quorum needed for a legal vote. One councilor had other plans. Another councilor had a family emergency. But two island-based councilors told the state Department of Marine Resources they wouldn’t be coming to a meeting as long as zone closure remained on the table.

“Feelings are running really high,” said Sarah Cotnair, the state liaison to the state’s seven lobster councils. “A lot of the lobstermen want to close the zone. They don’t want to share the bay with people from away, who come up from Scarborough or Boothbay just to lobster. Those who want to keep it open, they say an open zone is good for jobs, good for the local economy, especially for the islands. It’s a fight that’s been going on for years.”

ENTRY DIFFICULT IN MANY ZONES

The coastal waters of Maine are divided into seven fishing zones, lettered A through G, that stretch from the border with the Canadian Maritimes down to the New Hampshire state line. Lobstermen must complete 2,000 hours of training over 200 days, or two lobster seasons, as an apprentice to a licensed lobsterman from the zone where they live and will fish before they can apply for a state license. In all but eastern Penobscot Bay, or Zone C, apprentices wait for years for a spot to open up.

Maine has 7,280 licensed lobstermen, each assigned to a zone based on their home address, but not all of them are traditional commercial fishermen who set a full run of 800 traps and may employ a sternman or two. One out of four is a recreational fishermen. One in seven is an apprentice or a student. One in 14 is over the age of 70, holding on to the state license to keep a connection to lobstering or to enable an unlicensed relative to keep fishing.

State statistics show that about a thousand of those license holders don’t land a single lobster in a typical year.

Although the fishing community talks about this debate in terms of open or closed, the issue boils down to entrance limitations so strict that people on the waiting list often feel like the zone is simply closed. People can get licenses in a “closed” zone, but they must wait for a spot to open up. In most cases, a spot only becomes available when someone has moved, died or forgotten to renew their license, Cotnair said. Most zones require more than one license-holder to leave before someone new can come in.

And some zones cap the number of lobster traps allowed in the zone rather than the number of lobstermen, since not everyone fishes a full run of 800.

No lobster zone, regardless of how crowded, is closed to a student who has completed a 2,000-hour apprenticeship and gets a high school diploma, or its equivalent, by age 20. A state law adopted in April gave these students more time to put in their hours, giving them two extra years to complete their apprenticeships. Lawmakers and fishermen hailed it as helping to keep the lobstering tradition alive among the upcoming generation of fishermen.

Although it is open, the number of licensed lobstermen in Zone C fell from 904 in 2014 to 830 in 2015, the lowest level since before 1997, when the state’s marine resources zone data was first collected. The number of apprentices, students and those who lobster for fun also fell over the past year, statistics show, lower than only a few years in that same 19-year time span.

BIG DECISION, LONG PROCESS

If the Zone C lobster council ever initiates the process to limit entry, it also would have to set a ratio of how many licenses or traps must become available before someone new can come in. Once that ratio is set, they would send out a survey to all licensed lobstermen in their zone to weigh in on closure and the proposed ratio. The council does not have to abide by the survey results, but most have done so, Cotnair said.

The council’s proposed change then goes to the Lobster Advisory Council and the state’s marine resources commissioner for review.

“If there is a vote (on closing Zone C), it will be very close,” said council member and state Rep. Walter Kumiega of Deer Isle, who chairs the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee. “My hope is if the zone closes, it will have a 1-to-1 or 2-to-1 exit ratio so there will still be reasonable entry. … It is a very big issue. It puts fishermen dealing with very crowded conditions on the water in conflict with a need to allow entry to maintain the population of their communities.”

The last lobster fishery to close in Maine was Zone A, the Bold Coast region that borders the Canadian Maritimes. John Drouin of Cutler, a licensed lobsterman for 37 years, was chairman of the council in 2004 when it voted to close, and still heads up the board today. The closure process there was difficult and slow, stretching out over a three-year period, Drouin said. He held public hearings in every district of the zone to help the council assess the community’s wishes.

“This issue isn’t on the shoulders of the council, it is up to the fishery participants,” he said. “So it was easy for me to vote in favor of closing since the vote in my district was like 72 percent in favor of closing. … You can’t please everyone, but as a representative, you can please the majority of who vote. And that is where you, as a council member, have to leave it. If they don’t have the stomach for it, then they shouldn’t be on the council.”

DIVISIONS KEEP THE STATUS QUO

The Zone C council sent out an unofficial questionnaire to license holders in 2015 that showed a majority wanted to limit entry to the fishery. Some members, such as Chairman Michael Sherman of Brooklin, whose district voted 45-10 in favor of closing the fishery, pointed to those results to explain why they support closure. But members who represent the island communities of North Haven and Isle au Haut want to keep it open.

The council voted in March on whether to keep the fishery open, but it failed along mainland-island lines. Island members walked out before a second vote that would have effectively closed the fishery for at least a year could occur.

Cotnair said the council hasn’t been able to corral the number of members needed to even hold a legal vote on the matter since.

 

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In key step, Cuba legalizing small private businesses http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/in-important-step-cuba-legalizing-small-private-businesses/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/in-important-step-cuba-legalizing-small-private-businesses/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 23:16:34 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/in-important-step-cuba-legalizing-small-private-businesses/ HAVANA — Cuba announced Tuesday that it will legalize small- and medium-sized private businesses in a move that could significantly expand private enterprise in one of the world’s last communist countries.

Cuban business owners and economic experts said they were hopeful the reform would allow private firms to import wholesale supplies and export products to other countries for the first time, removing a major obstacle to private business growth.

“This is a tremendously important step,” said Alfonso Valentin Larrea Barroso, director-general of Scenius, a cooperatively run economic consulting firm in Havana. “They’re creating, legally speaking, the non-state sector of the economy. They’re making that sector official.”

While the government offered no immediate further details, the new business categories appear to be the next stage in reforms initiated by President Raul Castro after he took over from his brother Fidel Castro in 2008. While those reforms have allowed about half a million Cubans to start work in the private sector, the process has been slow and marked by periodic reversals.

The government has regularly cracked down on private businesses that flourish and compete with Cuba’s chronically inefficient state monopolies. The latest backlash came after President Obama met private business owners during his March 20-22 visit to Cuba, prompting hard-line communists to warn that the U.S. wants to turn entrepreneurs into a tool to overturn the island’s socialist revolution.

The Communist Party documents, published in a special tabloid sold at state newsstands Tuesday, said a category of small, mid-sized and “micro” private business was being added to a master plan for social and economic development approved by last month’s Cuban Communist Party Congress. The twice-a-decade meeting, which is closed to the public and media, sets the direction for the single-party state for the coming five years. The 32-page party document published Tuesday is the first comprehensive accounting of the decisions taken by the party congress. State media reported few details of the debate or decisions taken at the meeting but featured harsh rhetoric from leading officials about the continuing threat from U.S. imperialism and the dangers of international capitalism.

That tough talk, it now appears, was accompanied by what could be a major step in Cuba’s ongoing reform of its centrally planned economy.

“Private property in certain means of production contributes to employment, economic efficiency and well-being, in a context in which socialist property relationships predominate,” reads one section of the “Conceptualization of the Cuban Economic and Social Model of Socialist Development.”

Vanessa Arocha, a 56-year-old architect who makes hand-made purses and bags at home under a self-employed worker’s license, said she dreamed of forming a legally recognized small business that could import supplies and machinery and hire neighbors looking for extra income.

“I could import fittings, zippers, vinyl,” she said. “Being a small business would be a new experience, one we know little about, but something very positive.”

The government currently allows private enterprise by self-employed workers in several hundred job categories ranging from restaurant owner to hairdresser. Many of those workers have become de-facto small-business owners employing other Cubans in enterprises providing vital stimulus to Cuba’s stagnant centrally planned economy.

The Cuban government blames the half-century-old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba for strangling the island’s economy. Cuba’s new class of entrepreneurs says the embargo is a major obstacle but also lodges frequent, bitter complaints about the difficulties of running a business in a system that does not officially recognize them.

Low-level officials often engage in crackdowns on successful businesses for supposed violations of the arcane rules on self-employment. And the government maintains a monopoly on imports and export that funnels badly needed products exclusively to state-run enterprises.

Because of its dilapidated state-run economy, Cuba imports most of what it consumes, from rice to air conditioners. Most private businesses are forced to buy scarce supplies from state retail stores or on the black market, increasing the scarcity of basic goods and driving up prices for ordinary Cubans. Many entrepreneurs pay networks of “mules” to import goods in checked airline baggage, adding huge costs and delays.

The latest change will almost certainly take months to become law. Such reforms typically require formal approval by Cuba’s National Assembly, which meets only twice a year.

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Affordable flying is in the summer forecast http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/affordable-flying-in-summer-forecast/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/affordable-flying-in-summer-forecast/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 22:40:04 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/affordable-flying-in-summer-forecast/ DALLAS — Enjoy lower airfares while you can. Airlines are taking steps to push prices higher by next year.

Fares have been dropping for over a year. Taking inflation into account, the average round trip within the U.S. in late 2015 was the lowest since 2010.

Ticket prices have fallen even further this year, according to the airlines. Not only is flying from Boston to Denver cheap, but Europe is more affordable.

Fliers can thank the steep plunge in oil prices since mid-2014. As they saved billions of dollars on fuel, carriers added supply – seats – faster than travel demand was growing. The major airlines have announced steps to rein in the oversupply, but fares will remain affordable for the peak travel season.

One downside: Be prepared to spend a few more hours in a security line.

The number of passengers this summer is expected to rise 4 percent over last year’s record level. That, along with fewer Transportation Security Administration screeners, is expected to create long lines.

American Airlines and United Airlines each plan to spend $4 million on contractors who will help TSA by handling some of the non-screening duties.

Stories about horrific lines might be an opportunity for last-minute deals, according to Pauline Frommer, of the travel guide company Frommer’s.

“If American Airlines is going to spend $4 million of its own money, obviously the airlines are nervous about not being able to sell last-minute seats,” she said.

Signing up for fare alerts from the airlines and price-tracking websites can help consumers spot those deals, many of which lapse quickly.

Last week airfarewatchdog.com spotted $688 round trips on British Airways and American leaving New York on July 6 and returning July 17. George Hobica, the site’s founder, said $1,200 would be more typical for peak season. The sale lasted one day.

If you don’t have kids in school, the easiest way to save money would be delaying a big trip until at least mid-August. “After that, we see fares drop off a cliff,” Hobica said.

Within the U.S., the cost of an average round trip fell 8 percent last year to $363, according to government figures. Fares have fallen faster on international routes, which added a glut of flights.

U.S. airlines now get about $1.1 billion more from baggage and ticket-change fees than they did in 2010, although the percentage of revenue accounted for by airfares is unchanged at 75 percent.

Faced with fuel costs that have gone back up since February, investors are pressuring airlines to reverse the decline in fares by growing more slowly.

Delta Air Lines said this month it will cut its planned growth more sharply as this year goes along. United Airlines squeezed its planned 2016 growth by 0.5 percentage points, and American will slash its planned international growth this year to 2.5 percent from the original 6 percent.

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Spring home sales are off to a robust start http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/spring-home-sales-are-off-to-a-robust-start/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/spring-home-sales-are-off-to-a-robust-start/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 22:07:55 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/spring-home-sales-are-off-to-a-robust-start/ WASHINGTON — Americans ramped up their purchases of new homes in April to the highest level since January 2008, evidence of a strong start to the spring buying season.

The Commerce Department said Tuesday that new home sales jumped 16.6 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted rate of 619,000, up from a revised total of 531,000 in March.

Steady job gains and low mortgage rates have encouraged more Americans to buy new homes. That trend is driving home construction and helping support the economy.

The new home sales figures are notoriously volatile, particularly at the regional level.

Last month, new home purchases leapt 53 percent in the Northeast and 19 percent in the West. They fell 5 percent in the Midwest and jumped 16 percent in the South.

The housing market is still healing from the long-term consequences of the bubble and bust a decade ago. Last month’s sales aren’t far from the historical long-run pace of about 650,000 a year.

Developers have been disproportionately targeting higher-income buyers: The median price of a new home that sold in April was $321,100, a record high, up from $297,900 in March.

Those sharp price gains will likely put many new homes out of reach for some buyers, particularly younger first-time purchasers.

Still, more building is expanding the supply of homes available for sale, which could help relieve some pricing pressure. The number of new homes for sale is 17.4 percent more than a year earlier.

That could help offset a shortage of existing homes for sale, which have fallen 3.6 percent in the past year.

The housing market is showing signs of picking up after a weak start to the year, though growth remains modest.

Lower mortgage rates are helping: The average 30-year fixed rate mortgage was just 3.58 percent last week, according to mortgage buyer Freddie Mac.

Sales of existing homes, which make up 90 percent of the housing market, rose in April for a second straight month to an annual pace of 5.45 million, a figure consistent with a solid economy.

And the construction of new homes rose 6.6 percent in April to an annual rate of 1.17 million houses and apartments.

That mostly reversed a steep drop in March. Builders are breaking ground for new homes at a faster pace than they did last year.

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Portland official says ‘midtown’ land deal on track to close this month http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/portland-official-midtown-land-deal-on-track-to-close-this-month/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/portland-official-midtown-land-deal-on-track-to-close-this-month/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 21:31:56 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/portland-official-midtown-land-deal-on-track-to-close-this-month/ The embattled “midtown” mixed-use development in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood is one step closer to becoming a reality.

A Portland official said the city is on track to sign over a 3.5-acre plot of city-owned land to midtown’s developer, Federated Cos., by the end of the month.

“We are working towards that goal of closing (the sale) on May 31,” said Greg Mitchell, the city’s economic development director.

On May 16, the Portland City Council approved three amendments to the purchase and sale agreement that the Florida-based developer said would allow it to move forward. The amendments:

 Eliminate the requirement that midtown participate in the city’s (now suspended) Park and Shop program.

 Eliminate the city’s right to buy back the property on which housing units will be built. Federated said it could not get financing for the project unless that requirement was eliminated. The city still would have the right to buy back the adjacent parking garage property.

 Require Federated Cos. to commit to building certain structures, including the parking garage.

As planned, midtown will include about 440 market-rate apartments, 90,000 square feet of retail space and an 840-space parking garage. Its estimated cost is $75 million, including nearly $12 million in subsidies, some of which will go toward street improvements.

If the deal closes this month, it will mark the end of a long process for Federated Cos. and the city that has been stalled multiple times by neighborhood opposition and disagreements over the details of the project.

It began back in June 2011, when the council voted unanimously to sell the land, on Somerset Street, to Federated Cos. for $2.3 million.

Since then, the project has been reduced in size from its original plans for up to 850 housing units that would have been built in phases over 10 years. In its current form, midtown is expected to take just three years to build.

 

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Monsanto rejects $62 billion bid from Bayer, but still open to talks http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/monsanto-rejects-62-billion-bid-from-bayer-to-create-global-seed-giant/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/monsanto-rejects-62-billion-bid-from-bayer-to-create-global-seed-giant/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 17:15:53 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/monsanto-rejects-62-billion-bid-from-bayer-to-create-global-seed-giant/ Monsanto Co. rejected a $62 billion takeover offer from Bayer as too low, while saying it remains open to further deal talks, putting pressure on the German company to raise a bid that has already sent its stock tumbling.

“We believe in the substantial benefits an integrated strategy could provide to growers and broader society, and we have long respected Bayer’s business,” Monsanto Chief Executive Officer Hugh Grant said in a statement Tuesday.

“However, the current proposal significantly undervalues our company and also does not adequately address or provide reassurance for some of the potential financing and regulatory execution risks related to the acquisition,” he said.

Bayer will likely come back with a higher bid, Jonas Oxgaard, an analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. in New York, said Tuesday in a note, adding that an offer below $135 per share would be “challenging” for Monsanto to agree to.

Buying Monsanto would create the world’s biggest supplier of farm chemicals and seeds. Monsanto is the largest seed supplier and a pioneer of genetically modified crops, which two decades on from their introduction have come to account for the majority of corn and soybeans grown in the United States. Monsanto also sells seeds in foreign markets including Latin America and India.

The offer from Bayer, which was made May 10 in a letter to Monsanto, marks a reversal of roles for the U.S. company. Monsanto previously sought to buy Swiss pesticide maker Syngenta, abandoning the $43.7 billion bid in August after the other company refused to agree to a deal.

The crop and seed industry is being reshaped by a series of large transactions that may end up leaving just a few global players who can offer a comprehensive range of products and services to farmers. China National Chemical Corp. agreed in February to acquire Syngenta for about $43 billion, months after Monsanto abandoned its own bid for Syngenta. Meanwhile DuPont Co. and Dow Chemical Co. plan to merge and then carve out a new crop-science unit.

Despite its preeminence in seeds, Monsanto has become vulnerable to a takeover as a number of problems piled up this year. The company has cut its earnings forecast, clashed with some of the world’s largest commodity-trading companies and become locked in disputes with the governments of Argentina and India.

Farmers have seen their incomes fall in the last few years amid declining commodity prices, and that’s spurred them to increasingly demand products tailored to their needs, according to Jason Miner, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. Monsanto has become over-reliant on seeds at the expense of crop chemicals such as pesticides, something that spurred the company in its ultimately unsuccessful pursuit of Syngenta, Miner said.

Monsanto was founded in 1901, its first product was the artificial sweetener saccharin. Until the late 1970s, the company produced highly toxic polychlorinated biphenyls, known as PCBs. It was also among companies that manufactured the mixture of herbicides known as Agent Orange and used as a defoliant by the U.S. in the Vietnam War.

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Maine company gets Microsoft grant to help remote area connect to Internet http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/microsoft-grants-to-extend-internet-access-to-remote-areas/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/microsoft-grants-to-extend-internet-access-to-remote-areas/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 17:09:42 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/microsoft-grants-to-extend-internet-access-to-remote-areas/ Washington County found itself Tuesday in the company of Rwanda, Malawi, Indonesia and several other developing nations.

They all were recipients of technology grants from Microsoft, part of a new program launched by the software giant to help remote and economically challenged areas make connections to the Internet. Here in Maine, Machias-based Internet service provider Axiom Technologies landed a $72,800 grant to provide Internet access to more than three dozen rural homes in Washington County, where it makes no economic sense to try to extend wired connections to the web.

“I see this as the beginning of a relationship with Microsoft,” said Mark Ouellette, president and chief operating officer of Axiom Technologies. “It really does open up the world to small businesses.”

The Redmond, Washington-based company on Tuesday awarded 12 grants through its Affordable Access Initiative, part of its commitment to invest $1 billion to bring the power of cloud technology to serve the public good. The grant to Axiom Technologies was the only one in North America. One grant was awarded in South America, one in Europe, five in Africa and four in Asia.

Axiom plans to use the money to wirelessly connect about 40 buildings, mostly homes, to the Internet using “TV white space,” which utilizes a portion of the broadcast spectrum that had been used to broadcast over-the-air television before those transmissions were switched to digital high-definition signals, Ouellette said.

That technology will allow the company to provide wireless Internet access to homes that are far from broadband wired connections. With the help of the Microsoft grant, the cost will be only $9.90 a month – about a quarter or less than the cost of a wired connection via a cable company – and users also will have access to a suite of cloud-based Microsoft programs, such as Excel and Word.

Axiom, which has 14 employees and about 1,200 customers in Washington County, is still trying to decide where to roll out the new connections by this summer, Ouellette said. The hope is that the customers will have home-based businesses that will benefit from the access to the Internet and the software.

Most of the other projects funded under the grant program are aimed at connecting schools to the web for educational programing. One, in Uganda, will support an expansion of a network of small solar fuel cells to provide electricity to villages so they can power computers with connections to the web. A company in Argentina is working on a mobile platform chatbot using artificial intelligence to enable farmers to communicate with their animals and receive alerts and recommendations.

Projects in Philippines, Malawi and Botswana also are using TV white space to expand Internet access in remote parts of those countries.

Using the part of the broadcast spectrum abandoned by television stations is important, said Phil Lindley, the executive director of ConnectME, a state agency that helps expand access to broadband Internet in Maine.

Unlike some other wireless technologies, TV white space doesn’t require line-of-sight corridors to allow connections, Lindley said, which is vital in heavily wooded parts of the state, like Washington County. Although the technology does not provide speeds comparable to the faster wired connections, TV white space offers a significant improvement over other ways of getting online, such as a dial-up connection using a telephone, he said. Axiom’s TV white space routers will connect to the state’s Three Ring Binder backbone, a 1,100-mile, 20 gigabit spine of broadband service that loops through rural parts of western, northern and eastern Maine completed two years ago, Lindley said.

“Using wireless is a good solution” to connecting homes that are so far off the grid that running a wire is prohibitively expensive, he said. Although a wired connection is still preferred because of the speed it offers, the cost and effectiveness of wireless connections is improving and could be very important in helping more Mainers in rural parts of the state get online, Lindley said.

As the technology improves, costs should come down, meaning more parts of Maine could be linked to the web using the wireless connections. That’s important, he said, noting that the state is, at best, in the middle-of-the-pack nationally in terms of home access to the Internet.

Maine has persistently finished in the bottom of broadband speed rankings. A study released last year by ConnectME noted 80 percent of Maine doesn’t have access to high-speed Internet service, which is defined as having 10 megabits per second (Mbps) upload and download speeds.

Ouellette said some of the grant money will go toward classes for the new users, to help teach them the Microsoft programs they will have access to, as well as membership for Axiom in the Dynamic Spectrum Alliance, a international group of companies and organizations focused on improving and expanding the use of the TV white space technology.

That could be a real key to the economic vitality of rural parts of the state, where poverty rates are highest, said Fletcher Kittredge, the chief executive officer and founder of GWI, an Internet service provider based in Biddeford. Kittredge was a key backer of the Three Ring Binder project to expand high-speed Internet access beyond the more developed southern half of Maine.

“There are places in Washington county that are really, really rural and where the connectivity is hard,” he said. “Affordability is so important in those areas.”

 

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Cape Chiropractic to start building office/apartment complex in the fall http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/cape-chiropractic-to-start-building-officeapartment-complex-in-the-fall/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/cape-chiropractic-to-start-building-officeapartment-complex-in-the-fall/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 16:57:38 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/cape-chiropractic-to-start-building-officeapartment-complex-in-the-fall/ CAPE ELIZABETH — The owners of the fast-growing Cape Chiropractic and Acupuncture practice plan to start building an office and apartment complex on Hill Way this fall after receiving Planning Board approval last week.

Zev and Amber Myerowitz sought permission to build two three-story buildings at 12 Hill Way, a short street that forms a land triangle at the intersection of Ocean House and Scott Dyer roads.

The complex, which would be built next to a former Cumberland Farms gas station and convenience store, would feature ground-level office space and a total of 10 townhouse-style apartments on the second and third floors.

The board unanimously approved the project, which is the town’s first proposal for multifamily rental housing in about a decade. The project comes as many Greater Portland communities wrestle with a housing shortage, especially of affordable rentals suitable for families. It also answers the call for small-scale, mixed-use development outlined in the Town Center Plan that was adopted in 2014.

The project is expected to be completed by next summer, said Zev Myerowitz, a third-generation chiropractor who grew up in Bangor and specializes in acupuncture, oriental medicine and sports performance. Amber Myerowitz is a New York native and a certified chiropractic assistant who also practices acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine.

Cape Chiropractic is now located at 2 Davis Point Lane, where the couple also live. The couple plan to move into one of the apartments at 12 Hill Way and be hands-on landlords, carefully screening tenants and making sure neither the commercial nor residential aspects of the complex have an adverse impact on the neighborhood.

The couple said they would preserve as many trees as possible on the 2-acre wooded lot and carefully design and landscape the project to minimize the appearance of the complex. They also agreed to coordinate sidewalk and storm drain construction with roadwork that the town plans to do on the rest of Hill Way.

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New York lawsuit accuses Domino’s Pizza of ‘rampant wage violations’ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/new-york-lawsuit-accuses-dominos-pizza-of-rampant-wage-violations/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/new-york-lawsuit-accuses-dominos-pizza-of-rampant-wage-violations/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 14:02:10 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/new-york-lawsuit-accuses-dominos-pizza-of-rampant-wage-violations/ ALBANY, N.Y. – The state’s attorney general on Tuesday sued Domino’s Pizza Inc., affiliates and three franchisees alleging they underpaid workers based on payroll reports generated by the parent company’s computer system.

“We’ve uncovered rampant wage violations at Domino’s franchise stores, and intensive involvement by Domino’s headquarters that caused many of these violations,” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said. “At some point, a company has to take responsibility for its actions and for its workers’ well-being.”

Schneiderman said the company knew for years that its PULSE system undercalculated gross wages while encouraging franchisees to use it.

The suit in state Supreme Court in Manhatttan alleges the three franchises and the company, as joint employers, underpaid workers at least $565,000 at 10 New York stores. It also seeks to determine full restitution owed to workers, a court finding that Domino’s defrauded its franchisees and violated state law, and a monitor to ensure future compliance.

The attorney general’s office has settled cases with 12 other Domino’s franchisees, who collectively own 61 stores and have agreed to pay about $1.5 million. The company has 136 franchisee-owned stores in New York, along with 54 owned by Domino’s itself.

The Ann Arbor, Michigan-based company called Schneiderman’s lawsuit disappointing, saying it “disregards the nature of franchising and demeans the role of small business owners.” The company said it has worked with his office for three years trying to help franchises comply with New York’s complex wage laws.

“It’s unfortunate that these steps were not enough, and that the attorney general now wants the company to take steps that would not only deprive our independent business owners of the opportunity to make their own employment decisions, but could impact the viability of the franchise model, the many opportunities it offers to those looking to start their own businesses, and the millions of jobs those franchised businesses create,” company spokesman Tim McIntyre said.

In a March letter to Terri Gerstein, chief of Schneiderman’s Labor Bureau, a lawyer for the company wrote that its standard franchise agreement requires complying with all laws and regulations and that the company agreed that every employee not paid the legal wage “should be made whole.” The company would be willing to fund the cost of a monitor and franchise management training on complying with New York’s wage and hour laws, attorney Eric Corngold wrote.

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Ammonia leak inside Portland building contained http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/haz-mat-crews-trying-to-contain-ammonia-leak-in-portland/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/haz-mat-crews-trying-to-contain-ammonia-leak-in-portland/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 12:01:27 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/haz-mat-crews-trying-to-contain-ammonia-leak-in-portland/ The Portland Fire Department stopped an ammonia leak at a cold storage facility in a Portland industrial park five hours after large quantities of the noxious gas began spewing into the building early Tuesday morning.

No one was inside the building at the AdvancePierre Foods cold storage warehouse at 56 Milliken St. when the leak was reported at 5 a.m. by an employee of another business next door who smelled the gas and called 911, said Deputy Fire Chief Keith Gautreau.

What remains unclear is why an AdvancePierre employee did not call the fire department after that person was notified of the leak by a private monitoring company that keeps tabs on the refrigeration system, much like a home security company.

“I have to look into why we weren’t notified immediately,” Gautreau said.

A spokeswoman for AdvancePierre did not answer questions about emergency procedures, and whether a plant manager should have called firefighters immediately.

The leak was stopped about 9:30 a.m. after firefighters from the hazardous materials team entered the plant five times to gather information before isolating the leak and stopping it. Gautreau said a faulty valve was the likely culprit in the leak.

The storage facility was previously owned by Barber Foods, which still operates a plant on St. John Street in Portland. AdvancePierre acquired Barber in 2011.

There is no record of violations on file with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration for the Milliken Street plant, according to the safety agency’s online database.

A spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Labor, which has oversight over public-sector workplace safety in the state, said that since the business is private, it would not be involved, however the federal workplace safety officials could investigate the leak.

Ammonia is used as a common industrial refrigerant. The AdvancePierre facility had 21,000 pounds of ammonia in its refrigeration system, but Gautreau said it is not yet clear how much leaked.

According to OSHA, an acceptable level of ammonia is 50 parts per million averaged over eight hours. During the leak, Portland hazmat teams were measuring between 3,000 parts per million and 5,000 parts per million, with readings peaking at about 9,000 parts per million, Gautrau said.

Ammonia is an extreme skin and eye irritant. At levels above about 12,000 parts per million, it becomes flammable. Prolonged exposure to high concentrations can be fatal because the gas displaces oxygen, causing asphyxiation and pulmonary edema, when fluid accumulates in the lungs.

After the leak, an emergency system automatically vented the gas out of the building. Although typical wind patterns would have brought the pungent smell toward a neighborhood about 250 yards from the plant, a weather system off the Maine coast pushed the odor in the opposite direction.

“The good news is once it’s in fresh air, it dissipates fairly quickly,” Fire Chief David Jackson said.

Jackson said he knows of no prior safety issues at the company’s Portland location.

He also said the alarm system that detects ammonia leaks appears to have functioned properly.

AdvancePierre Foods supplies proteins and sandwich products to schools, food service and retail outlets across the country. In 2011, the company purchased Portland-based Barber Foods. The company is headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio.

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 10:28 a.m. on May 25, 2016 to clarify that Maine Department of Labor would not be involved with investigating the leak for the private business.

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