Business – Press Herald http://www.pressherald.com Thu, 22 Jun 2017 14:09:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8 Bill to outlaw drivers’ use of hand-held devices has few opponents http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/22/bid-to-outlaw-hand-held-devices-in-cars-has-few-opponents/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/22/bid-to-outlaw-hand-held-devices-in-cars-has-few-opponents/#respond Thu, 22 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1215245

Anthony DiBiase of Scarborough, an Uber driver, says roads will be safer if drivers aren’t allowed to use hand-held devices, but pulling over to answer a text message “can cause a hazard of its own.” Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Even those potentially inconvenienced by the law say they see the value of curbing distracted drivers.

The growing use of hands-free technology in cars may mute widespread opposition to pending legislation that would add Maine to the list of states that prohibit the use of any hand-held device while driving.

A measure to widen the state law that already bans texting while driving will be headed to Gov. Paul LePage’s desk soon after it clears some procedural hurdles in the Legislature. Both the state House and Senate already have backed the bill. LePage’s office hasn’t said whether he will sign it, but he did sign a bill in 2011 that outlawed texting and driving.

Fifteen other states have laws that ban drivers from using hand-held devices, including Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire in New England. Lawmakers in Massachusetts and Rhode Island are considering joining that group.

Drivers around Portland said the measure may help decrease some of the distracted driving they say other motorists seem to practice.

Josh DuPaul said he’s a witness to many cases of driving while texting, despite the existing law, when he makes deliveries for RSVP, the Portland beverage company.

“Honestly, I see it a lot,” he said Wednesday. “I’m high up in this (delivery truck) and I see them constantly up and down” with cellphones, he says of other drivers.

If people followed the proposed law, which calls for fines starting at $75 for a first offense and a possible license suspension for a repeat offender, DuPaul said it would probably make the roads safer.

Lindsay Carter of Otisfield works in paint sales and is on the road almost all the time. She said a full ban on cellphone use while driving would probably put her out of a job, but she uses a hands-free device – which Maine’s law would allow. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Anthony DiBiase of Scarborough agrees, but said he has to assess how the law will affect him as an Uber driver. He normally gets text messages alerting him to a paying customer, DiBiase said, and having to pull over to answer a message might cause those fares to go to other drivers who are able to respond quicker.

“It would be more inconvenient,” he said, noting that pulling off to the side of the road can cause a hazard of its own.

“It’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” DiBiase said.

The decision to broaden the law to ban any use of a hand-held device, whether to text, make a call, get directions from a GPS device or check email, comes as ticketing for texting while driving has jumped.

According to state officials, police wrote 48 tickets for texting and driving the first year the law went into effect and 866 last year. But even at that increased enforcement level, police believe the law is underreported and difficult to address, in part because drivers spotted by patrol officers can say they were doing something else with their cellphones other than texting. Cellphone records that would prove texting while driving are usually only subpoenaed when there’s a serious or fatal crash and police suspect a driver was texting instead of paying attention to the road.

Lindsay Carter of Otisfield said a full ban on cellphone use while driving would probably put her out of a job, but she uses a hands-free device that allows her to take and make calls while keeping both hands on the wheel.

Carter said about 90 percent of her job in paint sales involves either phone calls or emails and, since she’s on the road almost all the time, not being able to contact people that way would make her work impossible.

Carter said her employer supplies her and other salespeople with their phones and with hands-free devices to make and take calls while driving. She pulls off to the side of the road or waits until she makes a stop to see a customer before checking and responding to emails, she said.

Her company, which she declined to identify, is clear that safety takes precedence, Carter said.

“This is something we talk about every day,” she said.

Louis Shulman of Portland, another Uber driver, said he has his phone set up to route calls through his stereo system, freeing him from having to pick it up.

He said a law outlawing hand-held devices “may do me a favor because a lot of people drive distracted.”

Being on the road all the time has taught him that trying to juggle a cellphone or GPS device while driving is too much.

“I know how dangerous it is and how quickly things can change when you’re driving,” he said.

Lauren Thomas of South Portland said the law might have a side benefit of helping people draw some boundaries around how much technology intrudes on their lives.

“I think I’m OK with it,” she said of the proposed law. “I get a lot of calls when I drive. It would be nice to tell my boss, ‘I can’t take the call right now.’ ”

Edward Murphy can be contacted at:

emurphy@pressherald.com

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Maine delegation wants permits forfeited by ‘The Codfather’ redistributed http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/maine-delegation-wants-permits-forfeited-by-the-codfather-redistributed/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/maine-delegation-wants-permits-forfeited-by-the-codfather-redistributed/#respond Thu, 22 Jun 2017 00:27:22 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/maine-delegation-wants-permits-forfeited-by-the-codfather-redistributed/ Maine’s congressional delegation says fishing permits forfeited by a fishing magnate dubbed “The Codfather” should be redistributed through the Northeastern states.

Carlos Rafael was indicted on more than two dozen counts, including tax evasion and falsifying fishing quotas last year. He’s due for sentencing on June 27.

Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Reps. Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin sent a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross asking that 13 groundfish permits forfeited by the New Bedford, Massachusetts, fisherman be redistributed beyond the city. Groundfish are commercially valuable species and include cod, haddock and sole.

The bipartisan group of legislators says groundfish permits are a “shared resource” and should be returned to groundfish fishermen throughout the fishery. They say fishermen throughout the Northeast suffered from Rafael’s actions.

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Talk of Nike sales on Amazon wallops sports chains shares http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/talk-of-nike-sales-on-amazon-wallops-sports-chains-shares/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/talk-of-nike-sales-on-amazon-wallops-sports-chains-shares/#respond Thu, 22 Jun 2017 00:15:04 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1215153 NEW YORK — Shares in several major sports chains hit 52-week lows on word that Nike may soon be selling its gear directly on Amazon.com.

Goldman Sachs said Wednesday it believed the deal would give Nike better exposure to Amazon’s huge retail channel and customer base, especially millennials.

Nike goods can already be found on Amazon subsidiary Zappos.com and its shoes and gear can be found through third-party sellers on Amazon.com. Goldman believes the deal would give Nike better control of its brand’s presentation on the site.

But investors saw mostly the gravitational pull of Amazon, sending shares of Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc., Hibbett Sports Inc., Big 5 Sporting Goods Corp., Finish Line Inc., and Foot Locker Inc. plummeting between 5 percent and 7 percent Wednesday.

It’s the third sector in less than a week that has been ravaged over fears of Amazon as a disrupting force.

Amazon said Friday that it would buy Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, pummeling shares of grocers. Retail clothing companies took a dive Tuesday as Amazon announced its Wardrobe program for Prime members.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/talk-of-nike-sales-on-amazon-wallops-sports-chains-shares/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/06/1215153_Amazon-Nike_66332.jpg-b832.jpgSelling Nike products on Amazon will boost reach to millennials, investors say. The sporting goods sector is the third in a week to fear incursion by the online giant.Wed, 21 Jun 2017 20:15:04 +0000
Extra visas could ease Maine tourism industry’s labor shortage http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/extra-visas-could-help-maines-tourism-industry/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/extra-visas-could-help-maines-tourism-industry/#respond Thu, 22 Jun 2017 00:08:27 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/extra-visas-could-help-maines-tourism-industry/ The Department of Homeland Security will offer extra visas for temporary seasonal workers, a move that could help the Maine hospitality industry find workers for jobs it is struggling to fill this summer.

The department said it has yet to determine how many visas will be available. Visas will be offered only to seasonal businesses that “would be severely harmed if they do not receive temporary employment relief under the H2B program,” the department said in a statement Wednesday. It expects to begin offering visas in late July.

Steve Hewins, director of the Maine Innkeepers Association said the news is positive, but its impact on Maine is unclear.

“The only thing we don’t know is what this really does mean for Maine,” Hewins said in an interview Wednesday night. Maine businesses are waiting on roughly 2,000 visas to be approved, and those workers are still needed especially during the busy fall season, Hewins said.

“My hope is that they are all going to get processed, but we don’t know that yet,” he added.

The H-2B visas are used for temporary, non-agriculture workers at a number of businesses, especially hotels and resorts in Maine. In other states, they provide a vital workforce for landscaping and fish processing, among other industries.

The government offers 66,000 such visas a year, but that cap was reached in March, leaving many businesses without the workers they expected. Some Maine hotels and restaurants have limited their hours or closed off blocks of rooms because they don’t have enough workers.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly was given authority to offer more than 60,000 extra visas this year as part of a government spending bill Congress passed in May. In the statement, the department said Kelly was concerned Congress was “passing the buck” by not designating a specific number of visas and hoped the one-time occurrence was an anomaly.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

pmcguire@pressherald.com

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

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Wall Street Journal fires correspondent over ethics conflict involving arms sales http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/wall-street-journal-fires-correspondent-over-ethics-conflict-involving-arms-sales/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/wall-street-journal-fires-correspondent-over-ethics-conflict-involving-arms-sales/#respond Wed, 21 Jun 2017 23:20:54 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/wall-street-journal-fires-correspondent-over-ethics-conflict-involving-arms-sales/ WASHINGTON — The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday fired its highly regarded chief foreign affairs correspondent after evidence emerged of his involvement in prospective commercial deals – including one involving arms sales to foreign governments – with an international businessman who was one of his key sources.

The reporter, Jay Solomon, was offered a 10 percent stake in a fledgling company, Denx LLC, by Farhad Azima, an Iranian-born aviation magnate who has ferried weapons for the CIA. It was not clear whether Solomon ever received money or formally accepted a stake in the company.

“We are dismayed by the actions and poor judgment of Jay Solomon,” Wall Street Journal spokesman Steve Severinghaus wrote in a statement. “While our own investigation continues, we have concluded that Mr. Solomon violated his ethical obligations as a reporter, as well as our standards.”

Azima was the subject of an investigative article published Tuesday. During the course of its investigation, the Associated Press obtained emails and text messages between Azima and Solomon, as well as an operating agreement for Denx dated March 2015, which listed an apparent stake for Solomon.

As part of its reporting, the AP had asked the Journal about the documents appearing to link Solomon and Azima. The relationship was uncovered in interviews and in internal documents that Azima’s lawyer said were stolen by hackers.

“I clearly made mistakes in my reporting and entered into a world I didn’t understand.” Solomon said Wednesday. “I never entered into any business with Farhad Azima, nor did I ever intend to. But I understand why the emails and the conversations I had with Mr. Azima may look like I was involved in some seriously troubling activities. I apologize to my bosses and colleagues at the Journal, who were nothing but great to me.”

Two other Denx partners – ex-CIA employees Gary Bernsten and Scott Modell – said that Solomon was involved in discussing proposed deals with Azima at the same time he continued to cultivate the businessman as a source for his stories for the Journal. Bernsten and Modell said Solomon withdrew from the venture shortly after business efforts began and that the venture never added up to much. They provided no evidence as to when Solomon withdrew.

The emails and texts reviewed by the AP – tens of thousands of pages covering more than eight years – included more than 18 months of communications involving the apparent business effort. Some messages described a need for Solomon’s Social Security number to file the company’s taxes, but there was no evidence Solomon provided it.

Denx was shuttered last year, according to Florida business registration records.

In an April 2015 email, Azima wrote to Solomon about a proposal for a $725 million air-operations, surveillance and reconnaissance support contract with the United Arab Emirates that would allow planes to spy on activity inside nearby Iran. Solomon was supposed to ferry the proposal to UAE government representatives at a lunch the following day, the email said.

“We all wish best of luck to Jay on his first defense sale,” Azima wrote to Solomon, Bernsten and Modell.

Under the proposed UAE deal, Azima’s firms were to manage specially equipped surveillance planes to monitor activity in Iran, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

In October 2014, Solomon wrote to Azima in a text message: “Our business opportunities are so promising.”

In another message that same month, Solomon asked Azima whether he had told a mutual friend about their business plans.

“Hell no!” Azima replied.

The emails show Solomon’s relationship with Azima began professionally, as the reporter cultivated the businessman as a source of information about Iranian money in a Georgian hotel deal and other matters. A review of Solomon’s published work over the past four years indicated Azima never appeared by name in the newspaper.

The hacked materials also demonstrate that Azima cultivated close relationships with fellow Western and American journalists, including those at the AP, and frequently communicated with them by phone, text and email. None appeared to involve the same level of personal involvement or referenced potential business deals.

Veteran journalists at prominent outlets such as the Journal have contacts, expertise and influence that can be valuable in the business world, said Kelly McBride, a vice president for the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit journalism education center based in St. Petersburg, Florida. But seeking to exploit those assets while a journalist would betray readers’ trust in a reporter’s impartiality.

“You can’t have conversations about business deals outside your employment,” she said.

Over decades, Azima has glided among different worlds, flying weapons to the Balkans, selling spy gear to Persian Gulf nations, dealing with a small Midwest bank and navigating Washington’s power circles.

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CEO of Uber falls victim to the culture he created http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/ceo-of-uber-falls-victim-to-the-culture-he-created/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/ceo-of-uber-falls-victim-to-the-culture-he-created/#respond Wed, 21 Jun 2017 23:08:50 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/ceo-of-uber-falls-victim-to-the-culture-he-created/ SAN FRANCISCO — The plot to oust Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick began almost the moment he announced last week that he was taking a temporary break from the celebrated technology company caught up in scandals.

The audacious effort to end Kalanick’s run atop one of Silicon Valley’s most successful startups was led by one of the company’s own board members, Bill Gurley, a major investor, according to two people familiar with the board’s thinking.

Even as Uber’s board of directors publicly appeared to support him last week, Gurley, a venture capitalist and early Kalanick backer, rounded up other Uber investors who also said that Kalanick simply could not return to the ride-hailing company he co-founded and grew from small startup to a company worth about $69 billion, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the confidential nature of the discussions. Gurley did not respond to a request for comment.

Uber had been rocked by an unrelenting parade of controversies, including allegations of widespread sexual harassment and executive departures that culminated in the board last Tuesday announcing 47 measures aimed at overhauling Uber’s workplace. That was when Kalanick, 40, said he would be taking an indefinite leave, in part to allow him to grieve for his mother, who had died just weeks earlier.

But it was clear almost from the start that Kalanick’s return to Uber was going to be contested, according to several people knowledgeable about what happened at Uber over the past week. From the moment his leave was announced, some people who knew the famously hard-charging Kalanick were skeptical that – based on how he had managed the company over eight years – he could change in the ways needed to allow him to return.

“Talking to other shareholders, most of us don’t see how Travis can ever come back to Uber as CEO,” one large Uber investor said the day after Kalanick began his leave, speaking on the condition of anonymity so he could discuss matters candidly. “A vacation doesn’t fix what he suffers from.”

Gurley’s renegade band of investors lacked the power to force Kalanick to step down. They needed to persuade Kalanick to make the move on his own. He and his allies retained enough voting power to reject the shareholders’ request.

So the investors began talking daily over email, in texts and meeting in person for coffee, according to one source. By the weekend, Gurley’s venture capital firm, Silicon Valley-based Benchmark, began to pass around a draft of a letter urging Kalanick to voluntarily step down.

The letter – signed by five major Uber shareholders, including Gurley’s Benchmark and other top names such as Menlo Ventures, Chris Sacca’s Lowercase Capital and mutual fund firm Fidelity Investments – demanded Kalanick’s resignation. The shareholders began circulating a short list of who could replace him.

The investors’ letter was sent to Uber’s full board of directors, including Kalanick, on Tuesday – one week after Kalanick had announced his leave from the company. No other member of the board, aside from Gurley, had signed it. Many at Uber, which declined to comment for this article, remained fiercely loyal to Kalanick. And even before Kalanick announced his leave, Gurley had unsuccessfully tried to persuade other board members to push him out, according to a person familiar with the board’s thinking.

After receiving the letter, Kalanick immediately called a member of Uber’s board to ask what he should do, a person knowledgeable about what transpired said. The board member advised Kalanick not to fight. The person described Kalanick as still grieving from his mother’s death and not in the right emotional place for a drawn-out fight – even one he could win. He needed to do what was best for the company.

The board member urged him to resign from his chief executive’s role, although he would remain on Uber’s board, according to one source, who would not name the board member Kalanick talked to.

That was what led to Kalanick sending an email just before midnight Tuesday in Silicon Valley to all 13,000 Uber employees that began, “I never thought I would be writing this.”

The email continued: “As you all know, I love Uber more than anything in the world, but at this difficult moment in my personal life, I have accepted a group of investors’ request to step aside, so that Uber can go back to building rather than be distracted with another fight. I will continue to serve on the board, and will be available in any and all ways to help Uber become everything we’ve dreamed it would be.”

And with that, Kalanick was out at Uber.

Less than two hours later, the man who initiated the push took to Twitter. Gurley did not gloat or acknowledge his role in Kalanick’s fate. Instead he wrote, “There will be many pages in the history books devoted to Kalanick – very few entrepreneurs have had such a lasting impact on the world.”

STRUGGLING TO REMAKE HIMSELF

One moment three months ago, when Kalanick was still firmly in charge at Uber, crystallized how Kalanick was struggling to remake himself and the corporate culture. Kalanick appeared before a group of Uber’s female engineers in Palo Alto, Calif., for what was supposed to be an informal question-and-answer session.

It was a Friday afternoon in early March, and he looked drained.

For the moment, Kalanick did not know the meeting was being recorded, and he appeared to talk with unusual candor, displaying little of the bravado he used from CNBC to Davos to describe how Uber was going to change the world.

Now, he was just trying to head off some of the damage from a recent series of scandals.

Kalanick admitted to the group he did not know exactly what to say about his company’s challenges. He had only jotted some ideas down on the SUV ride over. The last few weeks had been rough, the criticism intense. He had even stopped going on the internet.

He said he had met with Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg to discuss Facebook’s unconscious bias training. But Kalanick did not propose a plan to replicate that kind of training or any other concrete ideas. He only conveyed a vague notion that something needed to change.

“I’ve just been thinking a lot because of the cultural change that we’ve got to go through,” he said, in a little-noticed recording that Uber put on YouTube.

In Uber’s culture troubles, critics saw echoes of Kalanick’s own excesses. The board of directors investigation revealed a cut-throat workplace that often turned a blind eye to problems. Among the recommendations the board adopted were more management training and a rethinking of Uber’s 14 cultural values, items that Kalanick himself was instrumental in creating.

‘GROWING PAINS’

The idea for Uber was born in 2008, when Kalanick and tech entrepreneur Garrett Camp were attending a computer conference in Paris and tossing out ideas late one night. It is an origin story often shared by the two men. Camp noted how hard it was to get a taxi, especially in San Francisco, where Uber would eventually be based. He floated the idea of hiring some limos and some drivers and connecting them to an iPhone app that allowed for an on-demand taxi service. Kalanick loved it.

The duo brought different qualities to the company, Kalanick said in a 2011 interview on Jason Calacanis’s web show about startups.

“Uber is very classy, and it’s very efficient,” Kalanick said.

Camp brought the classiness, he said, and “I bring the gnarly math efficiency to the business.”

Ubercab, as it was called, was launched in early 2009 with “90 percent of the original vision there,” Camp recalled last year in an interview at a tech conference. Kalanick was involved only on a part-time basis, until he took control the following year as he recognized the company’s potential.

Camp, who in recent years has stepped back into an advisory role, credited Kalanick with leading Uber to some of its greatest innovations, including Uber Pool, which offers lower rates for shared rides, and the push into driverless vehicles.

In recent years, Kalanick had hinted at even greater ambitions, saying he considers Uber to be in the early days of becoming a robotics company.

On Tuesday, hours before Kalanick’s resignation, Camp published a post on the website Medium arguing that Uber’s problems were “growing pains.”

“Over the years we have neglected parts of our culture as we have focused on growth,” Camp wrote. He noted that Uber had a new executive team in place, appointed in Kalanick’s absence, but his post failed to mention what would happen to his co-founder.

AGGRESSIVE TACTICS

Kalanick knew how to grow a company.

He had displayed a fierce entrepreneurial streak since he was a teenager. The summer after graduating high school, he sold knife sets door-to-door in Los Angeles, where he grew up in an upper middle-class home, and tutored students for the SAT. (Kalanick had told Calacanis he scored an impressive 1580 out of 1600 on his SAT.)

As a freshman at UCLA, he launched his first company – an SAT prep course. He then started his first tech company, a file-sharing service called Scour, which brought him the attention of both curious investors and the entertainment companies whose movies and songs his service allowed to be traded among computer users. Scour was sued for billions of dollars and forced into bankruptcy protection.

That led to his next venture, Red Swoosh, a networking company, which was acquired by Akamai for $23 million in 2007. It also introduced Kalanick to one of his earliest mentors, tech investor and sports team owner Mark Cuban.

“He was driven. Smart. Relentless. He was willing to do any job, and he did,” Cuban recalled.

But Cuban, like a couple of other people contacted for this article who knew Kalanick in the early days of his tech career, said he has not spoken to Kalanick in years. Some Uber investors said Kalanick has become difficult to reach, too.

The same sharp-elbowed, aggressive tactics that allowed Uber to expand rapidly worldwide also earned Kalanick a fair number of enemies.

Sarah Lacy, a veteran journalist who founded the Silicon Valley news site PandoDaily, recalled how she and Kalanick started out as friends before Uber took off.

At a dinner party in San Francisco, she heard Kalanick describe this new service he was launching. She loved the idea. Getting a cab was impossible. She said the taxi industry was ripe for disruption.

“He was talking this big game about destroying the world – disrupting cabs – but I thought he was harmless,” Lacy said. “I underestimated his skills.”

As Uber grew, Lacy and her writers repeatedly clashed with Kalanick and the company. They wrote articles critical of how Uber treated its drivers and how female riders, in particular, faced harassment. The tension boiled over in 2014 when a BuzzFeed journalist heard Uber executives float a plan to research the private lives of writers whose coverage they did not like, particularly Lacy.

“They wanted to go after my family,” Lacy said. “I’ve been in the valley for 20 years. This is not normal.”

The backlash against Uber was immediate. Kalanick and other Uber leaders apologized.

But the company’s aggressive, no-holds-barred culture seemed to continue at the company, leading to a fresh wave of crises this year.

FACING PROBLEMS

In mid-February, as Uber was still dealing with a “Delete Uber” social-media campaign that took off when it appeared the company was profiting from an airport protest over President Trump’s first immigration ban, a former Uber engineer published a blog post titled “Reflecting on one very, very strange year at Uber.”

Susan Fowler described being hit on by her supervisor on her first day on the job, a human resources department uninterested in her complaints and a workplace where back-stabbing and ruthless competition were the norm.

The post might have been dismissed as the wild musings of a disgruntled worker. But it bulleted across Silicon Valley and beyond, illustrating how fragile Uber’s reputation was in the tech world. Within days, Kalanick was publicly apologizing and said a law firm would delve into Uber’s culture.

The next month, Kalanick was standing in front of that group of female engineers. And Fowler’s allegations were just one of the problems his company faced.

In the preceding weeks, Google’s Waymo had sued Uber claiming it used stolen technology in its driverless cars, and Uber executive Amit Singhal had been forced to leave after it was learned he had failed to disclose sexual-harassment allegations at his former job at Google.

Days earlier, Kalanick had to apologize for a video of him arguing with an Uber driver in San Francisco over whether the company had cut pay for drivers.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/ceo-of-uber-falls-victim-to-the-culture-he-created/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/06/1215115_Uber_CEO_Resigns_28233.jpg-.jpgA sign marks a pick-up point at LaGuardia Airport in New York. Uber has been rocked by an unrelenting parade of controversies, including allegations of widespread sexual harassment and executive departures that culminated last week in the board announcing 47 measures aimed at overhauling the workplace.Wed, 21 Jun 2017 19:08:50 +0000
Group sets goal of doubling number of students in vocational high schools http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/group-sets-goal-of-doubling-number-of-students-in-vocational-high-schools/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/group-sets-goal-of-doubling-number-of-students-in-vocational-high-schools/#respond Wed, 21 Jun 2017 22:54:48 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/group-sets-goal-of-doubling-number-of-students-in-vocational-high-schools/ A group of education and business leaders wants to double the number of students who attend vocational high schools, saying it will benefit students and businesses alike.

Educate Maine, an educational advocacy group, and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, along with several businesses and school officials set out strategies Wednesday to bring the number of students who attend career and technical education, or vocational high schools, from 14 percent to 28 percent by 2020.

Currently, about 8,500 of Maine’s roughly 61,000 high school students are in vocational schools, said Ed Cervone, executive director of Educate Maine. He was among a group at the Westbrook Regional Vocational Center calling for increased emphasis on the benefits of vocational educations that lead directly to good-paying jobs, or college admission.

“These resources are going underutilized,” said Cervone of the state’s 27 vocational high schools.

He said that’s especially worrisome when companies such as Cianbro Corp. and others are having difficulty finding skilled workers for available openings. Vocational schools offer training in culinary arts, building trades, health care, advanced manufacturing and pre-enegineering, auto mechanics and many other fields.

But they suffer from an image problem. Cervone, who attended a vocational high school, said the vocational schools of today are nothing like their predecessors.

Today’s schools offer integrated curricula that prepare students for jobs as soon as they graduate, or for college. They have updated, state-of-the-art facilities so students can keep step with changes in industry.

Margaret Harvey, director for career and technical education for Maine, agrees.

“CTE has changed dramatically in the last 10 years,” she said in a statement. “It is the perception that CTE is not a viable option for any student that is the biggest roadblock.

“The CTE programs are now using mandated industry standards and assessments which allow students to enter the workforce ready and trained. Students are choosing their own pathways to careers that are sustaining and fulfilling for both them and Maine.”

Among the strategies the group embraces are:

n Updating the public perception of vocational schools through a public-private partnership;

n Exposing more parents and younger children to career and technical education;

n Requiring guidance counselors to get CTE experience;

n Expanding pre-apprenticeships offerings, the “earn while you learn” backbone of vocational education;

n Reinforcing the strength of college and vocational partnerships.

Cervone said the group has established a goal and strategies and now will work on a plan to implement those strategies.

“We’ll figure out the action steps and price tags and get to work,” he said.

For more information, go to www.educatemaine.org.

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ON Semiconductor asks South Portland for change in tax break deal http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/on-semiconductor-asks-south-portland-for-change-in-tax-break-deal/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/on-semiconductor-asks-south-portland-for-change-in-tax-break-deal/#respond Wed, 21 Jun 2017 22:53:02 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1215103 SOUTH PORTLAND — ON Semiconductor, formerly Fairchild, wants to amend its tax increment financing agreement with the city for its 20-acre manufacturing facility on Western Avenue.

City Manager Scott Morelli said ON’s request was the subject of a City Council executive session Monday, but he declined to discuss how the company wants to change the document. ON Managing Director Joshua Madore didn’t respond to a call for comment.

Morelli said ON’s request will be discussed publicly at a council meeting as early as next month.

The Phoenix-based microchip maker purchased rival Fairchild Semiconductor last September in a $2.4 billion deal that had been in the works for nearly a year. The purchase included Fairchild’s plant and offices in South Portland, which employed about 650 people at the time of the sale. ON’s statement about the acquisition didn’t say how Fairchild’s existing plants would be affected, but it did promise aggressive cost savings in the future.

Fairchild, the seventh-largest taxpayer in the city, is still listed as the property owner on municipal tax and assessment records. The company’s holdings, including land, several buildings and equipment, are valued at $39.8 million, with a yearly tax bill of $703,685 in the fiscal year ending June 30.

In place since 1994, Fairchild’s TIF agreement was renegotiated and extended in 2011, before it would have expired in 2014. The extended agreement, which runs through 2024, requires the company to invest $12 million annually, averaged every three years, in the plant at 333 Western Ave.

In return, the city shaves off a portion of the company’s property taxes each year, returning half to the company and placing the other half in a TIF fund used for sewerage improvements and economic development projects.

The amount that Fairchild invests in its properties varies from year to year, said city Finance Director Greg L’Heureux. The company invested $13.7 million in 2015, $7.5 million in 2016 and $8.8 million last year, when Fairchild received a $45,826 tax reimbursement and $45,826 of its tax payment went into the TIF fund.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at:

kbouchard@pressherald.com

Twitter: KelleyBouchard

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/on-semiconductor-asks-south-portland-for-change-in-tax-break-deal/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2015/11/752911_60851-20151118_Fairchild_02.jpgFairchild Semiconductor on Western Avenue in South Portland is being sold to an Arizona company.Thu, 22 Jun 2017 08:52:31 +0000
Solar bill gets initial approval in House, but it lacks votes to survive veto http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/soalr-incentive-bill-passes-house-but-lacks-votes-to-survive-a-veto/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/soalr-incentive-bill-passes-house-but-lacks-votes-to-survive-a-veto/#respond Wed, 21 Jun 2017 22:38:45 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/soalr-incentive-bill-passes-house-but-lacks-votes-to-survive-a-veto/ AUGUSTA — House lawmakers gave initial approval Wednesday to a bill that delays new solar energy “net metering” rules and directs utility regulators to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the controversial policy.

But supporters failed to garner the two-thirds majority needed to overcome an all-but-guaranteed veto from Gov. Paul LePage, once again casting doubt over solar policy in Maine. The bill faces additional votes in both legislative chambers.

The 90-54 vote in the Maine House followed roughly an hour of debate on a bill that springs from the failure of more sweeping solar energy policy changes proposed during the last legislative session. One year later, it is clear that the political parties and interest groups remain deeply divided on a type of renewable energy that has been growing in Maine, but at a slower pace than in many other states.

“One year ago, everyone said the sky would fall on solar and now I am seeing more installations, more solar than ever before,” said Rep. Nathan Wadsworth, R-Hiram, an opponent of the compromise endorsed by the House on Wednesday.

SEEKING A PATH FORWARD

The bill, L.D. 1504, would direct the Public Utilities Commission to perform a cost-benefit analysis on net-energy billing – or net metering – in which electric companies compensate homeowners and small businesses at the full retail rate for the power they generate from solar arrays. The bill would effectively put on hold a controversial decision the PUC rendered this year to gradually phase out net metering for owners of solar energy installations in the state.

Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, said the bill will benefit utility customers over the long term because it represents a compromise among solar installers, large and small electric users, municipalities and other groups.

“This compromise amendment will put Maine ratepayers ahead of international (utility) investors in controlling our energy destiny,” said Berry, co-chair of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, which spent weeks working on the solar bill. “It will provide a path forward that can encourage competition and a new smart grid and lower energy rates for all of us. Of all of the options before us, only this compromise amendment would provide this pathway forward.”

Opponents, meanwhile, repeated their arguments that net metering is merely a way for wealthier homeowners who can afford to install solar panels to pass those costs along to all ratepayers. They predicted that the long-term impact will be higher electricity rates and, therefore, fewer jobs at energy-intensive industries in Maine.

“The solar industry may produce some jobs that benefit them, but the burden is how many jobs will be lost when a false market is created,” said Rep. Beth O’Connor, R-Berwick. “It would be very irresponsible to adopt policy that will hurt our remaining businesses and ratepayers to benefit a few.”

But supporters pointed out that many of Maine’s large, industrial electricity users support the compromise bill, despite opponents’ portrayal of the bill as a job-killer in Maine’s industrial sector.

Rep. James Handy, D-Lewiston, read from an email from an executive at Geiger Inc., a speciality products manufacturer in Lewiston with 500 employees that will soon begin construction on a 300-kilowatt solar array that will provide 100 percent of the company’s electricity needs. Geiger supports the bill because “it is the right thing to do for our state,” according to the email from CEO Gene Geiger.

The bill faces additional votes in the House and Senate, which adopted a different version this week without debate. And supporters will need to pick up more supporters if they want to override a veto from LePage, a vocal critic of net metering. LePage’s successful veto of a more sweeping re-write of Maine’s solar policy last year set the stage for the PUC rules phasing out net metering, although the governor subsequently blasted the commissioners for not going far enough and predicted the rules will increase electricity rates.

Environmental organizations were declaring a partial victory Wednesday while acknowledging the issue was far from resolved and that failure will result in the PUC rules taking effect next year.

“That rule increases near-term costs for all electricity consumers in Maine – residents, businesses, and farms – by millions of dollars, and threatens good solar jobs, too,” said Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “A vote in favor of L.D. 1504, which would overturn the PUC’s terrible anti-solar rule, should be a no-brainer for lawmakers looking out for their constituents. Republicans, especially in the House, will need to decide whether to side with Gov. LePage or to side with Maine electricity users and progress on solar power for Maine.”

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

kmiller@mainetoday.com

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/soalr-incentive-bill-passes-house-but-lacks-votes-to-survive-a-veto/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2016/11/1111418_816707_20140115_solar_4.jpgCleaner energy, such as solar power, is what consumers want, say energy policy experts who gathered Thursday at the University of Southern Maine. The cost of renewables has been falling steadily, which won't change under a Trump administration. "Yes, we're going to see changes," said Nathan Smith, head of a Massachusetts consulting firm. "But progress moves forward."Wed, 21 Jun 2017 21:12:14 +0000
Innovators look to technology for ways to tackle opioid crisis http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/innovators-look-to-technology-for-ways-to-tackle-opioid-crisis/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/innovators-look-to-technology-for-ways-to-tackle-opioid-crisis/#respond Wed, 21 Jun 2017 22:24:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1215087 A group of innovators seeking to reduce the escalating death toll from highly addictive opioids such as heroin, fentanyl and prescription painkillers has turned to technology for solutions.

Entrepreneurs and addiction specialists met in Portland Wednesday for a panel discussion on the ways innovation can be used in the fight against opioid-related deaths. Among the panelists were representatives from two tech companies that are tackling the issue in completely different ways.

One analyzes human waste to determine where drugs are being abused most in a particular city or town, while the other uses predictive data to help patients cope with their addiction and work toward sobriety goals.

Opioids were the cause of 313 overdose deaths in Maine last year. Overall, drug overdose deaths in Maine reached a record 376 in 2016, and the national death toll was about 59,000.

Opioid addiction has such a powerful effect on the brain that attempts at treatment and recovery often fail. In addition, the political will just isn’t there in many parts of the country to commit to the methods of treatment that have proven most effective in clinical studies.

But companies such as Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Biobot Labs and Chicago-based Triggr Health are trying to help reduce the opioid crisis through technology. Representatives of both companies participated in Wednesday’s panel at the Maine College of Art in Portland as part of the fourth annual Maine Startup and Create Week conference.

Biobot Labs was founded by a team of scientists and designers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, growing out of a research collaboration between the departments of biological engineering and urban studies and planning. Its goal is to transform municipal wastewater systems into cutting-edge public health observatories, using robotics and chemistry to generate geographic data on health-related behavior.

So what does that have to do with the opioid crisis?

Imagine a group of public health officials attempting to improve drug treatment and prevention efforts in their city or town. How do they figure out where to deploy those resources? Which areas have the highest concentration of drug users, and what types of drug are they using? In many cases, the only real data they have are about drug-related deaths.

In steps Biobot Labs. Its technology analyzes human waste flowing through the sewers at various points throughout the system, testing for metabolized traces of various substances to pinpoint where the highest concentrations of opioid users – or cocaine users, or alcohol consumers – are located.

“The innovative tools available to cities and municipalities are quite limited,” said panelist Newsha Ghaeli, co-founder and CEO of Biobot Labs. “What we’re hoping to do is to understand consumption in the city.”

The goal is to shift data collection and response away from overdose and death, and move it in the direction of early detection and overdose prevention, she said.

NEW APPROACHES TO ADDICTION

The opioid crisis affects people of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds. It is as big a problem in the suburbs as it is in urban centers.

Addiction specialist Dr. Andy Mendenhall, regional medical director for CleanSlate Addiction Treatment Centers in Massachusetts, said opioid addiction often starts with the legitimate use of prescription opioids for treating pain. In fact, the highest risk category for fatal opioid overdose is women in their mid-40s who have prescriptions for both opioid painkillers and sleeping pills, he said.

U.S. residents make up about 5 percent of the world’s population, but they consume over 85 percent of all opioid drugs prescribed across the globe, Mendenhall said.

The addiction problem traces back decades to poorly conducted early opioid studies that incorrectly determined the drugs were not addictive, he said. Of the roughly 15 million Americans who take prescription opioids, an estimated 40 to 50 percent abuse the drugs by not taking them as directed.

One way to help reduce opioid-related deaths is to break down the negative stigma associated with addiction and treatment, the panelists said.

“We have this stigmatized chronic disease state that began with the over-prescriptioon of opioids,” Mendenhall said. “It’s a devastating epidemic that’s causing lives to be lost.”

That stigma works against efforts to encourage drug abusers to seek treatment and receive needed emotional support, said John Haskell, co-founder and CEO of Triggr Health. His company has developed a data-driven, personalized system that helps recovering addicts in part by predicting when they are most likely to suffer a relapse. The company uses a combination of digital tools – including a mobile app – and human interaction to help its patients overcome addiction.

Haskell said Triggr Health purposefully avoids using the terms “addict” and “recovery,” which make some drug abusers uncomfortable. Instead, its tools encourage patients to set and meet goals for curtailing their drug use.

“If you can engage people, just around terminology even, you can make significant progress,” he said. “It reduces the stigma and gets more people to participate in reducing their drug or alcohol intake.”

Haskell noted that more than 90 percent of drug abusers never seek treatment, and that traditional 28-day drug rehabilitation programs don’t have a good track record of achieving long-term results.

Portland is in dire need of better solutions for its addicted population, said Margo Walsh, founder of Portland-based employment agency MaineWorks. Founded in 2011, MaineWorks helps recovering substance abusers rebuild their lives through working. Construction companies hire MaineWorks to provide workers for projects across the state.

In Portland, 85 percent of all crime is drug- or alcohol-related, Walsh said. The typical cost for an opioid abuser to maintain their habit by purchasing drugs on the street is $200 to $400 a day, she said.

“You have a lot of people committing crazy crimes … that’s why,” Walsh said.

The panelists said they have seen some positive signs recently. Innovators are putting their minds to work on tackling the crisis, the medical community is starting to pull back on issuing new opioid prescriptions, and people in general are talking more about the problem.

“It’s because people are dying that it has taken on this urgency,” Walsh said. “And dying in yuppie neighborhoods – not just in the ghetto.”

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

canderson@pressherald.com

Twitter: @jcraiganderson

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Meal-kit competion heating up http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/meal-kit-competion-heating-up/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/meal-kit-competion-heating-up/#respond Wed, 21 Jun 2017 22:19:52 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/meal-kit-competion-heating-up/ When you shell out $60 for a box of Blue Apron, you’re paying for a few things: food, of course – much of it organic, non-GMO and humanely raised; and those cool, glossy recipe cards, which lay out what you’re about to make.

But the real reason meal kits are so expensive has little to do with what’s in the box. Industry analysts estimate that between 20 percent and 30 percent of the price of a meal kit is spent just getting it to your house.

Those boxes are heavy, after all – and many travel long distances. They must always arrive on time and in pristine condition.

All of those considerations add up. And they’re responsible, in large part, for the high price of meal kits: $10 per serving, according to market research firm NPD, versus $4 for the same meal when the shopper buys ingredients at the grocery store.

That mark-up will become especially important, given that Amazon – which is known for its sophisticated shipping and logistics network – agreed last week to a deal to buy Whole Foods.

“You see a lot of companies leaving the market because they can’t handle the costs,” said Erik Thoresen, a principal at the food-industry consulting firm Technomic. “This is definitely one of the biggest headaches for them.”

Thoresen and other analysts cautioned that it’s not easy to generalize between companies because all have different agreements with third-party couriers and each uses different materials for insulation and packaging. The top national brands – Blue Apron, Plated and HelloFresh, among them – are all able to use their volume to negotiate special rates, Thoresen said.

Even with those special rates, however, shipping is expensive. When you place an order for a box of Blue Apron, it’s shipping from one of three facilities in New Jersey, California and Texas.

Blue Apron opened the Texas facility in late 2015 to help bring down the cost of shipping to customers in the Midwest. And the company continues to tweak both the exact packaging of its boxes, and the company that delivers them, on a Zip code by Zip code basis. In other words, even if you and a friend down the street both order from Blue Apron, two completely different trucks might deliver your (differently insulated) boxes.

Blue Apron reported in its recent IPO filings that efforts like these brought its shipping costs down in 2016. But the joint cost of both food and shipping and handling – the only hint Blue Apron gives as to its delivery costs – totaled more than half a billion dollars.

“There’s a reason all of these companies focus only on premium ingredients and ‘date night’ meals,” said Lawrence Chen, the co-founder of the meal-delivery startup Sooma. “They have to, just to justify the high shipping costs.”

Sooma has attempted an alternate model, though it’s not quite off the ground yet. Chen said he and his co-founders are trying to build a meal kit whose cost closely mirrors the price of its ingredients – and is accessible to middle-income patrons. To do that, Sooma only delivers simple, conventional meals, such as pork tacos and baked ziti. And it doesn’t ship anything: The service is focused on high-density urban areas, where delivery drivers can pick up kits at commercial kitchens and drop them off directly to consumers.

It works far more like ordering a pizza than ordering a package – which has allowed Sooma to charge as little as $4.30 per serving in its pilots.

Whether alternate models like this one catch on with larger companies remains to be seen. (Critically, the Sooma model can’t operate outside of large cities.) But Thoresen, of Technomic, is optimistic: Long-term, he said, meal-kit services face the stiffest competition from companies such as Uber, which operate vast on-demand delivery networks.

Amazon will also be a factor, he said: Even before the Whole Foods acquisition, the online behemoth was dabbling in meal delivery, and building out its own in-house shipping operations to compete with the likes of FedEx and UPS. Analysts are already speculating about how the acquisition may threaten both traditional grocers and meal kits, which don’t have Amazon’s edge in logistics.

Any shipping competition is good for consumers. “It’s exciting,” Thoresen said. “There will be new ways for people to acquire ingredients and prepared meals that we don’t even have a category for yet.”

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Oil prices drop to 7-month low with ‘disappointing’ U.S. demand http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/oil-prices-drop-to-7-month-low-with-disappointing-u-s-demand/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/oil-prices-drop-to-7-month-low-with-disappointing-u-s-demand/#respond Wed, 21 Jun 2017 21:51:10 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/oil-prices-drop-to-7-month-low-with-disappointing-u-s-demand/ LONDON — Oil prices fell further to a new seven-month low on Wednesday, with the international benchmark for crude sliding below $46 a barrel.

That is just above the price seen in November, when OPEC and 10 other oil-producing countries agreed to cut their production to combat a growing supply glut and push the market up.

While Russia, Saudi Arabia and other nations involved in the deal have met their targeted cuts, an unforeseen increase in U.S. supply has countered these efforts. With the glut persisting, the outlook for oil prices has been dampened.

“As we see it, it is not the events that are putting pressure on prices, but above all the shift in sentiment, the previous optimism appearing to have virtually evaporated,” analysts at Commerzbank wrote in a note to clients. They predict persistent negative sentiment could push the international benchmark, Brent, below $45 per barrel.

By late Wednesday in London, it was down 21 cents at $45.81 a barrel after touching a daily low of $45.43.

Weak prices mean that, all other things being equal, consumers can expect cheaper energy and car fuel.

The increased supply has been met with a “disappointing” demand for oil within the U.S., analysts said. The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s weekly petroleum data for the week ended June 16 showed a 2.5 million decrease in American crude oil inventories from the previous week, close to the “not insignificant” decrease of 2.7 million estimated by analysts at Commerzbank.

A recent report from the Paris-based International Energy Agency predicted next year’s increase in output by non-OPEC countries will be slightly higher than the increase in global demand.

Meanwhile, Wednesday’s appointment of new Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a man famous for his combative political and economic policies against fellow OPEC member Iran, has placed the future of the supply-cutting plan under increased uncertainty.

“His aggressive stance against Iran makes it unlikely to see greater Saudi participation in supply cuts without Iran cutting production as well,” Petromatrix analysts wrote in a daily market report. Currently, Iran is one of three OPEC countries that has not been asked to cut oil production.

Last week, OPEC countries and a group of other oil-producing nations, led by Russia, agreed to extend their overall cuts by nine months until next March.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/oil-prices-drop-to-7-month-low-with-disappointing-u-s-demand/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/06/1215068_California_Legislature_Thin.jpgAn oil field pump jack operates near Lost Hills, Calif. While Russia, Saudi Arabia and others have met targeted cuts, an unforeseen increase in U.S. supply has countered their efforts. Thus, consumers can expect cheaper energy and car fuel.Wed, 21 Jun 2017 17:51:10 +0000
Final vote totals show easy passage of $50 million tech bond http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/final-vote-totals-show-easy-passage-of-50-million-tech-bond/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/final-vote-totals-show-easy-passage-of-50-million-tech-bond/#respond Wed, 21 Jun 2017 17:29:38 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/final-vote-totals-show-easy-passage-of-50-million-tech-bond/ The proposed $50 million technology and innovation bond that was the subject of Maine’s June 13 referendum passed easily, with 62 percent of voters supporting it and 38 percent opposed, according to certified results released Wednesday by the Secretary of State’s Office.

Initial results from large communities around the state suggested an easy victory for the proposal despite a low voter turnout, but the statewide vote totals were not available until Wednesday. In total, voters approved the bond 63,468 to 39,549.

The bond calls for the Maine Technology Institute to distribute $45 million in grants for upgrades in aquaculture, marine technology, forestry and agriculture. The Small Enterprise Growth Fund would direct the remaining $5 million to qualifying small businesses in fields including marine sciences, biotechnology and manufacturing.

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Fewer houses on the market drove Maine home sales down in May http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/home-sales-decline-in-may/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/home-sales-decline-in-may/#respond Wed, 21 Jun 2017 17:00:53 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/home-sales-decline-in-may/ Fewer houses for sale was cited as the reason Maine home sales were down in May compared with the same month last year.

The volume of single-family home sales was down 8.85 percent in May compared with a year earlier, according to information released by the Maine Realtors Association.

But prices did rise 5.12 percent to a median price of $200,000.

The inventory of homes for sale is 20 percent lower this spring than last, said Greg Gosselin, president of the Realtors association.

“2016 was a record year for real estate in Maine,” he said in the release, “and while these current numbers show a decline from last year’s highs, the (data show) the second highest numbers during this time period, since we began keeping records in 2003.”

Nationally, the volume of single-family home sales increased 2.7 percent. The National Association of Realtors reported a nationwide media sale price of $254,600, a 6.0 percent jump from one year ago. The Northeast saw a sales increase of 2.6 percent and the regional price rose 4.7 percent to $281,300.

In Maine, Cumberland County homes commanded the highest median price of $285,000, followed by York with $247,500 and Sagadahoc with $223,000.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/home-sales-decline-in-may/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/05/1197222_millennial_homebuyers_jpeg_.jpgFILE - This Jan. 26, 2016 file photo shows a "For Sale" sign hanging in front of an existing home in Atlanta. Short of savings and burdened by debt, America's millennials are struggling to afford their first homes in the face of sharply higher prices in many of the most desirable cities. Surveys show that most Americans under 35 lack adequate savings for down payments. The result is that many will likely be forced to delay home ownership and to absorb significant debt loads if they do eventually buy. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)Wed, 21 Jun 2017 21:02:44 +0000
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick resigns under investor pressure http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/uber-ceo-kalanick-resigns-under-investor-pressure/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/uber-ceo-kalanick-resigns-under-investor-pressure/#respond Wed, 21 Jun 2017 09:34:09 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/uber-ceo-kalanick-resigns-under-investor-pressure/ DETROIT — Travis Kalanick, the combative and troubled CEO of ride-hailing giant Uber, has resigned under pressure from investors at a pivotal time for the company.

Uber’s board confirmed the move early Wednesday, saying in a statement that Kalanick is taking time to heal from the death of his mother in a boating accident “while giving the company room to fully embrace this new chapter in Uber’s history.” He will remain on the Uber Technologies Inc. board.

Uber CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick said in a statement to The New York Times that he has accepted a request from investors to step aside. Kalanick says the move will allow the ride-sharing company to go back to building itself rather than become distracted by another fight. Associated Press/Paul Sakuma

The move comes as Uber, the world’s largest ride-hailing company, was having trouble morphing from a free-wheeling startup into a mature company that can stanch losses and post consistent profits. After eight years of phenomenal growth by upending the taxi business, Uber had reached a point where the culture that created the company had become an albatross that threatened to kill it.

In a statement, the 40-year-old co-founder said his resignation would help Uber go back to building “rather than be distracted with another fight,” an apparent reference to efforts on the board to oust him.

It was unclear who would replace Kalanick.

The resignation came after a series of costly missteps under Kalanick that damaged Uber’s reputation including revelations of sexual harassment in its offices, allegations of trade secrets theft and a federal investigation into efforts to mislead local government regulators.

On Tuesday, the company embarked on a 180-day program to change its image by allowing riders to give drivers tips through the Uber app, something Kalanick had resisted. Drivers have said that Kalanick didn’t value their labor even though it was the heart of the San Francisco-based company.

Uber’s board said in a statement that Kalanick had “always put Uber first.”

But under Kalanick, the company developed a reputation for ruthless tactics that have occasionally outraged government regulators, drivers, riders and employees. The company often flouted city regulations for taxi companies with a culture that encouraged “Principled Confrontation.”

The company’s hard-charging style has led to legal trouble. The U.S. Justice Department is investigating Uber’s past usage of phony software designed to thwart local government regulators who wanted to check on whether Uber was carrying passengers without permission.

A key step toward Kalanick’s downfall came in February, when former Uber engineer Susan Fowler posted a personal essay about the year she spent at Uber, writing that she was propositioned by her manager on her first day with an engineering team. She reported him to human resources, but was told he would get a lecture and no further punishment because he was a “high performer,” she wrote.

That caught the board’s attention and brought outside investigations that led to the firing of 20 people including some managers. Former Attorney General Eric Holder conducted one of the probes, finding that the male-dominated Uber didn’t have the most basic policies to protect workers from harassment. Holder’s report suggested procedures that most companies have had for years such as using performance reviews to hold leaders accountable.

Also, Kalanick lost his temper in an argument with an Uber driver who was complaining about pay. The profanity-laced confrontation was caught on a video that surfaced in February. Afterward, Kalanick said he needed management help and had to grow up. The company began searching for a chief operating officer.

In March, board member Arianna Huffington expressed confidence that Kalanick would evolve into a better leader. But Huffington, a founder of Huffington Post, suggested time might be running out.

He’s a “scrappy entrepreneur,” she said during the call, but one who needed to bring “changes in himself and in the way he leads.”

During the past year, several senior managers left the company including the president and chief financial officer.

Outside experts said the only way to change Uber’s culture was for Kalanick to step aside. But Uber’s ownership and voting structure made it difficult to oust him.

Kalanick took an indefinite leave of absence earlier this month, in part to deal with a personal tragedy. In May, his mother was killed and his father hurt in a boating accident on a California lake.

Uber was having trouble dealing with its success. It posted a $708 million first-quarter loss, unable to turn $3.4 billion in revenue into a profit. The loss narrowed from the $991 million it posted in the previous quarter.

Investors have talked about selling stock in Uber to the public. The company was valued at near $70 billion the last time it sought capital.

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Five projects you can tackle in a weekend http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/five-projects-can-tackle-weekend/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/five-projects-can-tackle-weekend/#respond Wed, 21 Jun 2017 08:00:24 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1213780  

This time of year was made for DIY projects. The weather is perfect, the projects have mounted, you’ve got the time and the motivation. Now if only you had the budget.

Not to worry, DIY doesn’t have to be synonymous with expensive. There are plenty of DIY projects that can be tackled quickly and affordably in just a single weekend.

Below is a list of five projects that you can use to scratch that project itch without putting a noticeable dent in your wallet.

Seal the gaps. Hidden gaps and cracks in your home could be allowing air to escape, making the temperature in the house more difficult to regulate and your energy bill more expensive than it needs to be.

Seal these gaps with an innovative air-sealing insulating foam to help protect against air and moisture infiltration. It will create a tighter building envelope that helps to reduce your energy waste and your monthly bill.

A fresh coat of paint. How many times have you walked by that wall, those cabinets or that wooden chair and thought, “I need to repaint that”?

Well, now’s the time. Painting small spaces and furniture yourself is a small, inexpensive project that can be finished in a single weekend. So start picking colors today.

Once you’re done, you can feel proud knowing that you put in the hard work to give your home a fresh look.

Ward off vermin. You’re not the only one who’s happy to see that warmer weather has arrived. Vermin of the mammal, reptile or insect variety will also be more active during the warmer months, and they may set their sights on your home.

GREAT STUFF Pestblock Insulating Foam Sealant helps block vermin from entering your home through gaps, cracks and holes.

Spray the foam to block these points of entry and the only guests you’ll greet this season are those you actually invited.

Update your window treatments. If “treatment” is a generous word when describing the accent pieces around your windows, it’s time for an upgrade. Whether curtains, blinds or drapes, window treatments can be as cost effective as you want them to be, so don’t be afraid to be picky.

And once you find treatments that appeal to you, use them to block the sun on the hottest days to reduce your energy expenses.

Expand your DIY. Your DIY projects don’t have to be confined to your home; they can also involve your boat, your RV or your other vehicles. GREAT STUFF Multipurpose Black Foam Sealant can be used to fill unwanted gaps and cracks in vehicles, allowing you to cruise into vacation with no worries.

You can scratch that DIY itch without a month-long commitment or completely draining your bank account. All you have to do is pick the projects that match your budget, your time frame and your goals, and get to work.

And when they’re done, you’ll have the rest of the season to enjoy your new and improved home.

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Fresh from the farm: Maine takes lead in ‘food sovereignty’ movement http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/fresh-from-the-farm-maine-takes-lead-in-food-sovereignty-movement/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/fresh-from-the-farm-maine-takes-lead-in-food-sovereignty-movement/#respond Wed, 21 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1214677 Gov. Paul LePage has signed a bill into law that affirms the rights of cities and towns to regulate local food production, making Maine the second state in the nation to allow consumers to buy directly from farmers and food producers regardless of the state and federal licensing and inspections that would otherwise apply.

With the passage of the law last week, Maine becomes a leader in the so-called food sovereignty movement that promotes freedom of food choice for consumers who are willing to forgo some food safety regulations.

Food sovereignty revolves around a sort of “handshake integrity,” said Heather Retberg, a Blue Hill farmer who has been a leader in the movement. It means that a neighbor can pop by Quills End, the farm that Retberg runs with her husband, Phil, and pick up raw milk even if the Retbergs do not have that milk inspected and licensed by the state. If that neighbor trusts the Retbergs, the neighbor can buy directly from them.

If the Retbergs have veal calves and want to sell the meat directly to a consumer, they can do that too as long as the neighbor knows the story behind that milk or veal, and understands the risks involved in buying products that have not been vetted by state inspectors.

Blue Hill in Hancock County, where the movement first gained steam, is among the 20 towns across Maine that already have approved local food sovereignty ordinances. The bill that passed last week, L.D. 725, will essentially recognize the right of those towns to enforce their own food regulations, and the decisions of any other municipalities to do the same.

In 2015, Wyoming passed the Wyoming Food Freedom Act, which allows transactions among producers of what the state calls “homemade food” – produced in a kitchen that is not licensed, inspected or regulated – and “the informed end consumer.” The Maine and Wyoming laws are far from identical, but they speak to a desire for a more old-fashioned – some would say libertarian – approach to buying food.

LePage’s signature on the law proposed by Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, came as a welcome surprise to advocates for food sovereignty.

“I ran for office because of food sovereignty,” said Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop. “Food sovereignty means that the state of Maine will recognize, at last, the right of municipalities to regulate local food systems as they see fit.”

Hickman, who also is a farmer and owner of a small bed-and-breakfast, had proposed similar legislation four times before handing the baton over to Jackson.

“Timing is everything,” Hickman said. “It seems that everything was aligned for this to happen.”

The Department of Conservation, Agriculture and Forestry, which oversees many of the inspection programs, including those for meat and dairy, said it is reviewing the legislation to determine the implementation issues that need to be addressed.

Things are unlikely to change, or change much, at farmers markets throughout the state because farmers markets are heavily insured and licensed independently from the municipalities where they are held.

“Most markets will be unaffected,” said Leigh Hallett, executive director of the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets.

But the Maine communities that have approved local food sovereignty ordinances can function almost as islands where a farmer can drop off a gallon of raw milk and a consumer can ask for a chunk of that delicious cheese made in an unlicensed facility.

Since 2011, when Sedgewick, population 1,200, declared itself food sovereign, the number of Maine towns passing local ordinances to take back regulatory control over locally produced food has steadily increased. And with it, so has the interest in getting affirmation from the state that there would be no interference with newly established local laws. The bill signed by the governor had the support of the Maine Municipal Association.

“Let the local people decide,” said Garrett Corbin, legislative advocate for the Maine Municipal Association. “That is kind of our mantra.”

That perturbs some in the Maine food community, who see this as a dangerous path that could put consumers at risk. The Maine Cheese Guild opposed the bill, and former president Eric Rector was one of the people who testified against it. He called the signing of the law a “big win for the deregulation crowd.”

It’s too early to say what the actual impact will be, Rector said. But he sees increased risk to both consumers and to the Maine cheese industry as a result of dairy products being “produced and sold to the public without any testing whatsoever.” That increases the risk that someone will get sick from “Maine cheese” and that this thriving food industry will be tainted by something that happens outside the regulated sector, he said.

Rector believes it will be hard for consumers to grasp the concept that there is state-regulated cheese and also municipally approved cheese.

The movement is not about dodging food safety issues, advocates say. It’s more about keeping small farms alive. Retberg was disheartened by a visit from a state inspector in 2009. He told her that although the Retbergs were using a licensed facility to butcher meat birds, since it was licensed to a friend and not them, their birds weren’t legal for sale. The Retbers were deflated; they’d recently made the transition to full-time farming and no longer had a supplemental income that might have helped them pay for their own licensed facility.

“The department just moved the goalposts,” Retberg said. “And when that happens, you either stop or the rules have to change.”

Rather than stop, she began working on changing the rules. And she found that quickly, she had support in the community, starting with a neighbor who very much wanted to be able to buy those meat birds, regardless of where they were slaughtered.

Retberg also had a powerful advocate in Hickman, whom she called “a champion for our cause.”

He says he ran on this cause, prompted by his own experience with state regulators, who told him, starting in 2009, that the business practices he’d been engaged in at his B&B, including making cheese and yogurt for his bed-and-breakfast customers, and letting customers at the farmstand know they could buy it from the house, were no longer acceptable unless he added a specific facility for those products, separate from the area where he prepared, say, breakfast.

“The department came around and said, ‘You can no longer serve your own yogurt,’ ” Hickman said. “If all of this sounds surreal, it is all true.”

The other towns that have declared themselves in control of their local food systems include Alexander, Appleton, Bingham, Brooklin, Brooksville, Canton, Freedom, Greenwood, Hope, Isle Au Haut, Liberty, Livermore, Madison, Moscow, Penobscot, Plymouth, Solon and Trenton. The city council in Rockland considered a food sovereignty ordinance this winter and opted instead for a resolution endorsing growth, sale and consumption of local foods.

One place that hasn’t declared food sovereignty? Winthrop. Which means Hickman still has to keep that yogurt to himself.

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Charles Eichacker contributed to this report.

Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at:

mpols@pressherald.com

Twitter: MaryPols


Correction: This story was revised at 7:20 a.m., June 21, 2017, to correct the spelling of Heather Retberg’s name.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/21/fresh-from-the-farm-maine-takes-lead-in-food-sovereignty-movement/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/06/1214677_740330-20170620_Food-Sove4-e1498019706647.jpgKen Robbins finishes up work Tuesday evening at River Valley Farm in Canton, which he owns with Carole Robbins, his wife. Carole Robbins said she has heard about the new food sovereignty law, but they plan to keep selling their beef the way they have been, after inspection.Wed, 21 Jun 2017 07:22:32 +0000
Oil’s slide pulls stocks lower http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/20/oils-slide-pulls-stocks-lower/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/20/oils-slide-pulls-stocks-lower/#respond Wed, 21 Jun 2017 00:31:07 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/20/oils-slide-pulls-stocks-lower/ NEW YORK – U.S. stock indexes retreated from their record heights Tuesday after a slump in the price of oil weighed on energy companies.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 16.43 points, or 0.7 percent, to 2,437.03, and the Dow Jones industrial average lost 61.85 points, or 0.3 percent, to 21,467.14. Both the S&P 500 and Dow set records on Monday thanks to big gains from technology stocks.

The Nasdaq composite lost 50.98 points, or 0.8 percent, to 6,188.03, and the Russell 2000 index of small-cap stocks fell 15.11, or 1.1 percent, to 1,402.97.

Losses were widespread across the market, with five stocks dropping on the New York Stock Exchange for every two that rose. Many of the sharpest declines were concentrated in the energy sector, as the price of oil touched its lowest price since mid-November.

Benchmark U.S. crude lost 97 cents, or 2.2 percent, to settle at $43.23 per barrel, and Brent crude, the international standard, fell 89 cents to $46.02 per barrel.

The price of oil has been sloshing between $40 and $55 per barrel for much of the last year, down from a peak of more than $110 in the summer of 2013. Drillers have gotten much better at pulling oil from the ground, which has helped supplies to balloon and correspondingly weighed on prices. Many oil-producing countries have banded together to cut production in hopes of limiting supplies, but analysts are skeptical about how much they can influence prices.

One of the main reasons for the stock market’s climbing to record after record this year has been the resurgence in profit growth for big companies, and the energy sector is expected to play a leading role in that. Analysts forecast energy companies in the S&P 500 will report better than 300 percent growth in their earnings per share this year. But if the price of oil keeps dropping, that’s at risk.

John Manley, chief equity strategist at Wells Fargo Funds Management, is still optimistic that expectations for earnings across the market can keep rising. Lower oil prices would undercut profits for energy stocks, but they should also help other industries that will be paying lower fuel bills. And as long as profits continue to rise, Manley says stocks can too.

“Earnings are starting to re-accelerate,” he said. “It may stop tomorrow, and if it does, well, I’ll change my mind tomorrow. But right now, earnings are growing.”

Tuesday’s slump for oil led shares of Transocean to drop 36 cents, or 4.2 percent, to $8.20 and Marathon Oil to lose 43 cents, or 3.4 percent, to $12.06.

The worst-performing stock in the S&P 500 was Chipotle Mexican Grill, which lost $33.31, or 7.3 percent, to $425.60 after analysts cut their profit estimates for the restaurant chain. Chipotle said marketing costs will eat up a slightly bigger percentage of revenue this quarter than in the first three months of the year.

Homebuilder Lennar rose $1.13, or 2.1 percent, to $53.87 after reporting stronger revenue and earnings for the latest quarter than analysts forecast.

Parexel International, a biopharmaceutical services provider, jumped $3.12, or 3.7 percent, to $87.04 after it said it will go private following a buyout by Pamplona Capital Management.

In the Treasury market, bond prices rose, which caused yields to fall. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note sank to 2.15 percent from 2.19 percent late Monday. The two-year yield dropped to 1.34 percent from 1.36 percent, and the 30-year yield fell to 2.73 percent from 2.79 percent.

The British pound fell to $1.2629 from $1.2729 after the Bank of England cooled market expectations that it may soon raise interest rates.

The euro dipped to $1.1128 from $1.1147, and the dollar slipped to 111.41 Japanese yen from 111.54 yen.

In the commodities markets, gold dipped $3.20 to settle at $1,243.50 per ounce, silver lost 9 cents to $16.42 per ounce and copper dropped 4 cents to $2.55 per pound.

Natural gas rose a penny to $2.91 per 1,000 cubic feet, heating oil fell 2 cents to $1.39 per gallon and wholesale gasoline lost 3 cents to $1.42 per gallon.

In overseas markets, the French CAC 40 slipped 0.3 percent, the German DAX lost 0.6 percent and the FTSE 100 fell 0.7 percent.

The Japanese Nikkei 225 rose 0.8 percent, the Hang Seng in Hong Kong fell 0.3 percent and South Korea’s Kospi dipped 0.1 percent.

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Student loan servicer lobbying against Maine lawmaker’s bill to boost state oversight http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/20/student-loan-servicer-fights-states-moves-to-boost-oversight/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/20/student-loan-servicer-fights-states-moves-to-boost-oversight/#respond Tue, 20 Jun 2017 23:59:07 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1214487 AUGUSTA — The nation’s largest servicer of federal student loans has lobbied against states’ efforts to license student loan servicers in Maine and elsewhere this year as it seeks to become the nation’s single servicer of student loans under a plan backed by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

State records reviewed by The Associated Press show Navient Corp. has reported spending at least $44,000 since January on lobbyists in Maine, New York and Washington, states where lawmakers are considering licensing requirements.

Lawmakers this year have considered such licensing and oversight bills in at least 10 states, including Illinois and Washington, whose state attorneys general have joined the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by filing lawsuits accusing Navient of unfair and deceptive practices with lending and debt collection.

Navient calls such allegations false and politically motivated. Spokeswoman Nikki Lavoie said Navient has supported student loan policy reform to simplify repayment and better educate borrowers.

“We have engaged local representation in some states to make sure that policymakers have the facts on student loan servicing before they attempt to set servicing standards on federal student loans, which is likely to result in more complex, difficult and competing state-by-state processes for borrowers to navigate,” Lavoie said.

Critics say the Wilmington, Delaware-based company is only worried about profits and not the rights of the millions of Americans who carry student loan debt.

“I wish Navient would put more effort into training borrowers about repayment plans to keep borrowers out of default than lobbying to protect their bottom line,” said Natalia Abrams, executive director of advocacy group Student Debt Crisis.

Scrutiny is growing as Navient seeks to become the nation’s only servicer of student loans under a proposal backed by DeVos.

Nationwide, more than 44 million people collectively owe more than $1 trillion in student loan debt, with millions in default and high delinquency rates among minority borrowers. Seth Frotman, of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, praised state efforts to increase oversight over student loan servicers as smaller, private loan servicers and refinancers increasingly enter the market.

A move to streamline federal loan servicing started under President Barack Obama’s administration, and Navient is one of three entities still in the running for a contract to service an estimated 32 million federal direct student loans. DeVos tweaked the plan to allow one vendor to service all federal student loans, a move she said would improve customer service, limit costs and improve federal oversight of servicers.

That change and Navient’s lobbying against state licensing efforts are drawing concern from consumer advocacy groups, who point to federal scrutiny over Navient and President Donald Trump’s administration’s moves to change regulations protecting borrowers.

“From our perspective, that’s going to require more state oversight,” said Whitney Barkley-Denney, from the Center for Responsible Lending. “One servicer creates a too-big-to-fail environment where it’s a state-created monopoly for student loan servicing.”

The Department of Education didn’t immediately comment Tuesday.

Navient’s arguments are echoed by Student Loan Servicing Alliance, an industry group that represents Navient and two other companies, Great Lakes Educational Loan Services Inc. and Nelnet Inc., that formed a joint venture to become the nation’s single student loan servicer.

“A patchwork of different state requirements on federal student loan servicing can only harm and confuse borrowers, fueling the proliferation of student loan scam organizations that prey on struggling borrowers,” said Executive Director Winfield Crigler, who recently testified against Illinois’s student loan bill.

The National Council of Higher Education Resources, which represents the third contender for the single-servicer contract, Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, is also critical of state licensing requirements that are “burdensome” and “duplicative.”

Recent laws in Connecticut, California and Washington, D.C., would require servicers to obtain licenses to operate. This year, Illinois’ similar bill, which also would create a state student loan ombudsman, has passed both houses. In New York, loan servicers are opposed to a Democrat’s bill that mirrors a deleted initiative in Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget that Navient lobbied against.

In Maine, Navient registered to lobby against Democratic Sen. Eloise Vitelli’s bill less than two weeks after the amended legislation received unanimous committee support.

“With one company servicing $1.4 trillion in student loan debt, states will need to be a partner to make sure the service is accountable to borrowers,” Vitelli said Monday on the state Senate floor, where lawmakers voted to send her bill back to committee on a party-line 18-17 vote.

Associated Press writer David Klepper in Albany, New York, contributed to this report.

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Uber gives passengers the ability to tip drivers through app http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/20/uber-gives-passengers-long-overdue-ability-to-tip-drivers-through-app/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/20/uber-gives-passengers-long-overdue-ability-to-tip-drivers-through-app/#respond Tue, 20 Jun 2017 23:50:33 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/20/uber-gives-passengers-long-overdue-ability-to-tip-drivers-through-app/ Uber has introduced in-app tipping for drivers, a feature sought by the ride-hailing giant’s workforce and long offered by chief competitor Lyft.

The feature was launched Tuesday in Minneapolis, Seattle and Houston, and the company said it will add more cities in the coming weeks. Uber said it expects tipping to be available to all U.S. drivers by the end of July.

“Why now? Because it’s the right thing to do, it’s long overdue, and there’s no time like the present,” Uber said in a news release.

Lyft has offered tipping in its app since 2012, and said in March that drivers have netted more than $200 million in tips since then. TechCrunch reported this week that the figure has surpassed $250 million.

Uber touted its in-app tipping announcement as part of an initiative called “180 Days of Change,” where it introduced a series of features aimed at improving the driver experience. The changes include: shorter cancellation windows for riders – down to two minutes from five – compensation during wait times, and a $2 “teen fare” for trips on teen accounts. The teen fare will initially be available in Seattle, Phoenix and Columbus, Ohio, Uber said.

Uber says it won’t take a cut of driver tips. Meanwhile, riders will fork over costs for extended wait times, beginning two minutes after the driver arrives, according to an Uber spokesman. The rider will see a separate “Wait Time” fee on their receipt once the trip ends.

Uber and its workforce have been engaged in an extended labor struggle as drivers have pushed for better labor protections and higher earnings.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/20/uber-gives-passengers-long-overdue-ability-to-tip-drivers-through-app/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/06/1214477_Uber-Driving_Down_A_New_Roa-e1498010928188.jpgA smartphone displays Uber car availability in New York. Uber is catching up to its rival Lyft by enabling riders to tip its U.S. drivers with a tap on its ride-hailing app.Tue, 20 Jun 2017 22:25:27 +0000
California group buys expense software company Certify http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/20/expense-software-company-certify-purchased-by-investment-group/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/20/expense-software-company-certify-purchased-by-investment-group/#respond Tue, 20 Jun 2017 21:22:55 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/20/expense-software-company-certify-purchased-by-investment-group/ Certify, a Portland company that develops expense management software, has been acquired by a California-based investment group.

K1 Investment Management, an investment firm focused on global software companies, purchased Certify and three other expense software companies for $125 million. The deal creates one company with more than 7,500 customers that use the specialized software to reduce overhead associated with managing employee time, travel and expenses. The combined company is positioned just behind SAP Concur, the largest expense management software company, according to a release announcing the acquisition.

“This deal is all about bringing the best expense management products to the most users everywhere in the world,” said Robert Neveu in a statement. He founded Certify in 2008 and is the company’s CEO. “We’re now in a much stronger position to develop products and serve customers in the U.S., Canada and internationally. I would expect us to continue growing organically and through acquisition as we move to overtake Concur as the world’s largest expense management software vendor.”

Neveu said Certify will maintain its Portland operation and the 90 people working for it.

The other companies acquired in the transaction are Nexonia, ExpenseWatch and Tallie.

The market for expense management software is expected to grow to $2.46 billion by 2020, according to K1. Neveu said Certify has been growing at a rate of 50 percent annually. It is part of Portland’s large payment processing cluster, which includes Wex, CashStar, Blue Tarp Financial and others.

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Downsizing at Maine job placement centers spurred by strong economy http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/20/strong-economy-leads-to-downsizing-at-maine-job-placement-centers/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/20/strong-economy-leads-to-downsizing-at-maine-job-placement-centers/#respond Tue, 20 Jun 2017 19:26:40 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/20/strong-economy-leads-to-downsizing-at-maine-job-placement-centers/ The current strength of Maine’s economy is taking a few casualties within the agency that helps unemployed residents find jobs.

Unemployment is so low in Maine that the state Department of Labor is laying off up to 10 CareerCenter counselors whose salaries are grant-funded based on the number of job seekers they assist.

Demand for job-placement services in Maine has plummeted, the department said. With Maine’s unemployment rate at 3.2 percent as of May, unemployment claims are at a 32-year low and participation in the federally funded Reemployment Services and Eligibility Assessment program is down significantly, it said.

“The state is reimbursed for the number of people who participate in the program,” said Labor Department spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz. The state projects that the current amount of funding would not support the counselors’ salaries for the upcoming fiscal year, she said.

As a result, the program is being suspended and the counselors whose salaries it funds will be let go or reassigned to other government positions in July, Rabinowitz said. She said the state reserves the right to reactivate the program if and when Maine’s unemployment rate increases in the future.

“We are countercyclical – when the economy is really good, we shrink our workforce,” Rabinowitz said.

The department has about 140 employees in its Bureau of Employment Services, she said, most of whom work in the agency’s CareerCenters, which help unemployed residents find new jobs. Rabinowitz said all of Maine’s CareerCenters will continue to serve those in need of employment.

But in the current job market, a specific category of people usually prone to long-term unemployment has all but disappeared, she said. That was the group participating in the Reemployment Services and Eligibility Assessment program.

“The pool of people who are eligible has shrunk greatly,” Rabinowitz said. “People are getting jobs before they even show up at the workshop.”

Rabinowitz said the department will try to place the counselors in other government jobs or help them find work in the private sector. She noted that the counselors are all experts in the field of job placement, which should give them a head start.

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Ford moving all production of Focus small car to China http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/20/ford-moving-all-production-of-focus-small-car-to-china/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/20/ford-moving-all-production-of-focus-small-car-to-china/#respond Tue, 20 Jun 2017 16:26:50 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/20/ford-moving-all-production-of-focus-small-car-to-china/ DETROIT — Ford Motor Co. will import vehicles from China to the U.S. for the first time starting in 2019.

Ford said Tuesday it plans to move production of its Ford Focus small car from the U.S. to China, where it already makes the Focus for Chinese buyers.

Sales of small cars have dropped sharply in the U.S. and companies are seeking to cut costs making them. Ford’s president of global operations Joe Hinrichs said the move to China will save the company $1 billion, including $500 million for canceling plans to build the Focus in Mexico.

Wary of the response from President Trump, who has criticized Ford for making vehicles outside the U.S., Ford said the move won’t cost U.S. jobs. The suburban Detroit plant that currently makes the Focus will be converted late next year to produce the Ford Ranger pickup and Ford Bronco SUV.

Hinrichs said Ford’s research shows that customers – who are used to phones and other gadgets from China – care more about product quality than where their vehicles are made.

A 2018 Ford Focus is on display at the Belgrade International Motor Show in Serbia on March 23. U.S. Focus sales were down 20 percent through May, hurt by low gas prices and consumer preference for SUVs.  Shutterstock photo

Ford also said Tuesday that it plans to invest $900 million in its Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville to make the new, aluminum-sided Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator SUVs. Those vehicles will go on sale this fall and will be exported to more than 55 markets globally, the company said. The investment will secure 1,000 jobs at the Kentucky plant.

Plans for Focus production have bounced around over the last few months as Ford tries to squeeze some profits from the ailing small car segment. U.S. Focus sales were down 20 percent through May, hurt by low gas prices and consumer preference for SUVs.

In January, the company announced it would cancel a new plant in Mexico and instead use capacity at another plant in Mexico to build the Focus. But over the last few months, Hinrichs said, Ford decided it could save another $500 million in tooling and other manufacturing costs if it moved production to China.

Hinrichs said last month’s departure of former CEO Mark Fields had no bearing on the decision, which was in the works for some time.

Hinrichs said Chinese wages are lower than wages in Mexico, although the cost to ship the vehicles erases some of that advantage. It’s still cheaper to make cars for the U.S. in Mexico, he said, but Ford has extra capacity in China and the move frees up capital for the company immediately.

Ford isn’t the first car company to export vehicles to the U.S. from China. Volvo Cars made the move in 2015. General Motors Co. started importing the low-volume Buick Envision midsize SUV from China in 2016. GM also imports small numbers of a plug-in hybrid-electric Cadillac CT6 sedans from China.

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On the Job: Bowdoinham farmer having a field day http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/20/on-the-job-bowdoinham-farmer-having-a-field-day/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/20/on-the-job-bowdoinham-farmer-having-a-field-day/#respond Tue, 20 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1213952 Ian Jerolmack didn’t grow up on a farm, so instead he grew up and started his own.

Jerolmack owns and operates Stonecipher Farm in Bowdoinham.

He bought the land in 2009 and grows organic vegetables on about 10 acres while also collecting eggs from free-range chickens.

Jerolmack sells his food to about 40 Portland restaurants, including Eventide, Central Provisions and Drifters Wife.

The farm is more than just a source of income, it’s a life. He lives on the farm with his wife, Emily, and their children – four in their blended family with one more on the way.

“I’m not from here. I didn’t grow up doing this,” Jerolmack said. “I’m not a farmer by blood, I’m a farmer by choice.”

The work is hard and the hours are long. The ever-changing weather is the hardest part, Jerolmack said, noting that last year’s drought was especially rough. Despite the uncertainty, he loves his job.

“The best thing is that I’m home,” he said. “The kids are here, they come they go and I’m available.”

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/20/on-the-job-bowdoinham-farmer-having-a-field-day/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/06/48264-20170615_OTJ_09.jpgBOWDOINHAM, ME - JUNE 15: Ian Jerolmack works on his farm on a sunny morning. He has owned Stonecipher Farm for 8 years and has built up the entire property on his own. He sells produce to a number of well-known Portland restaurants such as Eventide, Drifter's Wife and Central Provisions. He says the hardest part about his job is have to rely on the ever unpredictable weather. (Staff photo by Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer)Mon, 19 Jun 2017 20:01:00 +0000
Fantasy site merger challenged http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/19/fantasy-site-merger-challenged/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/19/fantasy-site-merger-challenged/#respond Tue, 20 Jun 2017 00:31:40 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/19/fantasy-site-merger-challenged/ Associated Press

BOSTON — Federal regulators are challenging the planned merger of FanDuel and DraftKings, saying the combination of the two largest daily fantasy sports sites would create a company controlling more than 90 percent of the market.

The Federal Trade Commission announced Monday it will file a complaint – along with the attorneys general of California and the District of Columbia – seeking to temporarily stop the deal, pending an administrative trial scheduled for Nov. 21.

Combining the onetime rivals would “deprive customers of the substantial benefits of direct competition,” said Tad Lipsky, acting director of the commission’s Bureau of Competition.

DraftKing’s Jason Robins and FanDuel’s Nigel Eccles, the CEOs of the two companies, said they’re disappointed by the FTC’s decision and are weighing their options. That includes filing their own legal maneuver to block the FTC’s efforts, Robins and other DraftKings founders said in a message to employees.

“Please don’t let this regulatory setback distract you. DraftKings is poised for growth, whether or not we merge with FanDuel,” the company executives said. “In the days ahead, it will be business as usual as we prepare for the start of the NFL season.”

Daily fantasy sports contests are online games in which players build rosters of real-life athletes and vie for cash and other prizes based on how those athletes do in actual games. They grew in large part from a 2006 federal law that banned online gambling but created a specific niche for fantasy sports.

DraftKings and FanDuel argue their merger doesn’t violate antitrust laws because the companies represent a niche within the larger, multibillion dollar fantasy sports market in which ESPN, Yahoo and other corporations have long dominated.

But the FTC concluded the two companies are “each other’s most significant competitor.”

“It all comes down to how you define the relative market, and that’s where they fell short,” Daniel Wallach, a Floridia attorney who specializes in gambling and sports law said of the two companies. “And I’m not convinced they’ll do any better in a federal court.”

The FTC said it also isn’t convinced that other fantasy sports companies could provide sufficient competition if the merger went through and that consumers are unlikely to view other products – including the traditional, season-long fantasy sports competitions played by millions of Americans each year – as a meaningful substitute for the contests offered by the two companies.

Boston-based DraftKings and New York-based FanDuel agreed to merge in November as the industry they helped pioneer fell under intense regulatory scrutiny.

With the two companies engaged in a costly advertising war, state attorneys general, lawmakers and gambling regulators across the country began to question whether the online contests amounted to illegal sports-betting operations.

At the time the merger was announced, the companies said it would help them reduce costs as they lobbied for state laws recognizing their legality and fought off legal challenges in court, as well as help them improve their contests.

Both had raised millions of dollars through investors and sponsorships with prominent teams and sports leagues in a few short years but still weren’t profitable.

But the daily fantasy sports industry has sharply contracted in the past year, despite roughly a dozen states adopting new laws and regulations.

More than two-thirds of daily fantasy sports companies have shuttered, changed focus or joined with competitors, the Fantasy Sports Trade Association has said. That’s left DraftKings and FanDuel as the largest remaining operators.

DraftKings, which was founded in 2012, is the currently the largest in terms of entry fees and revenues. FanDuel, which was founded in Scotland in 2009, is the second largest.

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Judge considers Nevada bid for recreational pot sales http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/19/judge-considers-nevada-bid-for-recreational-pot-sales/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/19/judge-considers-nevada-bid-for-recreational-pot-sales/#respond Mon, 19 Jun 2017 23:29:44 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/19/judge-considers-nevada-bid-for-recreational-pot-sales/ Associated Press

CARSON CITY, Nev. — Nevada’s marijuana regulators are working furiously to launch recreational sales on July 1, a fast-approaching deadline that could hinge on a court deciding whether the powerful liquor industry should be guaranteed a piece of the pot pie before tourists and residents can light up.

Lawyers for the liquor industry and the Nevada Department of Taxation argued before a judge Monday whether the state has the authority to issue marijuana distribution licenses to anyone besides alcohol distributors.

The state says it has the power to temporarily license some existing medical marijuana cultivators and retailers to serve as their own middlemen. It wants to get a head-start on collecting millions of dollars in tax revenue devoted to education before permanent rules are required by Jan. 1, 2018.

The liquor lobby sued, saying the state did not give it the first shot at distribution licenses as called for in the ballot measure approved by voters in November, the only legal pot state with that arrangement.

Carson City District Judge James Wilson blocked all licensing until the matter is resolved. He refused the state’s request last week to dismiss the lawsuit.

The law says alcohol distributors have exclusive rights to pot distribution licenses, unless the state determines there is not enough interest to meet anticipated demand.

The tax department said there was “insufficient interest” among the liquor lobby when it published the regulations. It later said that determination would be made after all applications were processed.

One of the alcohol distributors who insists their industry can handle the job is Allan Nassau, a former tour and production manager for rock bands including the Allman Brothers and INXS who now owns Red Rock Wines – a boutique wine distributor.

He testified that his business currently serves more than 300 restaurants in Las Vegas, many on a daily basis. He says delivering pot to more than 100 retailers would be easy compared to that.

“I’ve been responsible for the logistics of literally tons of sound and light and stage gear going from city to city around the country,” Nassau said. “This is something I could basically do in my sleep.”

It was not clear whether Wilson would rule immediately after Monday’s hearing. But he told lawyers last week that it’s “an important issue that needs to be resolved quickly.”

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/19/judge-considers-nevada-bid-for-recreational-pot-sales/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/06/1213949_Nevada_Marijuana_11597.jpg-.jpgVials with samples of marijuana are arranged at the Blum medical marijuana dispensary, in Reno, Nev. Marijuana regulators are working to launch recreational sales on July 1, a deadline that could hinge on a court deciding whether the liquor industry should be guaranteed a piece of the pot pie.Mon, 19 Jun 2017 19:29:44 +0000
With tech back in charge, stocks hit records http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/19/with-tech-back-in-charge-stocks-hit-records/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/19/with-tech-back-in-charge-stocks-hit-records/#respond Mon, 19 Jun 2017 22:46:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1213917 Associated Press

NEW YORK — Apple and other big-name technology stocks got back to their winning ways Monday and helped drive U.S. indexes once again to record heights.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 20.31 points, or 0.8 percent, to 2,453.46 and surpassed its old record, set nearly a week ago, by half a percent. The Dow Jones industrial average added 144.71 points, or 0.7 percent, to 21,528.99, and the Nasdaq composite jumped 87.25, or 1.4 percent, to 6,239.01.

Tech heavyweights, which had been among the stock market’s biggest stars until recently, led the way. After being up more than 20 percent for the year, tech stocks in the S&P 500 fell sharply two Fridays ago on worries that they had risen too much, too quickly. In a little more than a week, tech stocks lost about a fifth of their year-to-date gains.

On Monday, Apple rose for just the second time since two Thursdays ago. It jumped $4.07, or 2.9 percent, to $146.34 for its second-best day of the year so far. Google’s parent, Alphabet, rose $16.60, or 1.7 percent, to $975.22. Altogether, tech stocks in the S&P 500 rose 1.7 percent, the largest gain among the 11 sectors that make up the index.

It’s just the latest example of investors steeling themselves and “buying the dip.” Every time the stock market has shown any weakness in the last eight years, it’s proven to be a good move for investors to buy. That’s because stocks have ended up erasing any losses incurred, only to move higher. That long track record has trained investors to pounce whenever they see a dip, and analysts have noticed how ingrained the instinct has become.

“It’s concerning, but I don’t see what breaks it at this point of time,” said Nate Thooft, senior portfolio manager at Manulife Asset Management. “It’s going to be really, really hard to predict what that circumstance is. For the time being, investors are thinking, ‘We can’t afford not to be in this market, and we’ll continue to play along with the dynamics of the gradual melt-up.”‘

Thooft expects stocks to continue rising, even with prices high, because bonds look less attractive. Plus, profit growth is improving for companies, which helps to justify their stock price gains.

The biggest gainer in the S&P 500 Monday was PerkinElmer, which sells testing equipment and scientific instruments. It jumped $4.16, or 6.5 percent, to $67.73 after it agreed to buy EUROIMMUN Medical Laboratory Diagnostics of Germany for $1.3 billion in cash.

On the other end was energy company EQT, which fell $5.26, or 9 percent, to $53.51 for the largest loss in the index. It agreed to buy Rice Energy for $6.7 billion in cash and stock in a deal that EQT said will make it the country’s largest producer of natural gas. Rice surged $4.88, or 24.8 percent, to $24.57.

In overseas markets, European shares rose after French voters gave their new president a political majority in parliament. The vote “will lend him enough support to rapidly implement his pro-business reform program,” said Marion Amiot, senior economist at Oxford Economics. She raised her forecast for French economic growth for 2018 to 1.7 percent from 1.6 percent.

The French CAC 40 gained 0.9 percent, and Germany’s DAX rose 1.1 percent. The FTSE 100 in London rose 0.8 percent as the United Kingdom opened negotiations to withdraw from the European Union.

In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 added 0.6 percent, the Hang Seng in Hong Kong climbed 1.2 percent and South Korea’s Kospi gained 0.4 percent.

Bond prices fell, which sent yields higher. The yield on the 10-year Treasury rose to 2.18 percent from 2.15 percent late Friday. The two-year yield climbed to 1.35 percent from 1.31 percent, and the 30-year yield ticked up to 2.79 from 2.77 percent.

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Jefferson-based vintner takes home $100,000 prize on ‘Greenlight Maine’ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/19/bluet-takes-home-100k-prize-on-greenlight-maine/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/19/bluet-takes-home-100k-prize-on-greenlight-maine/#respond Mon, 19 Jun 2017 19:37:42 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/19/bluet-takes-home-100k-prize-on-greenlight-maine/ Season two of Maine’s entrepreneurial competition TV show “Greenlight Maine” ended Saturday night with Michael Terrien and Eric Martin, founders of Bluet, taking home the $100,000 grand prize.

Bluet, a Jefferson-based business that produces sparkling wine made from wild blueberries, was chosen based on its founders’ superior knowledge of how to operate and grow the business, the judges said.

“I chose Bluet due to my assessment that the co-founders possessed a good understanding of their product,” said judge Michael Petit, director of business development at JMH Capital Partners. “Their industry experience provided them with an understanding of the market landscape, key relationships and access to vital distribution channels.”

Bluet was one of 26 contestants participating in the 13-episode season. It competed against hydroelectric facilities developer Surge Hydro and herbal products maker Herbal Revolution in the season finale Saturday.

Martin said Bluet plans to use the prize money for expansion.

“Greenlight Maine has been transformative for our business – not only through the prize money, but in the way it’s connected us with Maine’s entrepreneurial community and pushed us to focus, clarify our vision and compete,” he said. “We’ll invest the $100,000 to make a second product that will help fuel our company’s growth.”

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/19/bluet-takes-home-100k-prize-on-greenlight-maine/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/06/1207494_58631-20170606-Maine-Gree2.jpg"Greenlight Maine" judges, from left, Michael Burgmaie, of Whipstitch, Betsy Peters, chief revenue officer at Better Lessons, and Michael Petit, of JMH Capital, listen to a business pitch Tuesday from Bluet sparkling blueberry wine owners Eric Martin, far right, and Michael Terrien, second from left in foreground, during the recording of "Greenlight Maine" at Ayotte Auditorium at Thomas College in Waterville.Tue, 20 Jun 2017 11:12:37 +0000
Food scientists float an idea to use Maine’s invasive green crabs: Make pastries http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/19/food-scientists-float-an-idea-to-use-maines-invasive-green-crabs-make-pastries/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/19/food-scientists-float-an-idea-to-use-maines-invasive-green-crabs-make-pastries/#respond Mon, 19 Jun 2017 19:18:27 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/19/food-scientists-float-an-idea-to-use-maines-invasive-green-crabs-make-pastries/ ORONO – The unwanted crabs that have plagued Maine’s clam beds for years might soon play a new role – as appetizer.

Two University of Maine scientists and a former graduate student believe they may have found a solution to the state’s trouble with invasive green crabs, and it involves turning the clawed critters into savory pastries.

The green crabs threaten Maine’s environment and economy because they’re ravenous predators of softshell clams, one of the state’s signature seafood items. State officials have said the crabs, which are native to Europe and turn red once cooked, have increased in numbers in recent years as water temperatures off Maine rise.

Fishermen and state fishery managers have long struggled to find ways to control the population by making the crabs, which net fishermen less than a dollar per pound, worth catching.

There are other efforts to use the green crab as food.

A marine biologist, an art conservator and a group of fishermen from Georgetown are trying to use traditional Venetian fishing methods to turn the invasive green crab into a gourmet dish known in Italy as moleche.

Now, three food scientists say they’ve happened upon another food product that might just be viable: green crab empanadas.

“I chose the green crab specifically because it was local; it was a project affecting the state of Maine,” said Joseph Galetti, one of the scientists involved. “So by creating a value-added food product that people will enjoy, we can stimulate a green crab fishery.”

And it’s not just pie in the sky. Galetti and his colleagues have served up samples to taste testers and published findings this year in the Journal of Aquatic Food Product Technology stating that about two-thirds of testers would “probably” or “definitely” buy the product if it were locally available.

The project was a collaboration between Galetti, who is now a food scientist in New Hampshire, and UMaine food scientists Beth Calder and Denise Skonberg. Calder and Skonberg had been looking to create some kind of value-added product involving green crabs and recruited Galetti to work on the project when he was a graduate student because he has a background in the culinary arts.

The empanada is a fried pastry that mixes minced green crab meat with onions, corn, cayenne pepper and thyme. The scientists say they hope the recent publication of their study will drive interest among food companies in making the product commercially. The university is promoting the findings in the hopes of getting fishermen interested in catching green crabs and chefs interested in cooking with the critters.

The study states that the 87-person panel of taste testers rated the empanada between “like slightly” and “like moderately,” which the scientists describe as pretty impressive for food made out of an invasive pest.

The crabs first became noticeable in Maine around the turn of the 20th century and are infamous for the damage they can do to coastal habitats like eelgrass beds and salt marshes. They are the subject of a small fishery in Europe, but the small crabs lack popularity as food because they contain little meat.

Skonberg said one of the reasons it’s important to find a commercial use for them is their resilience. They can survive freezing weather, they are resistant to some chemicals used to kill sea pests, and each female can produce hundreds of thousands of offspring.

All the better reason to give people an incentive to eat them, Skonberg said.

“They are hard to kill, and with the reproductive rate and the water warming, they are doing incredibly well,” Skonberg said. “If we don’t have any use for them at all, it’s hard.”

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/19/food-scientists-float-an-idea-to-use-maines-invasive-green-crabs-make-pastries/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/06/1213852_Invasive_Green_Crab_75994.j.jpgFood scientist Joseph Galetti holds a fully cooked green crab with a thermocouple stuck in its eye in Orono in this 2010 photo. Galetti was part of a team of University of Maine researchers who worked to turn the invasive crabs into a food product that would give fishermen an incentive to catch them. The crabs turn red when cooked.Mon, 19 Jun 2017 15:18:27 +0000
Legend of storied biscuits at Skowhegan jailhouse inspires new restaurant menu http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/19/legend-of-storied-biscuits-at-skowhegan-jailhouse-inspires-new-restaurant-menu/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/19/legend-of-storied-biscuits-at-skowhegan-jailhouse-inspires-new-restaurant-menu/#respond Mon, 19 Jun 2017 19:15:02 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/19/legend-of-storied-biscuits-at-skowhegan-jailhouse-inspires-new-restaurant-menu/ SKOWHEGAN — Former Skowhegan Town Manager Dale Watson likes to tell the story of a man back in the 1940s who did odd jobs around the old railroad yard near his father’s grist mill downtown, where Variety Drug is now.

The guy, Alley Perry, was a bit of a “hobo,” Watson said.

When the weather started to turn cold, Perry would get himself locked up so he could spend the winter at the county jail located across the street from the Spaulding and Watson grist mill.

“When he went to jail, he became the cook. He had quite a cook house down cellar there in the jail,” Watson, 82, said. “He’d make these biscuits, great big, nice fluffy biscuits that he would bring to the mill, and we’d put molasses on them to feed the inmates at the jail.”

A cafe at the grist mill has been renovated and expanded, and on Friday will open as a new restaurant and bar called The Miller’s Table at Maine Grains, featuring a revival of Perry’s famous “hobo” biscuits.

The restaurant will offer food and drink sourced from local farms and grain products from the grist mill. There will be wood-fired bake ovens, indoor and patio seating and an outdoor courtyard and gardens, all seating 80-100 people and employing about 20 people seven days a week.

Amber Lambke, owner of the Somerset Grist Mill, which opened in 2009 inside the former jail, likes the biscuit story, too.

The story of Perry’s jailhouse biscuits is fun, Lambke said, because part of the new restaurant and a future wine bar are in the old jail’s cook house where Perry would whip up his famous hobo biscuits. She said Dale Watson’s family operated the last functioning grist mill in Skowhegan before she opened hers.

“Perry was known about town, and they’d let him make biscuits here in the jail,” Lambke said. “Dale shared that story with me as a historic relationship that the mill used to have with the jail. We are going to revive Perry’s biscuits on the menu here and serve them with molasses and butter.”

Lambke, president of Maine Grains, is a co-founder and one of five investors in The Miller’s Table. The founding group consists of Jon Kimbell, David James and Pam and Jeff Powers, owners of Bigelow Brewery in Skowhegan. About 90 percent of the grains to be used in meals at the restaurant and in brewing artisan beers comes from Maine, Lambke said. In 2016 the grist mill doubled its production to about 700 tons of wheat, oats, rye, cornmeal, buckwheat and spelt.

The 1897 steel and stone former county jail also is home to the Skowhegan Farmers Market in the summer, marking the location’s identity as a hub for local food enterprises. The Somerset Grist Mill, which began milling in 2012, expanded in the former cell blocks to include a yarn shop, a radio station, a grain retail store, a computer instruction room called the Tech Spot and a cafe. The mill itself employs 11 people.

Kimbell said his background producing and running a restaurant at the North Shore Music Theater in Massachusetts gives him and James a good foundation to “avoid some of the pitfalls of a new business.” He said James’ background is in marketing and business.

“My expertise is dealing with customers and trying to make them happy,” Kimbell said.

Erin Savage, of Skowhegan, is the general manager of the restaurant and will be running the bar. She brings her own sales and experience in restaurant management to the table, Lambke said.

Two lead chefs will staff the kitchens. Lucas Cates, of Bingham, cooked for white water rafting companies on the Kennebec River and learned the craft of sourdough bread baking with stoneground whole grains at Petrillo’s Restaurant in Freeport. The other chef, Matthew Crate, of Waterville, is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts and will lead the baking program at The Miller’s Table.

Lana Swett, the culinary director at the Somerset Career and Technical Center at Skowhegan Area High School, will be working part-time through the summer.

“We have a robust team hired for the back of the house and the front of the house, because in this iteration of the cafe, we actually have the cooking station out here by the wood-fired oven and the cooking station back in the kitchen, so it’s requiring a lot of people,” Lambke said.

By the time all of the renovations and expansion is complete, the restaurant will seat 167 people. The covered courtyard — once the recreation area for jail inmates — will feature a long, family-style communal dining table — the miller’s table.

Restaurant hours will be 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday through Saturday with dinner served Thursday, Friday and Saturday until 10 p.m. and a Sunday brunch from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m.

The menu will feature homemade bread, pastries and English muffins for breakfast, all made from grains ground on site. There also will be omelets, crepes, breakfast sandwiches — and biscuits. Lunch will be “grab and go” market sandwiches, wood-fired pizza, smoothies, salads and house-made dips.

Dinners will include wood-fired pizza, tourtiere pie, lobster bisque, chicken and dumplings, house-made baked beans and cornbread and “Jailhouse” stout beef stew.

Lambke, co-founder of Maine Grains and the Kneading Conference, said the focus of the menu will be affordable pricing ranging from “down home, good scratch cooking” to occasional specials to showcase the craft of the chefs.

“I think people will find us to be an every day, casual, affordable place to make part of their weekly routine,” she said.

Lambke said the new restaurant builds on the success of The Pickup Cafe, which operated in the same place on weekends from 2012 to 2016.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

dharlow@centralmaine.com

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/19/legend-of-storied-biscuits-at-skowhegan-jailhouse-inspires-new-restaurant-menu/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/06/732262_664668-20170613-millers-1.jpgReady to work at The Miller's Table at Maine Grains in Skowhegan on Tuesday are co-founders Amber Lambke, center, and Jon Kimbell, right, with General Manager Erin Savage, left. Standing are chefs Matthew Crate, left, and Lucas Cates.Tue, 20 Jun 2017 08:35:15 +0000
U.S. seeks fast lumber deal as Canada braces for lengthy dispute http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/19/u-s-seeks-fast-lumber-deal-as-canada-braces-for-lengthy-dispute/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/19/u-s-seeks-fast-lumber-deal-as-canada-braces-for-lengthy-dispute/#respond Mon, 19 Jun 2017 17:20:08 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/19/u-s-seeks-fast-lumber-deal-as-canada-braces-for-lengthy-dispute/ Canada’s envoy to Washington says the Trump administration is interested in a quick deal to end a softwood lumber dispute although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government sees no imminent agreement.

Ambassador David MacNaughton said last week U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told him it would be good to get a softwood deal before renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, due to begin as early as August.

But MacNaughton said a deal is “a long way away” with a second round of duties on Canadian lumber expected this month. Canada Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland also said a new pact on softwood – one of the most persistent trade spats between the U.S. and its second-largest trading partner – isn’t imminent.

The dispute is raising the cost of lumber in the U.S., contributing to a more than 18 percent surge in wood prices from the end of January to mid-May, according to a Bloomberg Intelligence report. Additional U.S. duties are expected to further lift lumber prices as Canadian companies including West Fraser Timber Co. and Canfor Corp. offset the cost.

A machine unloads logs for processing at the West Fraser Timber sawmill in Quesnel, British Columbia in this 2015 photo. Additional U.S. duties are expected to further lift lumber prices as Canadian companies including West Fraser Timber Co. and Canfor Corp. try to offset the cost. Bloomberg/David Ryder

The U.S. is scheduled to decide on new anti-dumping penalties by the end of this month that may bring combined duties to more than 30 percent, according to RBC Capital Markets, after an initial round in April of as much as 24.1 percent. Canada announced a $655 million ($867 million Canadian) funding package in June to cushion companies and workers. Final U.S. lumber duties are expected by January of 2018.

“There is still a lot of work to be done,” Freeland told reporters Friday in a conference call from Miami. Canadian officials are bracing for a lengthy dispute and continue to both threaten legal action and say they would prefer a negotiated deal.

Ross is “rolling up his sleeves” and is engaged personally on the lumber file, MacNaughton told reporters in Ottawa last week. U.S. industry needs to approve any deal, a reality that complicates any preference by Ross for a quick pact.

“Everybody’s going to have to figure out whether there is a deal to be done there, but at least when you’ve got somebody who is personally taking the time, making the effort, it gives me some hope,” he told reporters. “So we’ll see.”

It was another trade deal – the Trans Pacific Partnership – that ultimately destroyed the chances of a lumber settlement under the Obama administration, MacNaughton said. Obama’s officials refused to risk delaying passage of the TPP, now effectively dead in its current form, by pressuring Congress on lumber as well.

MacNaughton called his talks with the Obama White House “particularly frustrating” on lumber – despite what he called the “nice words and so-called bromance,” or close rapport between Obama and Trudeau.

“What I came to realize after several months is they actually had no interest in using any of their political capital to move that along,” he said. Obama wanted TPP instead, and that was the priority with Congress. “If they had to lean on any of them to get a softwood lumber deal, they just wouldn’t do it.”

Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who signed the NAFTA accord and has acted as something of an adviser and intermediary to Trudeau on the U.S., said slow lumber talks could stall the upcoming NAFTA process.

“I think both sides recognize that if we can, we must solve the softwood lumber case now, otherwise it runs the risks of poisoning the larger negotiations,” he said n an interview that aired Sunday on CTV.

Softwood remains a “notoriously difficult and complex file,” Freeland said. Canada argues American lumber producers can’t meet domestic demand, and Canadian lumber is needed to fill the void. “The logic is in favor of a negotiated settlement,” she said.

MacNaughton said last week the length of overall NAFTA talks will be determined partly by the scope of changes being sought by the U.S., while Mulroney – who has regularly applauded Trudeau’s approach so far – expects lengthy talks. “It’s not going to be short and sweet. We should be ready not for a sprint but for a long-distance run.”

Bloomberg’s Sandrine Rastello contributed to this report.

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German minister sees hope of ‘soft’ Brexit, with conditions http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/18/german-minister-sees-hope-of-soft-brexit-with-conditions/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/18/german-minister-sees-hope-of-soft-brexit-with-conditions/#respond Mon, 19 Jun 2017 00:39:16 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/18/german-minister-sees-hope-of-soft-brexit-with-conditions/ BERLIN — Germany’s foreign minister says there may now be a chance of a “soft” British exit from the European Union that keeps the U.K. in the bloc’s single market, but is warning that Britain couldn’t pick and choose its conditions.

Brexit negotiations start on Monday, with question marks over Britain’s approach after Prime Minister Theresa May lost her parliamentary majority in an election meant to strengthen her hand in the talks.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told Sunday’s Welt am Sonntag newspaper that “maybe there is now a chance to achieve a so-called ‘soft Brexit.'” But he said staying in the single market would require Britain to accept EU workers’ freedom of movement.

It also would have to accept the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, “or at least a joint court that is staffed by Europeans and Britons” and in principle follows the ECJ’s rulings, Gabriel said.

For many Brexit advocates, those conditions would be impossible to accept as last year’s referendum campaign focused on getting back control over laws and immigration from the EU.

Gabriel said “it would naturally be best if Britain didn’t leave at all.”

“It doesn’t look like that at the moment,” he added. “But we want to keep the door open for the British.”

The center-left Social Democrat strongly criticized May’s Conservatives, saying that they “played with the emotions of citizens in Britain, told fake news about Europe and left people unclear about what consequences this would all have.”

Referring to the “difficult, even impossible situation” created by the indecisive election, he added: “Here, those who created such chaos would have long since gone.”

“We will negotiate fairly,” Gabriel was quoted as saying. “And fair means that we want to keep the British as close as possible to the EU – but never at the price that we divide the remaining 27 EU states.”

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Scores of dairy farm workers, activists march on Ben & Jerry’s http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/18/scores-of-dairy-farm-workers-activists-march-on-ben-jerrys/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/18/scores-of-dairy-farm-workers-activists-march-on-ben-jerrys/#respond Sun, 18 Jun 2017 23:59:51 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/18/scores-of-dairy-farm-workers-activists-march-on-ben-jerrys/ MONTPELIER, Vt. — Scores of dairy farm workers and activists marched Saturday to a Ben & Jerry’s factory to push for better pay and living conditions on farms that provide milk for the ice cream maker that takes pride in its social activism.

Protesters said Ben & Jerry’s agreed two years ago to participate in the so-called Milk With Dignity program, but the company and worker representatives have yet to reach an agreement.

“We can’t wait any more. We are going to pressure them and see what happens,” said Victor Diaz, a Mexican immigrant now working on a farm in Vergennes.

The march that began Saturday morning in Montpelier ended midafternoon at the plant in Waterbury, about 14 miles away. Organizer Will Lambek said the marchers presented a letter to company CEO Jostein Solheim who said the company was committed to joining the program.

Ben & Jerry’s spokesman Sean Greenwood said before Saturday’s march from the Statehouse to the Waterbury factory that the company was eager to reach an agreement and negotiations were underway.

“We are a values-led business. We frame ourselves as an aspiring social justice company,” said Greenwood. “We try to do good with everything we can with our business. Dairy has definitely been one of those issues we have done a ton of work on for decades.”

Ben & Jerry’s touts its social activism as much as its quirky ice-cream flavors such as Cherry Garcia, Chunky Monkey and Phish Food. Many of its raw materials, like sugar, cocoa, vanilla, bananas and coffee come from producers across the world that subscribe to the Fairtrade program, which promotes higher prices and better working conditions for farmers.

About 85 percent of the milk Ben & Jerry’s uses in its ice cream made in North America comes from about 80 Vermont dairy farms. Its Caring Dairy program promotes sustainable farming by offering farmers cash incentives for keeping up with best management practices.

The Milk With Dignity program was developed in 2014 by farm workers and the Vermont group Migrant Justice to ensure that farms provide them fair wages and working conditions and decent housing. In 2015, Ben & Jerry’s agreed to join the program. Since then, the two sides have been negotiating over the details.

“We’ve been negotiating in good faith,” said Lambek. “It’s an unacceptable delay.”

Greenwood said Ben & Jerry’s didn’t get the first details from the workers until a year ago and the two sides have been working since then to reach an agreement.

“It has to work for the farmers, the farm owners, and it has to work for the businesses involved and that’s the complex piece,” Greenwood said. “How do you make sure that it will be operationalized so it’s a win-win across the board and that’s what we’ve been working on for well over a year now.”

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Week in review: Puck to again drop in Portland; 2 restaurants close doors http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/18/week-in-review-puck-to-again-drop-in-portland-pair-of-restaurants-close-doors/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/18/week-in-review-puck-to-again-drop-in-portland-pair-of-restaurants-close-doors/#respond Sun, 18 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1213082 SPORTS

Professional hockey will return to Portland

Comcast Spectacor, parent company of the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers, announced Thursday that it had purchased an ECHL franchise in Alaska that will be relocated to Cross Insurance Arena. Comcast Spectacor also is the parent company of Spectra, the management firm contracted to run the arena, which has been without a major tenant since the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League were sold in May 2016 and moved to Springfield, Massachusetts. A strategic development committee ultimately selected Comcast Spectacor from proposals submitted by four parties interested in bringing a pro hockey team to Portland. The ECHL, formed in 1988 as the East Coast Hockey League, is considered the third tier of pro hockey in North America, with a talent level below that of the National Hockey League and the AHL. Read the story.

HEALTH CARE

MaineHealth receives $10 million grant for cancer care

A MaineHealth cancer network that connects patients with health care services – including clinical trials in Boston – received a $10 million grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation on Thursday. The five-year grant will help accelerate services provided by the MaineHealth Cancer Care Network, which was launched in 2015. The $2 million per year more than doubles the budget for the network, from $1.7 million per year to $3.7 million. The funds will be used in part to expand a partnership with Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, which gives patients in Maine access to potentially life-saving clinical trials. Read the story.

LABOR

House votes to reinstate tip credit

After a lengthy debate Tuesday, lawmakers in the Maine House voted overwhelmingly to restore the tip credit to the state’s minimum wage law. The 110-37 vote essentially repealed part of a ballot question approved by voters in November that increased Maine’s minimum wage and eliminated the tip credit. The tip credit is a mechanism allowing tipped workers to be paid at a lower rate than other hourly workers. The November referendum boosted the minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $9 an hour this year and to $12 an hour by 2020. It also removed the tip credit rule, which allowed employers to pay tipped workers only half of the minimum hourly wage. Restaurant owners and workers turned out in large numbers during public hearings to call for preserving the tip credit, saying the voter-approved minimum wage increase would drive up labor costs for restaurant owners while eroding tips for servers. Tuesday’s House vote follows approval of the repeal last week in the Senate, where the bill will go for another vote before being sent to Gov. Paul LePage, who has indicated he will sign the repeal into law. Read the story.

May unemployment rate rises to 3.2 percent

Maine’s unemployment rate in May ticked up slightly from April’s 3.0 percent in preliminary figures released Friday. The May rate of 3.2 percent is well below the same month last year, which had a 3.9 percent unemployment rate. The rate has been below 4 percent for 16 of the last 19 months, according to Maine Department of Labor. Maine’s unemployment rate achieved 3.0 percent in March, the lowest in 40 years. Read the story.

TRANSPORTATION

Group to address turnpike congestion, possible widening

The Maine Turnpike Authority has started a process to relieve congestion between Scarborough and Falmouth that could include widening that section of the highway to six lanes. The action follows a record year for turnpike traffic, which reached an all-time high of 83.6 million vehicles in 2016, a 10 percent increase over two years. Since 2014, traffic in the Portland area has grown 3 to 5 percent annually, increasing “to the point where safety and mobility is becoming compromised,” the authority said. In some areas, traffic congestion is already causing problems, and officials expect it will get worse in the next decade. A newly created public advisory committee charged with assisting the authority in assessing the corridor’s needs will hold its first meeting on June 28. Read the story.

REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION

Historic Kennebunkport B&B for sale

A Kennebunkport mansion built during the War of 1812 was listed for sale last week with an asking price of nearly $8 million. Bev Davis and Rick Litchfield have operated the Captain Lord Mansion on Pleasant Street as a bed and breakfast for nearly four decades, but they say they want to retire to spend more time with their two grandchildren.

The mansion, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Place in 1973, has 20 guest rooms. It was built during the War of 1812, by Captain Nathaniel Lord, a wealthy Kennebunkport merchant and shipbuilder, who commissioned workers to build a three-story federal mansion topped with a cupola. Read the story.

TECHNOLOGY

Technology bond appears headed for passage

With extremely low voter turnout, Tuesday’s statewide referendum to approve a $50 million bond to promote jobs and innovation passed overwhelmingly in Maine’s largest communities. A survey of city and town clerks in Maine communities with at least 10,000 residents found that the referendum passed in all of them, usually by a wide margin. However, the statewide outcome won’t be known for several more days, according to the Maine Secretary of State’s office. The bond issue calls for the Maine Technology Institute to distribute $45 million in grants for upgrades in aquaculture, marine technology, forestry and agriculture. The Small Enterprise Growth Fund would direct the remaining $5 million to qualifying small businesses in fields including marine sciences, biotechnology and manufacturing. Read the story.

GENERAL BUSINESS

Kitchen incubator merges with NYC company

Fork Food Lab, a commercial kitchen incubator in Portland, has merged with a New York City company that provides specialized services to food entrepreneurs. Foodworks operates a 10,000-square-foot kitchen in Brooklyn that hosts 110 companies. It provides administrative support, outsourced services, mentorship opportunities, educational events and workshops for startups in the food industry. Fork Food Lab opened its 6,000-square-foot incubator in West Bayside last year and is helping 34 members scale up their operations, according to a statement from Fork Food Lab. Read the story.

RETAIL

Bon-Ton closing at Maine Mall

The Bon-Ton department store chain plans to close its Maine Mall location in South Portland at the end of August, after less than four years of operation. The store’s parent company, Bon-Ton Stores Inc., released a statement Tuesday announcing the upcoming closure. About 55 employees work at Bon-Ton’s Maine Mall store and will be offered severance, it said. Bon-Ton moved into the mall in 2013, filling the 120,800-square-foot space that had been vacated by Filene’s in 2006. The decision to close after four years despite the company’s signing a 15-year lease for the space suggests that the store did not perform to expectations. The planned closure isn’t likely to affect the bottom line for Maine Mall owner GGP of Chicago because Bon-Ton Stores is obligated to continue making lease payments until January 2029, said Steve Jellinek, vice president of commercial mortgage-backed securities analytical services for Morningstar Credit Ratings LLC. Read the story.

 Two Portland restaurants close

Two popular Portland eateries have closed recently. Fore Street restaurant Zapoteca, owned by chef Shannon Bard and her husband, Tom, closed Wednesday. The couple said they wanted to spend more time with family as the reason for closing the 6-year-old business. Also closed is Outliers on York Street. Owner Peter Verrill Jr. has listed the building with CBRE | The Boulos Co. The restaurant opened in 2013. Read the story.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/18/week-in-review-puck-to-again-drop-in-portland-pair-of-restaurants-close-doors/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/06/912323-20170613-strawberry-.jpgFarmer David Pike shows strawberries growing at his Pike Strawberry Farm in Farmington on Tuesday. Strawberry farmers expect a good yield this year, despite a delayed season. The harsh winter helped to insulate crops and provided plenty of moisture. In contrast, last year’s spring started out very dry.Sat, 17 Jun 2017 17:59:12 +0000
LePage bill, intended to create jobs, would have given special deal to Irving http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/18/lepage-bill-intended-to-create-jobs-would-have-given-special-deal-to-irving/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/18/lepage-bill-intended-to-create-jobs-would-have-given-special-deal-to-irving/#respond Sun, 18 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1213378 Gov. Paul LePage promoted a late-session bill this month that would have benefited Canadian forestry giant J.D. Irving by giving above-market-rate electric contracts to companies that create sawmill and biomass energy jobs.

Irving’s name doesn’t appear on L.D. 1632, which calls for establishing a manufacturing jobs program. Although other companies potentially could benefit from it, the proposed law was written on behalf of and tailored for Irving. Lawmakers refer to it simply as the Irving bill.

Critics say the bill, which expands elements of an existing program and ties new incentives to biomass plants, amounts to a multimillion-dollar subsidy for one of the state’s largest landowners. They also say it was hypocritical for a governor who rails against energy policies that increase electric rates to support a bill that would do exactly that.

LePage initially pushed for lawmakers to take up the bill before the Legislature adjourns. But the sense of urgency faded when members of the governor’s energy team – who didn’t get to scrutinize the bill until the day it was printed – realized the potential impact on electric customers. Large manufacturers were especially alarmed, saying their electric bills could potentially increase by $2 million a year. By then, there was opposition to quick action, and lawmakers on the committee that handles energy matters voted to carry it over until next year.

Although the effort is on hold, the bill’s introduction offers a glimpse of how an influential corporation tried to nudge energy policy to its advantage, by appealing to a governor who’s passionate about saving forestry jobs, especially in northern Maine.

In a response to questions from the Maine Sunday Telegram, an Irving executive declined to provide details about the project proposals or where they could be located. But he said the company believes the bill benefits the environment, using high-efficiency wood-fired power plants to reduce carbon emissions, while creating good-paying manufacturing jobs.

“We respect the process, understanding that the bill has been carried over to 2018, as the committee wanted more time to consider it,” said Anthony Hourihan, Irving’s director of land development. “We look forward to watching its progression in the next session.”

Kathleen Newman, the governor’s deputy chief of staff and the point person promoting the measure on LePage’s behalf, didn’t return a call or email seeking comment.

Chris Jackson, the lead lobbyist for Irving on the bill, referred questions to the company.

BIOMASS SUPPORT

The closings of six paper mills in three years have hit rural Maine hard. The loss of the mills has been compounded by the struggles of power plants that use low-grade wood and waste from sawmills to make electricity. These plants play a vital role in Maine’s $8.5 billion forest sector. They provide jobs to loggers and truckers, create a market for sawdust and waste wood from sawmills and generate electricity that’s sold in southern New England. But the plants are old and inefficient, reducing the value of their power.

Lawmakers threw a lifeline to four aging biomass plants last spring in the form of a $13.4 million, taxpayer-funded bailout to keep them operating for up to two years. LePage reluctantly supported it, torn between his ideological resistance to energy subsidies and his desire to protect logging and trucking jobs. Maine’s logging industry has lost nearly 600 jobs in the last decade, according to federal data.

Removed from the bill was a provision that would have benefited a proposed $100 million wood fuel project that Irving had proposed for Ashland, where it owns a sawmill.

Lawmakers also set up a special study commission to develop long-term solutions for biomass plants. The resulting ideas were included in a bill that got a public hearing in May. At the hearing, it became clear that LePage, as well as Central Maine Power Co., opposed elements of the bill that would have electric customers subsidize power generation in the name of economic development. Facing a fight and unable to see consensus on complex details, the bill’s sponsor agreed to carry it over until next year.

TIMING AND TACTICS

With biomass energy seemingly off the table for the rest of the session, the timing of Irving’s bill came as a surprise.

It’s common for LePage, who doesn’t need permission from legislative leadership, to submit proposals late in the session. But Sen. Mark Dion, D-Portland, who serves on the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, said his panel is reluctant to rush through complicated and controversial measures.

That raised questions, including:

Why didn’t Irving bring up its proposal when the biomass study bill was in play?

Was the company hoping to slip through a late bill, with the governor’s support?

“You would assume Irving is strategic,” said Dion, a former co-chairman of the energy committee. “So the question is, was this late arrival tactical? I can’t believe their business plan was predicated on getting approval from the Legislature this month.”

Dion said he became aware a few weeks ago that Irving was talking to LePage about building at least two modern power plants in northern Maine, one likely in Millinocket. These plants would burn waste wood and use the excess energy for other things. This design, called combined heat and power or cogeneration, captures steam from the power plant to dry lumber or wood fuel, such as pellets, boosting the plant’s efficiency. Electricity is sold on the grid.

Both Dion and Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, the committee’s House chairman, said they were subsequently approached by Hourihan and Jackson, the Irving lobbyist. The men outlined the need for power contracts that would be above the wholesale market price, in order to make the plants financially viable. In exchange, the plants would employ a certain number of workers.

POTENTIAL RATE IMPACT

It’s common for lobbyists and their clients to brief lawmakers on upcoming bills, but some exchanges carry more weight.

Jackson is a former Maine State Chamber of Commerce lobbyist and partner in Mitchell, Tardy, Jackson, a well-connected firm with clients that include some of Maine’s largest employers. J.D. Irving owns 1.2 million acres of timberland in Maine and has sawmills in Ashland and Dixfield. Through its family-run parent company, Saint John, New Brunswick-based Irving Corp., hundreds of Mainers work in ventures including farms, rail, oil terminals and gas stations.

But the bill makes no mention of Irving or specific power plants. Rather, it would expand an existing community renewable energy program and tie electricity output from combined heat and power plants to manufacturing jobs. Specifically, it called for projects with a generating capacity of less than 10 megawatts each, with a total of 30 megawatts. Three jobs would need to be created for each megawatt of capacity. Using that formula, a maximum of 90 jobs would be created.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission would approve long-term power contracts and register and track the jobs. But unlike the current community energy program, the amended version lifted a price cap of 10 cents per kilowatt-hour and left it up to the PUC to decide if the rate was good for ratepayers.

Big power users immediately cried foul. That provision could lead to rate increases for all Maine electric customers, according to Tony Buxton, a lawyer who represents the Industrial Energy Consumer Group.

“We figured it was a $12 million a year subsidy, minimum,” Buxton said.

Buxton’s estimates are calculated off the current 10-cent per kilowatt-hour cap. The impact for home customers would be less than $2 a year, he said. But big energy users could see a noticeable increase. Buxton estimated that it could cost manufacturers such as Bath Iron Works and the Huhtamaki paper products factory in Waterville more than $2 million each, over the life of a 20-year power contract.

RUSH TO JUDGMENT

But the potential rate impact and other details of the bill weren’t immediately apparent to lawmakers. The office of LePage, a Republican, asked Sen. Jim Dill, D-Old Town, to present the bill, said Dill, who had served on the biomass study commission. His district includes Millinocket and other communities hard hit by paper mill shutdowns. It was co-sponsored by other northern Maine lawmakers, including Sen. Troy Jackson, the Senate Democratic Leader, in what seemed to be an effort to give the bill a bipartisan face.

Key details also weren’t known to LePage’s staff, according to Jim Labreque, a part-time energy adviser to the governor. As late as June 6, the energy staff was trying to decipher the financial impact of the bill. It was printed the next day.

“That was the first time we looked at it,” Labreque said. “I looked it over and ran some numbers. I said, ‘I don’t think this is what the governor wants.’ ”

Irving made some changes to the bill, Labreque said, but they didn’t fully address concerns in the governor’s office. Labreque said the governor was clear that he wouldn’t support above-market-rate contracts. But Labreque also said he understood how much LePage wants to create manufacturing jobs in rural Maine.

“The governor really wants to help those people in Millinocket,” Labreque said. “You want to help everybody, but you don’t want to hurt anybody.”

By then, action on the bill was coming to a climax. The energy committee scheduled a public hearing for June 9, with little notice. The Natural Resources Council of Maine tried to rally media interest with a same-day press advisory. It was headlined: “A study of hypocrisy: Governor LePage supports long-term contracts for biomass after attacking the use of identical policies to support solar and wind power.”

But the event attracted scant attention, in part because the hearing was over in a few minutes. Most members of the committee had agreed it was too complicated to take up at such a late date. Even Dill, who was presenting the bill on LePage’s behalf, didn’t show up.

In the wake of the postponement, Berry said his committee will drill down next year on the issue of linking jobs to energy projects, and whether this proposal sets out a truly competitive process or is skewed to one company.

“We’re looking forward to a public hearing next January to understand this better,” he said.

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

tturkel@pressherald.com

Twitter: TuxTurkel

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Michelle Singletary: Are kids responsible for taking care of their financially irresponsible parents? http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/18/are-kids-responsible-for-taking-care-of-their-financially-irresponsible-parents/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/18/are-kids-responsible-for-taking-care-of-their-financially-irresponsible-parents/#respond Sun, 18 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1212881 What responsibility do you have to take care of financially irresponsible parents in their old age?

This is a question I get quite often. I believe that you honor your mother and father. But this doesn’t mean you do so at your own financial peril.

During a recent online discussion, one reader wrote: “My mother is a financial disaster. She doesn’t like working and has struggled to hold anything other than minimum-wage, part-time jobs, but loves spending money on shoes, jewelry, restaurants and gifts. My siblings and I warn each other when she asks for money to cover car repairs, insurance bills, or whatever other crisis she can’t afford.”

The mom apparently has a long history of money mismanagement.

“As children, the utilities were regularly turned off and calls from creditors were frequent,” the reader added. “She would come home with a new pair of shoes while the phone and gas were disconnected. After our home was foreclosed on, she moved in with her mother, allowing her to keep spending while not working.”

Even a windfall didn’t solve the problem.

“Mom inherited a modest sum when Grandma passed. It wasn’t enough to retire comfortably, but certainly more money than she’s ever had access to before. We tried to have a talk about putting the money aside and planning for the future, which resulted in her not talking to us for nearly a year. I have no idea how much she has left, but I know she’s been out to very nice restaurants regularly and have no reason to think she’d change her habits.”

If I may borrow from William Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice,” the financial sins of this mother are to be laid upon the children.

“She seems to think that she’ll simply move in with one of us to be cared for. I’m not inclined to take her in. I can’t afford to support her. I’ve about turned myself inside-out trying to help her in the past. … If we ask about budgeting and tightening the belt she gets nasty very quickly.”

So the reader’s conundrum: “How do we prepare and brace for when she inevitably runs out of money and shows up on our doorstep?”

Before I answer, consider these findings from the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s latest Retirement Confidence Survey:

• Forty-seven percent of workers reported having less than $25,000 in household savings and investments, excluding the value of their primary home and any direct benefit plans.

• Fifty-seven percent said they weren’t confident they would have enough money to pay for long-term care if they needed it.

• Only 41 percent of workers surveyed said they and/or their spouse have tried to figure out how much they’ll need in retirement.

There are a lot of reasons people fail to save for retirement. Regardless of why your parent is a poor money manager, it may come down to you and your siblings to pick up the broken financial pieces.

In the case presented by this reader, I suggest a get-together with just the siblings.

Think of it as the pre-intervention meeting. All the adult children should be clear about what they can or can’t do to assist.

If you’ve got some sibling-rivalry issues to work out, try to set aside your quarrels — as best you can — before you meet with your parent or parents. You want your interaction with your parents to be respectful and in a calm atmosphere. You want to stay on point.

You also want to present a united front. This is the time for siblings to lean on each other. Perhaps someone will be able to cover a utility bill, which, by the way, should be paid directly to the utility company. Maybe someone would be willing to take in the parent(s) if others helped out. Research living options if no one is willing to let them move in.

Once you’ve got a plan, set up the meeting. Pick a nonstressful time to have the discussion — meaning, don’t try to do this over a holiday. Be honest and upfront about what you can offer. If you’re an only child, all the more reason to have this type of meeting.

If you’ve been helping out with money, and the reality is you’ll have to continue to do so, you have a right to ask about your parent’s finances. Make it a condition of your assistance. No budget, no information, no more bailouts. That’s the price your parent pays for his or her mismanagement.

Finally, remember that a fiscally reckless parent is still your parent.

Budget for the help you can afford. But don’t let his or her financial sins be your burden. It’s not yours to carry.

Michelle Singletary can be contacted at:

michelle.singletary@washpost.com

Twitter: SingletaryM

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Delayed orders continue to frustrate L.L. Bean customers http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/17/delayed-orders-continue-to-frustrate-l-l-bean-customers/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/17/delayed-orders-continue-to-frustrate-l-l-bean-customers/#respond Sat, 17 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1213013 Some customers of L.L. Bean Inc. continue to experience shipping delays and other frustrations nearly two months after the company first reported problems related to a systems upgrade.

The Freeport-based retailer said most of its online and catalog orders are shipping on time, but acknowledged a recently implemented systems overhaul continues to cause delays for some. Company representatives said they are “working very hard to resolve these issues.”

In April, L.L. Bean sent letters to some customers to apologize for shipping delays and offer a 20 percent discount on a future order. In the letter, it said the delays were temporary and were caused by an upgrade to its order-processing and fulfillment systems.

On Thursday evening, company President and CEO Stephen Smith expressed his regret over the continued delays in a written statement to the Portland Press Herald.

“We are not used to disappointing our customers and understand the frustration they are experiencing right now,” he said. “We are committed to making this right; all of us at L.L. Bean take this very seriously – from our employees who serve our customers directly, to those working to implement system improvements, to everyone in between.”

Smith said the systems upgrade has been a four-year project that changed out all of L.L. Bean’s legacy order-taking and processing systems, as well as all of its product handling and warehouse management. The legacy systems it had in place were 40 years old and had “basically hit the end of their useful life,” he said.

“The upgrades to the system and the scope of the project is highly complex, and is the largest system implementation the company has undertaken; we are fine-tuning and making progress,” Smith said. “While we are making great efforts, and seeing improvement every day, it has created a challenging customer experience for some. We know. We are working to resolve each and every customer concern, and are confident in the end these upgrades will result in service levels our customers have come to expect.”

The company, which reported $1.6 billion in sales last year, operates a fulfillment center in Freeport, where more than 45,000 orders are processed a day, according to the company website. In 2016, it shipped 14.5 million packages.

Some L.L. Bean customers have contacted the Press Herald in recent weeks to express their frustrations with the company, including shipping delays and difficulty getting through to a customer service representative. Some who did get through said the representative was unable to cancel their order or tell them when it was expected to arrive.

“Things seem to have slowed to a crawl at L.L. Bean. I can’t get anyone on the phone to place an order,” said Carol Stevens, a Bean customer who lives in Scituate, Massachusetts. “I’ve been a customer for years and I’ve never not been able to get through for days. Is this still the internal systems upgrade problem?”

“Why is it taking so long for L.L. Bean to resolve the issues?” asked customer Kim Wood. “I have been a loyal customer of theirs for decades and have found their business practices in the past to be absolutely stellar. I cannot understand why they don’t go back to the old system if they are unable to fix the new system.”

Wood, who lives in Hartland, Vermont, has continued to order from the company despite knowing about the shipping delays, but said she was dismayed to find out that refunds on her returned items are now being delayed, as well.

“That is a whole different kind of a thing,” she said.

Some customers said they have been waiting for weeks to receive their orders. L.L. Bean spokeswoman Carolyn Beem said less than 10 percent of all orders are shipping later than the quoted date, and that the company expects the problem to be fully resolved sometime this summer.

“The goal of the system upgrades is to be able to serve our customers better than ever,” Beem said. “We strive to always provide the world class customer service that we are known for. We are fully aware and deeply regret that we are currently disappointing some customers. We are confident that we are making progress to our goal but realize there is still work to be done.”

In the meantime, customers seeking to cancel their orders because of extended delays may not be able to do so, she said, but they can eventually return the items for a refund if they choose.

“Customers are not charged until the product is physically shipped,” Beem said. “When an order is canceled but too far along in the process to stop it from shipping, customers would still be charged – unfortunately we can’t stop it – but we would initiate a package recall or the customer can send it back to us and we would refund the customer as soon as possible. We are doing everything we can to make it right for customers whose orders have been delayed.”

Customer Julie Oberheide noted that L.L. Bean is not providing any prominent notification of the continued shipping problems on its website.

“The company can’t even tell me when my item will ship,” she said.

On social media, some L.L. Bean customers also complained about recent problems with ordering and shipping.

“An order I placed with @LLBean was ignored for three weeks before I cancelled it,” Twitter user Robert Birman wrote. “#neveragain.”

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

canderson@pressherald.com

Twitter: jcraiganderson

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/17/delayed-orders-continue-to-frustrate-l-l-bean-customers/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2016/09/564434-20160902_beanBOOT4-e1484244001518.jpgBRUNSWICK, ME - SEPTEMBER 2: Bean Boots sit on a rack awaiting packaging at the L.L. Bean boot factory in Brunswick. (Photo by Derek Davis/Staff Photographer)Sat, 17 Jun 2017 09:23:22 +0000
Central Maine business owners keep ride service show on the road http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/16/central-maine-business-owners-keep-ride-service-show-on-the-road/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/16/central-maine-business-owners-keep-ride-service-show-on-the-road/#respond Sat, 17 Jun 2017 03:01:03 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/16/central-maine-business-owners-keep-ride-service-show-on-the-road/ WATERVILLE — After reading about money running out for a transportation service for low-income people, two local business owners decided to pick up the tab to ensure that the service continues until funding returns in the new fiscal year.

Mike Roy and Brent Burger, owners of five Campbell’s Agway True Value stores, read the story in the Morning Sentinel and decided to lend a hand.

With about two weeks remaining in the fiscal year, the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program’s transportation service had to cancel rides to non-emergency services for some of its neediest users in Somerset and Kennebec counties.

Funding ran out for low-income people who qualify for the ride service, although rides for those needing critical treatment, such as cancer or dialysis, and for MaineCare patients and child welfare recipients were never in jeopardy. The shortfall affects lower-income riders and has happened in the past, but it was more pronounced this year.

The major portion of the transportation funds is provided by a grant from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. Of the $225,000 allocated for the low-income service, Transportation Director Jim Wood said, $190,000 comes from DHHS. The remainder comes from private donors.

The shortfall of $8,000 would have left the low-income clients without rides.

Suzanne Walsh, chief executive officer of KVCAP, said that Roy and Burger called her to contribute the money to carry the service into the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. The organization spent Friday morning calling clients to tell them the rides were available.

“It’s really awesome,” Walsh said. “It’s such a relief to let riders know we can still provide their rides for the next couple of weeks.”

The organization anticipates Burger and Roy’s contribution will cover about 375 trips to nonemergency services for its clients.

“When we read about that shortfall, it seemed to be right up our alley,” Burger said, and “perfectly within our mission to support underserved families and children.”

The story of clients losing their rides was unfortunate, Burger said, and their ability to be able to close the gap and keep people on schedule was a good thing. He said he put himself in the position of the clients losing rides and how they would feel if necessary transportation suddenly wasn’t available.

Colin Ellis can be contacted at 861-9253 or at:

cellis@centralmaine.com

Twitter: colinoellis

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/16/central-maine-business-owners-keep-ride-service-show-on-the-road/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/06/1213062_498252-Brent-Burger-and-Mic.jpgBrent Burger and Mike Roy, owners of five Campbell's Agway True Value stores, donated to the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program to keep its ride service running.Sat, 17 Jun 2017 00:33:48 +0000
Nostalgia drives surge in the music of gaming http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/16/nostalgia-drives-surge-in-the-music-of-gaming/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/16/nostalgia-drives-surge-in-the-music-of-gaming/#respond Sat, 17 Jun 2017 01:30:42 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/16/nostalgia-drives-surge-in-the-music-of-gaming/ PARIS — The electronic beeps and squawks of “Tetris,” “Donkey Kong” and other generation-shaping games that you may never have thought of as musical are increasingly likely to be playing at a philharmonic concert hall near you.

From the “ping … ping” of Atari’s 1972 ground-breaking paddle game “Pong,” the sounds, infectious ditties and, with time, fully formed orchestral scores that are an essential part of the sensory thrill for gamers have formed a musical universe. With its own culture, subcultures and fans, game music now thrives alone, free from the consoles from which it came.

When audiences pack the Philharmonie de Paris’ concert halls this weekend to soak in the sounds of a chamber orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra performing game music and an homage to one of the industry’s stars, “Final Fantasy” Japanese composer Nobuo Uematsu, they will have no buttons to play with, no characters to control.

They’re coming for the music and the nostalgia it triggers: of fun-filled hours spent on sofas with a Game Boy, Sonic the Hedgehog and the evergreen Mario.

“When you’re playing a game you are living that music every day and it just gets into your DNA,” says Eimear Noone, the conductor of Friday’s opening two-hour show of 17 titles, including “Zelda,” “Tomb Raider,” “Medal of Honor” and other favorites from the 1980s onward.

“When people hear those themes they are right back there. And people get really emotional about it. I mean REALLY emotional. It’s incredible.”

Dating the birth of game music depends on how one defines music. Game music scholars – yes, they exist – point to key milestones on the path to the surround-sound extravaganzas of games today.

The heartbeat-like bass thump of Taito’s “Space Invaders” in 1978, which got ever faster as the aliens descended, caused sweaty palms and was habit-forming.

Namco’s “Pac-Man,” two years later, whetted appetites with an opening musical chirp. For fun, check out the 2013 remix by Dweezil Zappa, son of Frank, and game music composer Tommy Tallarico. Their take on the tune speaks to the subculture of remixing game music, with thousands of redos uploaded by fans to sites like ocremix.org – dedicated, it says, “to the appreciation and promotion of video game music as an art form.”

Based on the Russian folk song “Korobeiniki,” the music of the 1984 game “Tetris” has similarly undergone umpteen remixes – including “Tetris Meets Metal,” with more than 2.2 million views on YouTube.

By 1985, the can’t-not-tap-along-to-this theme of “Super Mario Bros.,” the classic adventure of plumber Mario and his brother Luigi, was bringing fame for composer Koji Kondo, also known for his work on “Legend of Zelda.” Both are on the bill for the “Retrogaming” concert in Paris. Kondo was the first person Nintendo hired specifically to compose music for its games, according to the 2013 book “Music and Game.”

Noone, known herself for musical work on “World of Warcraft,” “Overwatch” and other games, says the technological limitations of early consoles – tiny memories, rudimentary chips, crude sounds – forced composers “to distill their melodies down to the absolute kernels of what melodic content can be, because they had to program it note by note.”

But simple often also means memorable. “That is part of the reason why this music has a place in people’s hearts and has survived,” Noone says of game tunes. “It speaks to people.”

She says game music is where movie music was 15 years ago: well on its way to being completely accepted.

“I predict that in 15 years’ time it will be a main staple of the orchestral season,” she says. “This is crazy to think of: Today, more young people are listening to orchestral music through the medium of their video game consoles than have ever listened to orchestral music.”

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the first game-music concert: The Tokyo Strings Ensemble performed “Dragon Quest” at Tokyo’s Suntory Hall in August 1987. Now there are six touring shows of symphonic game music, Noone says.

“This is just the best way, the most fun way to introduce kids to the instruments of the orchestra,” she adds. “It may be the first time ever they are that close to a cellist, and that’s really exciting for me.”

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/16/nostalgia-drives-surge-in-the-music-of-gaming/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/06/1212993_Music_of_Gaming_91074.jpg2_.jpgA Nintendo gamer plays "Tetris" in this photo from June 1990. This weekend, audiences will pack a concert hall in Paris to hear the London Symphony Orchestra performing videogame music.Fri, 16 Jun 2017 21:52:01 +0000
Comparison shopping? Amazon has a patent that could thwart that http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/16/comparison-shopping-amazon-has-a-patent-that-could-thwart-that/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/16/comparison-shopping-amazon-has-a-patent-that-could-thwart-that/#respond Sat, 17 Jun 2017 01:28:14 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/16/comparison-shopping-amazon-has-a-patent-that-could-thwart-that/ As grocery shoppers work to digest Amazon’s massive acquisition of Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, the digital storefront recently scored a victory that aims to reinforce the company’s growing investments in brick-and-mortar retail.

Amazon was awarded a patent on May 30 that could help it choke off a common issue faced by many physical stores: Customers’ use of smartphones to compare prices even as they walk around a shop. The phenomenon, often known as mobile “window shopping,” has contributed to a worrisome decline for traditional retailers.

But Amazon now has the technology to prevent that type of behavior when customers enter any of its physical stores and log onto the WiFi networks there. Titled “Physical Store Online Shopping Control,” Amazon’s patent describes a system that can identify a customer’s internet traffic and sense when the smartphone user is trying to access a competitor’s website. (Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos is also the owner of The Washington Post.)

When that happens, Amazon may take one of several actions. It may block access to the competitor’s site, preventing customers from viewing comparable products from rivals. It might redirect the customer to Amazon’s own site or to other, Amazon-approved sites. It might notify an Amazon salesperson to approach the customer. Or it might send the customer’s smartphone a text message, coupon or other information designed to lure the person back into Amazon’s orbit.

As Amazon increasingly bridges the online-physical divide, regulators should be on the lookout for potentially anti-competitive behavior, said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.

“Amazon knows younger consumers increasingly want home delivery of grocery products and online ordering. But there are huge privacy issues,” he said. “Amazon has created a largely stealth Big Data digital apparatus that has not gotten the scrutiny it requires.”

Just because a company wins a patent doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll use it. Sometimes companies file for patents to ensure they have the option to put the idea into practice later, or to keep other companies from implementing the concept. So, a system such as the kind Amazon’s envisioning might never be rolled out. And even if it is, chances are shoppers could still get around the system by staying off the in-store WiFi.

Amazon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

But the patent takes on even greater significance as Amazon has expanded its brick-and-mortar ambitions. It has launched more than a half-dozen physical bookstores, with more on the way. And with the purchase of Whole Foods, Amazon will gain control over more than 465 physical grocery stores. Which gives Amazon an enormous stake in making sure that its customers don’t look for better deals right from its own baking aisle.

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Experts to tackle real problems during Maine Startup and Create Week http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/16/experts-to-tackle-real-problems-during-maine-startup-and-create-week/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/16/experts-to-tackle-real-problems-during-maine-startup-and-create-week/#respond Fri, 16 Jun 2017 19:55:04 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/16/experts-to-tackle-real-problems-during-maine-startup-and-create-week/ Technological advancement isn’t just about making fancier gadgets.

There are serious problems facing Maine and the world that technology and innovation can help solve. That’s the theme of this year’s Maine Startup and Create Week, the biggest annual conference in Maine for entrepreneurs and innovators, which begins Monday.

The five-day conference, now in its fourth year, will cover topics such as Maine’s aging population, gaps in workforce development and the opioid crisis. For each topic, participants will explore how technology and innovation can help.

“This is a place where innovators, entrepreneurs, technologists and scientists are coming together to talk about how their work can solve real problems,” event organizer Jess Knox said.

Maine Startup and Create Week is an all-volunteer event that takes months to organize and about 15,000 volunteer hours to execute, said Knox, a Waterville native who co-founded the event. Knox also is the statewide coordinator for Maine Accelerates Growth and president of the business consulting firm Olympico Strategies.

“It’s almost a full-year process putting it together,” he said.

Susan Hodder of Comprend Consulting talks with Benjamin Brown of The Maine Composites Alliance at a “mixpo” at Maine College of Art as a part of Maine Startup and Create Week last year. Staff photo by Derek Davis

As in previous years, the event is spread out over Monday through Friday with a variety of panel discussions, workshops and networking opportunities each day.

Each day also features a different lunchtime keynote speaker. This year’s speakers include Angela Lee, founder of 37 Angels and assistant dean and chief innovation officer at Columbia Business School; CodeFever founder Felecia Hatcher, an award-winning entrepreneur and best-selling author; Gaia Dempsey, an entrepreneur in the field of augmented reality; John Lee Dumas, host of the entrepreneurism podcast EOFire; and Tom Davidson, a former Maine legislator who is co-founder and CEO of EverFi Inc.

Each year, the conference coincides with the Maine Technology Institute’s MTI TechWalk event, which showcases a portfolio of some of the most successful Maine companies that have received assistance from MTI.

This year’s TechWalk is scheduled for 4:30 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Westin Portland Harborview Hotel, at 157 High St. in Portland. The TechWalk event is free and will feature exhibits by more than 45 companies.

One change to the conference this year is the introduction of “Real Day,” a day that focuses on more active and collaborative learning experiences that don’t involve sitting in a chair all day. Thursday is Real Day.

The bulk of Maine Startup and Create Week’s core sessions will be held at the Maine College of Art, at 522 Congress St. in Portland. Tickets for the event are $149 for a single day or $569 for the full five days.

Knox said about 1,700 people attended the event in 2016.

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

canderson@pressherald.com

Twitter: jcraiganderson

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/16/experts-to-tackle-real-problems-during-maine-startup-and-create-week/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/06/1212728_239803-20160620_startup_2.jpgSusan Hodder of Comprend Consulting talks with Benjamin Brown of The Maine Composites Alliance at a "mixpo" at Maine College of Art as a part of Maine Startup and Create Week last year.Fri, 16 Jun 2017 20:58:01 +0000
Mainers lost 63 fingers, 1 toe in workplace injuries during 2015 and 2016 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/16/mainers-lost-49-fingers-one-toe-workplace-injuries-2015-2016/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/16/mainers-lost-49-fingers-one-toe-workplace-injuries-2015-2016/#respond Fri, 16 Jun 2017 15:18:58 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1211208 Click on the pie chart to view filtered injury reports from each category:

Chart: Christian MilNeil | @c_milneil

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Labor issued new rules requiring employers to report severe workplace injuries and fatalities. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration defines a severe injury as a work-related hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye. The requirement was established to identify employers and industries where workers are most at risk and work to eliminate those risks.

During the 2015-2016 reporting period, OSHA registered 136 severe injury reports and 6 workplace fatalities in Maine.

In addition to dozens of lost fingers, there were also 5 injuries resulting from slips and falls on ice, 3 fork truck mishaps and one wakeboarding accident at a summer camp.

Browse the accident reports:

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Incident date Sector Fatal Hospitalized Amputation Fingers Falls Allergies Burns Employer Town Narrative
Incident date Sector Fatal Hospitalized Amputation Fingers Falls Allergies Burns Employer Town Narrative
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Maine’s May unemployment rate rose slightly http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/16/may-unemployment-ticks-up-slightly/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/16/may-unemployment-ticks-up-slightly/#respond Fri, 16 Jun 2017 14:30:08 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/16/may-unemployment-ticks-up-slightly/ Maine’s unemployment rate in May ticked up slightly from April’s 3 percent in preliminary figures released Friday.

The May rate of 3.2 percent is well below the same month last year, which had a 3.9 percent unemployment rate. The rate has been below 4 percent for 16 of the last 19 months, according to Maine Department of Labor, which released a statement.

“The slight unemployment rate increase was expected; it does not indicate a deterioration in workforce conditions,” said the release, citing routine fluctuations in estimates.

Maine’s unemployment rate achieved 3.0 percent in March, the lowest in 40 years.

May unemployment rate estimates in New England were 2.9 percent in New Hampshire, 3.1 percent in Vermont, 4.2 percent in Massachusetts, 4.1 percent in Rhode Island and 4.9 percent in Connecticut.

The lowest rate was 2.7 percent in Cumberland County and the highest was 6.2 percent in Aroostook County.

The employment-to-population ratio estimate of 62.0 percent remained above the U.S. average of 60.0 percent.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/16/may-unemployment-ticks-up-slightly/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2016/10/hiring.jpgFri, 16 Jun 2017 10:36:17 +0000
Amazon’s $13.7 billion purchase of Whole Foods ‘transformative’ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/16/amazon-buying-whole-foods-in-13-7-billion-deal/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/16/amazon-buying-whole-foods-in-13-7-billion-deal/#respond Fri, 16 Jun 2017 13:16:43 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/16/amazon-buying-whole-foods-in-13-7-billion-deal/ NEW YORK — Online retail giant Amazon is making a bold expansion into physical stores with a $13.7 billion deal to buy Whole Foods, setting the stage for radical retail experiments that could revolutionize how people buy groceries and everything else.

Amazon could try to use automation and data analysis to draw more customers to stores while helping Whole Foods cut costs and perhaps prices. Meanwhile, the more than 460 Whole Foods stores in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. could be turned into distribution hubs – not just for delivering groceries but as pickup centers for online orders.

“The conventional grocery store should feel threatened and incapable of responding,” Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter said.

Moody’s lead retail analyst Charlie O’Shea said the deal could be “transformative, not just for food retail, but for retail in general.”

Walmart, which has the largest share of the U.S. food market, has already been pushing harder into e-commerce to build on strength in its stores and groceries. It announced Friday that it’s buying online men’s clothing retailer Bonobos for $310 million, following a string of online acquisitions including ModCloth and Moosejaw.

But if Amazon can be the one-stop shop for everything – groceries had been one of the key missing elements – customers would have even less of a need to go to Walmart or elsewhere.

TOUGH TIMES FOR GROCERS

Amazon already offers grocery-delivery services in five markets, but analysts say expansion is tough because its current distribution centers are set up for dry goods, not perishables. Just two years ago, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey told Bloomberg BusinessWeek that Amazon’s foray into grocery delivery would be “Amazon’s Waterloo.”

But it was Whole Foods that fell behind as shoppers found alternatives to the organic and natural foods it helped popularize since its founding in 1978. Whole Foods has seen its sales slump and recently announced a board shake-up and cost-cutting plan amid pressure from activist investor Jana Partners.

Groceries are already a fiercely competitive business, with low-cost rivals like Aldi putting pressure on traditional supermarket chains and another discounter, Lidl, opening its first U.S. stores just this week. Whole Foods itself had launched an offshoot chain named after its “365” private label brand in a nod to the popularity of no-frills chains.

The Amazon-Whole Foods combination, expected to close by the end of the year, could put even more pressure on those chains and other big grocery sellers.

“Dominant players like Walmart, Kroger, Costco and Target now have to look over their shoulders at the Amazon train coming down the tracks,” O’Shea said.

TECHNOLOGY TO THE RESCUE

Whole Foods Market locations across the country. Associated Press graphic

Amazon could try to cut operational costs at Whole Foods by using the same types of robots that already move inventory around at its e-commerce fulfillment centers.

The company also has been testing sensors at a convenience store in Seattle to track items as shoppers put them into baskets or return them to the shelf. Shoppers skip the checkout line, and their Amazon accounts get automatically charged. Gartner retail analyst Robert Hetu said Amazon could bring pieces of that to Whole Foods to further cut costs.

Both companies said there will be no layoffs, but they did not respond to other questions about Amazon’s plans for Whole Foods. Whole Foods will keep operating stores under its name. In an email to customers, the company said it planned to maintain the same standards under Amazon, including bans on artificial flavors and colors.

Whole Foods, often derided as “Whole Paycheck” for its high prices, could see its reputation change if Amazon, a master at undercutting its brick-and-mortar rivals, passes any savings from automation to customers.

“This might be an opportunity for consumers who have felt that Whole Foods is inaccessible,” said Lauren Beitelspacher, a marketing professor at Babson College in Massachusetts.

BEYOND FOOD

Amazon could also get a better picture of customers by marrying data from Amazon and Whole Foods’ loyalty programs. Hetu said Amazon could make pertinent offers to attract shoppers of one but not the other, or get shoppers of both to buy more.

The retail giant Amazon is buying Whole Foods in a stunning move that gives it hundreds of stores across the U.S., a laboratory for radical retail experiments that could revolutionize the way people buy groceries. Associated Press/Rogelio V. Solis

Ryne Misso of the research firm Market Track said a customer who buys fresh fruit regularly at Whole Foods might be offered a deal on blenders and serving bowls. Or someone who buys granola bars monthly from Whole Foods and paper towels every other week from Amazon might be offered the items in a single shipment, delivered to the door.

The Whole Foods deal could also get more people to try grocery delivery, something many shoppers have been hesitant about because of concerns about meat and produce quality. Pachter said Amazon might get customers over those fears if they know the delivered items are the same as those they would find at the local store.

On the flip side, Amazon could use Whole Foods stores as pickup locations for deliveries, an option Amazon already offers in many cities by installing lockers at 7-Eleven and other retailers.

“Instead of delivering to my home, why not just come down here? I’m shopping here anyways,” shopper Alina Gura said at a Whole Foods in West Hartford, Connecticut.

That could help Amazon cut shipping costs and give the company opportunities to sell even more products once in the store. The stores could also showcase gadgets such as Kindle e-readers and Fire tablets. One day, these stores might even serve as launch centers for Amazon’s delivery drones.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/16/amazon-buying-whole-foods-in-13-7-billion-deal/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/06/1212483_Amazon_Whole_Foods_65046.2.jpgThe Whole Foods Market in Portland as seen in 2007. Online juggernaut Amazon announced Friday that it is buying Whole Foods in a deal valued at about $13.7 billion, including debt. Amazon.com Inc. will pay $42 per share of Whole Foods Market Inc.Fri, 16 Jun 2017 22:26:15 +0000
Georgia voter records found exposed to internet hackers http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/15/georgia-voter-records-found-exposed-to-internet-hackers/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/15/georgia-voter-records-found-exposed-to-internet-hackers/#respond Fri, 16 Jun 2017 00:48:56 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/15/georgia-voter-records-found-exposed-to-internet-hackers/ HOUSTON — A security researcher disclosed a gaping security hole at the outfit that manages Georgia’s election technology, days before the state holds a closely watched congressional runoff vote next Tuesday.

The security failure left the state’s 6.7 million voter records and other sensitive files exposed to hackers, and may have been left unpatched for seven months. The revealed files might have allowed attackers to plant malware and possibly rig votes or wreak chaos with voter rolls during elections.

Georgia is especially vulnerable to such disruption, as the entire state relies on antiquated touchscreen voting machines that provide no hardcopy record of votes, making it all but impossible to tell if anyone has manipulated the tallies.

The true dimensions of the failure were first reported Wednesday by Politico Magazine . The affected Center for Election Systems referred all questions to its host, Kennesaw State University, which declined comment. In March, the university had mischaracterized the flaw’s discovery as a security breach.

Logan Lamb, a 29-year-old Atlanta-based private security researcher formerly with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, made the discovery last August. He said he decided to go public after the publication last week of a classified National Security Agency report describing a sophisticated scheme, allegedly by Russian military intelligence, to infiltrate local U.S. elections systems using phishing emails.

The NSA report offered the most detailed account yet of an attempt by foreign agents to probe the rickety and poorly funded U.S. elections system. The Department of Homeland Security had previously reported attempts last year to gain unauthorized access to voter registration databases in 20 states – one of which, in Illinois, succeeded, though the state said no harm resulted.

It also emboldened Lamb, who felt the election center had not been serious enough about security, to come forward with his findings.

Lamb discovered the security hole – a misconfigured server – one day as he did a search of the Kennesaw State election-systems website. There, he found a directory open to the internet that contained not just the state voter database, but PDF files with instructions and passwords used by poll workers to sign into a central server used on Election Day. Lamb said he downloaded 15 gigabytes of data, which he later destroyed.

“It was an open invitation to anybody pretending to even know a little bit about computers to get into the system,” said Marilyn Marks, an election-transparency activist whose Colorado-based foundation participated in a failed lawsuit that sought to bar the use of paperless voting machines in next week’s election.

The directory of files “was already indexed by Google,” Lamb said in an interview – meaning that anyone could have found it with the right search.

“I don’t know if the vote could have been rigged, but compromising that server would have served as a great pivot point and malware could have been planted easily,” he said.

Lamb said he notified the center’s director, Merle King, who assured him the hole would be patched and who asked him to keep his discovery to himself.

Politico said the center never notified the secretary of state’s office, which oversees elections and contracts with Kennesaw State to manage the technology part. The Associated Press sought comment by phone and email from King and Secretary of State Brian Kemp, but there was no immediate response.

Lamb said he decided not to disclose the problem at the time – mostly because he “didn’t want to needlessly escalate things” prior to the Nov. 8 general election. He said King had also told him that “messing with elections means the people downtown crush you.”

In March, a security colleague Lamb had told about the flaw checked out the center’s website and discovered that the vulnerabilities had only been partially fixed.

“We were both pretty floored,” Lamb said.

The researcher, Chris Grayson, said he, too, was able to access the same voter record database and other sensitive files in a publicly accessible directory. Grayson contacted a friend who is a professor at Kennesaw State. Two days later, the FBI was called in to investigate.

It did not bring charges against either researcher, finding no evidence of illegal entry . “At the end of the day we were doing what we thought was in the best interest of the republic – informing the parties that needed to be privy to this sort of issue,” Grayson said.

The special election next Tuesday will fill the seat vacated by Republican Tom Price after he was named Health and Human Services secretary. It has attracted national attention, including that of President Trump, for whom it could be a bellwether.

First-time candidate Jon Ossoff is a Democrat with a national security background. His Republican opponent is former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/15/georgia-voter-records-found-exposed-to-internet-hackers/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/06/1212270_Georgia_Election_Security2.jpgEmployees of the Fulton County Election Preparation Center in Atlanta test electronic voting machines last September. A security researcher disclosed a gaping security hole at the outfit that manages Georgia's elections. The breach left the state's 6.7 million voter records and other sensitive files exposed to hackers.Thu, 15 Jun 2017 20:48:56 +0000
Nike to cut jobs, styles of sneakers http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/15/nike-to-cut-jobs-styles-of-sneakers/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/15/nike-to-cut-jobs-styles-of-sneakers/#respond Fri, 16 Jun 2017 00:28:01 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1212254 NEW YORK — Nike wants to be more nimble on its feet.

The sneaker maker said Thursday that it plans to focus on the hottest-selling sneakers, slash the number of styles it offers and sell more shoes directly to customers online as part of a restructuring in which it also will cut about 1,400 jobs.

Nike said the moves will help it offer products to customers faster as it faces increasing competition from smaller brands and premium labels. Another problem: The running and basketball shoes Nike is famous for may be outdated.

More people are choosing fashion over function, with sales of classic sneakers industry-wide climbing 26 percent last year, according to research from The NPD Group. Meanwhile, sales of running performance sneakers were flat and sales of basketball performance sneakers dropped, according to the same report.

“Nike missed the fashion shift away from performance basketball to retro,” said Matt Powell, the sports industry analyst at NPD. “They still have not caught up.”

Adidas, whose casual Stan Smith shoes have become popular again, has made a push to increase sales in the U.S. The German company said last month that first-quarter revenue in North America jumped 31 percent from a year before. And on the high end, Neiman Marcus noted to investors last week that sneakers, with an average retail price of $360 per pair, have become a significant business as shoppers focus on a more casual lifestyle.

“The increase in speed of innovation and delivery is a direct response to the expectations of today’s consumers,” analysts at Susquehana Financial Group said about Nike’s moves.

Nike, known for its swoosh logo, will also make its sneaker-selling apps available in more countries at a time when online sales mean many big retailers and department store chains are closing stores.

“We’re getting even more aggressive in the digital marketplace,” said CEO Mark Parker.

Nike said a main focus will be the 12 key cities in 10 countries that it expects to represent more than 80 percent of its projected growth through 2020. Those cities include New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Milan, Mexico City, Tokyo, Seoul, Shanghai and Beijing.

“It appears to us that everything Nike is working on is a brand-first story. If the initiatives don’t help the Nike brand, they do not happen,” the Susquehana analysts said.

They said customers will barely notice the decrease in styles given the breadth of options Nike offers.

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FDA approves new competitor for EpiPen http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/15/fda-approves-new-competitor-for-epipen/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/15/fda-approves-new-competitor-for-epipen/#respond Thu, 15 Jun 2017 23:43:14 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/15/fda-approves-new-competitor-for-epipen/ TRENTON, N.J. — U.S. regulators have approved new competition for EpiPen, the emergency allergy medicine that made Mylan a poster child for pharmaceutical company greed.

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved Adamis Pharmaceuticals Corp.’s product, which should go on sale later this year.

Symjepi is a syringe prefilled with the hormone epinephrine, which helps stop life-threatening allergic reactions from insect stings and bites, foods such as nuts and eggs, or certain medications.

San Diego-based Adamis says its product is easier to use than Mylan’s EpiPen, a spring-loaded syringe filled with a set dose that comes with a training device.

Symjepi also is smaller than EpiPen, so it’s easier to fit in a pocket or purse. Most children and adults with severe food or insect allergies carry a device wherever they go and leave a spare at home, school or work.

Adamis said it is still lining up a distributor so it hasn’t set the exact price for its product, which will be sold in pairs like EpiPen.

Adamis spokesman Mark Flather said Symjepi is intended to be a “low-cost alternative” to EpiPen and similar products, and the company is aiming to sell it for less than generic EpiPens.

In a note to investors, Evercore ISI analyst Umer Raffat wrote that Symjepi is not identical to EpiPen and so the price Adamis sets “will obviously be an important consideration.”

Currently, EpiPens cost about $630 to $700 without insurance while the new generic version retails for about $225 to $425.

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Nestle may be souring on many of its candy brands http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/15/nestle-may-be-souring-on-many-of-its-candy-brands/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/15/nestle-may-be-souring-on-many-of-its-candy-brands/#respond Thu, 15 Jun 2017 23:24:22 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/15/nestle-may-be-souring-on-many-of-its-candy-brands/ Nestle said it may sell Butterfinger, BabyRuth and other U.S. confectionery brands as it explores strategic options for a unit that’s struggling amid sluggish demand for chocolate.

The review will be completed by the end of the year, the Vevey, Switzerland-based company said Thursday. The unit had sales of $923 million in 2016, about one-tenth of the company’s global revenue from sweets.

“It’s a first step away toward health and wellness,” said Alain Oberhuber, an analyst at MainFirst Bank AG. “It became clear that Nestle is too small in confectionery in the U.S.”

The food industry is under pressure to reduce costs after Kraft Heinz Co.’s unsuccessful bid for Unilever earlier this year showed that even the largest companies in the industry could become targets. Chocolate makers especially are grappling with weak U.S. consumption as Americans increasingly turn their backs on sugar. In March, Hershey Co. announced plans to cut 15 percent of its workforce six months after rebuffing a takeover bid from Mondelez International Inc.

Lindt & Spruengli AG overtook Nestle as North America’s third-biggest chocolate producer in 2014, when it acquired Russell Stover. Hershey and Mars Inc. together control more than half of the market, according to Euromonitor data, which puts Nestle’s market share at 8.4 percent. In addition to chocolates such as Raisinets, OhHenry! and 100Grand, the brands up for sale include SweeTarts, LaffyTaffy, Nerds, Gobstopper and Runts.

A sale of the unit would be the first major strategic shift from Mark Schneider, who became Nestle’s chief executive officer this year. He has said he aims to boost the company’s health strategy as well as focus on the businesses that are growing the fastest, such as coffee and pet food. Schneider came from the health care industry, having previously led Germany’s Fresenius SE, and is the first outsider to be given the Nestle CEO job in almost a century.

Nestle has been investing heavily in a health-science unit since 2011 and has said it aims to make a $10 billion business out of it, trying to develop food-related products to prevent ailments such as obesity, metabolic problems and Alzheimer’s disease.

The maker of Cailler, the brand that invented milk chocolate, is taking an initial step away from the industry after its confectionery sales declined for a fourth year in 2016. The U.S. business has been particularly hard-hit amid fierce competition.

“This might seem small stuff, but in our view it could be a significant step by new(ish) CEO Mark Schneider,” James Edwardes Jones, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, said in a note. “The possible disposal of the U.S. business is not everything we had hoped for, but might be the start of something bigger.”

While some investors and analysts have said a company focused on better nutrition shouldn’t produce sweets, Nestle said Thursday it remains committed to its chocolate business in the rest of the world, especially its KitKat brand. Nestle produces KitKat outside of North America and has failed to convince Hershey to sell it the rights to the brand in the U.S.

The review doesn’t include Toll House chocolate chips and baking products, as that brand remains strategic, Nestle said.

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Pro hockey returning to Portland in fall of 2018 after a 2-year absence http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/15/portland-lands-a-pro-hockey-team-for-the-fall-of-2018/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/15/portland-lands-a-pro-hockey-team-for-the-fall-of-2018/#respond Thu, 15 Jun 2017 15:02:11 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/15/portland-lands-a-pro-hockey-team-for-the-fall-of-2018/ Professional hockey will return to downtown Portland for the 2018-19 season.

Comcast Spectacor, parent company of the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers, announced Thursday that it had purchased an ECHL franchise in Alaska that will be relocated to Cross Insurance Arena.

Comcast Spectacor also is the parent company of Spectra, the management firm contracted to run the arena, which has been without a major tenant since the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League were sold in May 2016 and moved to Springfield, Massachusetts.

Mitch Berkowitz, chairman of the arena’s board of trustees, said it was “exceptionally important” for the building to have a primary tenant.

Mitch Berkowitz, chairman of the Cross Insurance Arena’s trustees, said the new franchise operators indicated ticket prices will be lower than they were with the AHL’s Portland Pirates. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

“Without that, the expenses that go with a facility of this size become somewhat unbearable,” he said at a news conference at the arena. “We wanted to make sure that there was relief for the taxpayers who approved the bond for the renovations, which (Cumberland) County ultimately is responsible for.”

A $33 million renovation that began in 2014 and took 18 months to complete overhauled locker room and training facilities and upgraded other aspects of the arena, which was built in the mid-1970s.

Joe Gray, a former Portland city manager, chaired the strategic development committee that ultimately selected Comcast Spectacor from proposals submitted by four parties interested in bringing a pro hockey team to Portland.

“Without bringing hockey back,” Gray said, “we were being told that we could possibly see the loss of up to a half-million dollars in advertising revenue that’s right now here in the facility. We wanted to protect that. So that certainly was an important part of the reason for going out and working hard to bring in a team, just to make sure that our revenue base, as a facility, is maintained.”

The ECHL, formed in 1988 as the East Coast Hockey League, is considered the third tier of pro hockey in North America, with a talent level below that of the National Hockey League and the AHL. There are 27 franchises scheduled to play next winter. The Aces announced in late February that they would fold after the 2016-17 season because of years of decling revenue.

A spokesman for Comcast Spectacor declined to disclose terms of the deal to buy the ECHL franchise.

A HOCKEY TEAM WITHOUT A NAME

The ECHL season runs for 72 games, which means 36 home dates for the new team, plus potential playoff contests.

The team does not yet have a nickname. Comcast Spectacor said it soon will begin hiring staff, establishing a team website for ticket information and taking other initial steps that include naming the team.

Danny Briere, a former Flyers player, will oversee day-to-day operations, and Paul Holmgren, president of the Flyers, will serve as the team’s governor.

“We’re excited about it,” Holmgren said by phone Thursday afternoon. “We want to get in and do this right.”

The Flyers were the parent club of Portland’s original pro hockey franchise, the Maine Mariners. The Mariners began play in the AHL in 1977 in the Cumberland County Civic Center, which retained that title until Cross Insurance bought naming rights in 2014.

Holmgren said he has met with many former Maine Mariners who retain ties to Greater Portland, including Frank Bathe, Terry Murray, Guy Delparte, Wayne Schaab and Steve Tsujiura.

“We picked their brains and asked them about dos and don’ts,” Holmgren said. “Everybody we’ve met with is excited about this.”

The Cross Insurance Arena in Portland has been without a major tenant since the Portland Pirates left in May 2016, shortly after the completion of a $33 million renovation that overhauled locker room and training facilities and upgraded other aspects of the arena, which was built in the mid-1970s. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Gray, however, downplayed any involvement of Philadelphia’s NHL club.

“It’s not between us and the Flyers,” Gray said. “It’s between us and Comcast Spectacor.”

HOW AFFILIATES BUILD TEAM ROSTERS

The Flyers already have an ECHL affiliate in Pennsylvania, the Reading Royals, so the team in Portland is likely to affiliate with a different NHL club.

New England has two other ECHL franchises, the Manchester Monarchs and expansion Worcester Railers. Like Portland, both cities lost AHL franchises before acquiring ECHL teams. The Monarchs are affiliated with the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings and the Railers with the New York Islanders.

The Boston Bruins’ AHL affiliate is in Providence – having moved to Rhode Island from Maine – and their ECHL affiliate is in Atlanta, under a two-year agreement that expires this month.

“That’s obviously something we need to follow up on,” Holmgren said. “A lot of times, geographically, it’s good to have someone close by.”

Unlike in the AHL, most rosters in the ECHL are put together by each team’s hockey operations staff. Holmgren said ECHL rosters include two to six contracted players from the NHL parent organization, “then maybe a player or two from other teams. You can have players from multiple organizations, but you’re only allowed to have one main affiliate.”

For the past four seasons, Comcast Spectacor also has run business operations for the Hartford Wolf Pack, an AHL franchise affiliated with the New York Rangers. Spectra also runs Hartford’s XL Center, where the Wolf Pack is the primary tenant.

The lease between the Cross arena board of trustees and the new team runs for three years, with options to extend the agreement up to 15 years. Two significant changes from the final Pirates lease: The team will pay a flat rental fee of $4,750 per game instead of the $1,000 plus expenses paid by the Pirates, and concession revenue will be shared 57 percent (team) and 43 percent (arena) instead of 57.5 and 42.5.

PORTLAND TOO SMALL FOR AHL

Dale Olmstead, the board’s contract compliance manager, said having the arena take care of operating expenses such as security and concession staffing simplified the negotiating process.

“Frankly, our expenses will probably exceed $4,750 if attendance picks up,” he said. “Let’s say we’re lucky enough to have this new franchise average 3,000 a game. If that happens, we’re all going to benefit.”

In their final two seasons in Portland, the Pirates announced averages of 2,963 and 3,363, but the board pegged its negotiations on expectations of average crowds of 2,100.

“That’s one of the reasons they’re not coming here in 2017,” Gray said of the new franchise operators. “They understand they need to rebuild the market. Because the last few years of the Pirates, the market really disappeared.”

It also became clear to Gray that the AHL was moving into much larger markets.

“They moved out of Manchester, they moved out of Worcester,” he said. “They are moving into the Chicagos, the Philadelphias. This market can no longer sustain the American Hockey League.”

VENDOR SAVINGS, POTENTIAL CONFLICTS

Because Spectra services more than 300 public-assembly buildings in North America and Singapore, the company can negotiate better deals with vendors such as Ticketmaster. In fact, Olmstead said, Spectra will present to the board a new Ticketmaster contract that is “vastly improved” over the current one and shares savings equally with the arena.

“They bring multiple buildings to the table with Ticketmaster, so they were able to go out and negotiate a deal that we could only dream of, as a single building,” Olmstead said. “That went a long way to put this deal together.”

When both tenant and management are owned by the same company, conflicts of interest seem inevitable.

“The committee discussed the pros and cons of that numerous times,” Olmstead said. “You can argue that there will be inherent conflicts of interest. But the experience that we’ve had over the years was that there was a lot of conflict between management and the team. So we thought that conflict would probably go away if, in fact, the same group were managing the building and owning the team.”

Berkowitz said the new franchise operators indicated ticket prices would be lower than they were with the Pirates, on the “low side of the teens.”

Phil Willett, 27, a six-year Pirates season-ticket holder from Windsor, said he’s excited about the return of pro hockey to Portland, even if it’s the ECHL rather than the AHL.

“It’s really no different,” he said. “Just going to be more affordable, in my opinion.”

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

Gjordan@pressherald.com

Twitter: GlennJordanPPH

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Relieving Scarborough-Falmouth turnpike congestion could involve widening to 6 lanes http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/15/relieving-turnpike-congestion-between-scarborough-and-falmouth-could-involve-widening/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/15/relieving-turnpike-congestion-between-scarborough-and-falmouth-could-involve-widening/#respond Thu, 15 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1211697 The Maine Turnpike Authority has started a process to relieve congestion between Scarborough and Falmouth that could include widening that section of the highway to six lanes.

The action follows a record year for turnpike traffic, which reached an all-time high of 83.6 million vehicles in 2016, a 10 percent increase over two years. Since 2014, traffic in the Portland area has grown 3 to 5 percent annually, increasing “to the point where safety and mobility is becoming compromised,” the authority said.

In some areas, traffic congestion is already causing problems, and officials expect it will get worse in the next decade, Turnpike Executive Director Peter Mills said on Wednesday.

“We have seen really substantial, rapid growth,” he said.

A newly created public advisory committee charged with assisting the authority in assessing the corridor’s needs will hold its first meeting on June 28. It is open to the public.

“The purpose of the first meeting is to bring people up to speed as to where we see the issues and where we see them getting worse in the next year and the year after,” Mills said.

As the process moves ahead, the authority expects to discuss how it intends to fix the issues. That likely will include widening a congestion-prone section between Scarborough and Westbrook, but also will encompass other solutions, like improvements to highway ramps. A final plan will depend on multiple factors, including a proposal to build a spur highway from the Turnpike to Gorham.

“There are some things we can do to address specific congestion points without having to do the widening,” he said.

INCREASING TRAFFIC VOLUMES

A 2016 analysis by HNTB, a Kansas City, Missouri-based engineering company with an office in Westbrook, found that the section of the Turnpike between Exit 44 in Scarborough and Exit 48 in Westbrook will reach capacity within 10 years.

The entire highway from Biddeford to Falmouth will reach capacity within 20 years, the report said. The Portland-area widening “may need to begin in the near future to avoid capacity constraints,” it said.

The turnpike is six lanes between the New Hampshire border and the intersection with Interstate 295 south of Portland, where it becomes four lanes. Last year, Mills suggested the agency would advance its plan to widen the highway because of increasing traffic volumes. A previous plan to expand the Turnpike around Portland was shelved after traffic dropped following the 2008 housing and financial crisis.

COST ESTIMATES

The HNTB analysis estimated that improvements to northbound lanes of the turnpike from the Portland International Jetport to Westbrook could cost $14.6 million and be completed by 2023.

A bigger project to improve southbound sections from Saco to Westbrook, and northbound improvements between Westbrook and Falmouth, as well as improvements to the Saco off-ramp could take until 2032 and cost $102 million, according to the study.

The assessment of the Scarborough to Falmouth corridor comes on the heels of a proposal by Gov. Paul LePage to merge the turnpike authority with the Department of Transportation and move toward a single toll in York. The governor’s plan was rejected by a legislative committee last month.

Last year, Mills said that increasing toll revenue meant the turnpike would be able to fund work in the Portland area without additional borrowing or raising tolls.

The advisory committee is scheduled to meet June 28 from 4-7 p.m. at turnpike headquarters at 2360 Congress St. in Portland.

The committee will take comments and questions from the public.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

pmcguire@pressherald.com

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

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