The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Business http://www.pressherald.com Wed, 29 Jun 2016 04:28:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.3.4 Turner couple suing Central Maine Medical Center, debt collector http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/28/turner-couple-sues-central-maine-medical-center-debt-collector/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/28/turner-couple-sues-central-maine-medical-center-debt-collector/#comments Wed, 29 Jun 2016 01:26:58 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/28/turner-couple-sues-central-maine-medical-center-debt-collector/ A married couple from Androscoggin County are suing Central Maine Medical Center and a Lewiston-based debt collection service for civil contempt, saying the defendants have continued to demand $2,700 for unpaid hospital bills that the couple no longer owe because of a bankruptcy court judgment in 2015.

According to the lawsuit, filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Maine by Turner residents Michael and Sarah Turner, CMMC and its debt collector, Advanced Collection Services Ltd., have ignored a court order issued in May 2015 that relieved the Turners of their obligation to repay certain pre-bankruptcy debts, including the three unpaid hospital bills.

The Turners are seeking punitive damages against CMMC and Advanced, as well as court costs and attorney’s fees.

They filed for protection from their creditors under Chapter 7 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code in February 2015. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy involves selling off all nonessential assets to repay certain high-priority creditors, known as secured creditors. The remaining creditors, known as unsecured creditors, often receive little or nothing from the sale proceeds.

In the bankruptcy filing, the couple listed total assets valued at $134,757 and total liabilities of $266,793. Their liabilities included a $135,000 home mortgage and $131,783 in other debts such as unsecured loans, credit cards and various bills including the three CMMC bills. The only secured creditor in the bankruptcy was Mechanics Savings Bank, the couple’s mortgage lender.

In a complaint filed June 8 in bankruptcy court, the couple allege that Advanced, working on behalf of CMMC, was notified of the bankruptcy court ruling but continued to call and send letters to the Turners demanding payment.

“(Advanced) made numerous telephone calls to the Plaintiffs for the purpose of collecting CMMC’s discharged claim,” the complaint says. “Of these the Plaintiffs answered at least three and each time stated that they had filed their Chapter 7 case and provided the caller with the name of their counsel.”

But the calls and letters did not stop, according to the complaint.

CMMC and Advanced declined to answer questions about the lawsuit but provided the Portland Press Herald with a brief, joint statement.

“Central Maine Medical Center and Advanced Collection Services are still reviewing the facts and relevant information relating to this legal filing,” it said. “We will respond to the complaint accordingly.”

The Turners did not respond to a request for comment conveyed through their attorney, James Maguire of Portland.

In general, debt collection services are not very popular with consumers. They are often regarded as overly aggressive, and they engage in practices that many consumers equate to harassment. They also have the ability to damage consumers’ credit scores.

Advanced has an “F” rating from the Better Business Bureau with three negative customer reviews and no positive reviews. Two customer complaints against the company have been lodged with the bureau in the past three years. Advanced did not respond to either complaint.

 

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New 18-unit building in Portland designed to house low-income veterans http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/28/new-18-unit-building-designed-to-house-low-income-veterans/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/28/new-18-unit-building-designed-to-house-low-income-veterans/#comments Wed, 29 Jun 2016 00:40:01 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/28/new-18-unit-building-designed-to-house-low-income-veterans/ Thomas Heights, an 18-unit building of efficiency apartments intended for low-income and homeless veterans, will have a grand opening Wednesday in Portland.

The $3.6 million project at 134 Washington Ave. was led by the nonprofit Avesta Housing, the state’s largest developer of affordable housing. Thomas Heights is named after Thomas Ptacek, a local advocate for homeless veterans.

“I think we came to Tom because he’s just very thoughtful, he’s very positive, and he’s a very caring and compassionate guy,” Avesta President and CEO Dana Totman said. “We really liked the idea that this was a regular guy in the community who is passionate about helping homeless veterans.”

Ptacek, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday, served as a psychiatric technician in the Navy during the first Gulf War. After the service, he ended up being homeless. After spending more than a year at the Oxford Street Shelter, he finally secured stable housing through a housing subsidy program for veterans.

In a recent interview with Maine magazine’s “Love Maine Radio,” Ptacek said he took the assistance reluctantly because he never really considered himself a veteran.

“I worked in a hospital,” Ptacek said. “I looked at people who served in combat – a Vietnam combat veteran – that’s a veteran. I’m not that.”

Ptacek became an advocate for the Preble Street’s Homeless Voices for Justice. In that role, he spoke out against policies and proposals at the state and local level that would decrease the amount of affordable housing or emergency assistance for people struggling with homelessness. He now works as a full-time community organizer for Preble Street.

In 2012, he spoke out against the loss of 52 low-income apartments in the former Eastland Hotel, which has since been converted to a Westin. That same year, he testified against a voter ID bill that would have required people to show photo identification in order to vote.

In 2013, he was front and center during the debate over whether the state should expand MaineCare under the Affordable Care Act. The next year he was speaking out against the state moving the Department of Health and Human Services offices from Marginal Way in Portland to near the Portland International Jetport. He also protested a proposal by Portland officials to close an emergency overflow shelter in response to a critical state audit.

Ann Woloson, a policy advocate for Maine Equal Justice Partners, which advocates for low-income Mainers, became emotional when discussing Avesta’s decision to honor Ptacek.

“He’s worked so hard to climb out of poverty and has been willing to share his story,” Woloson said. “But he’s also had access to resources. Those resources are so important.”

Being a veteran, or homeless, is not a requirement to live at Thomas Heights. Half of the tenants are veterans, according to Avesta. The only requirement is that individual annual incomes of tenants must be 40-50 percent of the area medium income, or no more than $27,000. There are nearly 110 people on a waiting list for one of the apartments.

Peter Snow is one of the lucky ones. The 38-year-old moved into his second-floor efficiency apartment in April. The former lobsterman works part time at Pizza Hut and receives Social Security for a disability.

Snow said he works regularly with his counselor, who has access to meeting space in the building, to ensure he goes to his appointments and can carry out the basic functions of living. A chart of daily chores, including showering, cleaning and taking out the trash, hangs on his wall, and a weekly meal planner hangs on his fridge. His apartment is large enough for a bed, chair, television and a small workbench, where he tinkers on remote-controlled trucks.

“It’s nice. I like it a lot,” Snow said. “I’ve been pretty lucky.”

 

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Press Herald/Telegram series wins Loeb Award for excellence in business journalism http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/28/payday-at-the-mill-wins-loeb-award-for-business-journalism/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/28/payday-at-the-mill-wins-loeb-award-for-business-journalism/#comments Tue, 28 Jun 2016 23:49:44 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/28/payday-at-the-mill-wins-loeb-award-for-business-journalism/ The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram was honored for distinguished business reporting Tuesday night when it won a 2016 Loeb Award for its series “Payday at the Mill.”

Considered the Pulitzer Prizes of business journalism, the Gerald Loeb Awards were created in 1957 to encourage reporting on business and finance that informs and protects investors and the public.

More than 490 entries were submitted for consideration by Loeb Award judges this year and “Payday at the Mill” was one of four Local Category finalists that included entries from the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Newsday and The Oregonian. The series was written by former staff writer Whit Richardson, with contributions from former political reporter Steve Mistler, and edited by Business Editor Carol Coultas.

“It’s an honor to have our watchdog journalism recognized,” said Cliff Schechtman, executive editor of the Press Herald/Telegram. “We are committed to uncovering how powerful forces impact the lives of regular citizens.”

Other award winners announced during a banquet and ceremony at the Capitale event center in New York City Tuesday night included a team of five reporters from the Wall Street Journal who won in the breaking news category for “Inside the Dow-Dupont Merger,” and the New York Times graphics team, which won the top award in the Images/Graphics/Interactives category for its entry “Making Data Visual.”

The Local Category recognizes excellence in the coverage of a business, financial or economic story centered in a particular geographic area.

Richardson’s series started with a simple question: How could a mill that had just landed $40 million in investments and tax breaks shut down a year later?

That question launched an investigation into the complex world of New Market tax credits in the wake of the bankruptcy and closure of the Great Northern Paper Mill in East Millinocket.

Following publication of the series in April 2015, state legislators submitted bills to reform the tax credit program, and six months after the series was published, the federal government issued new guidelines prohibiting New Market tax credits from being used to pay off old debt and other questionable financial practices.

The state agency that administers the program, the Finance Authority of Maine, also revised its rules to ensure greater accountability by future recipients of the tax credits.

Richardson, who spent parts of five months researching and writing the series, thanked his editors for giving him the time needed to complete the series and to his colleagues on the Press Herald business desk for stepping up to cover business news when he was occupied with the project.

“I’m honored to receive this award,” Richardson said. “Business journalism is incredibly important because the stories are stories that impact everyone.”

The awards were established by the late Gerald Loeb, a founding partner of the E.F. Hutton brokerage firm. The winning entry in each category receives a $2,000 honorarium.

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Maine labor department announces unemployment fraud convictions http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/28/maine-labor-department-announces-unemployment-fraud-convictions/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/28/maine-labor-department-announces-unemployment-fraud-convictions/#comments Tue, 28 Jun 2016 23:19:57 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/28/maine-labor-department-announces-unemployment-fraud-convictions/ Five Mainers have been convicted of unemployment fraud, the Maine Department of Labor announced Tuesday in a press release.

The five will be required to pay more than $38,000 in restitution. Unemployment benefit fraud involving amounts more than $1,000 is a felony.

“We will not tolerate unemployment fraud,” said Labor Commissioner Jeanne Paquette said in a statement. “Our investigators continue to identify and move felony cases to prosecution.”

According to the state, those convicted of fraud this year are: Joseph S. Baker, 29, of Bangor, Shawn Betts, 27, of Deer Isle, Nathaniel Jamieson, 34, of East Machias, Kevin D. Nelson, 58, of Milbridge, and Kayla E. Massicotte, 26, of Mount Desert.

Each case was handled separately, with different incarceration sentences, restitution amounts and probation terms.

Paquette said 142 cases are pending prosecution across the state. Unemployment fraud typically involves misrepresenting information to obtain benefits, and may involve claiming benefits after returning to work or claiming to be looking for work when they have not tried.

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Home prices climbing throughout nation http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/28/home-prices-climbing-throughout-nation/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/28/home-prices-climbing-throughout-nation/#comments Tue, 28 Jun 2016 23:18:48 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/28/home-prices-climbing-throughout-nation/ WASHINGTON — U.S. home prices scaled new heights in April, with seven cities – including Boston, Charlotte, Portland, Oregon, San Francisco and Seattle – setting record highs.

The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index increased 5.4 percent in April compared with a year earlier, just a tick down from the 5.5 percent annual gain in March.

Home values are now just 9.6 percent below their peak nearly a decade ago, according to the report released Tuesday.

Shrinking inventories of homes for sale have boosted prices, while a healthy job market and low mortgage rates have kept demand from potential buyers strong during the spring months associated with the highest volume of sales.

The number of listings has fallen 5.7 percent from a year ago, the National Association of Realtors said last week.

Home prices rose in all 20 major housing markets, with double-digit annual increases in Portland and Seattle.

“While strong price growth in these markets should help increase inventory in the coming months, homes will be significantly less affordable for homebuyers than this time last year,” said Ralph McLaughlin, chief economist at Trulia.

In addition to the other five cities at record home values, Dallas and Denver, continue to be well above their historic peaks.

Overall home ownership rates have dropped near a 48-year low in the aftermath of the housing bust that began in 2007. But sales have improved as the broader economy has slowly healed.

Sales of existing homes improved 1.8 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.53 million, the best pace since February 2007, according to the Realtors.

Providing the foundation for much of that growth has been a solid 4.7 percent unemployment rate that points to a stable period for workers.

Rising prices have also been tempered by low mortgage rates that are holding monthly ownership costs in check.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.56 percent last week, down from 4.02 percent a year ago.

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U.S. consumer confidence grows to highest level since autumn http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/28/u-s-consumer-confidence-grows-to-highest-level-since-autumn/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/28/u-s-consumer-confidence-grows-to-highest-level-since-autumn/#comments Tue, 28 Jun 2016 22:36:49 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/28/u-s-consumer-confidence-grows-to-highest-level-since-autumn/ WASHINGTON — U.S. consumer confidence rose this month to the highest level since October.

The Conference Board reported Tuesday that its consumer confidence index rose to 98 in June from 92.4 in May, snapping a two-month losing streak. The survey measures how consumers assess current conditions as well as their outlook for the next six months.

Americans view of current conditions was the most positive since September. Their expectations for the future also grew sunnier as did their outlook for the strength of the job market.

The survey was conducted before Britain voted to leave the European Union in a move that has shaken global financial markets and raised uncertainty about the global economy.

Economists monitor confidence surveys because consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity.

“The underlying fundamentals for the consumer have been quite positive in recent months, as unemployment is low, incomes are rising at a solid pace, energy costs are below recent-year norms, borrowing costs are miniscule, and balance sheets are generally clean,” Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont Securities wrote in a research note.

Still, other measures of consumer spirits have been mixed. The University of Michigan’s index of consumer sentiment slipped this month. And the Commerce Department reported Tuesday that consumer spending rose from January through March at the slowest pace in two years.

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FDA approves first pill to treat all forms of hepatitis C http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/28/fda-approves-first-pill-to-treat-all-forms-of-hepatitis-c/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/28/fda-approves-first-pill-to-treat-all-forms-of-hepatitis-c/#comments Tue, 28 Jun 2016 18:30:08 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/28/fda-approves-first-pill-to-treat-all-forms-of-hepatitis-c/ WASHINGTON – Federal health officials on Tuesday approved the first pill to treat all major forms of hepatitis C, the latest in a series of drug approvals that have reshaped treatment of the liver-destroying virus.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the combination pill, Epclusa, from Gilead Sciences for patients with and without liver damage. The new drug’s broad indication could make it easier to use than five other hepatitis drugs recently approved by the FDA, which are each tailored to different viral strains or stages of liver disease.

Gilead’s previous two hepatitis drugs have raked in billions of dollars by replacing an older, less effective treatment that involved a grueling pill-and-injection cocktail. But the company’s aggressive approach to pricing has drawn scorn from patient groups, insurers and politicians worldwide.

The company said Epclusa will cost $74,760 for a 12-week course of treatment, or roughly $890 per pill. That’s less than the initial price for company’s previous drug, Harvoni, which cost $1,125 per pill. Gilead’s first hepatitis C drug, Sovaldi, cost roughly $1,000 per pill, touching off a national debate about escalating drug costs.

Since 2014, the FDA has approved rival medications from AbbVie Inc., Merck & Co., and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. that have helped curb prices.

Hepatitis C affects at least 2.7 million people in U.S. and caused more than 19,000 deaths in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Maine, cases have soared in conjunction with skyrocketing heroin use.

The virus develops slowly over decades and many people don’t realize they are infected until signs of liver damage emerge, including yellowish skin, dark urine and fatigue. Some develop liver cancer or cirrhosis and require a liver transplant, but many die before a match is available. Baby boomers are five times more likely to have the virus than people in other age groups.

Gilead’s new pill combines Sovaldi with a new drug that attacks the virus using a different mechanism. The daily pill can treat all six genetic subtypes of the virus and cures 95 percent of patients in three months, according to clinical trial data reviewed by the FDA. The drug is designed to be used in combination with ribavirin, an older antiviral drug.

The most common side effects with Epclusa included headache and fatigue, according to the FDA.

Although professional medical societies recommend Gilead drugs as first-line treatments for anyone with hepatitis C, a Senate investigation last year found that high costs resulted in less than 3 percent of the potentially eligible Medicaid beneficiaries getting treatment in 2014. Medicaid is the federal-state health program for low-income people.

In 2015, Harvoni was the top-selling prescription drug in the world with over $18 billion in global sales, according to IMS Health. Sovaldi ranked eighth, pulling in $6.6 billion in sales.

Shares of Gilead Sciences Inc., which is based in Foster City, California, rose $3.16, or 4 percent, to $81.41 in afternoon trading.

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U.S. stocks rebound as Brexit angst eases http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/28/u-s-stocks-rebound-as-anxiety-over-british-vote-eases/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/28/u-s-stocks-rebound-as-anxiety-over-british-vote-eases/#comments Tue, 28 Jun 2016 15:02:17 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/28/u-s-stocks-rebound-as-anxiety-over-british-vote-eases/ U.S. stock indexes mounted a broad comeback Tuesday as investors set aside their anxiety over Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and snapped up shares following a two-day rout.

Encouraging data on the U.S. economy and housing market helped put traders in a buying mood. The broad rally followed even bigger gains in Europe, which also bounced back from the steep losses triggered by Britain’s “leave” vote last Thursday.

Oil and gas companies led the rally as energy prices rose. Banks and other financial companies, which took the heaviest losses in the sell-off, also surged. Health care, consumer and technology stocks also notched gains. Bond prices fell, sending yields higher.

“We were due for a bounce heading into the morning; we had a couple of tough days there,” said Sean Lynch, co-head of global equity strategy at Wells Fargo Investment Institute. “Investors are stepping up and seeing some areas that may have been oversold the past couple of days and redeploying some of their cash.”

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 269.48 points, or 1.6 percent, to 17,409.72. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 35.55 points, or 1.8 percent, to 2,036.09. The Nasdaq composite added 97.42 points, or 2.1 percent, to 4,691.87.

Despite the rebound, the three indexes remain on track to end June in the red. They’re also down for the year.

European benchmarks had an even better day than U.S. indexes. Britain’s FTSE 100 and France’s CAC 40 each gained 2.6 percent. Germany’s DAX added 1.9 percent.

The euro and the British pound recovered somewhat, though the pound remained near the 30-year lows it plunged to immediately following the British “leave” vote.

Uncertainty and anxiety over the economic fallout from Britain’s vote to leave the European Union had roiled global financial markets since Friday and prompted ratings agencies to slash their top-shelf credit rating for the U.K.

Investors appeared to shake off their some of their jitters Tuesday. British Prime Minister David Cameron signaled he might not trigger a clause setting in motion the U.K.’s exit from the EU before October.

In the U.S., investors got a batch of encouraging economic data to consider.

The Commerce Department raised its estimate of U.S. economic growth in the first three months of the year. Separately, a key gauge of home values showed U.S. home prices climbed in April, hitting record highs in several cities. In addition, the Conference Board said its measure of U.S. consumer confidence increased this month to the highest level since October.

“Obviously, the market isn’t very receptive to uncertainty, but in some ways this uncertainty is providing the possibility and the consideration that what happened in the U.K. isn’t necessarily reflective of, or an indicator of, a recession, especially here in the U.S. as well as globally,” said W. Janet Dougherty, a global investment specialist at J.P. Morgan Private Bank.

Pharmaceutical company Endo International surged 18.3 percent, the biggest gainer in the S&P 500 index. The stock added $2.50 to $16.19.

Xencor vaulted 32.1 percent after the drugmaker announced a partnership with Novartis to develop two cancer drugs. The stock rose $4.02 to $16.56.

Several energy companies also notched gains.

Southwestern Energy climbed $1.47, or 11.8 percent, to $13.89, while Devon Energy added $2.24, or 6.6 percent, to $35.99. Cabot Oil & Gas gained $1.93, or 8 percent, to $25.99.

Earlier in Asia, markets bounced back from early losses as leaders signaled they were ready to step in with support policies. Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index climbed 0.1 percent, while South Korea’s Kospi added 0.5 percent.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index was a laggard, losing 0.3 percent. It was dragged down by companies with high exposure to Europe, such as billionaire tycoon’s Li Ka-shing’s CK Hutchison Holdings, which has British retail, ports and telecom investments and fell 1.7 percent.

In currency markets, the pound recovered to $1.3343 from $1.3176 on Monday. The yen eased slightly against the dollar, though it was still hovering near its strongest level in two years. The dollar rose to 102.79 yen from 101.97 yen. The euro strengthened to $1.1049 from $1.1005.

Benchmark U.S. crude rose $1.52, or 3.3 percent, to close at $47.85 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, gained $1.42, or 3 percent, to close at $48.58 a barrel in London.

In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline rose 3 cents to $1.51 a gallon. Heating oil added 4 cents to $1.47 a gallon. Natural gas gained 20 cents, or 7.4 percent, to $2.92 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 1.46 percent from 1.44 late Monday.

In metals trading, gold fell $6.80 to $1,317.90 an ounce, silver rose 10 cents to $17.89 an ounce and copper added 5 cents to $2.18 a pound.

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On the Job: David Anderson tends to the fish swimmingly at L.L. Bean http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/28/job-david-anderson-tends-fish-swimmingly-l-l-bean/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/28/job-david-anderson-tends-fish-swimmingly-l-l-bean/#comments Tue, 28 Jun 2016 08:00:40 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=945626 FREEPORT — Several times a day, a feeding frenzy erupts in L.L. Bean’s flagship store.

Within a 24-foot-long, 3,500-gallon aquarium, two dozen fish vie for food pellets that fall from an unseen hand. Standing over the tank – in a small, out-of-sight room behind a wall of submerged boulders – is longtime fish caretaker David Anderson.

Anderson, 53, has been a custodian and maintenance worker at Freeport’s largest store for 18 years.

Six years ago, Anderson began caring for the fish – a variety of trout and salmon – in the aquarium and nearby indoor pond. Currently, there are 48 fish in the store, split evenly between the two locations.

Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife provides the fish to the store, where they stay for about two years. Afterward, they are transferred to local ponds as stock fish and new fish arrive to the store.

In the meantime, Anderson cleans the aquarium once a week by scrubbing its rock wall, vacuuming debris and polishing the glass.

For Anderson, the best part of his job is “taking care of the fish. I enjoy being the person who’s responsible for them.”

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Treasury chief urges calm amid Brexit concerns http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/27/treasury-chief-urges-calm-amid-brexit-concerns/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/27/treasury-chief-urges-calm-amid-brexit-concerns/#comments Tue, 28 Jun 2016 01:12:50 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/27/treasury-chief-urges-calm-amid-brexit-concerns/ WASHINGTON — U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew says that the decision of British voters to leave the European Union is “an additional headwind” for the U.S. and global economies but “there is no sense of a financial crisis developing.”

In a CNBC interview Monday, Lew said, “I am not saying there will not be an impact on markets but it has been an orderly impact so far.”

Lew said it would be important for economic policymakers to signal that they are prepared to use the tools they have to promote economic growth and “not overreact to a volatile day here and there.”

Signaling concerns that countries might try to intervene in currency markets for trade advantages, Lew said, “We have made it clear that unilateral actions to intervene would be destabilizing.”

In a later appearance in Washington, Lew said that the Obama administration would work closely with officials in London and Brussels, the headquarters of the European Union, as well as with other major international partners to “ensure continued economic stability, security and prosperity in Europe and globally.”

Lew said he has been in regular contact with finance ministers from other countries as well as financial market participants around the world and “we will continue to consult closely in the days, weeks and months ahead.”

In his interview, Lew said the United States would not offer a suggestion on the timing for Britain’s exit from the EU, saying that should be left up to Britain and the EU. He said what would be critical during the transition was maintaining confidence in financial markets.

Lew signaled that the Obama administration planned to keep pushing for a vote in Congress this year on the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement with countries in Asia. Critics have attacked the proposal as a trade deal that will lead to further loss of American jobs.

Lew said TPP is “profoundly in the interest of American workers and the American economy” and said it would be a big mistake for America to “step away from the world.”

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Aspartame going back in Diet Pepsi http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/27/aspartame-going-back-in-diet-pepsi/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/27/aspartame-going-back-in-diet-pepsi/#comments Tue, 28 Jun 2016 00:59:57 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/27/aspartame-going-back-in-diet-pepsi/ NEW YORK — Diet Pepsi made with aspartame is returning to shelves in the U.S., after PepsiCo saw sales plummet following its reformulation of the drink last summer to remove the artificial sweetener.

PepsiCo says it will offer “Diet Pepsi Classic Sweetener Blend,” made with aspartame starting in September, in 12-ounce cans, 2-liter bottles and 20-ounce bottles. The move is intended to appease fans who don’t like the taste of the reformulated drink, which is made with the artificial sweetener sucralose.

But PepsiCo Inc. said Diet Pepsi made with sucralose, commonly known by the brand name Splenda, will remain its primary diet soda offering. Those cans will be silver, while the “classic” Diet Pepsi with aspartame will be come in light blue packaging.

When PepsiCo removed aspartame from Diet Pepsi in August, it said the change was the No. 1 request by customers. Industry executives have blamed the declining sale of diet sodas on concerns people have about the ingredient. Several years ago, Coca-Cola Co. tested ads in select newspapers defending the safety of the sweetener.

PepsiCo’s replacement of the sweetener from Diet Pepsi tested the theory that it was to blame for fleeing customers, but the plan seems to have backfired.

In the first quarter of this year, sales volume for Diet Pepsi sank 10.6 percent, according to industry tracker Beverage Digest.

Diet Coke, which stuck with aspartame, saw volume decline a more moderate 5.7 percent.

Aspartame had been linked to cancer in lab mice, but it is approved for use and the Food and Drug Administration says more than 100 studies support its safety.

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Volkswagen settlement includes buy-backs, cash payments, repairs http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/27/vw-settlement-includes-vehicle-buy-backs-cash-payments-repairs/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/27/vw-settlement-includes-vehicle-buy-backs-cash-payments-repairs/#comments Tue, 28 Jun 2016 00:10:51 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/27/vw-settlement-includes-vehicle-buy-backs-cash-payments-repairs/ Volkswagen will settle its emissions scandal case for $14.7 billion, the largest payout by an automaker to consumers in U.S. history, in an agreement set to be formally announced Tuesday morning, according to two people familiar with the matter.

More than $10 billion of the settlement will go to fix or buy back 475,000 Volkswagens with two-liter diesel engines that were programmed to turn off emissions measurement data outside of laboratory settings, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the deal had not yet been announced. Those engines spewed 40 times the legal limit of harmful nitrogen oxides.

Another $2.7 billion will go into an Environmental Protection Agency trust fund for environmental remediation, and the German automaker will spend $2 billion more on American clean energy technology.

Nearly 40 state attorneys general are also set to announce resolutions with Volkswagen that could bump the total settlement valuation to more than $15 billion.

A criminal investigation into the 2015 “diesel-gate” scandal, one that involved 11 million vehicles worldwide, is pending.

“This is not a slap-on-the-wrist kind of thing,” said Erik Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. “It’s a big financial setback and a big reputational setback. This is more than an annoyance for VW. It’s going to force VW to do some triage for its future.”

Car owners will have the option of selling their vehicles back to VW at pre-scandal prices or to have the emissions software fixed free of charge. Aside from that compensation, those drivers are also eligible to receive between $5,100 and $10,000 in the settlement.

Consumers who sold or traded in their vehicles are also entitled to compensation, even if the current owners are also being compensated.

The buyback and fix program runs through Dec. 1, 2018. By then, the settlement requires Volkswagen to have replaced or repaired 85 percent of the affected cars or pay hundreds of millions of dollars more in federal fines.

Once hailed as a leader in efficient “German engineering,” VW’s reputation has gone through the ringer after the massive scandal and settlement, industry analysts say. And the monetary penalties, with more to come from the Justice Department and European regulators, have dealt a sizable blow to one of the auto industry’s most admired brands.

“The (public relations) piece is such a huge piece, especially because people relied on these ‘green’ cars and now they feel cheated,” said Carl Tobias, a professor of law at the University of Richmond in Virginia. “I think the pressure was so intense that they weren’t paying attention or cut corners or cheated. You just can’t do that. It won’t fly in the U.S. with our consumers and our agencies. I just don’t think VW reckoned with that or did not take it seriously until it was too late.”

The settlement is the latest massive fine imposed by federal environmental and safety regulators on big automakers. In 2012, Toyota paid $1.1 billion after its gas-pedal recall. In 2015, General Motors agreed to pay $900 million after an ignition-switch defect. Takata has yet to reach a settlement with regulators over its massive airbag recall.

Stephanie Walkenshaw, of Denver, purchased her 2014 Jetta SportWagen TDI months before news of the emissions scandal broke. Until recently, after trying to claim some remittance from Volkswagen, she said she’d have preferred to keep her car after getting it fixed.

Now, she says, she’ll never buy a VW again.

“I thought VW played on people’s good intentions, and that’s one of the worst things you can do,” she said. “I wanted a car that had power but what was also good for the environment. They preyed on exactly what I wanted.”

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British prime minister confident as EU vote turmoil continues http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/27/british-prime-minister-confident-as-eu-vote-turmoil-continues/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/27/british-prime-minister-confident-as-eu-vote-turmoil-continues/#comments Tue, 28 Jun 2016 00:07:09 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/27/british-prime-minister-confident-as-eu-vote-turmoil-continues/ LONDON — Prime Minister David Cameron insisted Monday that Britain’s shock vote to leave the European Union won’t send the economy into a tailspin, even as the country was stripped of its top credit rating and stock markets and the pound continued a downward spiral.

Calling the vote a “seminal event” that “will lead to a less predictable, stable and effective policy framework in the U.K.,” Standard & Poor’s knocked the U.K.’s sovereign rating down by two notches, from AAA to AA. Hours later, Fitch Ratings followed suit, downgrading the country to AA, from AA+.

Both agencies said they were keeping a negative outlook on their ratings, which means they could downgrade the country further. Standard and Poor’s cited risks to the economy and public finances, the pound’s role as an international reserve currency and “risks to the constitutional and economic integrity of the U.K.” as Scotland’s strong vote to remain in the EU could raise the prospect of another referendum on Scottish independence.

Speaking earlier in the day as the House of Commons met for the first time since last week’s referendum, Cameron insisted the British economy was robust and could withstand the shock waves.

“It is clear that markets are volatile, there are some companies considering their investments and we know this is going to be far from plain sailing,” Cameron told lawmakers. “However, we should take confidence from the fact that Britain is ready to confront what the future holds for us from a position of strength.”

Despite the uncertainty fueling financial instability, leaders in both Britain and the EU signaled there would be no immediate start to negotiations on an EU exit.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with her French and Italian counterparts and said “we agree there will be no formal or informal talks” until the British government officially declares its intention to quit by invoking Article 50 of the EU treaty.

The statement appeared to scotch hopes by Conservative lawmaker Boris Johnson and his Vote Leave campaign to hold preliminary talks on the general outlines of a deal before Article 50 triggers a two-year countdown to a British exit.

Earlier, Merkel said she understood that Britain may need “a certain amount of time to analyze things,” but that a “long-term suspension” of the question wouldn’t be in either side’s economic interest.

Cameron announced last week that he would resign by the fall after failing to persuade a majority of voters to back continued EU membership, saying his successor should be the one to navigate Britain’s departure from the EU.

Cameron said he spoke Monday with Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, and made plain this was not the time to start the process.

“We have discussed the need to prepare for the negotiations and in particular the fact that the British government will not be triggering Article 50 at this stage,” he said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in Brussels and London to address fallout from the vote, said the U.S. has “immense confidence in … the leadership on both sides of the channel” to negotiate a deal, while urging the EU not to treat Britain in a “revengeful” manner.

Amid signs the uncertainty was affecting business confidence, a leading business group said 20 percent of its members planned to move some of their operations out of the U.K. The Institute of Directors said a survey of its 1,000 members showed three out of four believe Britain’s exit from the EU will be bad for business. About a quarter said they would freeze hiring and 5 percent said they would cut jobs.

“Ultimately we think that our members are very resilient, we think that British business is tough and will adapt, but certainly at the moment there is a lot of nervousness,” said Edwin Morgan, the head of media relations.

The pound hit a new 31-year low Monday, dropping another 3.5 percent to $1.3199, while stock markets declined across Europe. Bank shares were hit particularly hard. Shares in Royal Bank of Scotland, once the world’s largest banks and now mostly state-owned after a taxpayer bailout in 2008, closed 15 percent lower after dropping by as much as 25 percent.

In the U.S., the Dow Jones industrial average lost 260.51 points, or 1.5 percent, to 17,140.24. The average had been down more than 337 points earlier in the day.

The S&P 500 index slid 36.87 points, or 1.8 percent, to 2,000.54. The Nasdaq composite fell 113.54 points, or 2.4 percent, to 4,594.44.

The three major indexes are down for the year.

U.K. Treasury chief George Osborne pledged not to impose a new austerity budget – even though he warned earlier that would be necessary if the “leave” side prevailed – saying the next budget would be the task of Cameron’s successor.

Osborne said he was working closely with Bank of England Governor Mark Carney, fellow finance ministers and international organizations, and “we are prepared for whatever happens.”

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Climate change threatens to sink Gulf of Maine fishing industry http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/27/climate-change-threatens-to-sink-gulf-of-maine-fishing-industry/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/27/climate-change-threatens-to-sink-gulf-of-maine-fishing-industry/#comments Mon, 27 Jun 2016 23:24:26 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/27/climate-change-threatens-to-sink-gulf-of-maine-fishing-industry/ SEABROOK, N.H. — The cod isn’t just a fish to David Goethel. It’s his identity, his ticket to middle-class life, his link to a historic industry.

“I paid for my education, my wife’s education, my house, my kids’ education; my slice of America was paid for on cod,” said Goethel, a 30-year veteran of these waters that once teemed with New England’s signature fish.

But on this chilly, windy Saturday in April, after 12 hours out in the Gulf of Maine, he has caught exactly two cod, and he feels far removed from the 1990s, when he could catch 2,000 pounds in a day.

His boat, the Ellen Diane, a 44-foot fishing trawler named for his wife, is the only vessel pulling into the Yankee Fishermen’s Co-op in Seabrook. Fifteen years ago, there might have been a half-dozen. He is carrying crates of silver hake, skates and flounder – all worth less than cod.

One of America’s oldest commercial industries, fishing along the coast of the Northeast still employs hundreds. But every month, those numbers fall. After centuries of overfishing, pollution, foreign competition and increasing government regulation, the latest challenge is the one that’s doing them in: climate change.

Though no waters are immune to the ravages of climate change, the Gulf of Maine, a dent in the coastline from Cape Cod to Nova Scotia, best illustrates the problem. The gulf, where fishermen have for centuries sought lobster, cod and other species that thrived in its cold waters, is now warming faster than 99 percent of the world’s oceans, scientists have said.

The warming waters, in the gulf and elsewhere, have caused other valuable species, such as clams, to migrate to deeper or more northern waters. Others, such as lobsters, are largely gone from the once-lucrative waters off the southern New England states of Connecticut and Rhode Island, having become more susceptible to disease or predators.

Lobster catches in Maine are booming as the species creeps north, but as the warming continues, that’s a good thing that’s bound to end. A federal report from 2009 said that half of 36 fish stocks studied in the northwest Atlantic Ocean have been shifting north over the past 40 years, and that the trend is likely to continue.

Fish aren’t the only ones moving on, and not just in the Northeast. The U.S. fishing fleet has dwindled from more than 120,000 vessels in 1996 to about 75,000 today, the Coast Guard says.

For the fishermen of the northeastern U.S. – not all of whom accept the scientific consensus on climate change, and many of whom bristle at government regulations stemming from it – whether to stick with fishing, adapt to the changing ocean or leave the business is a constant worry.

WAVING THE WHITE FLAG

Robert Bradfield was one of the East Coast’s most endangered species, a Rhode Island lobsterman, until he pulled his traps out of the water for the last time about a decade ago.

Bradfield, of Newport, started in the fishery in the mid-1970s and stayed in it for about 30 years, sometimes catching 2,000 pounds of lobster a day. During his final years, he was lucky if he caught 100 pounds, not even enough to pay for bait, fuel and deckhands.

He now works on a pilot boat, guiding larger ships in and out of the harbor. He is glad he’s still on the water, but he misses lobstering and the community of fishermen he used to see in Newport.

“There’s probably 95 percent attrition out of that fishery in this area,” Bradfield said. “Of all the guys I fished with, I was a lobsterman for 30 years, and there’s maybe three left.”

The number of adult lobsters in New England south of Cape Cod slid to about 10 million in 2013, according to a report issued last year by an interstate regulatory board. It was about 50 million in the late 1990s. The lobster catch in the region sank to about 3.3 million pounds in 2013, from a peak of about 22 million in 1997.

Bradfield’s take on the role of warming oceans is nuanced and reflects the many years he spent on the water. Shell disease, he said, has taken a toll on southern New England’s lobster stock, something scientists say is a result of rising temperatures.

Bradfield also agrees with scientists who say the increase in predatory fish, such as black sea bass, is bad for the lobster population. Warming oceans are responsible for the increase in those fish species off New England, scientists say.

But Bradfield, a father to three grown children, also said his decision to leave the fishery was more about economics than science. He thinks some published studies are inconsistent. And he laments that Newport’s docks, once home to dozens of lobster boats, are now down to a few.

“It tore me up to do something else,” he said.

Others in the lobster business dispute the science that lays the blame on climate change. Nicholas Crismale, a former lobsterman and president of the Connecticut Commercial Lobstermen’s Association, is one of many lobstermen in his state who believes pesticide runoff is to blame.

Connecticut researchers found no pesticides in lobsters collected in Long Island Sound in late 2014. But Crismale, out of the business for four years and helping to run his wife’s restaurant, Lobster Shack in Branford, sticks to the hypothesis, even in the face of science.

“The warming stuff is a lot of baloney,” he said. “All that is is another scientist looking for a grant.”

Crismale said it’s a shame that lobstering, often a multigenerational enterprise in New England, is reaching its end in Connecticut. He used to bring his daughters out fishing with him, but they’ve grown up to be a lawyer and a teacher, and another generation isn’t taking their place.

“I’m never going to be able to take a grandchild out on my boat,” Crismale said. “And some of the other fishermen were second and third-generation fishermen. And they lost all that.”

Connecticut’s lobster fishery, based on Long Island Sound, has been hit especially hard by warming water and has been reduced to nearly nothing.

A power plant on the sound recorded more than 75 days with an average water temperature above 68 degrees Fahrenheit in each of the years 2012, 2013 and 2014, according to a regulatory board’s report. Between 1976 and 2010, that happened only twice. Lobsters prefer temperatures in the high 50s and low 60s.

There were nearly 300 lobstermen in Connecticut in 1999, and now there are maybe a dozen full-timers left.

Some in the Rhode Island lobster fishery said it’s still possible to make a living in the business.

Greg Mataronas, the president of the Rhode Island Lobstermen’s Association, who fishes out of Little Compton, said regulations and territoriality prevent members of the state’s fleet from moving to more fertile grounds. But the few remaining lobstermen in Rhode Island are still able to pull lobsters from the state’s waters, he said.

“There’s a real disconnect between what the guys are seeing on the water and what the scientists are saying,” he said.

Bradfield isn’t buying it. He is glad he left the business, as painful as it was to leave a piece of his identity behind.

“There’s a saying: Behind every successful fisherman is a wife with a good job,” he said. “You go down to the State Pier in Rhode Island now, guys hate what they’re doing right now.”

HANGING ON, GETTING BY

David Goethel has spent most of his life fishing for New England cod, and he doesn’t want to stop now.

“I could catch the entire quota for the Gulf of Maine in eight days,” Goethel said in a bit of bravado he swears is not an exaggeration. “I wouldn’t break a sweat doing it.”

Fishing is in Goethel’s blood. He paid his way through Boston University by taking thrill-seekers out on “party boat” fishing trips in Boston Harbor and segued into commercial cod fishing in 1982.

Today, he operates a trawler that leaves from New Hampshire, its nets scouring the Gulf of Maine for fish. But the catch these days is different – with the cod in jeopardy and quotas that limit his ability to catch them at all-time lows, cod fishermen like Goethel try to eke out a living by supplementing cod with just about anything else they can catch.

Goethel, 62, is making much less money. In the 1980s and ’90s, he could bring in $120,000 in a year, but is now making about $60,000, without subtracting a health insurance bill over $27,000. He and his wife, who is up every day at 4 a.m. for a far-flung teaching job, haven’t taken a vacation in three years.

Retirement isn’t in the cards for Goethel – at least, not soon.

“My wife is working far more than she used to,” he said. “I have to work more to make less.”

The challenges climate change have brought to commercial fishing are perhaps most noticeable in New England’s cod fishery, which has dwindled from more than 1,200 boats in the 1980s to only a few dozen today. In that time, the catch of cod has also plummeted, from more than 117 million pounds in 1980 to just over 5 million in 2014.

Most consumers haven’t noticed the collapse, with cod still readily available at restaurants and markets because of foreign sources like Iceland and Norway.

Scientists said late last year that the impact of climate change on Atlantic cod might be worse than previously thought. Fishermen pursue the fish in the Gulf of Maine and, farther off New England, the shallows of Georges Bank, both of which have experienced dramatic temperature rise. Around 2004, the gulf began warming about 10 times faster than previously.

“This is what global warming looks like in the Gulf of Maine,” said Andrew Pershing, a Maine-based marine scientist who co-authored the paper last year in the journal Science.

Goethel, also a marine scientist and a former member of a regional regulatory board, doesn’t bemoan the ocean’s changing temperature as much as the rules he must play by. Because of the tight quotas, he must avoid fishing around areas where cod live, he said. That is because cod are a “choke species,” and when fishermen reach their quota for cod they aren’t allowed to pursue other fish.

Like others in the cod fishery, Goethel has had to adapt, but at his core he remains a cod fisherman. The experience has left him frustrated and more than a little bitter.

He doesn’t dispute the scientific consensus about climate change, but he does think government regulators apply that science in a manner unnecessarily punitive to fishermen. He plastered a sticker on his boat declaring, “Who says there’s no fish?”

For the most recent fishing year, he was allotted 3,600 pounds of cod. He caught his allotment of 60,000 pounds in 2010, and leased and caught an additional 50,000. He believes that the cod have moved and not died off, and that he could easily continue catching high totals without strict regulations.

Scientists have said warming waters have indeed motivated some young cod to seek deeper, colder waters – some of which are closed to fishing.

The cuts to catch limits represented the first and biggest blow to the industry, and they stemmed from overfishing and subsequent regulations designed to stop fishermen from taking too much from the sea. They were meant to preserve the fishery for future generations, and it made earning a living difficult.

Climate change has only exacerbated that trouble.

Other obstacles, such as the government-imposed cost of on-board monitors to collect data to inform future fishing quotas, have rankled Goethel, whose lawsuit seeking to block the charges is pending. But he perseveres.

“The future of the cod fishery is not that it’s in jeopardy,” Goethel said. “It needs to be recalibrated.”

Government regulators, such as John Bullard, a regional administrator for fisheries for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, have said the quota cuts that irk fishermen are necessary to rebuild the stock. But he has acknowledged the rebuilding effort comes with an “economic price.”

The changes have been difficult emotionally for Goethel, whose sons, Daniel and Eric, are a fisheries biologist and a tugboat captain. He instilled a love of fishing in everyone in his family, and old traditions are hard to part with.

“Eric would get rolled out of bed to go fishing,” Ellen said. “He did the same thing to me.”

ADAPTING, COMMUTING

Michael Mohr harvested surf clams for almost 30 of his 55 years, and his desire to stay in the only business he has ever known now takes him far from his family.

The clams he caught for decades feed tourists and locals alike in towns all along the coast. Now, those clams, which he once caught off New Jersey, are found northward or farther out to sea.

Mohr has also moved on. About 10 years ago, he started commuting six hours each way from his home in Mays Landing, New Jersey, to the former whaling port of New Bedford, Massachusetts. He has also switched clam species; he got his start fishing for Atlantic surf clams but now pursues the ocean quahog.

The quahog is well known to New England diners as a stuffed clam or in its own kind of chowder. Both quahogs and surf clams populate supermarket seafood sections.

The reason for Mohr’s decision has been documented by published science, as well as on the decks of the boat he fishes from, the ESS Pursuit. Moving north for quahogs was a way to remain a clammer.

“We’re finding clams in deeper water instead of inshore water, where we used to work 25 years ago,” Mohr said. “It’s just affecting everything.”

Mohr leaves behind his wife of 20 years and makes the drive to New Bedford so he and his 29-year-old son, Danny, can spend 20 days out of 30 aboard the Pursuit. Mohr has two other adult children who live in New Jersey.

He has missed his children’s first days at school, their sports events, and weddings of loved ones while out chasing clams, and, later, quahogs. Missing out on family life is worse these days because of his long commute on Interstate 95.

Whether Mohr can make holidays like Thanksgiving is “hit-and-miss,” said his wife, Melanie.

Mohr’s migration story is common in the clamming business, said Dave Wallace, a Maryland-based consultant in the industry. It was once based largely off Atlantic City, near Mohr’s home, but has shifted northward along with the clams, he said.

Some fishermen have decided to instead pursue quahogs, as Mohr has, while others now travel farther out to sea to harvest surf clams. The surf clam fishery has slipped somewhat in the face of the changes, with a little less than 41 million pounds caught in 2014, the second-lowest total since 1980.

Mohr is undaunted. Clamming has been good to him, and if he has to spend more time on the road as he nears 60, so be it.

“It’s just a way of life,” Mohr said. “You’ve got to go where the money is at, and you’re happy. Right now, I’m happy.”

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Brunswick nonprofit receives $4 million grant to fund tech training http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/27/4m-grant-to-fund-tech-training-at-maine-nonprofit/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/27/4m-grant-to-fund-tech-training-at-maine-nonprofit/#comments Mon, 27 Jun 2016 21:44:02 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/27/4m-grant-to-fund-tech-training-at-maine-nonprofit/ A Brunswick-based nonprofit announced Monday that it has received a $4 million U.S. Department of Labor grant to train young and underserved workers who want to enter Maine’s information technology sector.

Coastal Counties Workforce Inc. serves six counties along the coast – Cumberland, Knox, Lincoln, Sagadahoc, Waldo and York – through its TechHire program, which includes career coaching, paid internships, on-the-job-training and short-term, intensive IT boot camps.

Coastal Counties partners with employers such as Goodwill Workforce Solutions and Axiom Technologies and plans to train workers for an array of jobs, including computer systems analysts, software developers and IT project managers.

Vice President Joseph Biden and Department of Labor Secretary Thomas Perez announced a total of $150 million in TechHire grants for 39 partnerships nationwide, including the one with Coastal Counties Workforce.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree applauded the grant as a step toward filling the gap left by the loss of manufacturing jobs across the state, particularly in the paper industry.

“This grant is great news for getting Maine people back to work in good-paying jobs that have bright potential for the future,” Pingree, who represents the 1st District, said in a statement. “It not only will benefit individuals by helping them access these jobs, but will also be a major asset in attracting new businesses that need this kind of skilled workforce.”

Coastal Counties Workforce is primarily supported by funds from the federal Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act of 2014, as well as grants and contracts procured from the U.S. Department of Labor, the state of Maine, private foundations, business partners and individuals.

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Fishermen vow to continue lawsuit about monitoring rules http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/27/fishermen-vow-to-continue-lawsuit-about-monitoring-rules/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/27/fishermen-vow-to-continue-lawsuit-about-monitoring-rules/#comments Mon, 27 Jun 2016 19:27:43 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/27/fishermen-vow-to-continue-lawsuit-about-monitoring-rules/ CONCORD, New Hampshire – Attorneys for fishermen who oppose a new cost imposed by regulators say they will continue with a federal lawsuit despite a recent concession by the federal government.

The lawsuit concerns the cost of at-sea fishing monitors, who are workers hired to collect data that inform catch quotas. The government shifted the cost of paying for monitors from itself to fishermen earlier this year.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said recently that fishing trips on or after July 1 may be eligible for reimbursement of monitoring costs.

But the fishermen and lawyers behind the lawsuit filed a response in federal court that says the industry is still harmed by the cost shift.

The response also says reimbursement will still leave the industry on the hook for some monitor costs.

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Garbage to Garden wins $100,000 prize on ‘Greenlight Maine’ TV show http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/27/garbage-to-garden-wins-100000-prize-on-greenlight-maine-tv-show/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/27/garbage-to-garden-wins-100000-prize-on-greenlight-maine-tv-show/#comments Mon, 27 Jun 2016 17:09:43 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/27/garbage-to-garden-wins-100000-prize-on-greenlight-maine-tv-show/ Portland-based composting service Garbage to Garden won a $100,000 grant Friday night in the season one finale of business competition TV show “Greenlight Maine.”

Garbage to Garden was one of three finalists that competed in a live event Friday at Merrill Auditorium in Portland. The other two finalists were Portland-based national parks guide app-maker Chimani and biobased products developer Revolution Research, located in Orono.

Also on Friday, Greenlight Maine said it has received a $100,000 grant from the state Department of Economic and Community Development to help fund future seasons.

“Greenlight Maine” was created by Brian Corcoran, CEO of Shamrock Sports & Entertainment; Nat Thompson, former producer and owner of WCSH-6; and Con Fullam, an executive TV producer and music composer. Twenty-six companies are selected each season to compete against each other in a weekly show that airs September through June on WCSH-6 and WLBZ-2. Corcoran said the show is in talks with potential donors to double the grand prize to $200,000 for its upcoming second season.

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Gas prices dip somewhat in Maine, more nationally http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/27/gas-prices-dip-somewhat-in-maine-more-nationally/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/27/gas-prices-dip-somewhat-in-maine-more-nationally/#comments Mon, 27 Jun 2016 16:18:22 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/27/gas-prices-dip-somewhat-in-maine-more-nationally/ The average retail gasoline price in Maine fell a little less than a penny per gallon in the past week to an average of $2.34 per gallon.

The survey of 1,228 Maine gas outlets by GasBuddy.com found that Maine gas prices fell a little bit less than the national average. The survey found that gas prices fell 2.4 cents per gallon nationally to $2.31.

Maine gas prices on Sunday were 45.7 cents per gallon less than the same day a year ago and 2.4 cents per gallon less than a month ago. The average national gas price slipped 1.3 cents per gallon during the month and 47.2 cents per gallon over the year.

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Asian-themed Islesboro mansion sells at auction for undisclosed price http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/27/asian-themed-islesboro-mansion-sells-at-auction-for-undisclosed-price/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/27/asian-themed-islesboro-mansion-sells-at-auction-for-undisclosed-price/#comments Mon, 27 Jun 2016 16:00:40 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/27/asian-themed-islesboro-mansion-sells-at-auction-for-undisclosed-price/ “The Froggery,” an Asian-themed mansion on Islesboro Island, was sold at auction Saturday. The auctioneer, DeCaro Luxury Auctions, would not disclose the buyer or sale price.

The 8,000-square-foot home, filled with original Asian artwork and situated on more than 15 acres of protected mountainside land overlooking Penobscot Bay, was put up for auction by its owner with no minimum “reserve” price. Real estate auctions commonly set a minimum bid price for each property, known as the reserve price. No bids below that price are accepted.

The home’s seller is John Blin, a Wall Street executive who told Portland Magazine that he has relocated to Hong Kong because Asia represents the future of the financial world. Blin purchased the property in 2005. The three-bedroom, three-bath home was completed in 2010, and an adjacent tea house was built in 2015.

The home was previously listed with Downeast Properties for $10.9 million but did not sell.

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Stocks slump again, driven by anxiety over Brexit http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/27/u-s-stocks-open-lower-pound-falls-further/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/27/u-s-stocks-open-lower-pound-falls-further/#comments Mon, 27 Jun 2016 13:47:45 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/27/u-s-stocks-open-lower-pound-falls-further/ Investor jitters over the economic fallout of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union sent U.S. stocks sharply lower Monday.

The latest slump followed another rough day for European markets and a further weakening of the euro and British pound, which last week plunged to its lowest level since 1985.

Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s added to the market’s anxiety Monday by stripping the UK of its top-shelf credit rating. The firm cited uncertainty over the UK’s vote to leave the EU.

Materials companies led the slide on Wall Street. Losses also piled up for financial and technology stocks. Shares in energy companies fell as the price of U.S. crude oil declined.

“When you get major news like this that is unexpected, as the ‘Brexit’ vote was, it often takes about five trading days to kind of work through the system,” said JJ Kinahan, chief strategist at TD Ameritrade.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 260.51 points, or 1.5 percent, to 17,140.24. The average had been down more than 337 points earlier in the day.

The S&P 500 index slid 36.87 points, or 1.8 percent, to 2,000.54. The Nasdaq composite fell 113.54 points, or 2.4 percent, to 4,594.44.

The three major indexes are down for the year.

Britons voted last Thursday to leave the EU over concerns including immigration and regulation. That move created a wave of uncertainty for financial markets, triggering a sell-off on Friday that resulted in the biggest losses for the Dow and S&P 500 since August, while the Nasdaq notched its worst day since August 2011.

Despite the losses on Friday and Monday, the market is still well above the lows it reached in early February, when the S&P 500 closed as low as 1,829.

“This is a bit of a spillover from Friday,” said Eric Wiegand, senior portfolio manager for U.S. Bank’s Private Client Reserve. “While it hasn’t been a very pleasant two-day period, we’re largely erasing some of the rallies we had in the previous five-plus sessions.”

Eight of the 10 sectors in the S&P 500 index posted losses Monday, with materials companies shedding the most, 3.4 percent.

Utilities stocks, traditionally seen as a more attractive investment at times of heightened market volatility, notched the biggest gain, 1.3 percent.

Western Digital declined the most among companies in the S&P 500 index. The maker of data storage products shed $5.66, or 11.8 percent, to $42.18. Rival Seagate Technology slid $2.29, or 9.9 percent, to $20.87.

Banks and other financial companies slumped as investors speculated that the global economic uncertainty caused by Britain’s decision to leave the EU will prompt the Federal Reserve to hold off on raising its benchmark interest rate. Banks benefit from higher interest rates, which translate into more revenue from loans and credit cards.

“A lot of the expectations about what these financial stocks would be worth have changed,” Kinahan said. “This sort of takes Fed rate raises off the table for a while, maybe through the end of 2016.”

Charles Schwab fell $2.10, or 8 percent, to $24.05, while JPMorgan Chase shed $1.99, or 3.3 percent, to $57.61. State Street gave up $4.20, or 7.6 percent, to $50.79.

European stock markets added to their steep losses from Friday. Britain’s FTSE 100 fell 2.5 percent, while Germany’s DAX and France’s CAC 40 each gave up 3 percent.

Earlier, Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 rose 2.4 percent, making up some of the ground it lost on Friday, when it closed nearly 8 percent lower. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng shed 0.2 percent. Seoul’s Kospi rose 0.1 percent.

Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 1.45 percent from 1.56 late Friday.

In currency markets, the British pound slid to $1.3176 from $1.3638 late Friday, despite the British Treasury’s reassurances that the economy was strong enough to withstand the uncertainty. The euro weakened to $1.1005 from $1.1121, while the Japanese yen fell to 101.97 from 102.24.

Benchmark U.S. crude slid $1.31, or 2.7 percent, to $46.33 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell $1.25, or 2.6 percent, to $47.16 a barrel in London.

Wholesale gasoline dropped 5 cents to $1.48 a gallon. Heating oil fell 3 cents to $1.43 a gallon. Natural gas rose 5 cents to $2.72 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gold edged up $2.30 to $1,324.70 an ounce, silver slipped 5 cents to $17.79 an ounce and copper fell 1 cent to $2.13 a pound.

AP Business Writers Danica Kirka in London and Joe McDonald in Beijing contributed to this report.

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Will financial markets collapse this week? Five signs to watch for http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/will-financial-markets-collapse-this-week-five-signs-to-watch-for/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/will-financial-markets-collapse-this-week-five-signs-to-watch-for/#comments Mon, 27 Jun 2016 03:39:28 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/will-financial-markets-collapse-this-week-five-signs-to-watch-for/ NEW YORK — By the time markets open Monday in Asia, investors across the globe will have had a couple of nights to absorb the stunning news that Britain had voted to leave the European Union.

Their initial reaction was to send global markets into a meltdown. The British pound fell to a multi-year low. Gold, a safe haven for nervous investors, surged. Global markets lost more than $2 trillion in wealth on Friday – a record. About $800 billion of that loss in market wealth was felt in the United States, where the Dow Jones industrial average lost more than 600 points.

Will a few days of relaxation be enough to wash away that funk? Don’t count on it.

“Market panics … never completely wash themselves out on a Friday and in particular on a summer Friday,” said Art Hogan, director of equity research and chief market strategist for Wunderlich. “Obviously there is no road map for a historic event like this, but typically it takes two or three days for the initial washout to complete itself.”

Here are five markets to watch for a sign of where things are headed:

ASIAN MARKETS

Asian markets will offer the first sign of whether investors will face another rough day with Japan’ Nikkei stock index likely setting the tone. It tumbled nearly 8 percent on Friday, pushing it down 21 percent so far this year.

If the Nikkei can’t find its footing Monday morning, it may signal that investors still have a lot of questions about how Britain’s decision to leave the EU – known as Brexit – will affect the global economy.

Japanese officials held a special meeting over the weekend to discuss the state of the markets, according to The Wall Street Journal.

BRITISH POUND

The poor British pound. It has already fallen to its lowest value against the U.S. dollar since 1985 after suffering its worst day on record. While presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said he sees an upside to the tumble, the sharp decline underscores deep anxiety about the currency while reducing the buying power of the United Kingdom. (On the flip side, it might make the U.K. a more competitive exporter of goods.) A further erosion of the value of the British currency would be a sign that investors remain concerned about its future.

VIX

Consider the S&P 500 volatility index, known as VIX, a daily tracker of investor anxiety. It measures the degree to which investors expect stocks to swing and is often called the “fear gauge.” It jumped nearly 50 percent on Friday, and as long as investors continue to grapple with the fallout from Britain’s divorce from the EU, it will continue to be a a strong sign of market volatility. After months of relative calm, activity on the index rose in the weeks before the Brexit vote and then exploded.

EU STABILITY

The Brexit vote threw a microscope on the financial stability of the rest of the European Union. Last week, countries viewed to be financially weaker, such as Italy and Spain, saw their bonds fall out of favor as investors rushed to markets considered safer, such as Germany. The yield spread between Spanish 10-year-bonds and similar German bonds (considered among the strongest) climbed to the highest levels seen since March 2015. In fact, the yield on 10-year German bonds fell to a record low. (A lower yield means that investors are willing to make less from buying the bond. A higher yield reflects that investors want a bigger return for betting on a country.)

Watch out for signs that investors are continuing to rush to the parts of the European Union considered safest. It will take years for the European Union to adjust to its new reality and investors are still gaming it out.

GOLD

Gold not only sparkles, it is typically one of the clearest signs that investors are nervous. The precious metal jumped to a two-year high last Friday, about $1,322 per ounce. It tends to make such jumps when investors are looking for a safe place to store their cash, particularly when currency markets are unpredictable. If gold prices continue to rise, it could signal that some investors are not just nervous, but preparing for the worst.

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In Manchester farmhouse, innovators work on guided unmanned parachutes http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/in-manchester-farmhouse-innovators-work-on-guided-unmanned-parachutes/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/in-manchester-farmhouse-innovators-work-on-guided-unmanned-parachutes/#comments Sun, 26 Jun 2016 23:45:39 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/in-manchester-farmhouse-innovators-work-on-guided-unmanned-parachutes/ MANCHESTER — Inside an old farmhouse just off Western Avenue and competing for space with his wife’s art studio, Stan Farrell, his father, Bob, and a small team of multitaskers are working on a high-tech way to control unmanned parachutes that has drawn interest and money from both NASA and the Army.

Wizbe Innovations moved to the site a few years ago from the basement and garage of Farrell’s nearby home. The small company is using “smart” materials to create a system expected to allow for much greater control of the speed and direction of unmanned parachutes, such as those used by the military to drop cargo to troops behind enemy lines, or by NASA to bring spacecraft and equipment back to Earth safely.

Controlling the speed and direction of such parachutes is important. For NASA, it could mean reduced cost because equipment such as a rocket returning to Earth could be parachuted safely back to a specific location such as a base, instead of plunging into the ocean.

And for the military, accurate deployment of a parachute toting supplies of food, fuel or even arms, is important especially in a conflict in which missing a target with a supply drop could mean not only soldiers going without needed supplies, but also those supplies falling into the hands of their enemies.

‘GIVING YOUR STUFF TO YOUR ENEMY’

Farrell said the need for improvement in cargo parachute technology was illustrated in Afghanistan several years ago, when the U.S. military would do some 10,000 supply drops by parachute a month. Some were dropped from high elevations –so the planes could avoid being shot – but parachutes without a means of being controlled once they leave the plane could end up 10 or even 20 miles away from the troops meant to receive the supplies.

“So you’re giving your stuff to your enemy,” Farrell said of the problem of inaccurate drops.

Farrell and his father, who are both engineers, said they’d like to be able to drop supplies within 10 to 20 feet of a target.

Technology to control such cargo parachutes already exists but is heavy and expensive and can be difficult to recover.

The technology Wizbe Innovations is developing is light and contained within the fabric of the parachute itself, allowing it to be stuffed into a bag with the parachute, and thus easily recovered during military operations.

NASA recently awarded a $114,000 Small Business Innovative Research Phase 1 grant to help develop the technology for potential use by the space exploring agency, both in current suborbital flights and future returns from space.

Farrell said the company recently collected data by doing small-scale prototype air drops at military sites, has done wind-tunnel testing, and plans to do further testing using kites it can fly in a field at Bob Farrell’s Vassalboro home.

The company’s technology uses wires, which move when sent an electric pulse controlled by computer, to move flaps built into the fabric. Moving the flaps regulates the airflow, allowing the parachute canopy to turn, speed up and slow down.

Shawn Lemelin, process manager, demonstrated the technology on a small bulletin board covered with flaps of various sizes and shapes, each with a set of wires going to them.

Speeding up a parachute could be handy, for example, when parachuting into hostile territory, with the ability to reduce speed important to make the landing softer.

Wizbe Innovations is a material science development group that can help with product fabrication, design analysis, and materials innovations. The company previously developed a personal lowering device for the Air Force that allows parachutists who get caught on a tree to lower themselves to the ground safely.

THE COMPANY’S MOLDING MATERIAL

The company’s main production effort now is for a significantly different product, available at some 1,000 different retail art supply stores nationwide, or directly online at composimold.com.

ComposiMold is a reusable, biodegradable mold-making polymer material used by artists, chefs, hobbyists interested in action figures and models, soap-makers, jewelers, home renovators and others.

The gummy bear-like substance can be heated up and formed in a mold to make anything from chocolate to candles, in custom-made shapes. The mold can be made in the shape of just about any existing item the Composimold can be poured onto.

Production of ComposiMold takes place in the back of the farmhouse, overseen by Dan Cyr. The substance is heated in a row of 55-gallon drums, then cooked for one to four days, depending on which version of the product they’re making. It is then placed in containers of various sizes, selling for roughly between $15 and $50.

They’ve sold about 100,000 pounds of the product so far.

Stan’s mother, Bobbi, also helps with the business, as does Farrell’s wife, Helene Farrar.

 

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Randolph flag project folds for lack of insurance http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/randolphs-rally-round-the-flag-comes-up-short/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/randolphs-rally-round-the-flag-comes-up-short/#comments Sun, 26 Jun 2016 23:00:55 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/randolphs-rally-round-the-flag-comes-up-short/ RANDOLPH — The plan in this, the smallest town in Maine, was simple: join neighboring municipalities in the summertime rite of celebrating the United States and honoring veterans by mounting American flags on utility poles on the town’s traffic corridors.

For about a year, Jim Kimball and the Randolph Fire Association have been raising money for the project and had gathered donations totaling about $1,000, just enough to pay for 20 flags and the mounting hardware.

And so the flags went up.

“It makes the town look better,” said Kimball, a captain in the Randolph Volunteer Fire Department and a member of the association, “and it shows we support the veterans. A lot of the veterans drive right through here.”

Randolph is just south of Chelsea, where the VA Maine Healthcare Systems campus at Togus is located.

But the plan derailed this month over one crucial detail: lack of sufficient liability insurance.

While the town of Randolph has insurance coverage through the Maine Municipal Association, it doesn’t meet the $5 million coverage threshold that utility companies such as Central Maine Power require.

Town officials would have to buy an insurance rider, costing about $500, for the additional coverage. No money has been budgeted for that.

The flags have now come down.

“Where we rent the poles,” Randolph Selectman Bob Overton said, “we thought they were ours.”

Many people think the utility poles belong to municipalities, CMP spokeswoman Gail Rice said. They generally belong either to an electric company or a telephone company.

In Randolph, the poles are owned by CMP and by FairPoint Communications. Time Warner/Charter rents virtually all of the poles on which its networks are attached, company spokesman Andrew Russell said, so it refers questions on attachments to the poles’ owners.

Rice said her company has a process in place to approve what it calls “municipal decorative temporary attachments,” which includes flags.

While the power company charges no fee, it does require, among other things, that applicants show proof of insurance with a minimum liability limit of $5 million.

“There’s no magic to the number,” Rice said. “This is the figure that we came up with. It protects us and it protects the towns.”

FairPoint has a pole attachment policy that mirrors CMP’s. “We do require the liability insurance,” spokeswoman Angelynne Beaudry said. “It’s a responsible business practice.”

Beyond company policy, Rice said state law forbids anyone from attaching anything to a utility pole without prior consent. Doing so is considered a civil offense and can result in fines of up to $100.

“The problem is that people attach things to utility poles … using nails, staples and screws,” she said. “Line workers need to work on poles from time to time. If they get a prick in their rubber gloves, that makes them useless and nonprotective. It could be lethal.”

Kimball said he can’t fathom why the cost would be so high to put flags on utility poles for only three months of the year.

“Not that I want to make a big deal about it, but I just don’t understand the $5 million coverage,” he said. Kimball has seen the effect of the flags in other cities and towns across the region, including those on the other side the Kennebec River. In 2012, American LegionSmith-Wiley Post 4 in Gardiner raised money to extend a line of flags from Farmingdale through Gardiner and along Brunswick Avenue. Robin Plourde, executive assistant to the Gardiner city manager, said the process wasn’t difficult, and CMP was easy to work with.

Rice estimated that of the 300 or so cities, towns, townships and unorganized territories that CMP serves, 70 to 80 have pole attachment agreements. She said she’s sure more towns than that have put up flags without permission.

Not every town with flags flying is violating CMP’s policy. On Water Street in Hallowell, for instance, flags are mounted on the light poles lining the east side of the street. “Those belong to the city,” said Dawna Myrick, Hallowell’s city treasurer. “The flags are our own and those are our poles.”

As it now stands, donation buckets remain at stores in Randolph. Even though Kimball says the 90-day season is about half over, if enough cash comes in, it would be donated to the town to pay for the insurance so the flags could go back up for the rest of the summer.

Another option is Randolph’s upcoming Town Meeting. Kimball said he plans to meet with Fire Chief Ron Cunningham and the head of the Randolph Fire Association to talk about whether they should ask to add an article to the warrant. Randolph’s Town Meeting is scheduled for July 27 and the warrant must be finalized two weeks before that.

“The insurance money, that’s not just a one-time thing,” he said. “That’s every year.”

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Rift over sustainability leads to cancellation of Maine Seaweed Festival http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/rift-over-sustainability-leads-to-cancellation-of-maine-seaweed-festival/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/rift-over-sustainability-leads-to-cancellation-of-maine-seaweed-festival/#comments Sun, 26 Jun 2016 14:45:03 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/rift-over-sustainability-leads-to-cancellation-of-maine-seaweed-festival/ SOUTH PORTLAND – The Maine Seaweed Festival is a dream day for New England’s natural food lovers, who spend the day munching on seaweed granola and schmoozing with kelp harvesters at a daylong party astride sun-splashed Casco Bay.

But this year, it’s not happening, and a rift between the event’s organizers and some seaweed harvesters is the reason why. The planners of the popular festival, located in the country’s biggest seaweed state, said they are canceling the event this year over concerns about lack of sustainability.

Organizer Hillary Krapf, who runs a seaweed products and education company called Moon And Tide, said Maine’s seaweed industry has been besieged by a “Gold Rush mentality” that threatens sustainability as seaweed grows in popularity. New players are getting involved in Maine seaweed farming before there is anywhere near the infrastructure needed to sustainably process and sell it, she said.

“I would like to see more regulation and accountability. We can feel good about what we are promoting and make sure we are doing right by the ocean and its resources,” she said.

Maine overtook California as the country’s largest producer of seaweed about a decade ago. The Maine Seaweed Festival, held in South Portland, has sprung up along with the growth as an annual chance for the state’s seaweed producers to show off products and celebrate all things related to sea vegetables.

The seaweed festival started in 2014 and doubled in attendance to about 3,000 last year. The rise in attendance coincides with growth in Maine’s seaweed industry, which quadrupled its harvest from 2004 to 2014.

Krapf declined to single out companies in the seaweed industry that she believes are threatening the sustainability of the crop, which is used to make snacks, soap, dog food, nutritional supplements and many other products. The number of wild-seaweed harvesters in the state has held steady at around 150 to 170 for the last few years, and there are a handful of aquaculture seaweed farmers.

Paul Dobbins, who heads a Portland seaweed products company called Ocean Approved, said there are about 20 applications in the pipeline to open new seaweed farms. His company uses about half wild and half farmed, and it plans to move to 100 percent farmed.

Dobbins disagreed that Maine’s seaweed industry has a sustainability problem, but added that a lot of new faces are getting into the business.

“We see the market expanding dramatically for domestic seaweed,” Dobbins said. “Almost all seaweed in the U.S. is imported, and consumers are looking for a product from waters they can trust.”

But Shep Erhart, president of the Maine Seaweed Council and founder of Maine Coast Sea Vegetables, doesn’t paint so rosy of a picture. He said the state is experiencing a “seaweed bandwagon,” and this is a good time for the festival to take a year off.

“We can’t meet demand without overdoing it,” Erhart said. “We want to make sure we can meet this demand that Mother Nature is supplying us. We need to step back and slow down a bit.”

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International conference in Portland looks at fish health http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/international-conference-in-portland-looks-at-fish-health/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/international-conference-in-portland-looks-at-fish-health/#comments Sun, 26 Jun 2016 14:36:51 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/international-conference-in-portland-looks-at-fish-health/ An international conference about the health of marine life is expected to bring some 250 researchers and industry leaders to Maine’s largest city.

The second International Conference of Fish & Shellfish Immunology runs until June 30. The University of Maine Aquaculture Research Institute is hosting the event, which organizers say focuses on the health and welfare of wild and farmed aquatic animals.

One of the keynote speakers at the event is Bassem Allam of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University. He will speak about shellfish immunity and response to infections.

The event is taking place at the Holiday Inn by the Bay. UMaine is hosting it on behalf of the International Society of Fish & Shellfish Immunology.

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Michelle Singletary: Stories of co-signing gone wrong http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/michelle-singletary-stories-of-co-signing-gone-wrong/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/michelle-singletary-stories-of-co-signing-gone-wrong/#comments Sun, 26 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=941384 It’s tough to establish yourself financially, so I understand when people seek help from others.

Sometimes the appeal for assistance is asking someone else to co-sign a loan. My rule if you ever get such a request? Don’t do it. Ever. But recently I offered some suggestions on setting standards should you decide to co-sign anyway.

I have an occasional Color of Money feature called “Talk Back” in which I allow readers to offer counterpoints to something I’ve recommended. But this time, the vast majority of the feedback were stories of co-signing gone terribly wrong. I’d like to share a few of them.

One reader wrote: “I co-signed two student loans for my girlfriend some years ago, and, of course, we are not together anymore and I haven’t spoken to her for a few years now. It was a long, 10-plus-year relationship, and ended with acrimony. I unfortunately have student-loan debt of my own – much higher than hers – and, while it appears she does pay her loans, rarely does she do it on time, and I receive calls from her bank.”

And here’s a cautionary tale from a woman who gave in to a friend who begged her to back some medical-school loans.

“At the time, she promised to switch the co-sign to her father after a year,” the reader wrote. “He was unemployed and couldn’t co-sign. Well, I’m still on the loans, and there’s still a huge balance on them. I still get alerts when the payments are late. And I learned my near-perfect credit had a blemish on it when I bought a house. When I ask her about taking me off, she says she’s really sorry but the loan agency won’t let her. Is this true? Is there anything I can do to untie myself from her loans?”

Both readers asked the same thing: How can they get removed from the loans? I recommended they contact the lenders to see if there is a co-signer release policy and, if so, what the requirements are. There are usually a number of conditions that must be met, including that the primary borrower has made a certain number of on-time principal and interest payments. In these readers’ cases, the primary borrowers are frequently paying late, which seems to show why they needed a co-signer in the first place. So why would a lender release them given the loan histories?

Finally, a Maryland woman shared a story about her uncle, who co-signed for a neighbor so she could purchase a car.

“He knew her and had loaned her money before, which she always repaid,” the niece wrote. “But she often took long periods of time to repay. Major warning sign which he ignored because he is a good guy and has a hard time saying no.”

The neighbor didn’t have a car and the uncle was giving her rides to work, so “when she wanted to buy one, he thought that was good.”

Things were OK for a while. The neighbor paid the loan as agreed.

“But she didn’t pay the insurance,” the niece wrote. “Next thing he knew, my uncle was getting notices from (the state Motor Vehicle Administration) because the tags were revoked due to the lapse in insurance. Unknown to him (only because he didn’t read the contract when he signed it), the car was in his name with her as a co-owner. When he contacted the dealership, they told him his credit was better than hers and so they had put not only the credit, but the car, in his name with her as co-owner.”

The Motor Vehicle Administration came after them both in court for more than $1,000 in fines.

Because the uncle was the technical owner of the car, he was also responsible for the insurance lapses. He ended up having to pay all of the fines.

Here’s the epilogue to this story: “My uncle finally got his name off of the vehicle, but not without some hassle. The woman couldn’t make the payments and it was repossessed. That still isn’t finished, but (the lender) won’t be able to touch my uncle on it. He is a senior citizen and his only income is Social Security. He has no possessions that can be sold, etc. So, while they may get a judgment on him, they won’t collect from him. The woman thinks she is in the clear, but I’m sure the lender will turn its attention to her once they understand my uncle cannot be touched.”

Again, consider yourself warned. If the bank, which has more money than you, isn’t comfortable with lending someone money, that’s a huge red flag that your co-signing might result in misery.

Michelle Singletary can be contacted at:

michelle.singletary@washpost.com

Twitter: SingletaryM

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Week in review: Brexit triggers uncertainty; Maine personal incomes rise http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/week-in-review-uncertainty-over-brexit-vote-maine-personal-incomes-rise/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/week-in-review-uncertainty-over-brexit-vote-maine-personal-incomes-rise/#comments Sun, 26 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=941693 ECONOMY

Brexit triggers uncertainty for Maine business owners

Mainers who import goods and services from the United Kingdom and the European Union said that while the immediate impact on their businesses may be positive because of favorable currency exchange rates, they think the long-term effects will be mostly negative. Those that export goods to the U.K. and EU said the Brexit could hurt their operations right away. Tim Regan, a British national who lives in Falmouth and operates a semiconductor business in Portland and the U.K., said he is all for living in interesting times, but that the economic uncertainty caused by the Brexit vote cannot be good for anyone’s business. “I think in the medium and long term, this is very bad news,” Regan said. “Nobody knows where it’s really going to go from here.”

Forecast calls for slow growth in Maine’s 3 metro areas

Maine’s three metro areas are expected to grow slowly this year and next, a forecast prepared for the U.S. Conference of Mayors said. The report, released Thursday, said metropolitan areas contribute the lion’s share of economic growth, jobs and wages in the U.S. That’s true in Maine as well: The report said the Portland-South Portland-Biddeford metro area accounts for 50.5 percent of the statewide economy and Bangor contributes another 10.3 percent, followed by Lewiston-Auburn, with 7.5 percent of the state’s economy. Read the story.

Maine personal incomes jumped by 1.4 percent in first quarter

Mainers’ personal incomes shot up 1.4 percent in the first quarter of 2016, the second-highest growth rate in the country. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Maine’s personal income grew the most among the six New England states, and nationally it ranked only behind Washington state, where personal incomes grew by 1.5 percent in the quarter, compared with the final quarter of 2015. The bureau said personal income in Maine reached an annual rate of $58.1 billion in the first quarter, adjusted to offset seasonal variations. It was $57.3 billion in the previous quarter. Read the story.

MANUFACTURING

Judge confirms Verso’s bankruptcy reorganization plan

A judge has confirmed Verso Corp.’s bankruptcy reorganization plan, clearing the way for the beleaguered papermaker to emerge from bankruptcy. Judge Kevin Gross of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the District of Delaware signed the confirmation order Thursday, less than five months after Verso and its subsidiaries filed for bankruptcy protection in late January under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. If Verso follows the reorganization plan as written, all of its pre-bankruptcy debts will be erased. The plan’s centerpiece is to issue shares of stock to creditors in lieu of cash repayment. New common stock will be issued to creditors that were owed money by Verso and its NewPage subsidiary before the bankruptcy. Verso also must take the necessary steps to have its shares once again listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Verso’s stock was delisted in September because its share price fell below the required $1 minimum. Read the story.

Cascades to close Auburn pulp mill, laying off 45

Cascades Inc. is closing its Auburn mill that produces de-inked pulp from recycled paper, laying off 45 employees, according to a release the company posted on its website Wednesday. The plant will end production July 8 and close its doors on July 15. The rapid erosion of the printing and writing paper market, the overall deterioration of market conditions for de-inked pulp and the low potential for integration with other Cascades activities are all factors that have had significant negative consequences for our Auburn plant, a company executive said. Read the story.

COMMERCIAL FISHERIES

EU asks Sweden to justify claim that North American lobster is invasive

European Union scientists have given Sweden until July 31 to address U.S. and Canadian objections to Sweden’s claims that North American lobster is an invasive species that should be subject to an import ban. The scientific forum on invasive species met Wednesday to discuss Sweden’s claim that North American lobsters, which have been found in small numbers off the coasts of Sweden, Norway and Great Britain, pose a threat to the smaller European lobster. The forum asked Sweden to update its scientific justification for labeling the North American lobster as an invader to address objections raised by U.S. and Canadian scientists this month, including the argument that Sweden can’t show proof of an invasion despite decades of imports, or that offspring of the two species can spawn a second-generation hybrid. Read the story.

Mercury findings prompt state to widen lobster fishing ban in Penobscot River estuary

Maine has expanded its ban on lobstering and crabbing in a small section of Penobscot Bay after finding elevated mercury levels in lobsters tested south of the existing no-fishing zone. The Maine Department of Marine Resources had declared seven square miles of the Penobscot River estuary off limits to lobstermen and crabbers in 2014 after a federal court-ordered study detected elevated mercury levels in lobsters found as far south as Fort Point on the west bank and Wilson Point on the east bank. On Tuesday, based on the results of state-funded tests done after the initial closure, the department announced it would add 5.5 square miles to the no-fishing zone, extending it south to Squaw Point on Cape Jellison and Perkins Point in Castine. Read the story.

REAL ESTATE

Maine existing-home sales jump 25 percent from a year ago

Sales of existing single-family homes in Maine increased by 25.2 percent in May compared with a year earlier, and the median sale price rose by 2.8 percent, according to the Maine Association of Realtors. In May, 1,672 existing homes were sold in Maine, compared with 1,335 sales in May 2015. The median sale price was $190,250, up from $185,000 a year earlier. The median price indicates that half of the homes were sold for more and half sold for less. Among Maine’s 16 counties, the biggest year-over-year increase in sales during the three-month period was 43.5 percent in Washington County. Every county experienced a double-digit sales increase except Waldo County, where sales for the three-month period were up 5.6 percent from a year earlier. Read the story.

TECHNOLOGY

Islesboro voters OK move toward becoming Maine’s first ‘gigabit island’

Residents of Islesboro, east of Northport and Lincolnville in Penobscot Bay, voted June 18 at their annual town meeting to construct and operate a municipally owned fiber-optic “gigabit” internet service that will connect homes and businesses for an estimated annual fee of $360 per user.

Islesboro Town Manager Janet Anderson said the $360 annual fee, which works out to $30 a month, is based on a subscriber base of at least 500 homes and businesses. If fewer residents subscribe, the price could be higher. Still, Anderson noted, many residents are paying more than $30 for phone and DSL internet service that tops out at 30 megabits per second. The municipal internet service will be 1 gigabit per second, equivalent to 1,000 megabits per second. That’s fast enough to download a 1 gigabyte video file in eight seconds. Read the story.

 ENERGY

SunEdison sale of Aroostook wind farm raises concerns in Somerset County

The recent sale of a wind power development site in Aroostook County to out-of-state investors has an anti-wind development group in Somerset County concerned that a similar scenario could unfold for a planned project in the Moosehead Lake area. A federal judge last week approved the sale of SunEdison’s King Pine project, a planned 600-megawatt wind farm in southern Aroostook County, to San Francisco-based Pattern Energy for $26.5 million, according to federal court filings. The sale is the latest move by SunEdison, which declared bankruptcy in April, to rid itself of its Maine assets. In 2015, the company also sold its Bingham and Oakfield wind projects to a division of J.P. Morgan and withdrew a Department of Environmental Protection application for a project in Hancock County. Read the story.

NGL looks for new propane depot site in southern Maine

NGL Energy Partners is still seeking a new site for a liquefied petroleum gas depot in southern Maine after the state acquired the company’s leased distribution site in Portland and the city of South Portland rejected the company’s plans to build a new facility at Rigby Yard. The Maine Department of Transportation acquired NGL’s depot site on Commercial Street in Portland to make way for the ongoing expansion of the International Marine Terminal near the Casco Bay Bridge. NGL, a Tulsa, Oklahoma, company that includes Brunswick-based Downeast Energy, has vacated its rail-side depot on Commercial Street and started decommissioning the site, said Kevin Fitzgerald, NGL’s regional operations manager. Read the story.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Maine Startup and Create Week brings entrepreneurs to Portland

Maine Startup and Create Week 2016 kicked off Monday with hundreds of entrepreneurs converging on Portland to network and learn new skills. The weeklong event, now in its third year, attracted about 4,000 attendees in 2015, founder Jess Knox said. Each day was broken up into a series of lectures, demonstrations and workshops designed to help entrepreneurs and small businesses. This year, scores of speakers and panelists were scheduled to appear throughout the week, including representatives of large and small companies and institutions in Maine and across the U.S. Unum, Tom’s of Maine, CashStar, L.L. Bean, Disney, Google, Amazon and Allagash Brewing Co. are just a few of the many organizations that will be represented. Read the story.

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SEC: Texas CEO used investor funds on strip clubs, private jets http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/24/sec-texas-ceo-used-investor-funds-on-strip-clubs-private-jets/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/24/sec-texas-ceo-used-investor-funds-on-strip-clubs-private-jets/#comments Sat, 25 Jun 2016 01:36:38 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/24/sec-texas-ceo-used-investor-funds-on-strip-clubs-private-jets/ HOUSTON — A Texas energy company CEO dubbed the “frack master” is charged with defrauding investors of about $80 million, including misappropriating at least $30 million for personal expenses, including private jets and gentlemen’s clubs, to “maintain a lifestyle of decadence and debauchery,” according to a lawsuit filed Friday by federal regulators.

In its lawsuit, the Securities and Exchange Commission accuses Chris Faulkner, CEO of Dallas-based Breitling Energy Corp., of orchestrating a scheme in which he and others misled investors about oil-and-gas working interests sold by Breitling Energy and three affiliated companies.

The lawsuit, filed in Dallas federal court, also alleges Faulkner manipulated Breitling Energy’s stock price after it began falling in late 2014, when oil prices started dropping.

“Chris Faulkner allegedly orchestrated a sophisticated and multilayered scheme using (Breitling Energy) and its affiliated entities as a conduit to access millions of investor dollars,” Shamoil T. Shipchandler, regional director of the SEC’s Fort Worth office, said in a statement. “The financing for Faulkner’s opulent lifestyle came directly at the expense of unwitting investors across the country.”

The SEC said Faulkner, who hasn’t been criminally charged, used investors’ funds to pay for extravagant charges on his credit cards, including more than $950,000 to Status Luxury Group, Faulkner’s personal concierge company, for private entertainment, and more than $220,000 for private jet carriers.

Faulkner also used one company card to charge more than $1 million for personal travel, expenses for personal escorts and gentlemen’s clubs, including spending nearly $40,000 at one Dallas club over four days in July 2014, the SEC said in its lawsuit.

Larry Friedman, Faulkner’s attorney, said the SEC’s allegations “are not accurate and they’re not true.”

Friedman said part of Faulkner’s efforts to woo investors included spending money on lavish meals, including paying for $1,300 bottles of wine and $200 steaks.

“That’s the cost of doing business when you’re raising millions of dollars from these investors, and the interesting thing is the investors have no complaint,” Friedman said. “They got their project, they got their returns and they’re happy. It’s some bureaucrat that doesn’t like the idea that somebody ordered a $200 steak.”

Friedman denied Faulkner ever used investor funds to pay for strip clubs and escorts or that he misled investors or that he manipulated his company’s stock price.

Friedman alleged Breitling Energy’s competitors are behind the lawsuit, claiming they are envious of Faulkner’s high profile and many appearances as an expert in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on various cable news networks.

“Everybody is competing for the same dollars, and this gives the competitors an edge to say, ‘The SEC is looking into this company and they’re not looking into my company,’ ” he said.

Breitling Energy will continue operating while the lawsuit is pending, Friedman said.

In its lawsuit, the SEC also accused Faulkner of lying to auditors and violating certification provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, a law that reshaped corporate oversight after accounting scandals in 2001-2002 at Enron, WorldCom and other major corporations.

Faulkner is also accused of fraud violations related to stock manipulation.

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New California carmaker aims to rival Tesla http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/24/new-california-carmaker-aims-to-rival-tesla/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/24/new-california-carmaker-aims-to-rival-tesla/#comments Sat, 25 Jun 2016 00:44:28 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/24/new-california-carmaker-aims-to-rival-tesla/ LOS ANGELES — A premium luxury sedan born from the ashes of the Fisker Karma – a Tesla rival that wowed the automotive world before collapsing into bankruptcy three years ago – will soon begin rolling off a production line at California’s newest car factory.

When it is up and running, the Karma Automotive factory in Moreno Valley, about 60 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, will produce as many as 3,000 of the high-end Karma Reveros annually. The cars, again competing with Tesla, will be four-door luxury electric sedans priced above $100,000.

Karma Automotive joins Tesla on a list of car and bus manufacturers, including Faraday Future, BYD and Atieva, that together are making California ground zero for the electric vehicle market.

Like those companies, Karma is backed by Chinese money. The bankrupt Karma’s assets were purchased in 2014 by Wanxiang Group, a Chinese auto parts giant that also owns A123, the battery company that produced power packs for the Fisker cars.

Faraday, which recently announced its plan to build cars at a $1 billion facility in Nevada and another smaller factory in the San Francisco area, is owned by Chinese entrepreneur Jia Yueting. Atieva, a Silicon Valley-based electric car company, is controlled by the Chinese state-owned Beijing Automotive Industry Corp. BYD, which employs 160 workers at a plant in Lancaster that builds electric buses, is owned by the Chinese BYD Auto Co.

On a recent weekday morning, inside a massive, anonymous warehouse, bits and pieces of aluminum-bodied cars moved slowly along broad conveyor belts.

In one area, welders behind heavy masks were being trained to turn rectangular sections of metal into a working chassis. Across the way, 15-foot-tall robots were using rivets to join the frame sections to body parts. Further down the production line, car bodies that had been dipped in paint tanks were baking in a super-heated drying oven.

Technicians wearing hard hats and goggles watched the welders and robots, fine-tuning their efforts, making sure the practice vehicles were up to premium luxury automotive standards.

When they’re done, the Reveros will look and drive a lot like their predecessor Karmas. Though the new car will have its own front and rear fascia design, it will be powered by the same engine and same A123 battery, and contain many of the interior and exterior design elements as the car built by designer Henrik Fisker.

That car had a combined 400-plus horsepower and 960 pound feet of torque, and a top speed of 125 miles per hour. It could travel about 50 miles on electric charge alone, and 230 miles using its combined gasoline and electric power trains.

Sleek and low-slung, the Karma won Automobile Magazine’s Design of the Year award in 2011, and was named Luxury Car of the Year for 2011 by Top Gear Magazine.

“The Karma was loved and revered,” said Jim Taylor, the auto veteran who, after decades with General Motors, is now Karma’s chief marketing officer. “They nailed the design. You’d be crazy to change it.”

Taylor and a Karma team scouted factories and courted governmental assistance in Tennessee, Texas, Indiana, South Carolina, Michigan and other locations before settling on Moreno Valley.

In the end, Taylor said, it was location more than hand-outs than lured Karma to California. While other states offered cash and tax incentives, Southern California offered the good weather and cultural amenities that help lure the best engineers and designers.

Even a low-volume car factory requires an enormous footprint. Karma’s Moreno Valley facility has 32-foot ceilings and occupies 550,000 square feet.

When full production begins, 100 workers will build cars here, in addition to 600 other employees at Karma’s design offices and as many as 150 more engineering and sales staff in an office in Troy, Michigan.

Building the factory, inside an existing warehouse, involved complications. A fully-functioning production line was among the assets orphaned by the Fisker bankruptcy.

But the assets were still in the shuttered Fisker Scandinavian factory.

“The good news is that we’ve got it,” Taylor said he was told. “The bad news is – it’s in Finland.”

The Finnish production line was broken down into parts, boxed and sent by ship to the U.S., then brought by train to California, where it was reassembled inside the Moreno Valley warehouse.

Also in the Fisker inventory were 120 finished Karma cars, and parts and pieces to build dozens more – though these too were scattered between factory, warehouses, dealerships and parts suppliers, and were in what Taylor called “varying degrees of rust and disrepair.”

Those bits were all shipped to California, and became the test vehicles Karma would use to train its workers and robots to make new cars. Some will become crash test vehicles. Others will be scrapped. Still others might actually become new Reveros.

When they are for sale, Taylor said, the first vehicles may go to people who still own their original Karmas.

“There are 1,300 owners in the U.S. who are fanatics,” Taylor said. “They want to have the first crack, and there should be a way to do that.”

Taylor said that what goes around doesn’t necessarily have to come around, and that Karma will not be forced to make the mistakes its predecessor car company made – which he said included having to put cars into the market, in order to satisfy investor demands, when they weren’t ready to sell.

“We have no pressure that this car has to be in showrooms by Thanksgiving,” Taylor said. “We’ll reveal the car this summer, and the pricing.”

Even at this late date, in fact, Taylor said the company has not decided whether its distribution system will be modeled on the Detroit tradition, selling cars through franchised dealerships, or go Tesla-style, selling cars direct to the consumer. Karma’s solution might be a little of both, Taylor said, or might vary region to region.

Stressing that the Moreno Valley factory investment underscores Karma’s parent company’s long-term commitment to building electric vehicles, Taylor said.

Karma Automotive’s owners may need all the patience they can muster. Despite the rapidity with which Karma has gotten up to speed – producing vehicles in a factory that was empty less than a year ago – electric vehicles account for less than 3 percent of all U.S. auto sales, and even industry leader Tesla has still not turned a profit.

“The ability of a company like Tesla to generate excitement, and high stock prices, has a lot of other companies convinced there’s money to be made in the EV space,” said Kelley Blue Book senior analyst Karl Brauer.

“That’s somewhat ironic because Tesla has never actually made money, and several other EV start-ups, including Karma’s predecessor, all went bankrupt. The challenge for the Karma will be convincing people to give it another try after a fairly high-profile failure.”

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Brexit could push U.S. mortgage rates lower http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/24/brexit-could-push-u-s-mortgage-rates-lower/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/24/brexit-could-push-u-s-mortgage-rates-lower/#comments Fri, 24 Jun 2016 23:50:56 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/24/brexit-could-push-u-s-mortgage-rates-lower/ One of the biggest, and most immediate, effects of Brexit on everyday Americans is how it will change mortgage interest rates.

Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate, said rates could sink to record lows in the coming weeks. “If you’re a borrower, don’t wait to lock your rate,” he said, “as this opportunity may not last long.”

They’ve already hit rock bottom this year. In the past month alone, 30-year fixed-rate mortgages have hovered around 3.7 percent, nearly a three-year low. Britain’s vote to leave the European Union is expected to drive rates even lower.

Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors, said the low interest rates indicate low confidence in Americans’ ability to handle higher rates, due to a slew of factors both domestic and foreign. Rates have been about 17 percent lower than the median of this decade.

However, McBride said his long-term outlook does not change with the Brexit vote. He still estimates a rebound from ultra-low rates by year’s end.

Mortgage Bankers Association chief economist Michael Fratantoni had forecasted a rate of 4.8 percent by December 2017. That could change with the Brexit referendum passing, however. He noted that Treasury rates had already dropped about 20 basis points by Friday morning.

“At this point, it is unclear whether this will just be a short term disruption, or whether it will have a longer term impact,” Fratantoni said. “Our best guess at this point is that the impact on the mortgage market will be to keep mortgage rates lower for longer, likely leading to another pickup in refinance activity.”

International concerns, particularly slowing growth in China and Brexit, have played a major role in driving down mortgage rates.

International and domestic investors alike drive mortgage interest rates through the mortgage-backed security market. Because these securities are considered relatively stable, they attract buyers when economies and markets elsewhere flounder. Mortgage rates are also heavily influenced by the yield on 10-year Treasury notes, and investors have flocked to them to escape turbulence in foreign markets. Together, they have driven down mortgage rates for Americans.

Early Friday, as global markets shuddered, investors sought safety in gold, driving up the price.

Domestic worries have had a smaller, but notable, effect on keeping rates low. The U.S. economy is healthy, if not surging, with unemployment at its lowest since August 2007 and wage growth nearing pre-recession levels.

Even with the looming fallout from Brexit and slow job growth, Yun at the National Association of Realtors pointed to price and wage upticks when he estimated higher mortgage interest rates. Yun said those increases may kick rates as high as 4.5 percent by this time next year.

Yun said rent is at a seven-year high and gas prices are inching upward. Those increases in prices – markers of inflation – often bump up borrowing rates across the board.

“For those who have been hesitant or busy with other aspects of their life, they should consider refinancing their mortgage to take advantage of the current low rates,” Yun said.

McBride echoed that. He anticipates modest growth to interest rates: “It makes a great time to refinance now regardless of the outlook down the road, simply because of how low rates have fallen.”

The low rates this past quarter have been good for the housing market, though indicative of an overall mediocre economy. Mortgage applications increased 17 percent from the end of March through the beginning of June, according to the Compass Point report using the Mortgage Bankers Association market index. New purchase applications alone saw a boost of 27 percent during this time.

That means that more people are buying homes rather than simply refinancing their mortgages, which is indicative of economic growth.

In any case, McBride recommended investigating refinancing if it’s possible to shave one-half to three-quarters of a percentage point off the interest rate while remaining on a fixed-rate loan.

He added that, because many may also be refinancing their mortgages, to prepare all documents as quickly as possible to ensure your refinancing application is accepted quickly. Typical refinancing costs can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars.

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Britain’s EU exit to shake up Maine’s imports, exports, tourism http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/24/britains-eu-exit-to-shake-up-maines-imports-exports-tourism/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/24/britains-eu-exit-to-shake-up-maines-imports-exports-tourism/#comments Fri, 24 Jun 2016 23:07:36 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/24/britains-eu-exit-to-shake-up-maines-imports-exports-tourism/ Britain’s vote Thursday to exit the European Union probably will boost profits at British importer Lisa Bussey’s family-owned business in Freeport, but she said no one involved in Bridgham & Cook is happy about the decision.

“We’re not sitting here saying, ‘Oh wow, this is going to make imports cheaper,’ ” Bussey said. “I’m not an economist and I’m not a financial adviser, but I think this is a bad thing.”

Mainers who import goods and services from the United Kingdom and the European Union said that while the immediate impact on their businesses may be positive because of favorable currency exchange rates, they think the long-term effects will be mostly negative.

And Maine businesses that export goods to the U.K. and EU said the Brexit vote could hurt their operations right away. Maine tourism also is likely to take a hit from U.K. residents who may find a vacation in the U.S. too expensive for a weak pound sterling.

Tim Regan, a British national who lives in Falmouth and operates a semiconductor business in Portland and the U.K., said he is all for living in interesting times, but that the economic uncertainty caused by the Brexit vote cannot be good for anyone’s business.

“I think in the medium and long term, this is very bad news,” said Regan, CEO and chief technology officer of IN2FAB. “Nobody knows where it’s really going to go from here.”

Maine exported $416.7 million of goods to the 28 EU countries in 2015 and $2.7 billion of goods worldwide, according to data from the Maine International Trade Center. The U.K. is among Maine’s top-10 trade partners, with the state’s top exports being airplane parts, biotech products and candles, said Janine Bisaillon-Cary, the trade center’s president and state director of international trade. Wood pulp and jewelry round out the top five, she said. In all, Maine exported goods valued at $54.8 million to the U.K. in 2015.

The U.K. is also Maine’s No. 1 source of overseas visitors, said Carolann Ouellette, director of the Maine Office of Tourism. While only an estimated 21,000 Britons visited Maine in 2014, the most recent year available, their vacationing habits made them very a desirable group, she said.

“There are several important things about them: They stay a long time and they spend a lot of money,” Ouellette said.

The outcome of Thursday’s vote was immediately disastrous for global markets. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell about 610 points, or 3.4 percent, to end the day at 17,401, while the Nasdaq fell 202 points, or 4.1 percent, to close at 4,708.

Things were looking far worse overseas as of 5 p.m. Friday: Germany’s DAX index was down 700 points, or 6.8 percent, France’s CAC 40 index had dropped 359 points, or 8 percent, and Japan’s Nikkei 225 index was down by more than 1,286 points, or nearly 8 percent.

Interestingly, the U.K.’s FTSE 100 index appeared to be taking the least amount of damage, as it was down only 199 points, or 3.2 percent. But where the country did take a major hit was in the value of its currency. The British pound sterling’s value fell by about 8.5 percent against the U.S. dollar before settling around $1.37 – a 30-year low.

That exchange rate is critical to both trade and tourism. A weaker pound means less buying power for Britons in the U.S., and more buying power for Americans in the U.K. It means U.S. exports will be more expensive, and British imports will be cheaper.

Still, it isn’t clear whether the pound’s decline is just a temporary reaction to the Brexit vote or a long-term trend, Bisaillon-Cary said.

“If the pound sterling does stay down … it will make Maine exports and U.S. exports more expensive,” she said. That would be bad news for exporters in Maine.

There are other issues related to the Brexit, Bisaillon-Cary said. When the U.K. becomes fully independent from the EU, it will have to negotiate new agreements with its trade partners, and trade with other European countries will no longer be seamless. That may create challenges for Maine’s international trade office in London, she said.

“There are going to be different duty and tariff rates – and it’s not going to be borderless,” she said.

The exchange rate is equally important when it comes to tourism, Ouellette said. While Britons are a fairly reliable group when it comes to Maine tourism, she said, they may opt for more affordable accommodations, shorten their stays, change travel dates to off-peak months and be more frugal while in Maine as a result of the weak pound.

“Exchange rates can have an impact on how they spend,” Ouellette said.

Despite those challenges, there are some potential upsides to the Brexit vote for Mainers.

Foremost among them: Travel to the U.K. will be more affordable for Mainers and other U.S. residents if the pound remains weak against the dollar. Similarly, British import goods will be cheaper.

Bussey, the importer in Freeport, said her customers are likely to see the effect of the dollar’s dominance over the pound when the holiday shopping season rolls around.

“It will certainly be a merrier Christmas here, because I think that’s when we’ll see the effects of the dollar versus the pound,” she said.

British investment in Maine also may increase because of the economic uncertainty caused by the country’s break from the EU, Bisaillon-Cary said.

“Investors look for stable markets,” she said. “It could be a couple years of uncertainty (in the U.K.)”

The fact that U.S. financial markets fell by less than their European and Asian counterparts is a sign that the U.S. economy remains stable despite Europe’s economic turmoil, said Jessamyn Norton, chief investment officer and senior vice president at Spinnaker Trust in Portland.

Still, she said investors’ larger concern is that the U.K. may be just the first of several nations to depart the EU. There has been speculation that countries like Spain or Italy may consider their own exits.

“We know there are other countries that have been itching to leave,” she said.

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Three Cumberland County restaurant owners indicted on sales tax theft charges http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/24/three-cumberland-county-restaurant-owners-indicted-on-sales-tax-theft-charges/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/24/three-cumberland-county-restaurant-owners-indicted-on-sales-tax-theft-charges/#comments Fri, 24 Jun 2016 21:18:25 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/24/three-cumberland-county-restaurant-owners-indicted-on-sales-tax-theft-charges/ The owners of three restaurants in Cumberland County have been indicted in recent months as part of a statewide sweep by Maine Revenue Services to crack down on eateries accused of withholding sales taxes from the state.

The owners of J’s Oyster Bar in Portland, Anjon’s Italian Restaurant in Scarborough and DiSanto’s Restaurant in Gray are the latest to be indicted on a slew of charges, including a Class B charge of felony theft by misapplication of sales tax against each of them.

Assistant Attorney General Gregg Bernstein, who is prosecuting the cases brought by Maine Revenue Services, the state tax agency, wouldn’t say Friday how many other cases are being brought against restaurants around the state. He said he was bound by state law to confidentiality prior to any convictions that arise from the cases.

But Bernstein identified a restaurant owner in York County who has been convicted and sentenced to jail in the sweep. Christo Stratos of Wells, the owner of Christo’s restaurant in Sanford, was sentenced in January to serve eight months in jail for stealing $243,902 in sales taxes between 1999 and 2014. He began serving the sentence at the York County Jail in Alfred on Feb. 8.

In the Cumberland County cases, Cynthia Brown of J’s Oyster Bar and John DiSanto Sr. of Anjon’s Italian Restaurant have made court appearances and pleaded not guilty.

DiSanto’s sister, Anna DiSanto, who owns DiSanto’s Restaurant, was the most recent to be indicted on June 9. She has yet to enter a plea in her case. She is scheduled to be arraigned next Thursday at the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland.

Attorney Thomas Hallett represents both Brown and John DiSanto in their cases. It is not clear whether Anna DiSanto is represented by a lawyer.

“I’m disturbed how this is being handled,” Hallett said Friday. “These are largely civil matters that end up being blown into criminal cases, and it’s too bad.”

Hallett said he was aware of multiple other restaurant sales tax cases being investigated by Maine Revenue Services, but he declined to say how many because some may not lead to criminal charges.

Hallett also declined to say how much the state is claiming his clients owe in back taxes, but said fines and late fees compound the numbers.

Brown, 56, of Portland, was indicted in March on 21 tax-related counts: seven felony charges and 14 misdemeanors. The charges all relate to sales taxes in excess of $10,000 paid by customers of J’s Oyster Bar between March 2008 and March 2015 that she allegedly failed to pay to the Maine state tax assessor. The charges include theft by misapplication, tax evasion, failure to pay state sales tax and failure to file a state income tax return in 2011, according to the indictment in her case.

J’s is an iconic waterfront watering hole in Portland’s Old Port that is as popular with locals, from fishermen to lawyers, as it is with tourists.

Brown’s case is scheduled for trial on Sept. 26.

John DiSanto, 58, of Old Orchard Beach was indicted in April on 11 counts: six felonies and five misdemeanors. The charges against him relate to more than $10,000 in sales taxes paid by Anjon’s customers that he allegedly failed to pay to the state between February 2000 and November 2014. The charges against him include theft by misapplication, tax evasion and failure to collect, account for or pay over sales tax, according to the indictment in his case.

Anjon’s has been in DiSanto’s family for multiple generations and remains popular as a family destination for Italian food.

John DiSanto’s case is next scheduled for a dispositional conference on Aug. 24.

Anna DiSanto, 55, of Raymond was indicted on the same 11 counts as her brother, but those charges relate to her restaurant, DiSanto’s Restaurant in Gray, for more than $10,000 from her customers between July 2007 and September 2014 that she allegedly failed to pay to the state, according to the indictment in her case.

DiSanto’s Restaurant has many of the family recipes that made Anjon’s popular, but adds some new flair that made it a destination in the Lakes Region.

The most serious charge against Brown and the DiSantos is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

In the York County case, Stratos faced charges similar to those lodged against Brown and the DiSantos. The judge sentenced Stratos to a total of four years, with all but eight months suspended. The remainder will hang over him during a three-year probation term to follow his release from jail. Maine authorities have already recovered $150,000 from Stratos. He was ordered to pay the remaining $93,902 as restitution.

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Bugaboo Creek closure in South Portland leaves 60 jobless http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/24/bugaboo-creek-closure-in-south-portland-leaves-60-jobless/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/24/bugaboo-creek-closure-in-south-portland-leaves-60-jobless/#comments Fri, 24 Jun 2016 19:37:42 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/24/bugaboo-creek-closure-in-south-portland-leaves-60-jobless/ The Bugaboo Creek Steakhouse near the Maine Mall in South Portland closed suddenly this week, putting 60 people out of work and leaving only two locations open in a restaurant chain that started in the 1990s.

The Bugaboo Creek in Bangor closed last week, leaving 19 people jobless following Bugaboo Creek closures last month in Newington, New Hampshire, and Milford, Massachusetts.

The Maine Department of Labor has scheduled a Rapid Response session Tuesday afternoon to assist Bugaboo Creek workers in Greater Portland, who are eligible for unemployment benefits and other services.

“There is high demand in the restaurant sector right now for workers, so the focus of Rapid Response will be on connecting these workers with re-employment,” said Julie Rabinowitz, department spokeswoman.

The Rapid Response session will include information about job opportunities, health insurance options and unemployment benefits.

Since 2010, Bugaboo Creek has closed all but two of its restaurants in a protracted period of restructuring that included going through bankruptcy, securing new ownership and shuttering dozens of locations throughout the Northeast. The chain is known for its rustic decor recalling the Canadian Rockies.

The two remaining Bugaboo Creek restaurants are in Newark, Delaware, and Nashua, New Hampshire, where an employee reached Friday afternoon by phone said workers there have been told that its closure is imminent.

Tuesday’s Rapid Response session will be held at 1 p.m. at the Greater Portland CareerCenter, 151 Jetport Boulevard in Portland. Affected workers also may call the career center at 822-3300 or 877-594-5627.

Employees affected by the Bugaboo Creek closure in Bangor may call the Bangor CareerCenter for individual Rapid Response assistance at 561-4050 or 888-828-0568. TTY users may call Maine Relay 711.

Visit www.MaineCareerCenter.com to learn more about the department’s services or to search for employment opportunities in Maine’s Job Bank.

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U.S. stocks fall more than 3% in wake of Brexit http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/24/stocks-crash-as-uk-vote-to-quit-eu-shocks-investors/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/24/stocks-crash-as-uk-vote-to-quit-eu-shocks-investors/#comments Fri, 24 Jun 2016 12:10:29 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/24/stocks-crash-as-uk-vote-to-quit-eu-shocks-investors/ NEW YORK – Stocks plunged in the U.S. and worldwide Friday after Britain voted to leave the European Union. The result stunned investors, who reacted by rushing to the safety of gold and U.S. government bonds as they wondered what will come next for Britain, Europe and the global economy.

U.S. stocks gave up all their gains from earlier in the year. The Dow Jones industrial average tumbled 611.21 points, or 3.4 percent, to 17,399.86. The Standard & Poor’s 500 dropped 76.02 points, or 3.6 percent, to 2,037.70. Both indexes took their biggest loss since August. The Nasdaq composite suffered its biggest loss since mid-2011, down 202.06 points, or 4.1 percent, to 4,707.98. Indexes in Europe and Asia took even larger losses.

The British vote brought a massive dose of uncertainty to financial markets, something investors loathe. Traders responded by dumping riskier assets that appeared to have the most to lose from disruptions in financial flows and trade: banks, technology companies and makers of basic materials. More shares were traded than on any day since August 2011, when Standard & Poor’s downgraded the credit rating of the U.S. government during a crisis over the budget and the country’s debt ceiling.

Britons voted to leave the EU over concerns including immigration and regulation. It’s far from clear what that will mean for international trade or for Europe, as the EU, which was formed in the decades following World War II, has never before lost a member state.

“This vote is a step away from free trade,” said Bob Doll, chief equity strategist Nuveen Asset Management. “When you add to it the specter of the last couple of years of terrorism it causes the average individual … to be more nationalistic, more populist, more protectionist.”

Bond prices surged and yields fell. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note dropped to 1.56 percent from 1.75 percent on Thursday, a large move.

Banks took the largest losses by far. Citigroup plummeted $4.16, or 9.4 percent, to $40.30 and JPMorgan Chase fell $4.45, or 6.9 percent, to $59.60. They have the most to lose in Britain’s departure from the EU because they do a lot of cross-border business in Europe based from their offices in London. They also become less profitable when bond yields fall, since that lowers interest rates on mortgages and many other kinds of loans.

Microsoft fell $2.08, or 4 percent, to $49.83 and IBM gave up $8.76, or 5.6 percent, to $146.59. DuPont gave up $3.21, or 4.6 percent, to $66 and LyondelBassel Industries lost $4.14, or 5.2 percent, to $74.91.

The pound fell dramatically, to $1.3638. At one point the British currency hit a 31-year low.

Oil prices sank. Benchmark U.S. crude declined $2.47, or 4.9 percent, to close at $47.64 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the international benchmark, fell $2.50, or 4.9 percent, to $48.41 a barrel in London.

In addition to bonds, other safety assets also soared. Gold jumped $59.30, or 4.7 percent, to $1,322.40. That’s its highest price since July 2014. Silver rose 44 cents, or 2.5 percent, to $17.79 an ounce, its highest in more than a year. Gold producer Newmont Mining rose the most in the S&P 500 index. It climbed $1.80, or 5.1 percent, to $37.19 and set a three-year high.

High-dividend utility companies made tiny gains. Consolidated Edison rose $1.55, or 2 percent, to $78.41 and Duke Energy added 38 cents to $82.43.

The vote only begins the process of Britain’s departure from the EU, and it also begins years of negotiations over Britain’s trade, business and political links. Observers wonder if other nations will follow in Britain’s footsteps by leaving the EU.

“This is a negative in economic terms for the UK,” said David Kelly, chief global strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management. “The EU will be very tough negotiators with them.”

Investors had sent stocks higher this week as they gradually grew more confident, based on polls and the changing odds in the betting market, that Britain would stay in the E.U. They sent the pound to its highest price of the year and sold bonds, pushing yields higher. Those gains were rapidly undone Friday.

Britain’s FTSE 100 dropped 3.1 percent. At one point it was 8 percent lower. The German DAX index sank 6.8 percent and France’s CAC 40 index tumbled 8 percent.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 finished a wild day down 7.9 percent, its biggest loss since the global financial crisis in 2008. South Korea’s Kospi sank 3.1 percent, its worst day in four years. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index tumbled 4.4 percent and stocks in Shanghai, Taiwan, Sydney, Mumbai and Southeast Asian countries were sharply lower.

In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline sank 8 cents to $1.53 a gallon. Heating oil fell 7 cents to $1.46 a gallon. Natural gas lost 4 cents to $2.66 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In other currency trading, the dollar fell to 102.24 yen from 104.47 yen while the euro weakened to $1.1121 from $1.1351.

 

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Forecast calls for slow growth in Maine’s 3 metro areas http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/24/forecast-calls-for-slow-growth-in-state-economy/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/24/forecast-calls-for-slow-growth-in-state-economy/#comments Fri, 24 Jun 2016 09:46:24 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/23/forecast-calls-for-slow-growth-in-state-economy/ Maine’s three metro areas are expected to grow slowly this year and next, a forecast prepared for the U.S. Conference of Mayors said.

The report, released Thursday, said metropolitan areas contribute the lion’s share of economic growth, jobs and wages in the U.S.

That’s true in Maine as well: The report said the Portland-South Portland-Biddeford metro area accounts for 50.5 percent of the statewide economy and Bangor contributes another 10.3 percent, followed by Lewiston-Auburn, with 7.5 percent of the state’s economy.

Portland’s economy will grow by 1.2 percent this year and 2.1 percent next year, from $28.6 billion to $29.8 billion, the report projected. That compares to average growth in all metro areas of 1.9 percent in 2016 and 2.7 percent next year, the report said.

Bangor’s economy is expected to grow by 0.6 percent this year and 1.6 percent next year, the forecast said, while Lewiston-Auburn’s output of goods and services is expected to grow by 1.8 percent this year and 2.0 percent in 2017.

The economies in all three metro areas contracted in 2012-14, the report said, with Portland-South Portland’s shrinking by 0.6 percent and Bangor and Lewiston-Auburn’s economies both contracting by 1.3 percent. Portland’s economy grew by just 0.4 percent last year, the report said, while Bangor’s contracted another 0.3 percent and Lewiston-Auburn’s grew 0.2 percent in 2015.

Amanda Rector, the state economist, said the projections are “not surprising,” because of the state’s aging population and recent slow growth statewide.

She also said comparisons of Maine’s small metro areas to larger metro areas are difficult.

“Given that many of the large metro areas around the country have been seeing tremendous growth, it’s hard to compare to the national average,” she said. Rector said the state needs to develop policies that foster economic growth and encourage younger workers to move to the state to create more sustainable growth.

Charles Lawton – who writes a weekly column for the Portland Press Herald – an economist with Planning Decisions, a research and planning firm, agreed that the forecast falls in line with what most economists would expect to see.

He said without some massive shift in the national economy, there’s not much expectation that Maine metro areas will suddenly shoot up in output compared with larger, more robust economies in areas such as New York City or Silicon Valley.

Lawton also said the fact that metro economies account for two-thirds of Maine’s output is also not shocking, especially since the manufacturing base in rural areas has been in decline for years.

“Every time a paper mill in Lincoln or Baileyville shuts down, the remaining economy shifts to more of a consumer economy,” he said. And the consumer economy in Maine, where the population is the oldest in the country, isn’t very robust, with much of the spending by people on fixed incomes with high health care costs.

“This simply reinforces the need to attract more, younger workers” to the state, Lawton said.

 

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Thanks to ‘Dr. Shark,’ researchers can learn and let live http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/24/thanks-to-dr-shark-researchers-can-learn-and-let-live/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/24/thanks-to-dr-shark-researchers-can-learn-and-let-live/#comments Fri, 24 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=940754 A UNE researcher known as ‘Dr. Shark’ develops a method that allows fish data collection without killing the specimens.

A decade ago, when James Sulikowski first came to the University of New England, scientists who studied shark reproduction had to kill and gut their specimens to unlock the secrets of how these elusive fish gave birth.

Sulikowski wanted to learn more about the reproductive process in hopes of bolstering shark numbers, and didn’t like the idea of having to kill pregnant sharks and their unborn young to do it. That study method also made it impossible to study the reproductive habits of endangered sharks, such as the basking, hammerhead or tiger shark, even though information about how these threatened groups lived and loved would have helped policymakers protect their mating or pupping grounds and possibly help stabilize their populations.

Scientists had begun using blood samples to supplement their shark necropsies, measuring hormone levels to establish the stage of pregnancy, but Sulikowski, a father of three, thought researchers could go further. About five years ago, he turned to the same kind of sonogram technology that doctors use to monitor pregnant women – complete with a transducer, an image screen and conductive jelly – and adapted it for use on pregnant sharks, as well as other elusive or endangered fish species, such as sturgeon.

“There is so much that we still don’t know, like where different species of sharks go to give birth,” Sulikowski said, “and so much that we think we do know, like the length of gestation for our local spiny dogfish that we are just now learning through the use of this technology and tagging that is just plain wrong. I love that. I love challenging accepted science. For me, it’s always about being inquisitive, testing what we think we know, asking what we don’t and figuring out new ways to come up with answers to questions we didn’t even know to ask just a few years ago.”

ADAPTING SONOGRAM TECHNOLOGY

Sulikowski, 47, is something of a rock star on the UNE campus, and his prominent role on the opening night of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week 2016 will add to the mystique of the professor who students call Dr. Shark. After enduring some criticism in recent years for sensationalism, Discovery has decided to open this year’s shark extravaganza with some science. It will focus its Sunday episode on research that Sulikowski did on pregnant tiger sharks in the warm, shallow waters off Tiger Beach in the Bahamas with University of Miami professor Neil Hammerschlag.

The researchers employed a portable sonogram, this one equipped with goggles to see the intrauterine ducts, to study tiger sharks hooked, lassoed and hauled aboard their 66-foot research boat from 2011 to 2014. They were trying to figure out why the waters off what has come to be known as Tiger Beach were drawing such a high number of large tiger sharks. When Hammerschlag noticed that many of the tigers were females, he guessed it might be a pupping ground, but he couldn’t know for sure without confirmation. That’s when he called Sulikowski.

Animal breeders have been using portable sonograms for years, adapting the large, stationary units developed for human medicine more than half a century ago into portable, high-resolution machines that can be used in the field. Sulikowski needed to develop a method to keep the sharks calm and alive, so researchers could study the dual uterine tracts and count and measure the young without injuring the sharks or the scientists. For large sharks, that meant hauling them aboard, holding them down on a submerged platform and pumping oxygenated saltwater over the shark’s gills to keep them calm for the 20-minute examination.

ACCURATE, NON-LETHAL RESEARCH

Sulikowski had been practicing on spiny dogfish and other smaller shark species in the Gulf of Maine to perfect his method. These fish were harvestable, so for the first year of his sonogram studies he compared the results of what he learned from the sonogram with the hormone levels documented in blood samples and the results of traditional necropsies, or animal autopsies. But by year two, with the necropsies repeatedly confirming what he saw in his sonograms, the UNE team started to rely almost exclusively on sonogram images to provide immediate, accurate, non-lethal results.

The sonogram images are crisp and clear, just like the ones performed in doctor’s offices across the developed world. On a trip out Thursday to Tantas Ledge, about 10 miles off the coast of Biddeford, Sulikowski caught two small spiny dogfish, both of which were pregnant. While his 8-year-old daughter, Kendall, and a UNE neuroscientist, David Johnson, held them down on the top of a wet cooler, Sulikowski pointed out the young that lined the mothers’ two tracts, and found their hearts and the outlines of their small gaping mouths, before tossing them back into the sparkling sea.

James Sulikowski, left, uses an ultrasound to examine a pregnant spiny dogfish off the coast of Biddeford Pool, aided by his daughter, Kendall, 8, and fellow UNE professor Dave Johnson.

James Sulikowski, left, uses an ultrasound to examine a pregnant spiny dogfish off the coast of Biddeford Pool, aided by his daughter, Kendall, 8, and fellow UNE professor Dave Johnson. Photos by Gabe Souza/Staff Photograper

“You can see, they really are quite beautiful,” Sulikowski said. “We learn so much from each look, but without hurting the mother or babies.”

STUDY EXAMINES 65 SHARKS

This was the technique that Sulikowski employed for the Bahamian study to be featured this Sunday on Shark Week, much to the delight of his research team and UNE officials eager for the widespread exposure.

They caught 65 sharks over the span of the three-year study. Of those, 59 were female. They and a team of graduate students used the sonogram to check for pregnancies and to document what they found. Some were pregnant, but the team also found young females, even though there was very little for the sharks to eat in those calm, warm waters, Sulikowski said.

There were no babies and very few males, most likely because of the lack of food, he said. The data suggests female tiger sharks prefer the relatively male-free waters, and pregnant tiger sharks may experience increased fetal growth in warmer waters.

But Sulikowski said the data also suggests that habitat protection can help threatened sharks grow their numbers. Tiger Beach is located in a protected zone in the Bahamas, he said. Their numbers are declining globally, but are rising in the Atlantic, he said, and it may be because of what’s happening at Tiger Beach. That gives Sulikowski reason to believe that a combination of sonograms and satellite tagging could help scientists and policymakers mount successful conservation campaigns for other endangered shark species.

DOGFISH STUDY MAKES A DIFFERENCE

However, his dogfish sonogram practice has ended up being more than simply a warmup for the Tiger Beach work. Sulikowski said the research has led him to believe that dogfish gestation, or the period of time between conception and birth, is shorter than the previously accepted 18 to 20 months, although there is still work to do before he can say exactly how much shorter. His team also has located the species’ first identified pupping area off the coast of Rhode Island. Both of these are big discoveries, but it was the dogfish’s prolific breeding habits that first came to Sulikowski’s attention.

In 2011, Sulikowski used two grants totaling about $500,000 to study the dogfish life cycle in reaction to conservationists’ claims that dogfish were in need of protection. His results, which echoed what Maine fishermen had been saying for years, led the Marine Stewardship Council to declare the spiny dogfish fishery a sustainable one in 2012, which allowed the species to be shipped overseas and federal authorities to raise the harvest quotas on the species.

“We challenged the accepted thinking and got to the truth,” Sulikowski said. “That’s what everybody wants, really, scientists and fishermen alike.”

 

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Colby forum: Maine needs law boosting solar energy http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/23/panelists-state-needs-law-boosting-solar-energy/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/23/panelists-state-needs-law-boosting-solar-energy/#comments Fri, 24 Jun 2016 01:30:19 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/23/panelists-state-needs-law-boosting-solar-energy/ WATERVILLE — Maine trails behind its New England neighbors when it comes to renewable solar energy, according to panelists at a solar energy forum Thursday night, and legislative action is needed if the state wants to make any great strides in the area.

The forum, held in the Diamond Building at Colby College, was attended by about 60 people.

Steve Kahl, an associate professor of science at Thomas College, moderated the panel, which discussed net metering and what Mainers might see for solar development in the years to come.

When it comes to per capita installations of solar energy, Connecticut has three times as much as Maine; Massachusetts, eight times; and Vermont, nine times. All five of the other New England states combined have twice as many per capita jobs in solar energy as Maine, and one has 10 times as many, according to Dylan Voorhees, the clean energy director at the Natural Resources Council for Maine, who was a panelist at the event.

Voorhees said he is afraid that solar isn’t going to grow at the pace that it could, and that Maine is going to lose opportunities because of that.

“The fundamentals of solar power are strong and they are getting better,” he said. “These fundamentals are completely free of any ideology of anybody in Augusta.”

The Legislature had passed a bill to provide a change to “net metering” that ultimately was vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage. Under this state rule, utility companies provide credit to customers with solar power they generate that goes back into the grid, so solar customers pay the net cost of their bills. The legislation would have also added more solar energy to the state’s portfolio.

Voorhees said he was pleased to see bipartisan agreement on the bill and a growing movement of people in Maine who want to see a change in solar energy.

A spokeswoman from LePage’s office did not reply to a phone call or email earlier Thursday seeking comment about the upcoming event.

Now the group that fought for the bill to pass has to hope for minimal changes until the next legislative session.

“Net metering is only barely a law in Maine,” said Tim Schneider, a public advocate in Maine who runs the office that represents utility customers.

The language says that the Public Utilities Commission “may” have a net metering policy, Schneider said, and it was waiting until the population of those who use solar energy hit 1 percent.

This year, Central Maine Power reported that 1 percent of its customers use solar energy, Schneider said, so the PUC has issued a notice of inquiry and will be looking for feedback from his office as well as the public. It’s possible the PUC could issue a new rule as early as next January.

The panel generally agreed that problems with solar energy policy would be best fixed at the legislative level, rather than with the PUC.

Not all panelists agreed on net metering, though. Solar customers still use the transmission distribution system to get their energy sent to them, so when their net bill comes back at zero, they’re not paying their fair share of the transmission cost, Schneider said. Right now, the scale of solar is small enough for that cost-shift not to have a huge effect on other ratepayers, he said; but if solar were to scale up, it could pose a problem.

Schneider would prefer an alternative to the net metering system, because dissecting cost shifts could get complicated.

“There’s a lot of embedded cost shifts in how we pay for electricity,” he said. Ratepayers who live in more remote areas technically cause cost shifts as well. Schneider also would rather use a method that would allow more people to use solar energy.

The vetoed bill proposed what the panelists called “next metering,” which was better for ratepayers who weren’t using solar power.

Nationally, solar companies opposed the bill because they had seen investments left stranded in Nevada, said Vaughan Woodruff, chairman of the committee for renewable energy and owner of Insource Renewables in Pittsfield. Nevada decided to not grandfather in solar customers when it stopped using the net metering method. Other states saw the outcome of that, and they feared what a change in Maine could mean for net metering nationally.

The panelists plan to head to Augusta again to propose a bill that will help the state of solar in Maine, but Voorhees is nervous about what will happen if they don’t see any progress again. They all compromised with their “enemies,” he said, and did what they were supposed to do, so they might have to go back to “pitchforks” if that still doesn’t work.

“There’s an energy revolution out there, and I’m worried that we’re still going to be talking about it when it’s already happened,” Woodruff said.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

mstamour@centralmaine.com

Twitter: @madelinestamour

 

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Gadgets show features fitted earbuds, 3-D pen http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/23/gadgets-show-features-fitted-earbuds-3-d-pen/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/23/gadgets-show-features-fitted-earbuds-3-d-pen/#comments Thu, 23 Jun 2016 23:52:44 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/23/gadgets-show-features-fitted-earbuds-3-d-pen/ NEW YORK — From a 3-D pen that lets kids safely doodle with melted plastic to an electrically charged glass that makes beer taste bubblier, there was no shortage of fun and quirky gadgets at this year’s CE Week.

The annual, three-day gadget show in New York is meant as a showcase for products coming out for the holidays, though many items are still in development or seeking investments through group-fundraising sites such as Indiegogo.

‘DRAWING’ 3-D SCULPTURES

There’s now a kid-safe version of the 3Doodler 3-D printing pen, which melts sticks of colored plastic into goo that shoots out of the pen tip to create 3-D sculptures. With both versions, the plastic hardens quickly, so you can draw into the air without worrying about your creation collapsing.

The kids’ version has no hot parts. The plastic coming out is cool enough to touch. A kids’ starter pack includes a pen, an ideas book and two packs of plastic sticks. The kid-friendly set costs $50, half the price of the regular version.

EARBUDS FOR EVERYONE

Finding earbuds that fit comfortably and don’t fall out can be a challenge. Decibullz touts its earbuds as the first to be both custom and wireless. They are made of a plastic that softens in hot water. The putty conforms to the inside shapes of your ears and hardens in about two minutes.

The set sells for $120 through the company’s website.

FOR BEER WITH AN EXTRA BUZZ

Global Ionics has a glass that uses a small amount of electric current to boost the flavor and fizziness of drinks, be it flavored water, fruit juice or wine.

The current is generated by one AAA battery housed in the base of the glass. The current flows from the glass through its beverage into the mouth.

GAMING WITHOUT SCREENS

ROXs, billed as a “real-life gaming console,” is designed to get gamer kids active and away from their screens.

The kit from A-Champs comes with three ROXs, which look like flat stones about the size of a saucer. You strap them to kids, trees or just about anything else. Kids can choose one of 10 games.

HD IN 3-D

GoPro cameras are great for action footage, but they don’t shoot in 3-D. Fantem now has a clip-on 3-D lens for it.

Fantem’s Vitrima 3-D lens costs $80 through Indiegogo. The company plans to start shipping them next month and says it’s in talks to get them on store shelves.

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Senators reach deal on national labeling of foods with GMO ingredients http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/23/senators-reach-deal-on-national-labeling-of-foods-with-gmo-ingredients/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/23/senators-reach-deal-on-national-labeling-of-foods-with-gmo-ingredients/#comments Thu, 23 Jun 2016 23:37:23 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/23/senators-reach-deal-on-national-labeling-of-foods-with-gmo-ingredients/ WASHINGTON — Senators have reached a bipartisan deal to require labeling of genetically modified ingredients nationally, a week before a labeling law in Vermont goes into effect.

The deal announced Thursday by the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee would require labeling of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, in packaged foods nationwide. But it would be more lenient than Vermont’s law, allowing food companies to use a text label, a symbol or electronic label accessed by smartphone. Vermont’s law would require items to be labeled “produced with genetic engineering.”

The agreement couldn’t become law before Vermont’s law kicks in July 1, since the House is on vacation until July 5. Legislation passed by the House would make the labeling voluntary, but that measure stalled in the Senate last year. Since then, Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas have worked to find a compromise, saying a national solution is needed in the face of several separate state laws.

The food industry has lobbied to block Vermont’s law, arguing that GMOs are safe and the labels could be costly for agriculture, food companies and consumers.

The industry’s main lobbying group, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, said it is backing the senators’ deal. The group has opposed mandatory labeling nationwide, but advocated for electronic labels in negotiations.

The Agriculture Department appeared to endorse the legislation, issuing a statement encouraging members of the House and Senate to move quickly on the deal.

Genetically modified seeds are engineered in laboratories to have certain traits, such as resistance to herbicides. The majority of the country’s corn and soybean crop is now genetically modified, with much of that going to animal feed. Corn and soybeans also are made into popular processed food ingredients such as high-fructose corn syrup, corn starch and soybean oil. The food industry says about 75 percent to 80 percent of foods contain genetically modified ingredients.

The Food and Drug Administration says they are safe, and there is little scientific concern about those GMOs on the market. But advocates for labeling say not enough is known about their risks. Among supporters of labeling are many organic companies that are barred by law from using modified ingredients in their foods.

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At machinery amusement park, fun comes by the bucketload http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/23/at-machinery-amusement-park-fun-comes-by-the-bucketload/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/23/at-machinery-amusement-park-fun-comes-by-the-bucketload/#comments Thu, 23 Jun 2016 22:45:38 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/23/at-machinery-amusement-park-fun-comes-by-the-bucketload/ HASTINGS, Minn. — Randy Stenger makes his living getting adults to play in the dirt like kids – but with bigger toys.

On 10 acres near this Minneapolis-area city, Stenger created Extreme Sandbox, where customers pay hundreds of dollars to push dirt around with construction equipment, including bulldozers, excavators and wheel loaders.

“It’s a bucket-list experience,” he said.

Stenger’s business is part of a growing industry that aims to provide thrills by letting people try out machinery that would normally be available only to trained specialists. In Minnesota, for example, you can operate a battle tank, fly in a fighter jet simulator or drive a firetruck.

Similar businesses are appearing around the country. “We know there’s demand,” said Ed Mumm, who founded the Dig This construction experience in Las Vegas and wants to franchise the concept in Texas, Los Angeles and Orlando, Fla.

Stenger appeared earlier this year on ABC-TV’s “Shark Tank” and won handshake investments from two investors. Since then, he says, business has quadrupled.

Pete Mascarenas of Hermantown, Minn., visited earlier this month after his wife treated him to an early Father’s Day present. He spent 90 minutes in the excavator, loading and unloading tons of dirt, maneuvering through an obstacle course, and whacking a basketball from the top of the pile. The climax: lowering the boom on a 1997 Saturn in a destruction zone car crush.

“This is every boy’s dream when he becomes a big boy,” Mascarenas said.

Andy Rumpho of Rochester, who recently redeemed a Sandbox gift card from his daughter for his birthday, was relieved not to get a gift that would collect dust. “I have enough stuff,” he said.

After spending 30 minutes in safety and training before his experience, he admitted to some butterflies. “It’s the fear of the unknown,” he said. “I’m concerned that I’ll run this thing into the hole.”

After the video, Rumpho and a buddy who came along to watch were given safety vests and headsets so that both could hear the instructions by the instructor, and Rumpho’s friend could heckle him when he stabbed the controls. He hopped into the climate-controlled excavator cab, which fits only one. The instructor pointed out the two joysticks that control the bucket, stick, boom and swing, as well as levers to move forward and back, and walked a safe distance away.

“Release the safety lock,” said instructor Adam Johnson before he began the commands. “Now put your right hand on the right joystick and pull back slowly to raise the boom. Good. Put your left hand on the left joystick and move it left or right to spin around as fast as you want.”

“Uh-oh, I see you elected not to get vomit insurance. Cleanup is on you,” Johnson joked. He ran Rumpho through the paces of digging a hole, building a mound of it, taking the big load airborne and dumping it. After 15 minutes, Rumpho was left alone to excavate as he pleased. “I have the remote kill switch in my hand in case you go rogue,” Johnson reminded him.

Rumpho loved the experience but said it has a learning curve. “I won’t be applying for any construction jobs soon,” he said.

Stenger said the idea for the business originated when one of his boys passed a construction site and said, “Dad, wouldn’t it be fun to play on that stuff?”

But he isn’t the first to build a heavy equipment playground for adults. Similar businesses exist in West Berlin, N.J., Las Vegas and Williams, Ariz. One in Bradenton, Fla., closed in 2013.

Each of Zenger’s locations serves about 20 to 50 individual customers a week and 10 to 15 corporate groups a month. Customers pay $300 on average, although packages range from $200 to $1,000.

“Definitely, it is a luxury,” said Stenger. “It’s like paying $300 to sky-dive or drive a race car. We want to be a premium service.”

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Portland-based ‘green’ software developer Rapport wins national award http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/23/portland-based-green-software-developer-rapport-wins-national-award/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/23/portland-based-green-software-developer-rapport-wins-national-award/#comments Thu, 23 Jun 2016 22:40:30 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/23/portland-based-green-software-developer-rapport-wins-national-award/ Portland-based environmental software developer Rapport has been awarded energy and sustainability news outlet Environmental Leader’s Top Product of the Year Award, the company said Thursday.

The Environmental Leader’s annual Product & Project Awards recognize excellence in products and services that provide companies with energy and environmental benefits, or in projects implemented by companies that improved environmental or energy management and increased the bottom line.

Rapport received the Top Project of the Year Award for its online platform priced and designed to help small and midsized businesses save money by reducing their energy and water use, solid waste and carbon emissions.

Scores were determined by a panel of independent judges headed by Peter Bussey of LNS Research and also including judges from Ball Aerospace & Technology, BSI Group, C&A, ConAgra Foods, Denver International Airport, ERM, Fetzer Vineyards, General Motors, LNS Research, MUFG Union Bank, Sears Holding Corp., Staples, the University of California Berkeley, University of Colorado, the U.S. Department of Energy, and USG Corp.

Based in Fort Collins, Colorado, Environmental Leader is a leading daily trade publication keeping corporate executives informed about energy, environmental and sustainability news. It is published by Business Sector Media LLC.

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Judge confirms Verso’s bankruptcy reorganization plan http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/23/judge-confirms-bankrupt-verso-corp-s-reorganization-plan/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/23/judge-confirms-bankrupt-verso-corp-s-reorganization-plan/#comments Thu, 23 Jun 2016 19:45:56 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/23/judge-confirms-bankrupt-verso-corp-s-reorganization-plan/ A judge has confirmed Verso Corp.’s bankruptcy reorganization plan, clearing the way for the beleaguered papermaker to emerge from bankruptcy.

Judge Kevin Gross of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the District of Delaware signed the confirmation order Thursday, less than five months after Verso and its subsidiaries filed for bankruptcy protection in late January under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. If Verso follows the reorganization plan as written, all of its pre-bankruptcy debts will be erased.

While complex, the plan’s centerpiece is to issue shares of stock to creditors in lieu of cash repayment. New common stock will be issued to creditors that were owed money by Verso and its NewPage subsidiary before the bankruptcy. When that happens, Verso also must take the necessary steps to have its shares once again listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Verso’s stock was delisted in September because its share price fell below the required $1 minimum.

The company said in a news release Thursday that it expects to emerge from bankruptcy by the end of July.

“Verso is extremely pleased with this speedy and successful outcome,” President and CEO David Paterson said in the release. “Our smooth path through this critical step in the restructuring process would not have been possible without the strong support of our funded debt holders and the Official Unsecured Creditors Committee and the affirmative vote on our plan of reorganization by our creditors.”

Verso, which employs roughly 500 people at its Androscoggin mill in Jay, filed for bankruptcy in Delaware on Jan. 26 to eliminate $2.4 billion of debt. Verso is headquartered in Tennessee but incorporated in Delaware.

In the bankruptcy filing, two Maine companies were listed among Verso’s 30 largest creditors. Catalyst Paper Operations Inc. of Rumford was owed $2.2 million and Hartt Transportation Systems Inc. of Bangor was owed $1.2 million. The master list of creditors filed by Verso included the names of 30,785 businesses and individuals to whom the company owed money.

Verso had struggled financially in the years leading up to the bankruptcy. It sold off its unprofitable Bucksport mill in 2014, eliminating 500 jobs. The move was part of a complicated $1.4 billion deal that involved the acquisition and then sale of the former NewPage mill in Rumford in January of last year. That mill is now owned by Canada-based Catalyst Paper.

At the conclusion of the NewPage deal, Verso had about $3.5 billion in annual sales and about 5,800 employees in eight mills across six states. In its bankruptcy filing, the company reported gross revenues of about $2.4 billion for the first three quarters of 2015.

On June 6, Verso announced that Paterson would be stepping down after the conclusion of the bankruptcy. That same day the company said it was raising another $575 million to help it pay transaction costs associated with the bankruptcy. As a result of the reorganization, the company said it expects to have a stronger credit profile and increased financial flexibility.

The company also said in its SEC filing that it will seek a product mix of more profitable grades of paper, such as specialty grades, post-bankruptcy. Verso, the largest North American coated paper producer, did not specify in the filing which mills would be reconfigured, if any, to boost capacity of specialty paper.

The Androscoggin mill in Jay produced about 71,800 tons of specialty paper in 2015, roughly 12 percent of the mill’s total production volume of 598,000 tons, according to the filing. By comparison, the mill produced about 293,000 tons of coated groundwood paper, or 49 percent of total production volume. Coated paper is the glossy paper used in catalogs and magazines.

One of the Androscoggin mill’s three coated paper machines and a pulp dryer were taken offline in late 2015, resulting in the loss of about 300 jobs, or roughly one-third of its workforce at the time.

 

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Cod fishermen may be reimbursed for cost of at-sea monitors http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/23/cod-fishermen-may-be-reimbursed-for-cost-of-at-sea-monitors/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/23/cod-fishermen-may-be-reimbursed-for-cost-of-at-sea-monitors/#comments Thu, 23 Jun 2016 17:42:43 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/23/cod-fishermen-may-be-reimbursed-for-cost-of-at-sea-monitors/ Federal fishery regulators say they are working on a program that will help pay for the cost of at-sea fishing monitors for New England cod fishermen.

At-sea monitors are workers who collect data that help inform fishing regulations. The government shifted the cost of paying for monitors from itself to fishermen this year in a decision that was very unpopular with industry.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday that fishing trips on or after July 1 may be eligible for reimbursement of monitoring costs. The reimbursement will be available to fishermen who seek groundfish such as cod, haddock and flounder.

The government in April said it is scaling back monitor coverage from 24 percent of trips to 14 percent this year. Monitors can cost $700 per day.

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Volkswagen settles emissions claims for about $10.2 billion, source says http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/23/volkswagen-settles-emissions-claims-for-about-10-2-billion-source-says/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/23/volkswagen-settles-emissions-claims-for-about-10-2-billion-source-says/#comments Thu, 23 Jun 2016 16:24:13 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/23/volkswagen-settles-emissions-claims-for-about-10-2-billion-source-says/ DETROIT – A person briefed on the matter says Volkswagen has agreed to pay about $10.2 billion to settle claims in the U.S. from its emissions-cheating scandal.

The money would go mainly to compensate 482,000 owners of cars with 2-liter diesel engines that were programmed to cheat on emissions tests.

The person says some money would be paid to the government in penalties. The person didn’t want to be identified because a federal judge has issued a gag order in the case. The person says the terms could change by the time they are released by the court on Tuesday.

The person says owners would get $1,000 to $7,000 depending on their cars’ age, with an average payment of $5,000.

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U.S. new-home sales tumbled in May after a surge in April http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/23/u-s-new-home-sales-tumbled-in-may-after-a-surge-in-april/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/23/u-s-new-home-sales-tumbled-in-may-after-a-surge-in-april/#comments Thu, 23 Jun 2016 14:25:32 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/23/u-s-new-home-sales-tumbled-in-may-after-a-surge-in-april/ WASHINGTON — Americans pulled back from buying new homes in May, reversing strong gains made in April as sales fell sharply in the Northeast and West.

New-home sales declined 6 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted rate of 551,000 from a downwardly revised 586,000 in April, the Commerce Department said Thursday. Still, sales are 6.4 percent higher year-to-date. Job growth and ultra-low mortgage rates have helped drive the increase, though the data can be volatile from month to month and across regions.

New-home sales have rebounded from the depths of the housing bust, though builders have focused on the upper echelon of buyers. The shift to the luxury market means that fewer new homes are being built, but the new homes are typically selling for higher prices.

May’s median sales price was up 1 percent from a year ago to $290,400. That figure would likely have been higher if not for the steep monthly declines in the pricier Northeast and Western regions.

Northeast sales slumped 33 percent from April to May while the West suffered a 15.6 percent decline. Sales barely slipped in the South but improved 12.9 percent in the traditionally affordable Midwest.

Higher price points generally help boost builders’ profit margins. But they also mean marketing to a smaller pool of potential buyers and constructing fewer homes. Despite recent gains in new-home sales, the current rate lags behind the historical average of roughly 650,000 a year.

Nor has construction necessarily relieved supply pressures. Fewer existing homes have come onto the market.

Sales of existing homes reached a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.53 million, the best since early 2007. Yet the number of listings has sunk 5.7 percent from a year ago, meaning that prices are rising as homebuyers face fewer options.

Some buyers have been able to handle those price gains thanks to low mortgage rates. Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said the average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage fell to 3.54 percent last week from 4 percent a year ago.

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Applications for U.S. jobless aid fall, a sign of low layoffs http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/23/applications-for-u-s-jobless-aid-fall-a-sign-of-low-layoffs/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/23/applications-for-u-s-jobless-aid-fall-a-sign-of-low-layoffs/#comments Thu, 23 Jun 2016 12:58:24 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/23/applications-for-u-s-jobless-aid-fall-a-sign-of-low-layoffs/ WASHINGTON – Fewer people sought U.S. unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department said Thursday, evidence that employers are holding onto their staffs and may even step up hiring.

Weekly applications dropped 18,000 to a seasonally adjusted 259,000, the lowest in two months. The less volatile four-week average declined to 267,000.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs and have remained below 300,000 for 68 straight weeks, the longest such streak since 1973.

Just 2.14 million Americans are receiving benefits, 4.6 percent lower than a year earlier.

The data suggests that a recent slowdown in hiring will be temporary. Employers added just 38,000 jobs last month and an average of only 116,000 in the past three months. That’s half of last year’s pace.

The cutback came after economic growth slowed in the first quarter to an annual rate of 0.8 percent.

Still, the low level of applications for unemployment benefits adds to recent evidence that hiring could pick back up in the coming months.

And recent research by economists at JPMorgan Chase has found that fewer applications are consistent with steady hiring over time. Not as many people seek benefits when it is easier to find work.

There are signs the economy has improved in the April-June quarter. Home sales rose to a nine-year high last month, according to the National Association of Realtors, and homebuilding has picked up. Americans have also stepped up their spending at retail stores and restaurants in recent months.

Still, the economy wasn’t strong enough to prompt the Federal Reserve to lift the short-term rate it controls during its two-day meeting last week.

Fed chair Janet Yellen said in congressional testimony this week that Fed officials believe the weakness in hiring is temporary. She has previously pointed to the low number of people seeking benefits as evidence that job gains could rebound.

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European handbag store expanding into Portland http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/23/european-handbag-store-expanding-into-portland/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/23/european-handbag-store-expanding-into-portland/#comments Thu, 23 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=938501 A new handbag store, described by its owner as a sort of “Build-a-Bear” for adults, will open in the Old Port next month.

O bag in Portland is one of six U.S. stores that the Italian parent company has opened in the last year. The Portland location is owned by Jo Hoppe, who was a high-tech executive in Massachusetts before she saw one of the parent company’s stores in Europe and became intrigued by the concept behind it.

Hoppe said customers choose a bag style and color – the bags are made from EVA, a polymer – then pick out a border, a liner, straps and any accessories and the bag is assembled in the store.

“The pieces all come together,” Hoppe said. “It takes five minutes to put together and an hour to decide all the options.”

Hoppe said the bags cost roughly $130 to $180, depending on the options a customer chooses. The store also sells messenger bags, pocket watches and wristwatches, bracelets and sunglasses.

O bag has more than 200 stores throughout Europe, she said, but Hoppe was surprised to find that the company didn’t have any stores in the U.S. when she contacted it last year. It soon will have six, with a flagship, company-owned store in Washington, D.C., and franchises in Louisiana and Miami, and two in Massachusetts – one in the Burlington Mall and another opening this summer on Boston’s Newbury Street.

Hoppe said she decided to leave high-tech and try retail because it was time for a change.

“I think it’s good every several years to reinvent yourself,” she said.

Portland caught her eye, Hoppe said, because her daughter and son-in-law, both architects, moved here recently from Washington. She said she likes the city’s relatively small size with large city amenities and she may soon relocate here herself.

The company is hiring three full-time employees and an uncertain number of part-timers, Hoppe said.

The space at 191 Middle St. is currently being renovated and painted, she said, and the store will open the first week of July.

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Automakers’ reliability scores rise http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/22/automakers-reliability-scores-rise/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/22/automakers-reliability-scores-rise/#comments Thu, 23 Jun 2016 02:34:51 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/22/automakers-reliability-scores-rise/ DETROIT — Despite adding sophisticated electronic safety features and touch screens that once were prone to glitches, most automakers improved their reliability scores this year in an annual survey of new-car buyers.

The latest survey by the J.D. Power consulting firm determined that quality improved for 21 of 33 auto brands in the survey. This year’s scores improved 6 percent over 2015, double last year’s increase and the biggest jump in seven years. And for the first time in 27 years, a brand for the masses led the pack as Kia edged out Porsche as the automaker with the fewest problems.

“It has become clear that automakers are listening to the customer, identifying pain points and are focused on continuous improvement,” said Renee Stephens, vice president of U.S. auto quality at J.D. Power.

Touch screens, voice recognition and Bluetooth technology have long been bugaboos for automakers, and for years they have brought down scores in the surveys. But last year automakers turned a corner, and this year they improved even more, Stephens said. The improvement in part is due to people getting used to new technology, but automakers also are simplifying the devices, taking out screens that seemed cool but were hard for users to grasp, she said.

The study also found that U.S. nameplates collectively scored better than foreign-based competitors for just the second time in the survey’s 30-year history. And for the first time since 2006, mainstream brands had fewer problems than more expensive premium brands.

The 2016 survey of more than 80,000 car buyers from February through May found that Korea’s Kia had the fewest problems per 100 vehicles at 83. It was closely followed by Porsche at 84, Hyundai at 92, Toyota with 93 and BMW with 94. The survey asked owners about problems in the first 90 days of ownership.

The worst-performing brands were smart, Fiat, Volvo, Land Rover and Mini, according to the survey.

The average score for all brands was 105, seven problems fewer than last year. The Chrysler and Jeep brands, which for many years have been toward the bottom of the survey, showed the most improvement. Chrysler’s problems fell from 143 to 114, boosting the brand from 31st place in 2015 to 20th this year. Jeep rose from 29th place to 18th, improving its problems per 100 vehicles from 141 to 113.

General Motors led all manufacturers with seven top finishers by segment, followed by Toyota with six.

GM’s Chevrolet Spark led the city car segment, and the Buick Cascada convertible tied with the Scion tC for top sporty car. GM’s Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain tied for top compact SUV, and the Chevy Tahoe was the most reliable large SUV. Chevrolet’s Silverado won in both the light duty and heavy duty large pickup categories.

The survey is the first major assessment of quality for 2016 vehicles, and it’s closely watched by car shoppers. Consumer Reports magazine’s influential quality study comes out in October and includes other years.

Among the findings from J.D. Power this year:

n Winner and losers: Kia, which took top honors, had only 83 problems per 100 vehicles. Mercedes’ smart minicar brand was last with 216 problems.

n Most improved: Chrysler and Jeep climbed 11 places each. Jeep finished 18th with 113 problems, while Chrysler finished 20th with 115 problems.

n Biggest slide: The Jaguar luxury brand plummeted 24 spots to 27th with 127 problems.

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Fiat Chrysler ramps up gear shift recalls http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/22/fiat-chrysler-ramps-up-gear-shift-recalls/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/22/fiat-chrysler-ramps-up-gear-shift-recalls/#comments Thu, 23 Jun 2016 01:52:50 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/22/fiat-chrysler-ramps-up-gear-shift-recalls/ DETROIT — Fiat Chrysler is speeding up a recall of 1.1 million vehicles with confusing gear shifters like one in the SUV that crushed and killed ‘Star Trek’ actor Anton Yelchin.

Yelchin, 27, known for playing Chekov in the rebooted series, died Sunday after his 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee pinned him against a mailbox pillar and security fence at his home in Los Angeles. His Jeep was among the vehicles recalled in April due to complaints from drivers who had trouble telling if they put the transmission in “park” after stopping. Many reported the vehicles rolled off after the driver exited.

Yelchin would not have known about the software fix because car owners hadn’t yet been notified. Fiat Chrysler said Wednesday that it would start sending letters to owners on June 24 telling them to make a service appointment.

Safety advocates have questioned why the fix was taking so long.

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Maine Hospital Association board of directors installs new chairman http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/22/maine-hospital-association-board-of-directors-installs-new-chairman/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/22/maine-hospital-association-board-of-directors-installs-new-chairman/#comments Thu, 23 Jun 2016 01:10:47 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/22/maine-hospital-association-board-of-directors-installs-new-chairman/ Chuck Hays, chief executive officer of MaineGeneral Health in Augusta, was installed as chairman of the Maine Hospital Association board of directors at the association’s annual Summer Forum on Wednesday at the Samoset Resort in Rockport.

According to a news release from the Maine Hospital Association, Hays succeeded James Donovan, CEO of LincolnHealth in Damariscotta, who is now immediate past chairman.

Peter Sirois, CEO of Northern Maine Medical Center in Fort Kent, is now chairman-elect; and Charles Therrien, CEO of Maine Coast Memorial Hospital in Ellsworth, is the new board treasurer. R. David Frum, president of Bridgton and Rumford hospitals, becomes board secretary.

Hays joined what is now MaineGeneral Health in 1995 as director of engineering. In the more than 19 years since Mid-Maine Health System joined Kennebec Valley Health System to become MaineGeneral Health, Hays has held positions of increasing responsibility with the state’s third-largest health care system.

As senior vice-president and chief operating officer, Hays headed the team responsible for the construction and operation of the Harold Alfond Center for Cancer Care, which opened in July 2007. MaineGeneral opened a new $312 million hospital in November 2013.

In October 2007, Hays was named president and CEO of MaineGeneral Medical Center, becoming president and CEO of the parent company, MaineGeneral Health in 2012.

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