April 2, 2010

Local business owner enjoys moment of fame

Obama singles out Bill Milliken for his plan to use a health reform tax credit to insure more workers.

By John Richardson jrichardson@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — For years, Bill Milliken has wanted to provide health insurance to more of his employees.

click image to enlarge

Sitting in one of his businesses, Market House Coffee in Monument Square, Bill Milliken talks about President Obama’s plans to mention him in a speech at the Portland Expo.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

Now, because of a new federal tax credit, the time has arrived, he said.

His 15 minutes of fame have arrived, too.

Milliken was mentioned by President Obama as he spoke Thursday at the Portland Expo about the health insurance reforms he championed, then signed into law last week. Obama "called out" Milliken to highlight a new small-business tax credit in the law.

"Let me talk about what this means for a small-business owner like Bill Milliken. Bill, stand up," Obama said, as Milliken stood and waved to the cheering crowd.

Obama explained how Milliken's businesses, Maine Beer and Beverage and Market House Coffee, are eligible for the tax credit to help cover the cost of employees' health insurance.

"This tax credit will make it easier for an employer like Bill, who wants to do the right thing by his workers," the president said.

"In exchange for this publicity, I hope that I'm going to get some samples of the beer," Obama joked.

The White House staff contacted Milliken this week, after his name was passed along by small-business advocates working with the Maine People's Alliance. The staff sent him two tickets for the event and went over the part of Obama's speech mentioning him and his business, Milliken said.

"I'm excited," he said before Obama spoke. "Anything I can do to help."

Milliken, who passed along an invitation for the president to visit his coffee shop, makes no secret of his support for Obama. He's also genuinely excited about providing health insurance to more workers.

"This is something I wanted to do anyway," he said. "But the economics of the situation are holding us back. It's not like I'm doing this to make Obama look good."

Milliken, 44, and his former law partner started Maine Beer and Beverage in 1998 and recently opened Market House Coffee. Both companies are in the Public Market House in Monument Square.

"We used to give health insurance to all our employees" at the beer and wine shop, he said. But after the shop was forced to move in 2006, it lost so much business that he had to drop the coverage for nearly everyone.

Business has slowly recovered, and three of the nine employees now have health insurance paid for by the company, Milliken said. With the new health insurance tax credit for businesses that have 25 or fewer employees, he expects to add coverage for two more employees who work nearly full time.

Milliken was clearly excited Thursday morning about the prospect of the call-out by Obama, giving a high-five to Gretchen Voight, 30, the manager of the coffee shop. Voight was excited, too. She is one of the workers who may soon have health insurance because of the new tax credit.

"I would love to have health insurance," she said. "They're working very hard to get that for me."

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

jrichardson@pressherald.com

 

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