City Hall updates guide about business regulations

The city of Portland has launched an updated, easier-to-use “Guide to Doing Business in Portland” on its website.

The guide provides information for new and existing businesses on topics ranging from business licensing and permitting to a business startup check list and information on various parking programs.

The new guide has updated contact names and numbers for city departments, provides more specific information on permitting, and adds categories in the business resource services directory.

Hard copies are available at City Hall in the Economic Development Department, in Room 308.

First cooperative health plan under ACA gets license

The Maine Bureau of Insurance has issued a license to Lewiston-based Maine Community Health Options to operate a nonprofit, cooperative health insurance company in state.

It’s the first nonprofit, Maine-based health insurer to be approved in the state since Anthem Inc. purchased Blue Cross Blue Shield of Maine in 2000, according to a news release.

It’s also the first plan of its kind to be approved since the federal Affordable Care Act authorized the start of consumer-directed health insurers to increase competition.

The company’s license to operate in Maine was issued Feb. 28 and is effective through Aug. 10, 2014, according to the bureau’s website.

The company plans to make its health insurance products available to small businesses and individuals this fall, with coverage starting Jan. 1.

Company officials promise lower costs and better coverage for health plan members.

The cooperative received a five-year, $7 million federal start-up loans.

It also got a second, $55 million, 15-year federal loan to capitalize benefit plans.


Home prices see biggest increase in seven years

U.S. home prices jumped in January, a sign the housing market is gaining momentum as it nears the spring selling season.

Home prices rose 9.7 percent in January from a year ago, according to data released Tuesday by CoreLogic. That’s up from an 8.3 percent increase in December and the biggest annual gain since April 2006.

Prices rose in all states except Delaware and Illinois. And prices increased in 92 of the 100 largest metro areas, up from 87 in December.

Home prices also rose 0.7 percent in January from December. That’s a solid increase given that sales usually slow over the winter months.

Rising demand combined with fewer available homes is pushing up prices.

Sales of previously owned homes ticked up in January after rising to their highest level in five years in 2012, according to the National Association of Realtors. At the same time, inventories of homes for sale fell to a 13-year low.


Service companies grow at fastest pace in a year

U.S. service companies grew in February at the fastest pace in a year, buoyed by higher sales, more new orders and solid job growth. The gain suggests higher taxes have yet to slow consumer spending on services.

The Institute for Supply Management said Tuesday that its index of non-manufacturing activity rose to 56 in February from 55.2 in January. Any reading above 50 indicates expansion.

The report measures growth in industries that cover 90 percent of the work force, including retail, construction, health care and financial services. A solid recovery in the housing market helped drive the index higher.

Service firms also kept adding jobs last month.

A measure of service-sector hiring fell only slightly after reaching a nearly seven-year high in January.