Although Maine and Greenland are separated by more than 1,500 miles, geography and mutual business interests could lead to partnerships that bring jobs to the state and help Greenland reach its goal of independence, according to business leaders in both places.

Maine’s three deep-water ports are closer to Greenland that any other ports in the United States, and Maine has the workforce and expertise to help the 57,000 people who live on the world’s largest island develop its infrastructure, such as ports, roads and airports, said Cianbro Corp. CEO Peter Vigue, who recently returned from a business trip there and to Iceland.

Vigue said Greenland has an abundance of what Maine lacks: natural resources, such as iron ore, uranium, zinc, oil and natural gas.

During his trip, Vigue flew 90 miles by helicopter from Nuuk, Greenland’s capital, to the site of a proposed $2.3 billion iron ore mine. The project will require the construction of a new port, airstrip, access roads and housing for workers.

Some of the structures could be built in Maine as modular buildings and transported to Greenland by sea, Vigue said. Between 2010 and 2012, Cianbro built 22 modules in Brewer for a nickel-processing plant in Newfoundland. The modules were transported by barge. In 2002, Cianbro built two oil rigs in Portland that were used off the coast of Brazil.


While the mine project is still a couple of years from development, other projects are moving forward. The Greenland government, for example, is looking for help building a new container terminal in Nuuk.

Vigue said the Pittsfield-based Cianbro is considering partnering with a company from Iceland and a company from Greenland to bid on the project. The deadline for submitting credentials to qualify as a bidder is Aug. 1.

“We believe we can play a role there as a company,” Vigue said. “If we can establish relationships with these companies and gain the confidence and the trust and respect of these organizations, a lot of this can rub off on the state of Maine and we can become a major trading partner with these people.”

For Greenland, a self-governing country that is part of the Kingdom of Denmark, the development of its mineral resources is a critical step for becoming a self-sufficient and independent nation, said Jasper Johannesen, a Greenland official overseeing the port project. Greenland now depends on an annual block grant of about $580 million from Denmark.

Historically, Greenland has depended on companies from Denmark. Working with other nations would benefit Greenland because it would create a more competitive business climate, which would lead to better results, said Niels Meinel, president and CEO of GNC ApS, a blasting and earthmoving company based in Nuuk.

Moreover, when Greenland companies work with Danish ones, Greenland officials aren’t accepted as equal decision-makers in corporate boardrooms, said Meinel, who is half-Danish and half-Inuit.

He said he prefers to work in joint ventures with other countries, such as Iceland, so he can have equal status.

Meinel flew in last week with Vigue, in a Bell helicopter, to the site of the proposed mine some 93 miles northeast of Nuuk. They also visited the site of the proposed new deep-water seaport, located 68 miles away from the mine site.

London Mining, which owns the exploration rights, plans to transport the iron ore in slurry through a pipe to the port. There, the water would be removed, and the iron ore pellets would be loaded onto ships.

Meinel said he appreciated Vigue’s informal and personable style, which he described as being well-suited for Greenland’s culture.

“I like that type of people,” he said.


Also on the trip was Larus Isfeld, a native of Iceland who heads the U.S. operations for Eimskip, an Icelandic shipping line that last year designated Portland as its only port of call in the U.S.

As an agent for Greenland’s steamship line, the Royal Arctic Line, Eimskip offers container services between the U.S. and Greenland, via Portland and Reykjavik, Iceland.

In the coming decades, the melting of Greenland’s ice sheet due to global warming will open more opportunities for oil and gas exploration, said Martin Grimnes, founder of Harbor Technologies in Brunswick, which last year used Eimskip to ship bridge components to Norway.

When Eimskip moved its North American headquarters to Portland, he said, the company not only brought a container service but a network of relationships that Maine companies can tap into as they look for new markets.

“Their contacts and connections are huge,” Grimnes said.

The ability of Cianbro to land a construction contract in Greenland would open the door for other Maine companies, said Dana Eidsness, director of the new Maine North Atlantic Development Office, who traveled to Greenland in June with two other Maine officials.

The companies that could benefit are those with experience designing and building marine facilities, blasting and moving earth, and building wharves and warehouses, Eidsness said.

Because the Arctic has so little infrastructure, Iceland, Nova Scotia and Maine are positioned to serve as staging areas for development projects and as hubs for Arctic shuttle routes, said Malte Humpert, executive director of the Arctic Institute, a think tank based in Washington, D.C.|


Fulfilling a promise he made to the president of Iceland, Olafur Grimsson, Vigue said he plans to return there in late October to attend an assembly of the Arctic Circle, a nonprofit organization that aims to facilitate international dialogue to address issues facing the Arctic as a result of climate change. Eidsness said she expects a delegation from Maine will attend. She’s working with conference organizers to arrange for a session titled, “Alaska and Maine – U.S. Outposts to the Arctic.”

Historically, Alaska has been the state that has shown the most interest in Arctic issues, but Icelandic leaders are hopeful that Maine officials will get involved. Unlike Alaska, which is geographically isolated, Maine is situated to serve as a gateway for trade between the U.S. and North Atlantic nations, Vigue said.

Maine’s ports are closer and less congested than ports to the south, he said, and Maine is a day’s travel by highway or rail to 40 percent of the U.S. population. As new Arctic trade routes are developed because of climate change, Portland’s importance in world trade will increase, Vigue said.

“The people in Iceland and Greenland, they get it,” he said.