MANUFACTURING: Judge clears way for mill sale

A federal judge has cleared the way for Verso Paper Corp. to sell its Bucksport mill to a metal recycler, despite claims from a machinists union that such a sale constitutes antitrust violations. Judge John Woodcock found no grounds for the union’s objection to the sale, allowing Verso to continue with its intended $58 million sale of the idled mill and power plant to AIM Development, a subsidiary of Montreal-based American Iron and Metal. The mill’s December closure forced more than 500 people out of their jobs, prompting Gov. Paul LePage and his staff to try and line up a buyer for the mill that would keep it operating. Despite some 11th hour interest delivered to the court in the form of letters from other prospective buyers, Woodcock did not find sufficient evidence of antitrust to halt the sale. On Wednesday, LePage expressed his anger at Verso by calling it a “bottom feeder” and saying he wished it would leave the state. Verso operates another paper mill in Jay, which employs 850. Read the story here.

FINANCING: Maine VC amounts drop but recipients increase

The amount of venture capital invested in Maine startups fell roughly 32 percent, from $27.5 million in 2013 to $18.7 million in 2014. But the number of companies that received venture capital increased from five in 2013 to 12 in 2014, the highest numberof deals in one year since 15 were closed in 2000. Tim Agnew, managing partner of VC firm Masthead Venture Partners, said the drop in total dollar value is not a good sign, but could be attributable in part to the loss of the Maine Seed Capital Tax Credit program last year. The program provides investors in companies with less than $5 million in sales with a tax credit worth 50 percent of the total investment, up to $500,000, over a four-year period. The program ran out of money last year, but has been replenished with $4 million for 2015. Read the story here.

Agent barred from securities work

Paul A. Ligor Jr., a Maine-based broker-dealer agent, has been barred from selling or promoting securities. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission issued the order Tuesday based on disciplinary actions taken against Ligor by the Maine Office of Securities. The state agency found that Ligor had engaged in unlicensed activity from 2009 to 2011. The federal order bars Ligor from associating with any broker, dealer, investment adviser, municipal securities adviser, transfer agent or nationally recognized statistical rating organization. Read the story here.

The First reports record income

The First Bancorp, a Damariscotta bank that trades on Nasdaq as FNLC, reported its best year ever, with 2014 income of $14.7 million, up $1.7 million, or 13.5 percent, from 2013. That income performance was 4.8 percent higher than the bank’s previous best year in 2008, according to a media release from the company. Bank officials said lower credit costs, an improved net interest margin and growth in the loan portfolio were the reasons for the milestone. The bank has assets of more than $1.4 billion. Earnings per common share for the year ended Dec. 31, 2014, on a fully diluted basis of $1.37, were up 17 cents, or 14.2 percent, from 2013. Read the story here.

REAL ESTATE: Forecast reflects brightening economy

More than 1,000 brokers, bankers, lawyers, builders and others connected to Maine’s real estate sectors gathered in Portland Thursday to hear an overwhelmingly optimistic forecast for trends in development this year. The Maine Real Estate and Development Association’s annual forecasting conference was couched in terms of a generally brightening economy, reflected in robust activity in real estate markets. Presenters talked about historically low inventories in greater Portland’s industrial and multi-family sectors, and tight inventories of retail and Class A office properties within the region. The diminished supply has resulted in rising lease, rent and purchase prices across nearly all sectors. Outside of Portland, housing markets saw renewed activity compared with a few years ago, although sale prices have been slow to increase. Read the story here.

GENERAL BUSINESS: Hockey series pitched for business development

Icelandic shipping company Eimskip intends to sponsor a rivalry between the Portland Pirates and St. John’s IceCaps hockey teams as way to develop business relationships between the two host cities. The teams, rivals in the American Hockey League Atlantic Division, are based in Maine and New Foundland ports which Eimskip serves. According to company President Gyfli Sigfusson, Eimskip is giving the teams an undisclosed amount of money to sponsor the Port-to-Port Cup series. Awareness of each other’s cities through attendance at the games and engagement in the cup series could lead to new business for the shipping company. Local charities are also expected to benefit from collaborative fundraising efforts through the hockey cup series. Read the story here.

DigPortland bought by competitor

After less than three months in business, alternative weekly newspaper DigPortland has folded. Mark Guerringue, publisher of rival paper The Portland Phoenix, said Monday that he has signed an agreement to purchase DigPortland for an undisclosed sum and shut it down. The agreement also halts a pending lawsuit in U.S. District Court over claims that DigPortland employees stole business information and trade secrets when they left the Phoenix to accept jobs with DigPortland, which the defendants deny. DigPortland co-owner Jeff Lawrence said the buyout would allow the Phoenix to invest more in quality journalism. Read the story here.h

Popular deli goes under

The Full Belly Deli, Portland’s only Jewish delicatessen, closed after 28 years in business. Owner David Rosen said the Brighton Avenue deli was a victim of the economy, rising food prices and competition from the chain restaurants that have proliferated nearby as that part of the city, on the border of Westbrook, has developed in recent years. The deli was known for its generous portions and the generosity of its owners, who supported many community events. Read the story here.h

New program takes aim at jobs gap

Lawmakers rolled out a $5 million, five-year plan to strengthen partnerships between community colleges and businesses to address workforce development. The plan is expected to build on legislative initiatives introduced last year to create job opportunities while ensuring Maine students have in-demand skills desired by business. The money is expected to create at least 10 public-private partnerships to support job training between community colleges and employers, including high-demand occupations in precision manufacturing, information technology and health care. Read the story here.