Asia is destination for next trade mission

Gov. Paul LePage will be leading a delegation of Maine businesses and educational institutions on a trade mission to Japan and China this October, with the goal of luring investment to the state, attracting international students to Maine schools and promoting Maine exports, particularly lobsters. The trade mission, organized by the Maine International Trade Center and the United States Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration, will visit the cities of Tokyo, Japan, and Shanghai, China. Together, China and Japan imported $281.7 million of Maine products in 2014, ranking second and fourth respectively among the state’s export destinations. Maine’s food/seafood, biotech/medical products and industrial machinery sectors are areas of focus for the trade mission. Read the story.


Research labs form collaboration

The MDI Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor and an Australian research group have signed a partnership agreement to collaboratively research regenerative tissue and its applications to human health. The agreement with the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, creates an international exchange program between faculty and students at the two research institutions, including graduate students conducting Ph.D. thesis research at the MDI Biological Laboratory and Monash University, and Monash University medical students. Read the story.

Chefs reduce role in new restaurant

James Beard award-winning chefs Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier have taken their initials off a restaurant in the new Press Hotel, scheduled to open later this month. The highly anticipated new dining spot will now be called simply Union Restaurant, and an executive chef picked by Gaier and Frasier will be in charge. It was originally going to be called M.C. Union, reflecting the involvement of the two acclaimed chefs. Carla Tracy, a public relations consultant for the hotel, said the change in the relationship was “an amicable decision” officially reached Wednesday. Read the story.


Federal disaster aid earmarked for Maine fishermen

About 40 crews of groundfishermen are in line to collect $640,000 in federal disaster aid to help make up for their revenue losses from severe quota cuts in 2013. The funds will be distributed in the form of rebates to fishermen for the fees they pay at the Portland Fish Exchange. The money — the second installment of a three-phase award — will be distributed over the next year and a half, said General Manager Bert Jongerden. He said the fish exchange handles about 98 percent of the groundfish landed in Maine. The fees are based on the amount and value of the species caught. Fees charged to individual fishing boats range from several hundred dollars to $25,000 annually. Read the story.


Smoother sailing expected for Nova Star’s second season

The second year of service for Nova Star Cruises is shaping up to be much stronger than the first. The Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, to Portland ferry service will resume in June, buoyed by a $13 million subsidy from the Canadian government and significantly more bookings from passengers and charter bus services. The service foundered in its inaugural year, hampered by late marketing and expenses that exceeded a $21 million government subsidy that was intended to last seven years. Just under 60,000 passengers used the service in its first year, well short of the 100,000 goal. Read the story.


Rockland publisher to buy MaineToday Media

S. Donald Sussman, the Maine financier and philanthropist who rescued the Portland Press Herald from insolvency in February 2012, plans to sell MaineToday Media to Reade Brower, a Rockland-based newspaper executive who publishes weekly newspapers in Maine’s midcoast. The deal is scheduled to close June 1. It will be the fourth time in 17 years that the Press Herald and its sister papers –the Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville and the Coastal Journal in Bath, and their online counterparts – have been sold. MaineToday Media is the state’s largest news-gathering organization, with nearly 400 employees. Brower, who lives in Camden, publishes The Free Press in Rockland, The Courier-Gazette in Rockland, The Camden Herald and The Republican Journal in Belfast. Brower said he intends to leave the newspaper management in place and no layoffs are planned. Read the story.


Minimum wage bills push notion of local control

The LePage administration and business groups urged lawmakers Tuesday to prohibit Maine cities and towns from enacting local minimum wages that are higher than the state’s minimum wage, something that’s now being considered in Portland and Bangor. The effort to prevent local minimum wage increases comes as lawmakers consider at least eight bills that would increase Maine’s minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $8 to $12 an hour. The Portland City Council is considering a proposal to increase the city’s minimum wage to $8.75 an hour starting in January, followed by 50-cent increases in 2019 and 2020. Bangor officials have discussed setting higher local wages as well. Sen. Andre Cushing, the Hampden Republican who introduced L.D. 1361 at the LePage administration’s request, said the bill addresses the question of who has authority to increase the minimum wage, not whether the minimum should be increased. He and other supporters argued that allowing municipalities to set wages would create disparities between communities and could complicate matters for businesses with multiple locations. Read the story.


Strong dollar stifles Idexx sales overseas

Idexx Laboratories Inc. on Tuesday reported increases in both revenue and profit during the first quarter compared with a year earlier. Still, the company said its quarterly revenue fell short of expectations and lowered its growth projections slightly for the year. The Westbrook-based company, which produces diagnostic testing products for pets, livestock and water, reported revenue of $382.5 million for the quarter, up 6 percent from $360.2 million in the first quarter of 2014. The company’s net income for the quarter was $46.6 million, the same as during the first quarter of 2014. However, earnings per share were up 10 percent to $0.98, compared with $0.89 a year earlier. Idexx said the strengthening of the U.S. dollar negatively affected sales revenue from overseas operations. As a result, the company lowered its revenue projection for the year by $15 million, and its net income projection by 5 cents a share. Read the story.

Lower fuel prices challenge WEX profits

A steep decline in fuel prices cut into quarterly operating profits for WEX Inc. despite an increase in the volume of its payment transactions, the company reported Wednesday. Still, the South Portland-based company’s successful efforts to hedge against those losses through investments resulted in adjusted net income for the first quarter that beat analyst expectations by a considerable margin. WEX, which provides fuel, travel and health care payment-processing services, reported total revenue of $202.3 million for the first quarter, up 11 percent from $182.1 million for the first quarter of 2014. Its net operating income was down considerably from the same period a year earlier. WEX reported quarterly net income of $22.3 million or $0.57 per share, a 39 percent drop from $36.5 million or $0.93 per share in the first quarter of 2014. But after adjusting for one-time gains and losses associated with the company’s strategy of hedging against fluctuations in fuel prices, net income was much higher at $1.10 per share. That figure is a slight improvement over its $1.06 per share adjusted net income for the first quarter of 2014, and about 10 percent higher than most analysts expected, according to a survey by Zacks Investment Research. Read the story.