RETAIL:  Westbrook retail center takes shape

Developer Jeffrey Gove said he plans to build 500,000 square feet of retail space on Main Street in Westbrook, property which also abuts Larrabee Road and is now a gravel pit operated by Pike Industries. Gove’s initial proposal called for 580,000 square feet of space, but issues with wetlands on the property led him to reconfigure the layout of six large buildings and a couple of smaller structures in the center, he said. Gove has yet to sign major tenants and won’t say who is considering moving into the space. But rumors of potential tenants have swirled and include Market Basket, the Massachusetts-based supermarket chain, which said in 2014 that it expected to open more Maine stores following the success of its Biddeford supermarket; and Costco, the warehouse retailer based in Washington state. Read the story

New state contract sparks higher returns on liquor sales

Higher-than-expected liquor sales in Maine during the first year under a new state contract will provide taxpayers with a $46 million operating profit, state regulators said Thursday. Most of the money will be used to repay bond debt service. The profit stems from $155.5 million in liquor sales during the 2015 fiscal year that ended June 30, a 4.6 percent increase over the year before, the Maine Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations reported. It was the first year that the marketing, distribution and warehousing of the state’s liquor business was handled by Pine State Trading Co. The state said at the time it awarded the contract that it expected to receive $450 million in profits over the 10-year life of the contracts. The fiscal year 2015 profit puts the state on target to surpass that amount. Under the previous 10-year contract, the state said it received about $190 million. Read the story.

Cereal maker to open ‘net zero’ plant

Maine organic cereal maker GrandyOats will be moving in November from its facility in Brownfield to a solar-powered plant at the old Hiram Elementary School, the company announced Wednesday. The company says its new plant will be the first “net zero” food production facility in New England, meaning it will not burn any fossil fuels and therefore will have zero carbon emissions. The expansion includes a warehouse for storing raw, organic ingredients and solar panels installed on the school’s old sports field. Read the story

Waterville food co-op facing uncertain future

Waterville local foods store Barrels Community Market, which closed for restructuring a month ago, won’t be reopening anytime soon, and directors aren’t sure if it will open again at all. Members of the Waterville Food Cooperative, which operates Barrels at 74 Main St., were told by an emailed letter Wednesday morning that the market “won’t reopen as planned” and that the cooperative itself may dissolve. David Shipman, executive director of the cooperative’s board, said that its future is up to the co-op’s 175 members. He said the board still hopes to reopen, even if it is in a different location or on a smaller scale. At the beginning of August, co-op officials said the market would close for a month to restructure, and Colby College planned to help the market come up with a business plan. The store hasn’t been able to sustain itself financially. Read the story

REAL ESTATE AND DEVELOPMENT: Circus school to leave Thompson’s Point

The Circus Conservatory of America is leaving its leased facility on Thompson’s Point in Portland, slowing its efforts to become a full-fledged college for the circus arts. The proposed school, first announced at a news conference two years ago, has been hailed by officials as a marquee addition to the city’s creative economy and a key component of the $100 million Thompson’s Point redevelopment project. Peter Nielsen, the school’s president, said Wednesday he still intends to see the school operating on Thompson’s Point in the future. Nielsen said he and the board decided to stop leasing a brick building there, where recreational classes in aerials and circus arts have been offered since January, to devote more time and money toward establishing the conservatory as a degree-granting college. A slate of classes to be given this fall, which had been advertised on the school’s website Wednesday morning, has been canceled. Read the story

Homes sales edge up in August

Sales and median price for existing single-family homes in Maine both increased in August, according to one of the largest real estate agencies in the state. According to Natick, Massachusetts-based RE/MAX Integra, New England, 1,821 Maine homes were sold in August, up 6.5 percent from a year earlier. The median price increased 4.4 percent to $187,900 during the same period. The inventory of homes for sale in Maine shrank by more than 10 percent to 17,443 during the 12 months ending in August, RE/MAX said in a report issued Wednesday. The average number of days on the market for a listed home decreased by more than 15 percent to 107 days, it said. Pending home sales, those for which a contract has been signed but the deal has yet to close, shot way up – more than 27 percent – to 2,039, RE/MAX said. Read the story

ENTREPRENEURSHIP: Accelerator directs cash, resources to four companies

A new business accelerator in Bangor has selected four startups for its inaugural class. Scratchpad Accelerator is a pilot program of the University of Maine and the Maine Technology Institute. The first of its kind in the state, the program was created to help nurture and provide mentorship to promising startups in the greater Bangor region. The four startups accepted into the program are Orono-based CourseStorm, which develops course-registration software for education organizations; Double Blue Sports Analytics, based in Orono and Brunswick, which develops sports-related video analytics applications for the iPad; Tip Whip LLC of Old Town, a ride-sharing company geared toward college students; and L&K Manufacturing of Bangor, a 3D printing services bureau. The companies began work this week from Scratchpad’s location in downtown Bangor and for three months will focus on growing their businesses without distractions. Each will be eligible to receive up to $25,000 from MTI upon completion of the program. Read the story

MxG formed to continue work of Blackstone

A group of innovation organizations hopes to build on momentum in the state’s burgeoning startup community with an initiative that strengthens partnerships and leverages new sources of money. The new effort, dubbed Maine Accelerates Growth, is a partnership of existing entrepreneurship organizations such as the Maine Technology Institute, the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development and the University of Maine Foster Center for Student Innovation. MxG, as it’s called, was born from Blackstone Accelerates Growth, a multi-year effort launched in October 2011 with a $3 million grant from the Blackstone Charitable Foundation. Joining the effort is the Maine Community Foundation, which will administer a fund for Maine Accelerates Growth, seeded with a $200,000 donation that will be used to leverage matching funds from donors interested in supporting the state’s innovation community. Read the story

GENERAL BUSINESS: Portland scorecard reflects economic gains

The fifth annual Economic Scorecard released by the Portland Community Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday morning shows a slight improvement over last year’s scorecard and a discrepancy between what well-educated Portlanders earn and the cost of living here. The scorecard, which tracks 28 economic compares how the city has performed over the past year against regional and national benchmarks. It then determines if the city is “lagging,” “keeping up,” or “exceeding” its target goals. In its 2015 scorecard, the city of Portland or its metro area are lagging in 10 areas; last year, there were 14 areas where the city earned a “lagging” grade. Several of the metrics associated with cost of living are lagging behind their benchmarks but educational attainment — the percent of Portland’s population 25 or older with a bachelor’s degree or higher was 44.8 percent – far surpassed the 35.1 percent benchmark. Read the story