The Legislature may have adjourned, but talk of the minimum wage endures. Voters will be asked on November’s ballot to endorse a measure to raise the state’s $7.50 minimum wage incrementally to $12 by 2020.

That coupled with Portland’s recent hike of the minimum wage to $10.10 drew the interest of The Christian Science Monitor, which was in town to write about Maine’s minimum wage efforts. One observer said the city’s higher minimum wage has drawn applicants from the suburbs and beyond.

It’s also produced a ripple effect. As I drove by Amato’s on Pleasant Street in Brunswick last week, I noticed a sign saying it was hiring – at $10.10 an hour.

Lou Torrieri, marketing director for the popular sandwich chain, said the company decided to adjust its starting wage to match Portland’s minimum wage out of fairness.

“It didn’t feel right to pay an employee working in Portland one wage and then an employee performing the exact same job somewhere else less,” said Torrieri. “So we adopted $10.10 as the starting wage and adjusted everyone’s wage.”

Overnight, 200 of Amato’s 264 employees got raises and for those who were making closer to $11 an hour, they got a 50 cent-per-hour increase. All told, the company will pay close to $300,000 more in payroll and taxes this year because of the adjustment. It also is expected to help attract and retain employees at its 12 corporately owned shops, said Torrieri.

“It’s been tough to attract workers in food service, and this will help with that,” he said. “It also lets us be flexible about staffing. It would have been a nightmare if we wanted an employee at the St. John Street shop to pick up a shift in Westbrook, and have to deal with two pay scales.”

On a national platform, at least one Mainer is stumping to raise the federal minimum wage to $12 by 2020. Margo Walsh, the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 2016 Small Business Person of the Year for Maine, runs MaineWorks LLC, a Portland staffing company that specializes in finding construction jobs for recently released inmates and others. She was among the hundreds of people who signed a letter from Business for a Fair Minimum Wage supporting the federal increase.

“The minimum wage is keeping workers stuck and struggling in poverty. Most policymakers have no idea how hard it really is,” Walsh said in a news release. “Raising the minimum wage to at least $12 is vital to making a living even possible. When employees are compensated fairly for their work, they’re more productive and our businesses, our customer base, our tax base and our communities are healthier.”

PERFECT YOUR PITCH, WIN MONEY

Are you a small-business owner with fewer than 50 employees in need of some free money?

Then you might want to consider entering FedEx’s small-business grant contest. The shipping and logistics company is offering grants from $7,500 to $25,000 to 10 companies across the U.S.

“Small business owners face a number of challenges, especially when it comes to securing the financial resources needed to take their businesses to the next level,” Becky Huling, vice president of FedEx’s customer engagement marketing, said in a news release announcing the contest. “The grant contest was designed to help small business owners unleash their potential and realize their dreams of turning their passion into a successful business.”

To enter, participants should visit www.fedex.com/grantcontest and enter their contact information, write a short profile about their business and upload four photos of their business or product, including their logo. While not required, participants also have the option of submitting a 60-second elevator pitch video to supplement their entry.

The contest entry period is open from May 3 to May 30 with voting by the general public to take place from May 17 to June 13. Winners will be announced on July 11.

YOUNG ENTREPRENEURS

I really enjoyed meeting and writing about two young entrepreneurs in the past couple of weeks. Mitch Newlin, who launched Re-Fridge in his sophomore year at Bates, is ramping up his dorm refrigerator recycling business. Newlin expects $70,000 in revenues this year after expanding the service to 16 campuses. It made me think of what remarkable thing I did in my sophomore year of college – getting a B+ in physics was about it.

Andrew Katon launched Cobbler Technologies while he was still earning his engineering degree from UMaine. Now he’s waiting for approval on six patents and is positioning his company’s 3D printers for massive efficiencies in the footwear manufacturing industry.

The story drew the interest of Andy Polk, senior vice president of Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America. Polk said in an email exchange that 3D printers are becoming integrated in production lines throughout the footwear industry. And that will lead to some radical thinking about footwear jobs of the future.

“This all leads to how we see a footwear production job growth again in the U.S., but as one of 21st century jobs: software and coding IT, engineers and scientists (will be) running these platforms and machines. It’s pretty fascinating.”

He also said adoption of new production technology is riding on the passage of the Trans- Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

“The speed of 3D printing development is contingent on the passage of TPP because that would provide the industry with half a billion in duty savings they can use to put towards innovation and lower prices at mass retail,” he said.

Interesting.

If you want to rub elbows with some of Maine’s smartest and most ambitious entrepreneurs, make sure you check out Maine Startup and Create Week, June 20-26. The weeklong event is full of workshops, networking events and other activities, but my favorite is the Maine Technology Institute Tech Walk, scheduled for June 22. There, more than 40 companies demonstrate what their companies do, from growing and processing sea vegetables to using technology to make new wood sound old in custom-built guitars. Check it out.

Business Editor Carol Coultas can be contacted at 791-6460 or at:

[email protected]


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