WEX launches pioneering parental leave policy

Parents who work at WEX Inc. have a new perk: up to six weeks of fully paid parental leave for the birth or adoption of a child. The South Portland payment processing technology firm has joined a small but growing list of employers that offer paid leave to both male and female employees for childbirth and adoption. The new benefit is in addition to WEX’s existing maternity leave allowance, which provides up to eight weeks of short-term disability leave at two-thirds pay for female workers. WEX, which has 2,600 employees worldwide, including about 760 in Maine, had no prior leave policy for new fathers. According to the Alexandria, Virginia-based Society for Human Resource Management, only 17 percent of U.S. companies offer paid parental leave to both male and female employees. Only 21 percent provide paid maternal leave to female workers, it said. Read the story.

Westbrook lab helping rein in spread of Zika

A test that soon could be available to help millions of people worldwide determine whether they have the Zika virus could rely on research done at a small lab in a Westbrook industrial park. Unlike current tests that take weeks to process, the new tests would give patients quick results, potentially within 20 minutes. ViroStat Inc., a private company on Spiller Drive, is in a race with at least one other company to develop an antibody that could be used in diagnostic tests kits, company officials said. The Zika virus has become a worldwide public health hazard because scientists have concluded that the virus can cause birth defects. The lab has spent a year researching and testing and is close to the point where the antibodies could be sold to makers of the diagnostic tests. Three U.S. test-making companies are evaluating the antibodies produced in the ViroStat lab, , and if all goes well, the Zika tests could be put on the market in 2017, according to the company president. Read the story.


Geiger undertaking $12 million renovation in Lewiston

Farmers’ Almanac publisher Geiger is investing $12 million to convert its former manufacturing space in Lewiston into offices powered by a vast solar array, the company said Wednesday. When completed, the 105,000-square-foot facility will be able to accommodate up to 275 employees, including an anticipated 25 to 50 new hires over the next three to five years. Half the facility will be used as a distribution center, and the other half will be company offices. Founded in 1878 in Newark, New Jersey, the fifth-generation family business has roughly 700 employees and contract salespeople across the United States. Geiger relocated its headquarters to Maine in 1955 and currently employs 225 workers in Lewiston. The company celebrated its publication of the famous almanac’s 200th issue this year. Read the story.

Organic waste company to open plant in Unity

In a boon for Maine’s hard-hit and changing wood products industry, a Canadian-based organic waste company announced Thursday it plans to open its first U.S. facility in an industrial building in the town of Unity and eventually create 30 jobs while investing $4 million. Envirem Organics will open its facility in a building on 15 acres at 39 Cornshop Road in Unity, where it will house offices, warehousing, and distribution functions, according to the Kennebec Regional Development Authority, the organization that helped Envirem choose a location. Brad Jackson, executive director of the development authority, said Thursday that the wood products industry is one of several “cluster” industries he has been looking to draw to the region. The $4 million investment is estimated to involve a complete build-out of the 30,000-square-foot facility in Unity, including new equipment and machinery purchases. Read the story.

Roxanne Quimby purchases campground near Acadia

Conservationist and Burt’s Bees co-founder Roxanne Quimby has purchased the scenic Ocean Woods campground on the Schoodic Peninsula in Hancock County and intends to continue operating it. Portland-based real estate auction house Tranzon LLC disclosed on Sept. 9 that the 113-acre property had been placed under contract, and that a previously scheduled Tranzon auction had been canceled. On Thursday, Tranzon acknowledged that the sale had been completed and that the buyer was Quimby. It did not disclose the sale price. Lucas St. Clair, president of Elliotsville Plantation and Quimby’s son, said Thursday that the family intends to continue operating Ocean Woods as a campground. St. Clair said Quimby chose to purchase the property because of its natural beauty and proximity to Acadia National Park. Read the story.


Downeaster will use buses during tracks upgrade

The Amtrak Downeaster will transport passengers on buses between Brunswick and Wells for about six weeks this fall as workers replace railroad ties on about 30 miles of track. The use of buses is intended to avoid service interruptions and late trains that plagued the Downeaster during a tie replacement project last year, said Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority. Also, one of the Downeaster’s five daily round-trips will be suspended during the work and there will be no service on two weekends in October and November because of track construction and bridge work in Massachusetts. Read the story.


Federal funding directed to forest products industry

The Maine forest products industry is getting a boost from the federal government in the form of funding that will assist the state’s two largest universities. The University Center Economic Development Program at the University of Maine and University of Southern Maine will get more than $115,000 from the federal Economic Development Administration. The money will support technical assistance for Maine’s forest products sector. U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King requested the funding in June and announced it on Tuesday. Read the story.


Personal income growth stalls

Maine’s total personal income grew at a sluggish 0.7 percent between the first and second quarters of 2016, slower than all but five other states, according to new estimates from the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis. Nationally, personal income grew in every state, with an average increase of 1 percent over income levels for the first quarter of 2016. The recent slowdown in Maine marks a departure from other recent BEA income estimates for the state. From the beginning of 2015 until the first quarter of 2016, the agency’s estimates for Maine’s personal income growth matched or slightly exceeded the national average. Cumulatively, between the second quarter of 2015 and the second quarter of 2016, Maine’s personal income grew about 3.3 percent, just ahead of the national average growth rate of 3.2 percent. Read the story.


CEI awarded $1.8 million

The U.S. Department of the Treasury has awarded $1.8 million to Brunswick-based Coastal Enterprises Inc. to expand its community lending and economic development work. CEI was one of 196 community development financial institutions, or CDFIs, across the country that received $185.7 million in grants and loans from Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund, according to a news release from CEI. The awards, based on a competitive application process, have enabled CDFIs to increase lending and investment activity in low-income and economically distressed communities across the nation since the program was established in 1994. Over 80 percent of CEI’s lending activity targets low-income people and communities, through loans that support low-income entrepreneurs and business owners as well as companies that create jobs, affordable housing units, childcare slots, and health care for people and regions that qualify as low-income. Since 1997, CEI has received a total of 14 awards from the CDFI Fund. Read the story.