More hotels in pipeline despite waning demand

Despite a leveling-off of demand for hotel rooms statewide, there are five new hotel projects under construction in Maine and at least three more in the planning stage. The occupancy rate at Maine hotels remained relatively flat in 2016 as the new supply of rooms nearly caught up with demand, said presenters at the Maine Real Estate and Development Association’s annual forecasting conference Thursday in Portland. Still, there is a lot more supply on the way. Three new Maine hotels were completed in 2016, adding 239 rooms to the state’s total supply, according to Mitchell Muroff of Muroff Daigle Hospitality Group in Newton, Massachusetts. They were Hampton Inn in Oxford, Homewood Suites in Augusta and 250 Main in Rockland Harbor. A far greater number of hotel projects are under construction or expected to break ground in 2017 that would add an estimated 650 rooms to Maine’s overall supply. Five hotels are under construction and three more in are the planning phase. If all are built, those eight projects would bring the total number of hotel rooms in Maine to roughly 38,000. Read the story.


Governor proposes aid for bus contract

The LePage administration has proposed funneling $7 million to the Maine Military Authority in Aroostook County to cover huge losses incurred when the state-owned business underbid on a contract. Late last year, Gov. Paul LePage halted work at the Maine Military Authority on a $19 million contract to refurbish 32 aging transit buses for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in Boston. The work to restore the two-section, articulated buses proved to be much more complicated – and costly – than anticipated, resulting in millions of dollars in losses and eventually layoffs as Maine Military Authority stopped accepting delivery of additional buses. While officials from Maine Military Authority and state government are trying to renegotiate the contract, they are also seeking a $7 million bailout to rehire workers, complete the work and better position the business in the future. The LePage administration has proposed earmarking $7 million from the state’s year-end surplus to a special Maine Military Authority Reserve Fund. Read the story.


 Paper industry trade group disbands

A group that has represented the interests of Maine’s pulp and paper industry for 50 years has folded. In its Jan. 13 newsletter, the Maine Pulp & Paper Association announced that it is disbanding, citing the lack of financial resources to keep it going. The organization was sustained by dues from its members, including the state’s paper mills, logging contractors, equipment providers and others in the paper industry supply chain, all of whom have been affected by the severe downsizing of the industry. In its 2013 filing with the Internal Revenue Service, the organization reported $161,500 in dues. In its 2015 report, that number had shrunk to $17,000. Donna Cassese, the group’s chairwoman, said there was still a need for a unified voice for the pulp and paper industry, and that the group is exploring several alternatives to meet that need. Read the story.


CEI closes on new fund for small businesses

Brunswick-based CEI Ventures said Tuesday that it has closed on its fourth venture capital fund, Coastal Ventures IV, at just under $10 million. It said the new fund will provide needed capital to small businesses in Maine and the Northeast. CEI Ventures, which describes itself as a socially responsible, for-profit venture capital firm, said it is actively investing from two funds with $20 million under management. Coastal Ventures IV, like prior funds, seeks to create quality jobs and promote socially responsible products and services, particularly those that improve the environment. Coastal Ventures IV was capitalized by 17 local and regional banks as well as eight individual investors, according to parent company Coastal Enterprises Inc., which provided an anchor investment of $1.5 million in the new fund. Read the story.



Saint Joseph’s receives $1.5 million from Alfond Foundation to expand nursing programs

Saint Joseph’s College has received a $1.5 million grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation to support the creation of a new academic center in Standish to address critical shortages in Maine’s nursing workforce. According to the foundation, the number of Maine nurses on the verge of retirement is up significantly, with nearly three-fourths nearing retirement age. Meanwhile, demand for home health care, nursing home and hospital workers in Maine is expected to surge through 2024, and industry leaders say they already are facing worker shortages ranging from entry-level caretakers to top administrators. In partnership with the lead investment from the Alfond Foundation, the Saint Joseph’s College Center for Nursing Excellence will respond directly to those needs, the foundation said Tuesday. The grant provides critical funding for expanded nursing simulation labs that will be the cornerstone of the new academic center. Nursing simulation labs are designed to give students hands-on clinical experience through simulated interactions in areas of medicine such as intensive care, pediatrics and maternity. The college intends to use the grant to raise an additional $3.5 million to fully fund the program’s expansion. Read the story.


Hikes for lobster license fees proposed

The Maine Department of Marine Resources wants to raise the price of commercial fishing licenses for the first time in seven years, using the $600,000 the hikes would generate to pay for spending increases while honoring Gov. Paul LePage’s request to keep the department’s budget flat. If approved by the Legislature, the proposed fee increases would range from as little as $1 for a Maine resident to harvest green crabs to as much as $114 for a lobsterman with two sternmen. Under the new fee schedule, which would take effect January 2018, the cost of securing a Class III lobster license would top $1,000 for the first time, hitting $1,002. The fee hike would enable the Department of Marine Resources to hire an additional lobster biologist, outfit its science staff with field technology and pay for Marine Patrol officer raises and ballistics vests, among other things, without increasing the department’s $21.3 million bottom line, a department spokesman said. Read the story.

Sweden expected to pursue lobster ban – again


Sweden isn’t giving up on a long-running battle with the U.S. and Canada over lobsters that have turned up in Swedish waters. Swedish officials told The Associated Press that their country is working on a new proposal about how to deal with American lobsters that have turned up. A controversy about whether American lobsters are invasive in Swedish waters has simmered for almost a year. Sweden had wanted the European Union to consider a ban of imports of American lobsters, but that effort failed after American and Canadian scientists and politicians raised concerns about a lack of evidence that the lobsters warranted such a sweeping ban. But Swedish officials said they are preparing a new proposal on national and regional measures on the American lobster that will be presented for the Swedish government. Read the story.


CEO: Medical and recreational marijuana industries can be complementary

The head of Maine’s largest purveyor of legal medical marijuana said on Wednesday that she supports the regulated, recreational use of marijuana by people over 21 and the creation of a market to satisfy that demand. In November, Maine voters approved a citizen referendum that allows for the creation of a recreational marijuana industry in the state. Last week, state lawmakers began to consider how to implement those new rules. Patricia Rosi, chief executive officer of Wellness Connection of Maine, which runs four of the state’s eight licensed medical marijuana dispensaries, said there are many ways medical and recreational marijuana industries can complement each other. Rosi was invited to speak at a breakfast held by the Kennebec Valley of Chamber of Commerce. For instance, Rosi said recreational access would allow those who feel they need marijuana for a chronic condition not allowed under the current provisions for medical marijuana to obtain it. Read the story.

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