TOURISM & HOSPITALITY

Maine’s tourist hot spots report no sign of a ‘Trump slump’

Despite worries that the Trump administration’s national security and immigration policies might hurt the U.S. tourism industry, one Maine town that relies on foreign visitors is gearing up for a busy summer. Several of President Trump’s proposals, such as a ban on travel from some Muslim-majority countries, a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and intensified border security have led some tourism experts to warn of a “Trump Slump” in international visitation. But here in Maine, where the summer economy thrives on millions of Canadian tourists every year, Trump’s policies don’t appear to have had an effect yet, and some innkeepers say the exchange rate is a more important factor. In Old Orchard Beach, a popular destination for generations of visiting Quebecois, 2017 is shaping up to be better than last year. Read the story.

Augusta Civic Center expected to be profitable for second year in a row

The Augusta Civic Center is expected to turn a profit for the second year in a row, a milestone that officials say shows the growing strength of the local economy as more people attend events and spend money there. The city-owned convention center and auditorium will likely finish the current fiscal year with a profit of between $40,000 and $50,000, Earl Kingsbury, director of the civic center, told city councilors during a recent budget workshop. That won’t match the $272,000 in profits the civic center brought in the previous year, but continues the recent trend of the facility running “in the black.” That isn’t the case every year, as sometimes it loses money, including as recently as 2015, when expenses exceeded revenues by $120,000. Kingsbury said the civic center is getting new business, having booked about a dozen new events this year, most of which have also re-booked for the following year. Read the story.

ECONOMY & EMPLOYMENT

Maine’s unemployment rate falls to historic low in March

Maine’s preliminary seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 3 percent in March, the lowest on record since the current methodology was implemented in 1976, driven in part by high job gains in construction, transportation, education and healthcare. The March rate was down from 3.2 percent in February and 3.7 percent a year ago. The number of unemployed Mainers was down 4,500 over the year to 21,000. The unemployment rate was below 4 percent in 14 of the last 17 months, only the third such period in the last 41 years. That compares to the national preliminary unemployment rate of 4.5 percent, down from 4.7 percent in February and 5.0 percent a year ago. The New England unemployment rate averaged 3.8 percent in March. Read the story.

REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION

Project to transform ‘dead space’ at Portland’s Canal Plaza begins

Work crews began a redevelopment of Canal Plaza in the heart of Portland’s Old Port on Monday. The open plaza next to Middle Street is nestled between tall office buildings and has long featured concrete planters and trees and been used mostly as a cut-through to nearby office buildings and the lower Old Port. The multimillion-dollar redesign will include the addition of a free-standing building and new landscaping that the owner hopes will make it a more vibrant space. Owner Tim Soley, of East Brown Cow development company, plans to replace one of the planters and its six mature trees with a circular single-story building for use as a cafe or retail store. He also plans to replace the brick-and-concrete plaza with 17,000 square feet of granite and add benches and new trees. Read the story.

Developer begins 28-unit downtown Portland apartment project

A Portland developer has begun construction on 28 apartment units inside the Clapp Memorial Building at 443 Congress St. in Portland, including four units that will meet the city’s requirement for affordable housing. Northland is building eight two-bedroom apartments, sixteen one-bedroom apartments, and four studio units on the former office building’s upper floors. Two commercial tenants on the first floor, the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce and Planned Parenthood, both have long-term leases and will remain. Northland is the first developer to include affordable apartment units under Portland’s relatively new requirement, city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said. Developer Chip Newell’s 26-unit Luminato Condominium project on Newbury Street was the first condo project to include affordable units under the ordinance, she said. Read the story.

RECREATION

Buyers of Harris Golf discount passes unhappy that they now exclude Sunday River

Some golfers are disappointed that discount passes sold by Bath-based Harris Golf Inc. can no longer be used to play the award-winning Sunday River Golf Club course in Newry. However, the passes can be used at other Harris Golf properties, and the company has promised a refund to at least one customer who called to ask for his money back. Harris Golf had owned and operated the Sunday River course since it opened in 2005, but recently lost those rights while a legal dispute over its ownership is pending. Portland-based Newry Holdings LLC, the sole creditor on the property’s mortgage, took possession of the course Jan. 5, saying Harris Golf failed to make a required mortgage payment. Read the story.

COMMERCIAL FISHERIES

Regulators vote to allow lobstering in Gulf of Maine coral protection zones

New England regulators have voted to allow lobster fishing in proposed deep-sea coral protection zones, including two heavily fished areas in Down East Maine. The New England Fishery Management Council voted 14-1 Tuesday to ban most fishing in the canyons and plateaus where slow-growing, cold-water coral gardens flourish in the dark waters of the Gulf of Maine. But pleas from Maine lobster fishermen who say a trap ban in fertile gulf fishing grounds would cost them millions of dollars helped sway an initially resistant council to grant a lobstering exemption. If approved at the council’s June meeting in Portland, the exemption would allow lobstering in coral protection zones on Mount Desert Rock and Outer Schoodic Ridge, where Maine officials believe state-based boats land about $4.2 million worth of lobster a year. Read the story.

PULP & PAPER INDUSTRY

Madison Paper sells its hydropower facility to New Jersey firm

Hydro power assets at the shuttered Madison Paper Industries have been sold to a New Jersey hydroelectric power producer, marking the final step in the sale of the paper mill and opening the door for future plans at the site. Madison Paper Industries, a former partnership of UPM and Northern SC Paper Corp., a subsidiary of The New York Times Company, signed an agreement to sell its hydropower facilities to Eagle Creek Renewable Energy LLC, a hydroelectric power producer based in Morristown, New Jersey. The paper mill, which closed in May and put about 215 people out of work, was sold in December to a buyer with plans to put the property back into use as an industrial site. Future uses of the mill site have been on hold pending the sale of the hydroelectric assets. Read the story.

CYBERSECURITY

Reformed scam artist tells Mainers how to protect their data

Frank Abagnale Jr. visited the University of Southern Maine campus in Portland Thursday to teach Mainers how to avoid identity theft. Abagnale’s life as a teenage fraudster and his ultimate transformation into an anti-fraud innovator was immortalized first in book form, then in the 2002 Steven Spielberg-directed movie “Catch Me If You Can,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks. More recently, the story was adapted into a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical. For the past three years, Abagnale has been touring the country with the AARP Fraud Watch Network to teach audiences how to avoid being scammed at a time when personal information is everywhere and fast-changing technology is constantly creating new security problems and solutions. Abagnale offered a variety of lessons to the audience in Portland. Read the story.