Dispensary sales of marijuana level off

Medical marijuana sales at Maine’s eight dispensaries are still growing, but at the slowest rate since the first one opened in 2011. Growth on the caregiver side of the market, however, appears to be surging, possibly topping dispensary sales, although caregiver sales are not tracked by the state. Maine residents spent $24.8 million on non-edible marijuana at the dispensaries last year, a 5.3 percent jump over 2015, according to data from Maine Revenue Services. But it is significantly lower than the 40 percent and 46 percent growth in sales that dispensaries enjoyed in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Non-edible dispensary sales generated $1.4 million in tax revenue for Maine in 2016. Another $157,835 was collected from Maine’s $2 million edibles market. The number of caregivers – the small-scale growers licensed by the state to provide marijuana for up to five certified patients – skyrocketed in 2016, from 2,277 in January to 3,244 in December, a 42.5 percent increase, state records show. Read the story.


Bay Ferries reports brisk early sales

Advance bookings on the ferry between Maine and Canada are up significantly compared to last year, as the passenger service starts a second season under new ownership. Mark MacDonald, president of Prince Edward Island-based Bay Ferries Ltd., said the company’s advance ticket sales are up at least five-fold from 2016. Bay Ferries took over the contract for service between Portland and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, from the Nova Scotia provincial government in 2016 after two years of poor performance by Nova Star Cruises. If high ticket sales hold, the service could reach the kind of passenger volumes it had before it was canceled in 2009 after requesting more government subsidies to offset losses from declining passenger bookings. Read the story.


Court upholds whistleblower case, awards $260,000

A federal appeals court has affirmed that Pan Am Railways Inc. must pay $260,000 in damages to a Maine employee who was subjected to retaliation for filing a Federal Railroad Safety Act whistleblower complaint. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigated the complaint, filed in 2011 by an employee who works in Pan Am’s Waterville rail yard. The employee had tried to report an injury. According to the Labor Department, the North Billerica, Massachusetts-based commercial railroad retaliated against the employee by charging him with dishonesty in connection with his complaint. The Labor Department ordered the railroad to take corrective actions and pay the employee $10,000 in compensatory damages and $40,000 in punitive damages. Pan Am appealed the order, and in 2014 an administrative law judge upheld the agency’s finding of retaliation and increased the amount of punitive damages to $250,000. Read the story.

Maine bans mortgage loan servicer from taking on new business

Maine is one of 25 states that have banned Florida-based Ocwen Loan Servicing LLC, one of the country’s largest home mortgage loan servicers, from taking on any new business until allegations of illegal practices are resolved. The U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed a federal lawsuit in April accusing Ocwen’s parent company, Ocwen Financial Corp., of “years of widespread errors, shortcuts and runarounds,” costing some borrowers money and others their homes. Ocwen services more than 6,000 home mortgages in Maine. A cease-and-desist order filed by the Maine Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection demands that Ocwen Loan Servicing immediately stop acquiring or originating new home mortgages or mortgage servicing rights in Maine until the company can prove that borrower funds are being collected, calculated and disbursed correctly. Read the story.


Thomas College gets award to establish innovation institute

The Harold Alfond Foundation announced Wednesday it is giving a $5.3 million grant to Thomas College in Watervbille for a new business institute at the school, launching initiatives such as an internship program and training sessions and workshops for both students and local businesspeople. The investment, which will be used to create the Harold Alfond Institute for Business Innovation. The grant will cover the total cost of the institute and allow the college to establish a paid internship program with local business partners such as the Central Maine Growth Council, Greenlight Maine, and Adam Burk and Co. It also will organize programming for undergraduates and graduates in entrepreneurship and innovation, as well as a number of certification programs and workshops for businesspeople. Read the story.


Committee votes to restore tip credit

A legislative committee voted Wednesday to restore the “tip credit” used in the restaurant industry as part of a compromise aimed at addressing the most controversial aspect of last year’s minimum wage referendum. Members of the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee endorsed a bill to restore the tip credit, which allows restaurants to pay workers below the minimum wage as long as tips cover the difference. To win support from Democrats leery of changing last year’s referendum, Republicans agreed to codify how restaurant owners calculate those wages. If approved by the full Legislature, the changes will be a major victory for restaurant owners and workers who say phasing out the tip credit will have dire consequences for their livelihoods and an economically vital industry in Maine. The bipartisan, 11-2 committee vote came one month after tipped workers flocked to Augusta for a public hearing that lasted more than 12 hours. Read the story.


ImmuCell reports record sales in first quarter

Portland-based ImmuCell Corp. achieved record sales of $3.5 million in the first quarter, the company said Thursday. Quarterly sales were up 19 percent from $3 million in the first quarter of 2016, it said. Net income for the first quarter was $584,000, or 12 cents per share, up slightly from $452,000, or 11 cents per share, a year earlier. The company said that as of the first quarter it has achieved a positive net operating income for 11 consecutive quarters. ImmuCell develops all-natural products to prevent and treat diseases among dairy and beef cattle. Read the story.


Lawmakers vote against moving UMaine wind project

A bid to move a nationally significant wind energy test site farther from Monhegan Island suffered a major setback on Wednesday when a key legislative committee unanimously voted against a bill to do that. With little discussion, the Energy, Utilities and Technology committee agreed that while some islanders and their supporters had valid concerns about the project, overturning the ongoing review process would set a bad precedent. At issue is the Maine Aqua Ventus offshore wind project, a plan to test floating turbines roughly 3 miles from the island. Bill supporters had testified earlier this month that views of two massive floating turbines would jeopardize tourism, lobster fishing, migrating birds and the sense of serenity associated with Monhegan’s wild beauty. The University of Maine-led project initially promised a small, brief test, but it since has expanded to full-size turbines that could be in the water for 20 years. But opponents of the bill, which would have moved the test site at least 7 miles farther out to sea, said relocation would kill the project and the federal funding needed to complete it. Read the story.


Bourque to take the reins at MEMIC

Longtime MEMIC Group executive Michael Bourque will take the helm of the Portland-based workers’ compensation insurance provider when its current chief executive retires later this year. Bourque, a former newspaper reporter from Maine who has worked at MEMIC for 22 years, is senior vice president of external affairs. He will replace retiring President and CEO John Leonard, a founding leader of the company. MEMIC insures more than 20,000 employers and their estimated 300,000 employees. In addition to heading the company’s marketing, communications and government relations efforts, Bourque has taken on many community leadership roles. He is a former chair of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce and also a past chairman of the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine, the Southern Maine Community College Foundation, the Portland Community Chamber of Commerce, Youth and Family Outreach and the Maine Public Relations Council. Read the story.

Maine’s economy lags N.E. in final quarter of 2016

Maine’s economy grew sluggishly in the final three months of 2016, expanding just 0.7 percent, making Maine the slowest-growing state in New England and 43rd nationally. Figures from the Bureau of Economic Analysis suggest that contractions in real estate, rental and leasing activity, along with a decline in manufacturing of non-durable goods – items expected to last less than three years – were the biggest drags on the state’s economy. Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting continued to contribute strong growth to the state’s economy, accounting for 0.46 percentage points of the state’s overall growth. The bureau said Maine’s economic output for the quarter was $59.86 billion, up from $59.5 billion in the third quarter of 2016 and $58.45 billion in the fourth quarter of 2015. Read the story.