TOURISM

State poised for record cruise ship season

Maine is on track to have a record number of cruise ships and passengers sail into ports this year, and Portland officials are considering an expansion of the cruise terminal to grow traffic further. About 380,275 passengers are expected to come to Maine in 2017, a 36 percent increase from last year, said Amy Powers, director of CruiseMaine. Maine ports expect 423 ships, 62 more than in 2016. The first large ship of the season, Grandeur of the Seas, with a capacity of 2,000 passengers and almost 800 crew, will dock Sunday in Portland and Monday in Bar Harbor. Last year, about 77 ships docked in Portland and the city hosted 100,000 passengers for the first time. This year, 103 ships are scheduled to come into port, bringing about 125,000 passengers and 50,000 crew, the city said. It is considering enhancing the Ocean Gateway terminal to accommodate more and larger cruise ships. Read the story.

LABOR

Shortage of workers forces Maine hospitality businesses to scale back

Maine’s hospitality sector is facing the toughest labor market in recent memory, a situation made worse by the federal government’s delay in granting visas for seasonal foreign workers who many businesses rely on to fill jobs during the summer tourism season. At issue are the more than 2,100 foreign workers who Maine employers have been unable to hire through the H-2B visa program. The Department of Homeland Security has yet to increase the number of work visas available, although the DHS was authorized to do so in a budget that Congress passed in early May. Without those workers, some businesses have been forced to cut back hours, close hotel rooms and lay off U.S. employees. It is unclear when the DHS and federal Department of Labor will start issuing visas or how many might be available. Maine employers requested about 2,877 workers this season but only 700 visas have been approved, said Greg Dugal, director of government affairs for the Maine Innkeepers Association. Read the story.

Butera approved for commissioner post

The Maine Senate on Thursday unanimously approved John Butera’s nomination to serve as commissioner of the Maine Department of Labor. Butera will replace Jeanne Paquette, who stepped down as labor commissioner to fill a position at the University of Southern Maine. A Waterville resident, Butera has served as Gov. Paul LePage’s senior economic adviser since 2011 and has also worked on economic and community development, business finance, workforce development and labor issues. Previously, Butera spent nearly 30 years in economic development in the public and private realms, including holding positions within the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development and serving as executive director of the Central Maine Growth Council. Read the story.

TRANSPORTATION

Rural airports receive grants

The U.S. Department of Transportation is giving more than $3.3 million to 10 airports in Maine in grants that lawmakers say will boost tourism and jobs in the state. The grants are going to regional and commercial airports ranging from North Aroostook Regional Airport in Frenchville to Bangor International Airport. The grants will fund projects such as removal of trees and rehabilitation of taxiway pavement. The largest grant is more than $925,000, for Knox County Regional Airport in Rockland to pay for construction of a 400-foot runway extension. Northern Maine Regional Airport in Presque Isle will receive more than $550,000 to fund acquisition of snow removal equipment. Read the story.

GENERAL BUSINESS

Maine regulators OK FairPoint-Consolidated merger

Maine’s Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to approve the proposed $1.5 billion merger of telecommunications companies FairPoint Communications and Consolidated Communications. As part of its vote, the PUC stipulated that Consolidated, the buyer, has to invest $17.4 million annually in improvements to its Maine network in 2018, 2019 and 2020 – a total of $52.2 million. The PUC is expected to issue a written order confirming its approval within the next week, Administrative Director Harry Lamphear said. In March, shareholders of Consolidated and FairPoint voted to approve the proposed merger first announced in December. Consolidated has said it plans to buy FairPoint for $1.5 billion, assuming its debt and offering dividends to stockholders. Read the story.

South Portland firm acquired by Netherlands floricultural company

Grow-Tech, a South Portland company that engineers and manufactures soil-less growing media, has been sold to a Netherlands firm. The company, one of those held in the portfolio of Portland’s Anania & Associates Investment Co., was sold to Dümmen Orange, a floricultural company, for an undisclosed sum, according to a release from Anania. The deal is not expected to result in any changes at the Maine plant, where 45 people are employed. Dümmen Orange is a global leader in the breeding and development of cut flowers and potted plants. It said the acquisition of Grow-Tech will help it achieve its sustainability goals. The company employs 7,0000 worldwide. Read the story.

Portland media company buys food trade show

Portland-based Diversified Communications has acquired the Naturally Good Expo in Australia from an Australian media company for an undisclosed sum. Diversified said it acquired the annual expo from Queensland-based National Media Pty Ltd. Naturally Good is the largest trade show for the natural, organic and healthy products sector in Australia, it said. Founded in 2015, the expo allows industry members to showcase the latest products, innovations and trends in food and beverages, supplements, beauty and household products. Read the story.

ENERGY

Solar array activated over parking garage

A Portland developer has installed nearly 600 solar panels on an Old Port parking garage with a goal of producing a quarter of the electricity for a nearby hotel. The rooftop solar array at 425 Fore St., which will produce power for the Hyatt Place Portland Old Port hotel, is the first of its kind in Maine and the largest in Portland, according to Fortunat Mueller, a managing partner at the Portland-based ReVision Energy, which installed the array. The man behind the project in Portland is Tim Soley, co-founder of East Brown Cow Management, a real estate investment, development and management firm in Portland. Mueller said the 193,000 kilowatts of energy the new system will produce is enough to power about 40 single-family homes, reducing the carbon footprint of the hotel by about 7 million pounds over the 25-year life span of the system, which cost about $570,000 to install. Read the story.

Unitil seeks rate increase

Unitil Corp. has filed for a rate increase for its natural gas customers in Maine, the company announced Wednesday. Unitil also provides natural gas to customers in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, but the rate increase would apply only to Maine customers. If the rates are approved, a typical residential gas heating customer would see a monthly increase of $8.66 or about 9 percent. Charges to individual customers will depend on their rate class and usage. Read the story.

HEALTH CARE

Maine Med purchasing St. Joe’s rehab

Maine Medical Center announced Wednesday that it has signed an agreement to purchase St. Joseph’s Rehabilitation and Residence. The 121-bed facility on Washington Avenue in Portland is owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland and provides rehabilitation services, short-stay care, long-term care and memory services, as well as care for those transitioning out of the hospital. Details of the purchase – including sale price – were not being immediately released pending final state approvals, said John Porter, a spokesman for MaineHealth, the parent company of Maine Med. The diocese has signed a memorandum of understanding to transfer ownership, according to a Maine Med statement. The parties need to obtain a state-issued Certificate of Need for the sale to go through. Read the story.

Anthem wins bid to administer state employee health insurance

About 28,000 current and former Maine state employees and their dependents will be switching health insurance companies on July 1. The state has awarded Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield a contract to administer its employee health insurance plan after using Aetna as its administrator since July 2012. The Anthem contract, valued at roughly $5.5 million per year, has an initial term of three years with the option for up to three additional one-year renewals. The decision is the result of a competitive bidding process, officials said. Anthem had been the state’s health insurance administrator before Aetna won the contract five years ago. Under the new plan, insurance premiums will increase by roughly 3 percent for both employees and the state. Read the story.