MANUFACTURING

Verso permanently shuts down coated paper machine

Verso Corp. announced Wednesday that it would shut down the No. 3 paper machine permanently at its Androscoggin mill in Jay, resulting in the elimination of 120 jobs there — nearly a quarter of the workforce. The company had said in November it would idle the key papermaking machine temporarily because of declining customer demand and “more coated paper capacity than could be filled.” In a filing Wednesday with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Verso says the shutdown would be effective Aug. 1 and is expected to be complete by the end of the third quarter of 2017. The shutdown would reduce the mill’s annual coated paper production capacity by about 200,000 tons. Verso’s struggles are part of an ever-growing string of closures and layoffs that have plagued Maine’s paper industry. In the last three years, five mills have closed. Read the story.

Verso Corp. announced this week that it will shut down its No. 3 paper machine at the Androscoggin mill for good and lay off 120 workers this fall. Kevin Bennett file photo

Verso workers facing layoffs already getting new jobs, training

Many of the 120 workers who are losing their jobs at the Androscoggin mill in Jay already have started training for work in other industries or found employment elsewhere, an official with the Maine Department of Labor said Thursday. The layoffs of nearly a quarter of the mill’s workers were announced Wednesday as a result of Verso Corp.’s decision to permanently shut down the No. 3 paper machine at its Jay mill. It wasn’t a surprising step. Verso announced in November that the machine would be idled temporarily, requiring layoffs of an estimated 190 workers, because of declining demand and “more coated paper capacity than could be filled.” The year before that, the company laid off 300 people at the mill, whose employees are not unionized. The latest layoffs will reduce the mill’s workforce to 400 employees. Read the story.

 TECHNOLOGY

Portland vet services company gets $223 investment

Vets First Choice of Portland, which provides e-commerce services to veterinary clinics, has received a $223 million investment to accelerate the company’s growth and hiring, launch new services and begin a global expansion effort into Europe and Asia. The venture capital funding represents the largest sum invested at one time in a privately held Maine company in at least two decades. The magnitude of the investment, along with Vets First Choice’s rapid growth, bodes well for its chances of becoming a publicly traded company in the future. The company is in the midst of doubling its workforce from 400 to 800 employees by year’s end. Read the story.

Fintech firm lands new client, looks to hire 55

BlueTarp Financial, a business-to-business credit services provider in Portland, said it recently signed a “household name” client and plans to hire more than 50 new employees by the end of the year. The company declined to name the new client, but its website includes an impressive list of clients, including national retailers Staples, Sears and Ace Hardware. Chief Operating Officer Shawn Cunningham said BlueTarp has grown from 40 employees a decade ago to 120 today, and it plans to have 175 people on staff by the end of the year. The company creates customized line-of-credit programs that retailers and wholesalers can offer to their commercial customers. BlueTarp handles every aspect of the programs, including credit checks, accounting, billing, customer service and collections. Read the story.

ENERGY

Construction starts on municipal solar array

Construction started Tuesday morning on what reportedly will become the state’s largest municipally owned solar array. The 1-megawatt solar array, which is under construction at South Portland’s capped landfill off Highland Avenue, is expected to be completed by September. A statement issued by the city said Portland-based ReVision Energy will install 2,944 photovoltaic panels on the 34-acre landfill. The array will be located behind the solid waste transfer station and the public services facility that is under construction at 929 Highland Ave. The solar array is expected to generate 1.2 million kilowatt-hours of energy per year, or roughly 12 percent of the electricity used by South Portland’s municipal and school buildings. Read the story.

HEALTH CARE

Anthem defends rate hike at hearing

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield on Tuesday defended its request for a 21.2 percent average premium increase on Affordable Care Act individual health insurance plans in 2018, citing heightened risks from political volatility and a higher percentage of unhealthy policyholders. Tuesday’s rate hearing before the seven-member Bureau of Insurance panel came at a time when the ACA’s future remains uncertain. A Republican plan to repeal the 2010 law without immediately replacing it appeared stalled, while President Trump said his party should “let Obamacare fail,” referring to the ACA by its nickname. All three of Maine’s ACA insurers are requesting double-digit rate increases for 2018. Maine Community Health Options has a hearing scheduled for Monday on its request for a 19.6 percent rate increase, and the hearing on Harvard Pilgrim Health Care’s 39.7 percent rate increase request is scheduled for Tuesday. Anthem, which has about 28,700 ACA policyholders in Maine, repeated to the panel its prediction that thousands of Mainers will drop out of the ACA-compliant insurance market in 2018. The remaining pool is likely to include those with more serious health issues, making them more expensive on average to insure, company representatives said. Read the story.

COMMERCIAL FISHERIES

Oyster farming in midst of a boom

The cold saltwater along Maine’s coast harbors a growing oyster industry that is riding the bivalves’ blossoming popularity and the state’s reputation for quality seafood. Experts predict that the industry, which had a record year in 2016, could triple in size within the next dozen years. New farmers are trying their hand at growing oysters at farms small and large along the entire coast, from the Piscataqua River in Eliot to Little Machias Bay in Cutler. Pushing the expansion is demand. Oyster landings have increased 254 percent and the harvest’s value has grown about 300 percent since 2011, state records show. Maine’s oyster farmers hauled in 2.1 million pounds of oysters worth $5 million in 2016, the highest-value crop on record, according to the Maine Department of Marine Resources. Read the story.

REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION

Board OKs new waterfront zoning

The Portland Planning Board on Tuesday unanimously recommended a zoning change that would allow a 68-foot-tall cold storage warehouse to be built in a port development zone on the western waterfront. The City Council must still vote on the zoning change. The Planning Board has been debating the change for nearly a year, and the proposed freezer warehouse has prompted fierce opposition from some West End residents concerned about blocked views, building appearance and traffic. Some have disputed whether the building needs to be as large as proposed. The changes would increase the maximum building height from 45 feet to 55 feet. Buildings with a primary marine use of up to 75 feet tall would be allowed in a section of the zone west of the Casco Bay Bridge. The changes include provisions to limit buildings’ footprints, set them back from Commercial Street and provide corridors between properties to protect views. Only one tall building would be allowed on each of the few parcels in the zone, to prevent congestion. Read the story.

WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT

Bill for Maine to pay down student debt stalls in Legislature

A bill to create a state-sponsored program that would erase college loan debt for people who agree to live and work in Maine for at least five years stalled Thursday in the Legislature. The Finance Authority of Maine would administer the program, which would be paid for by a bond that would go before voters in November. However, initial votes in the Senate (16-14) and House (74-58) were well short of the two-thirds margin the measure needs to go to voters under the state constitution. The bill was later tabled in the House and likely will be revisited when the Legislature reconvenes in early August. The measure is supported by Republican Gov. Paul LePage, and would give Maine businesses a powerful tool to attract young workers, supporters say. Read the story.