TECHNOLOGY

Idexx plans $62 million expansion

Veterinary diagnostic technology firm Idexx Laboratories Inc. plans to expand its headquarters campus in Westbrook. In a note to employees shared Thursday with the Portland Press Herald, Idexx said the planned project would cost $62 million and would add a new multi-level, 135,000-square-foot expansion to the company’s existing Synergy Center. The proposed expansion would include a large conference center, increased parking options and improved outdoor spaces, complementing Idexx’s existing 670,000-square-foot facility. According to the company, the expansion would accommodate an additional 550 to 600 workers. Idexx plans to file a site plan application with the city this week, as well as applications for required environmental permits with the state. Read more.

MARIJUANA

Large hemp farm planned for Aroostook County

A Canadian company plans to launch a large, industrial hemp operation in northern Maine this year in the latest sign of burgeoning interest in the versatile yet tightly regulated crop. Future Farm Technologies recently purchased 120 acres in the Aroostook County town of Amity and plans to lease another 100 acres for an operation that would dwarf all of Maine’s current licensed hemp farms. Future Farm also reportedly secured a lease option on an additional 1,000 acres there. In recent announcements, the company indicated it had plans to produce a non-intoxicating cannabis oil known as cannabidiol, or CBD, from the Maine hemp. According to medical marijuana users and advocates, highly concentrated CBD is sometimes the most effective treatment for some types of debilitating seizure disorders but is also used to alleviate symptoms in a host of other diseases or ailments. Read more.

Sessions’ action puts focus on Maine’s U.S. attorney

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday rescinded the Obama-era policy that had paved the way for legalized marijuana to flourish in states across the country, a move that could throw Maine’s legal marijuana industry into a tailspin. In his public statement, Sessions said his decision returns local control to federal prosecutors; Halsey B. Frank is the U.S. attorney for Maine. In a newspaper column published in 2013, Frank, a Portland resident and former head of the city’s Republican Committee, elaborated on his personal opposition to recreational cannabis use. On Thursday, Frank told the Portland Press Herald that he wanted to consult with his management team and evaluate how the new Justice Department memo might affect charging decisions in Maine. He also drew a distinction between his professional decisions and personal opinions expressed in a newspaper column. “As the U.S. attorney for the District of Maine, I am a representative of the department whose job is to implement its policies,” he said. Read more.

TOURISM

Cruise ship traffic soaring

The number of cruise ship passengers sailing into Portland is on track to nearly double from three years ago, according to projections for the 2018 season. That kind of growth has spurred the city to pitch new waterfront developments in hopes of getting more economic gain from the visitors. Portland officials expect 119 ships carrying as many as 172,184 passengers to arrive this year, the majority in September and October, an 82 percent increase over 2015.Cruise traffic to the state’s three largest destinations – Portland, Rockland and Bar Harbor – is projected to total at least 335 vessels, about 18 percent more than last year, according to figures from port towns and Patrick Arnold, director of CruiseMaine, the state’s cruise marketing organization. Read more.

REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION

Low vacancy rates spawn Portland office developments

No fewer than 10 office building projects are now in some stage of planning, permitting or construction in or near downtown Portland, thanks to the market’s continued ultra-low vacancy rates. The latest project to be submitted to the city’s planning division for site plan approval is a proposed mixed-use development at 151 Washington Ave. that would include a four-story structure featuring retail space on the ground floor and office space on the upper three floors. Three of the projects are under construction, while some developers have yet to receive city approval, and others that do have approval are still waiting on an interested tenant or tenants to justify breaking ground. Read more.

LABOR

Judge orders LePage to release workforce funds

A federal judge ordered the LePage administration on Wednesday to release several million dollars in workforce development funds to a Brunswick nonprofit that alleged the administration illegally withheld the federal money. U.S. District Court Judge John Woodcock ruled that the law’s language is “mandatory and clear” that a governor must release money to regional boards that oversee job training and workforce development programs within 30 days of when the U.S. Department of Labor makes it available. Woodcock also agreed that failure to release the funds could cause “irreparable harm” to Coastal Counties Workforce Inc., the nonprofit that administers federal job training programs in southern Maine. At stake is roughly $3 million that Coastal Counties contends the governor had refused to release as the administration tried to persuade Maine’s three regional workforce boards to adopt tougher job training requirements. Read more.

TRANSPORTATION

Gas prices expected to rise slightly over 2017

A company that analyzes and forecasts gas prices expects 2018 to be the most expensive year at the gas pump since 2014. GasBuddy, a Boston-based technology company that surveys more than 1,200 retail gas stations in Maine and 140,000 stations nationally, said Wednesday that the yearly average for gasoline will rise to $2.57 per gallon, 19 cents higher than the average in 2017. Diesel is expected to average $2.70 per gallon for the year. In 2014, the average gasoline price was $3.34 per gallon. Read more.

RETAIL

Bangor Sears to close

Sears Holdings Corp. plans to close its Sears location in Bangor as part of a nationwide reduction that includes shuttering 103 Sears and Kmart stores. The Illinois-based company, which owns both Sears and Kmart brands, issued a news release Thursday with a list of stores it plans to close by May. The Sears at 693 Stillwater Ave. in Bangor, the only store in Maine on the list, is scheduled for closure in early April. Read more.

GENERAL BUSINESS

Leadership group transfers programs, decides to dissolve

A leadership training group in the Portland area has dissolved and transferred its programs to statewide organizations after 25 years of operation. Lift360, a nonprofit based in Portland, announced it was shutting down in a statement Thursday. The organization offers intensive training for leaders in business, nonprofits and the public sector. Lift360’s 14-day leadership intensive course will be placed with the Maine Development Foundation. Its Emerging Leaders and Springboard programs will be taken over by the Maine Association of Nonprofits. Emerging Leaders focuses on young professionals and Springboard is a short, pro bono seminar for nonprofits. Read more.

Officials warn of scam targeting CMP customers

Portland-area law enforcement officials are warning of a telephone scam threatening Central Maine Power customers with disconnection unless they pay their electric bills with prepaid cards. Residential electricity customers are protected from immediate disconnection during the winter, and power companies never demand payment with prepaid cards, CMP spokeswoman Gail Rice said. The scammers say the bill cannot be paid with a credit card or wire transfer and will demand payment with a Moneypak Green Dot card, possibly at a Rite Aid, police said. Maine power companies have to notify customers in a letter or email if they are risking disconnection and will perform a site visit with company vehicles and identification. Read more.

SaviLinx prepares for expansion

Brunswick-based customer service outsourcing firm SaviLinx, one of Maine’s fastest-growing private companies, has been gearing up for major growth in 2018. The company, which has contact centers in Brunswick and Hattiesburg, Mississippi, hopes to increase its staff by about 50 percent to over 600 workers and grow its revenue, currently about $11 million a year, by up to 60 percent, according to CEO Heather Blease. Currently, SaviLinx has about 120 employees in Brunswick and another 300 in Hattiesburg. Founded in 2013, the company provides customer service and back-office and technical support to commercial and government clients. Read more.