MANUFACTURING

Jay paper mill to upgrade, restart idled machine

Verso Corp. announced plans Thursday to upgrade the shuttered pulp line and No. 3 paper machine at its Androscoggin Mill in Jay, bringing back an estimated 120 jobs and enabling the company to restart its equipment for the manufacture of packaging products. The paper machine and associated pulping capacity were temporarily idled in January 2017 and shut down in July of that year as a result of declining demand for the graphic paper products formerly produced on the machine, the company said in a news release. With an anticipated completion date in the third quarter of this year, the project will help Verso continue to diversify its product mix into growing market segments. The total capital cost of the project is estimated at about $17 million, $4 million of which will come from a Maine Technology Asset Fund grant administered by the Maine Technology Institute. Funds from the grant will be become available as certain milestones in the project are reached. Read the story.

Composite wood maker to open facility in Millinocket

A group from North Carolina says it will bring more than 100 jobs to Maine by developing part of a shuttered mill in Millinocket into the state’s first manufacturer of a type of composite wood. LignaCLT Maine LLC announced plans Tuesday to open a facility at the former site of Great Northern Paper’s mill in Millinocket. The firm will be the first in the state to manufacturer cross-laminated timber, which is a type of composite building material that can be used in major construction projects. The mill site is currently owned by Our Katahdin, a volunteer-based group focused on economic development in Maine’s Katahdin region. Read the story.

Boatbuilder lands new contract for ferry

An East Boothbay boatbuilder has landed a nearly $9 million contract to build a new ferry for the state. Washburn & Doughty was awarded the $8.8 million contract Thursday by the Maine Department of Transportation. The company was the only boatbuilder from Maine among the five bidders for the work. The 154-foot ferry was designed by Gilbert Associates Inc., a naval architecture and marine engineering firm in Braintree, Massachusetts. It will be able to carry 23 cars or a mix of cars and trucks, and 250 passengers and can serve any of the Maine State Ferry Service islands except Matinicus. Read the story.

RETAIL

Man files suit in wake of L.L. Bean’s change in return policy

An Illinois man has filed a lawsuit against Freeport-based L.L. Bean, claiming the company’s change in its return policy is “deceptive and unfair.” Bean announced it was changing its unlimited return policy Feb. 9, saying a growing number of customers were abusing the longstanding practice of allowing the return of any product, regardless of age and condition, if the customer wasn’t satisfied. Company officials said that more customers were treating it as a lifetime replacement policy. Under its new policy, Bean will allow returns only within a year of purchase or because of a manufacturing defect. The company also is requiring a proof of purchase on many older items because the company only has records on sales in the last four years. The suit was filed in federal court in Chicago by Victor Bondi who, in the suit, calls himself a longtime, loyal Bean customer. He is seeking certification as a class-action lawsuit, which would allow others to join the action and share in any potential settlement. Read the story.

COMMERCIAL FISHERIES

Asian markets drive demand for Maine lobster, as EU lags

Two-thirds of the live lobster sold overseas by the U.S. last year ended up on plates in Asia, up 36 percent from the year before. The growth in the $231.9 million Asian market is welcomed by the Maine lobster industry, which accounts for 83 percent of the U.S. haul. The increase helps offset Maine losses in Europe, which spent $40.3 million less on live U.S. lobster in 2017 than it had the year before, according to WISERTrade.org, a firm that tracks exports and international trade. The Asian gains of 2017 may have eased the pain of last year’s European losses for Maine’s $533.1 million lobster industry, but the shift affects individual lobster dealers differently. Not all dealers have invested equally in both markets, which means some companies that invested in opening up the Asian market have profited from the shift, while other more established dealers with a dominant European clientele have suffered. Read the story.

Longtime leader of loberstermen’s association stepping down

David Cousens, a South Thomaston lobsterman who has led the Maine Lobstermen’s Association for 27 years, is stepping down as president of the organization. Cousens, 60, said the organization needs new leadership when it faces new challenges, including lawsuits aimed at protecting whales that become entangled in fishing lines. Cousens will officially step down when the association holds its annual meeting March 2 in conjunction with the Maine Fishermen’s Forum in Rockland. Read the story.

GENERAL BUSINESS

Call center closes in Yarmouth because of labor issues

Cuddledown has closed the Yarmouth call center where it employed 26 workers and is moving the operation to Massachusetts. The company says a labor shortage prompted the decision. A company representative said manufacturing operations will continue at 14 Yarmouth Junction. The company’s outlet store, at 554 U.S. Route 1 in Freeport, also remains open. Scott LaFlamme, Yarmouth’s director of economic development, said he heard about the closing Monday and plans to meet with representatives from Cuddledown this week. Most of Maine is experiencing historically low rates of unemployment. Read the story.

REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION

Portland tests the waters for redevelopment of Maine State Pier

Portland officials are testing the viability of their redevelopment vision for the Maine State Pier. Staffers from the city’s economic development department intend to present their proposal to convert part of the Portland Ocean Terminal into retail and office space to key audiences in a series of meetings this month. Based on the feedback it receives, the department may move forward with a business plan to develop the property through a public-private partnership, said waterfront coordinator Bill Needelman said. The city wants to convert part of the aging terminal building into a public seafood market and startup incubator that would invite foot traffic from cruise ship passengers, residents and tourists. The city’s redevelopment plan will be presented in a series of meetings aimed at specific groups over the next month to find out if a public market-style redevelopment would be a welcome addition that can provide value to existing waterfront uses. Read the story.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Showcase event is reinvented with new leadership

A week-long event highlighting entrepreneurship has been renamed and a new leader selected after one of the co-founders of the event resigned following allegations of sexual harassment. Maine Startup & Create Week will now be called Startup Maine and will be led by Katie Shorey, organizers announced Thursday. Shorey, who was named president and chairwoman of the organization last week, said the name change reflects the event’s shorter schedule and also opens the organization to involvement in other events promoting entrepreneurship throughout the year. Organizers of Startup Maine also said the group’s premier event would be shortened from a week to three days and will be adding evening events to allow more people to participate after regular work hours. Read the story.

 

Grants totaling more than $10 million awarded to six companies

The Maine Technology Institute approved six grants totaling $10.5 million for businesses trying to grow and gain market share. The money, awarded from the $45 million Maine Technology Asset Fund approved by voters last June, is intended to help bolster the global competitiveness of some of Maine’s traditional industries, and foster growth in emerging industries, according to a statement from MTI announcing the grants. All recipients must match the grant with private or federal funding. An independent economic analysis estimates that the six projects will lead a collective $379 million in economic output for the state. The grant recipients are Verso Corp., SmartLam, Ready Seafood Co., Sea Bags, Arcast and SaviLinx. Read the story.

TRANSPORTATION

Fees proposed for EV and hybrids car registrations spark opposition

Outraged vehicle owners piled into a public hearing Tuesday to denounce a bill from Gov. Paul LePage’s administration that would slap hefty annual fees on hybrid and all-electric vehicles. The Maine Department of Transportation has proposed annual fees of $150 for hybrid vehicles and $250 for electric cars because many owners pay lower gas taxes than drivers of standard vehicles, or no gas tax at all. But the vast majority of speakers at the transportation committee hearing said the fees proposed under L.D. 1806 – “An Act To Ensure Equity in the Funding of Maine’s Transportation Infrastructure by Imposing an Annual Fee on Hybrid and Electric Vehicles” – were arbitrary, punitive, unfair and would create a disincentive for people who want to buy low- or no-emission vehicles. The Department of Transportation, which wrote the bill, argues that fees on hybrid and electric vehicles will ensure that owners pay a fair share of the state’s chronically underfunded budget for road and bridge projects, the primary means of paying for that work. Read the story.