Business – Press Herald Mon, 19 Feb 2018 20:26:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Hannaford workers authorize strike at distribution center Mon, 19 Feb 2018 19:03:10 +0000 More than 200 members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1445, who work at the Hannaford Distribution center in South Portland, rejected company’s contract proposal and voted to authorize a strike.

The current three-year contract expired at midnight Saturday, according to a union statement, and the vote was held that day.

“We don’t want to have to strike, but if we can’t make the progress we need to ensure myself and my fellow co-workers can continue to make a decent living in our communities, then we may have to,” union member Bob LaBrecque said in a statement.

A spokesman for Hannaford could not be reached immediately on Monday.

Hannaford is owned by the international company Ahold Delhaize.

]]> 0, 19 Feb 2018 14:39:58 +0000
Cities pitching diversity in efforts to lure businesses Mon, 19 Feb 2018 03:43:18 +0000 Some cities and regions are highlighting racial diversity along with positive business climates, competitive tax rates and available land in pitches to lure tech companies and high-paying jobs to town.

Places such as Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Detroit are touting their populations of people of color to chief executives and other corporate officials as part of being open for business.

“For Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania, ethnic and racial diversity has been an integral part of our history and a rich part of our narrative,” said Stefani Pashman, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.

Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are among 20 cities still under consideration by online retail giant Amazon as locations for the company’ second headquarters.

Pashman said to succeed as a player in a global economy, Pittsburgh “must be a place where there’s a base of talent that looks and thinks like the world because the world is the customer in today’s economy.”

When Seattle-based Amazon sought proposals for its second headquarters, more than 240 cities and regions submitted bids and pitches about what they could offer the retailer. Many pitches came with sleek, professionally filmed videos of bright and busy downtowns, historic landmarks and recreational opportunities.

Some also featured snapshots of racial diversity in neighborhoods, shops and classrooms. That’s something sought by younger workers who will come to dominate a more tech-driven global economy, according to marketing experts.

Companies generally are looking to employ a lot of millennials and those hires are saying they “want to be able to work and live in a place where there are these interesting and diverse cultures,” said Matthew Quint, director of Columbia Business School’s Center on Global Brand Leadership.

But tech-based corporations are lacking in diversity, according to some data.

High-tech employment of African-Americans in the U.S. was 7.4 percent compared with 14.4 percent employment of blacks in the public sector overall, according to 2014 data collected by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Hispanic high-tech employment was 8 percent compared to 13.9 percent in the public sector overall.

The data also showed that less than 1 percent of executives at some leading Silicon Valley tech firms were black and fewer than 2 percent were Hispanic.

“All tech companies are under this lens, presently, for their lack of diversity,” Quint said. “CEOs are talking about ‘we know we need to change.’ ”

Meanwhile, he said, cities recognize the racial diversity they offer is attractive and they’re telling companies, “You are going to have this diverse population to choose from as you’re looking to change your brand.”

Pittsburgh is in Allegheny County. About 202,000 of Pittsburgh’s 305,000 residents are white, and about 74,000 are black, according to census data. An additional 16,000 are Asian.

In its pursuit of Amazon’s $5 billion second headquarters project, which could result in possibly 50,000 jobs, Pittsburgh’s video entry is titled “Future. Forged. For all.”

In Philadelphia’s pitch to Amazon, a half-dozen or so non-white professionals tell why it would be the best place for the company’s new headquarters.

Dallas-Fort Worth also is among the more than 240 cities and regions to make a run at Amazon and also made the cut down to 20. A video that’s part of Dallas-Fort Worth’s proposal shows a boy of eastern Indian heritage holding a sign that reads: “Diversity.”

Detroit’s pitch included a 240-page “Move Here. Move the World” book that featured blacks and other minorities who own businesses and also highlighted Hispanic heritage events. But the Motor City, which is 80 percent black and anchors a metropolitan area that also has sizable Arab-American and Hispanic populations, didn’t make Amazon’s cut.

Officials in Detroit say the city’s promotion of its diversity didn’t start with its run at Amazon and won’t stop now that the company has its eyes elsewhere.

“We are going to use that material as much as we can with all of our other business opportunities,” said Jed Howbert, the city’s group executive for Planning, Housing and Development. “We think the diversity of Detroit and the whole metro area is one of the most important assets we have in attracting companies.”

Tina Wells, founder and CEO of Haddonfield, New Jersey-based Buzz Marketing Group, said she’s not aware of other instances in which cities pushed their diversity to companies like some have to Amazon. But, she said, it’s “less about marketing a city’s blackness and more about showing a city is diverse and open to everyone.”

“When you think about vibrant cities you want to make sure you tell people, ‘You’re welcome here,'” Wells said. “I just think we’re a little slow in reflecting what these cities look like.”

]]> 0 skate at the Campus Martius ice rink in Detroit. Some cities and regions are dangling racial diversity along with positive business climates, competitive tax rates and available land in pitches to lure tech companies and high-paying jobs to town. Associated Press/Carlos OsorioSun, 18 Feb 2018 22:57:11 +0000
Scarborough Downs project expected to take 20-40 years Mon, 19 Feb 2018 01:14:06 +0000 SCARBOROUGH — The timeline for completion of a mixed-use community at Scarborough Downs has increased from an initial estimate of 15-30 years to up to 40 years.

A local developer and part of his team met with the Town Council and staff last week to discuss short- and long-term plans for the 500-acre property that now includes a harness racing track, a grandstand and outlying barns.

The entire build-out of the project is now estimated at 20-40 years, said Dan Bacon, a planning project manager with the Gorrill Palmer engineering and planning firm hired by Crossroads Holdings LLC.

Crossroads includes developers William and Marco Risbara, along with their brother, Rocco Risbara III, of Risbara Bros. Construction Co., and Peter and Richard Michaud, formerly of Michaud Distributors. The group purchased the property in January for $6.7 million, and initially estimated the project would take up to 30 years to complete.

A master plan will go before the Planning Board in March or April, Bacon said. The conceptual infrastructure plans have already gone to the board.

Main topics of discussion at the workshop included zoning amendments, and the mixed-use plan for the property, about 200 to 300 acres of which is considered developable.

The first section to be developed will be a residential area on the southern section of the property. The northern section, along Payne Road, is eyed for commercial and industrial activity due to its proximity to the Maine Turnpike and other commercial activity along Payne Road, Bacon said.

The central area, where the race track is operating now, is designated for mixed use. The track may be retained or retrofitted and will remain a focal point of the property, Bacon said.

Scarborough Downs will host harness racing for at least two more years while the new owners solidify their plans for the property. Crossroads Holdings expects to invest more than three times the purchase price, making infrastructure improvements to prepare the land for development, according to the group.

In the short term, a two-year lease will be signed with the Downs’ current owner, Sharon Terry. The arrangement will preserve 60 or more jobs at the track, Risbara said.

Bacon said a shopping center and office campus could be constructed in the western portion of the property.

The eastern area, where the stables are located, would be residential and could also include an assisted living facility.

Bacon said market trends show that nationally, a suburban location with urban amenities is the most desirable development. What is envisioned at Scarborough Downs mimics that ideal, with a person able to live in Scarborough and also walk to work, a coffee shop, or to various entertainment.

There is strong competition in surrounding communities, so the Scarborough Downs property must create a unique environment, he said.

Bacon said the zoning for the project is “90 percent there.” The zone was specifically created for the site to allow for mixed-use, residential and commercial activity.

In the Feb. 8 presentation, Bacon said the vision for the property is a walkable, bikeable area with multi-generational housing, a community center, recreation, and also commercial activity, from coffee shops to manufacturing.

Jay Chase, the town’s planning director, said the purpose of the district is to foster collaboration between the town and developer, although 10 percent of the residences built on the property must be affordable.

Risbara said the project’s focus will likely change over time in line with market forces.

In response to a question from Councilor Katy Foley, Risbara said solar energy is being discussed as an option.

Zoning amendments requested by developers include an updated boundary line, as well as accommodations for manufacturing and industrial space, a convenience store, fuel station, and drive-thru restaurant.

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext., 106 or at


]]> 0 for Scarborough Downs include residential and commercial activity.Mon, 19 Feb 2018 09:35:43 +0000
Week in review: Mill outlooks brighten; startups’ showcase revived, and Yarmouth call center closes Sun, 18 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 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.


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.


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, 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

]]> 0 Photo by John Ewing, Thursday, July 21, 2005: A truck loaded with logs enters the International Paper's Androscoggin Mill in Jay recently.Sat, 17 Feb 2018 17:41:29 +0000
Michelle Singletary: Examining 4 myths about black wealth Sun, 18 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 WASHINGTON — Blacks know how to make money.

In fact, even during times when black folks were just a parent or grandparent removed from slavery, there were black millionaires.

Right here I want to make a qualifier: The average net worth of black households is concerning – and indicative of the disturbing wealth gap in America.

As a Pew Research Center report stated last fall, “The Great Recession of 2007-2009 triggered a sharp, prolonged decline in the wealth of American families, and an already large wealth gap between white households and black and Hispanic households widened further in its immediate aftermath.”

In 2016, the median net worth of white households was $171,000, according to the Pew report. This is compared with black household wealth of $17,100 and $20,600 for Hispanic households.

But there is a backstory to black wealth that isn’t well known. So, it’s fitting that in the month we celebrate black history, I select for the Color of Money Book Club “Black Fortunes: The Story of the First Six African-Americans Who Escaped Slavery and Became Millionaires,” by journalist Shomari Wills (Amistad, $26.99).

“African-Americans who achieved wealth were often attacked, demonized, or swindled out of their wealth,” Wills writes. “The black elite in their first decades of existence survived assassination attempts, lynchings, frivolous lawsuits, and criminal cases all meant to destroy or delegitimize their wealth.”

Wills’ ancestors had money. They owned land, stocks and businesses.

“The creation of black wealth is an important but overlooked subject in the economic and social history of the United States,” he says. “I believe black millionaires are important in part because they disrupt stereotypes of black economic impotence.”

Some of the black entrepreneurs profiled in the book include Robert Reed Church, who escaped slavery during the Civil War to become one of the largest landowners in Memphis; Annie Turnbo Malone, who developed the first national brand of hair-care products; and O.W. Gurley, a teacher, who built an all-black community in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that became known as the “Black Wall Street.”

The stories of the entrepreneurs who achieved great wealth facing incredible obstacles are inspiring. And, as an added bonus, “Black Fortunes” shatters some myths.

Myth No. 1: Blacks are inherently bad with money.

No, we cannot get over that slavery thing. Racial discrimination has contributed – and still does – to the wealth gap. And as Wills points out, racism both then and now has impacted African-Americans’ ability to achieve economic stability.

“In the modern history of America, spanning the Jim Crow era to present day, blacks are often smeared as financially inept and incapable of providing for themselves,” Wills writes. “Disparities in wealth and income are stubborn problems in the United States, but the higher rates of poverty among blacks are often distorted to create the perception that poverty is ubiquitous among African-Americans.”

Myth No. 2: Madam C. J. Walker was the first black millionaire.

Walker was an amazing businesswoman and is often touted as the first black millionaire. But she wasn’t the first, according to Wills.

“She was one of the first African-Americans to flaunt and claim her wealth openly and fearlessly,” he writes.

But it was William Alexander Leidesdorff, the offspring of a Danish sailor and a Caribbean woman, who first earned the title. He built an import-export business, and at his death in 1848, his estate was worth more than $1.4 million. That would be $38 million in today’s dollars, Wills estimates.

Myth No. 3: Money equalizes everything.

A consistent thread in Wills’ research is how often 19th- and early 20th-century black entrepreneurs had to use white people to conduct business. Despite their financial acumen, they needed proxies to execute certain transactions.

Wills said his great-great-uncle John Drew had to hire a white broker to perform stock trades.

Myth No. 4: Blacks don’t invest.

Blacks may not have as much money in the stock market as whites, but they have had a rich history of investing. Their investment of choice has been real estate.

Real estate played a huge role in minting the fortunes of the black businesswomen and men featured in the book.

“Since Reconstruction, black people have, on average, invested a larger percentage of their net worth in real estate than any other group,” Wills points out.

There’s a good reason real estate was preferred.

For African-Americans, owning land – after toiling tirelessly over it as slaves and then as sharecroppers – was, and still is, a symbol of their liberation, he writes.

Michelle Singletary is a columnist for The Washington Post. Readers may contact her at:


]]> 0 Sun, 18 Feb 2018 17:36:27 +0000
Bath Iron Works awarded $14.9 million design contract for new frigate Sat, 17 Feb 2018 17:33:34 +0000 Bath Iron Works has been awarded a $14.9 million contract to design a next-generation frigate for the U.S. Navy.

The shipyard was one of five companies awarded identical contracts to submit conceptual designs of a new guided-missile warship, called the FFG(X).

The Navy will use the designs to develop specifications for final design of its frigate, according to U.S. Sens. Susan Collins. R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine, and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District.

The design contract includes options that could bring the total award up to $22.9 million. The contract is expected to end in June 2019.

“Every day, the hardworking men and women at BIW prove that Bath built is best built,” said Sens. Collins and King in a joint statement Friday. “The design contract awarded today reflects the Navy’s confidence in the ability of BIW’s skilled employees to deliver high-quality ships that are essential to our national security.”

A final request for proposals will be released next year, with a contract for up to 20 vessels in 2020.

“The contract to create a conceptual design for the FFG(X) is a huge opportunity for BIW that could lead to enough work to keep the shipyard busy for years,” Pingree said in a statement. “I’m glad BIW will have the chance to show yet again the skills and expertise that we have here in Maine. I have no doubt that the shipyard’s design will be a strong one and highly competitive in this process.”

BIW spokesman David Hench declined to comment on the contract Saturday.

Other competing firms are Austal USA, based in Mobile Alabama; Huntington Ingalls Industries, in Pascagoula, Mississippi; Lockheed Martin, in Baltimore, Maryland; and Fincantieri Marinette Marine, a Marinette, Wisconsin, subsidiary of Fincantieri, an Italian shipbuilder.

BIW, a General Dynamics subsidiary, has partnered with Navantia, a Spanish company, to design the frigate. Approximately 81 percent of work on the contract will be completed in Bath, with 10 percent done in Spain and 9 percent in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, according to the Navy.

The FFG(X) is smaller, cheaper and less capable than destroyers and cruisers, and the new model is designed for anti-air, anti-submarine and surface operations, according to a 2017 report from the Congressional Research Service. The ships will not include new weapons or systems.

The Navy wants to buy one ship in 2020, one in 2021, and two more every year until 2030, according to the research service. The estimated cost of each ship is $950 million.


]]> 0 Iron Works says it has invested more than $500 million in the shipyard since 1996.Sun, 18 Feb 2018 20:52:44 +0000
Summit Natural Gas to expand service to Sidney come spring Sat, 17 Feb 2018 03:20:14 +0000 SIDNEY — Summit Natural Gas of Maine announced Friday that it plans to break ground on a project to expand its services and infrastructure to Sidney this spring after striking a deal with asphalt and aggregate materials producer Pike Industries.

A timeline for the project has yet to be determined, Summit spokeswoman Lizzy Reinholt said. The start of construction will depend on weather and ground temperature.

Summit expects to invest over $4.5 million to lay the 46,000 feet of pipe needed to complete the project, according to a statement announcing the expansion.

“We continually hear from businesses that access to natural gas is one of their key considerations when choosing where to locate,” Summit’s lead commercial sales representative Skye Austin said in the statement. “We look forward to partnering with the town of Sidney to help strengthen its local economy, while reducing emissions by providing businesses and residents a lower emission fuel alternative.”

Pike Industries, which operates a plant in Sidney and employs about 350 people in Maine, was the sole driver behind Summit’s decision to expand, the chairman of Sidney’s Board of Selectmen, John Whitcomb, said Friday.

“There was no per se demand from customers, but they’re willing to offer other customers access as well,” Whitcomb said.

A Pike Industries representative was unavailable for comment Friday. However, in the statement from Summit, Pike Industries employee Kevin Folkins said the asphalt company was “continuously looking to expand our energy options.”

“Part of our sustainability strategy is to seek opportunities to optimize our energy use and resources. We are investing in our Sidney plant to reduce the amount of energy required in our production process and are excited to add the ability to use a cleaner fuel,” Folkins said.

Garvan Donegan, a senior economic development specialist for the Central Maine Growth Council, said the partnership between Pike Industries and Summit has been in the works for a while, and he expects additional investments in natural gas from other Sidney businesses in the next 12 months.

He applauded the move as offering “diverse and robust energy solutions (as well as) creating economic conditions to enable business to grow, to be created or expand.”

Donegan also worked with Summit to connect with businesses along Trafton Road in Waterville, where an interchange on Interstate 95 was developed recently, and said there are several ongoing negotiations with property and business owners along that stretch to do business with Summit.

The development of Trafton Road is creating a corridor of economic enterprise, and this represents a spillover into Sidney, he said.

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, and Rep. Mike Perkins, R-Oakland, said the expansion is an opportunity to boost economic growth.

“As a small-business owner, I know firsthand how important it is to have affordable and reliable energy solutions,” Perkins said in the statement. “This expansion will increase choices for business owners and families throughout the community and should encourage future growth and investment.”

Summit has had to deal with several setbacks in the five years since it began operating in Maine.

In 2016, Summit was fined $307,000 for a major gas leak that was described as potentially “catastrophic” at a shopping plaza in Augusta and for other safety violations that dated to 2013 and 2014 construction, which included improper installations, having unqualified employees and failing to locate underground facilities.

In 2015, the Maine Public Utilities Commission required Summit to inspect and replace faulty equipment on transmission and residential distribution lines that contractors had installed incorrectly.

Reinholt said the company has worked on improving the safety of the system.

A public educational meeting about the project is scheduled for 6 p.m. meeting Wednesday at the Sidney Town Office.

Emily Higginbotham can be contacted at 861-9239 or at:

Twitter: EmilyHigg

]]> 0 from ETTI, a utilities construction company, work on a Summit Natural Gas line in May 2015 in Waterville to replace a part that had been incorrectly installed. Summit says it will break ground this spring on a project to expand its services and infrastructure to Sidney after striking a deal with asphalt and aggregate materials producer Pike Industries.Fri, 16 Feb 2018 22:20:14 +0000
Commerce backs tariffs on imported aluminum and steel Sat, 17 Feb 2018 02:04:33 +0000 WASHINGTON — The Commerce Department is urging President Trump to impose tariffs or quotas on imported aluminum and steel, which it calls a national security threat.

The recommendations unveiled by Secretary Wilbur Ross on Friday are likely to escalate tensions with China and other U.S. trading partners. Stepped-up foreign production of steel and aluminum, especially by China, has driven down prices and hurt American producers.

The Commerce Department is recommending tariffs on all steel and aluminum imports, higher tariffs on imports from specific countries or a quota on imports.

The measures are meant to increase U.S. production to 80 percent of capacity in both industries. U.S. steel plants are running at 73 percent of capacity and aluminum plants at 48 percent.

Trump has to make a decision on steel by April 11 and on aluminum by April 19.

Last year, the president ordered an investigation into whether aluminum and steel imports posed a threat to national defense. On Friday, Ross said: “In each case, the imports threaten to impair our national security.” He said, for example, that only one U.S. company now produces a high-quality aluminum alloy needed for military aircraft.

Ross is offering the president three options:

n Impose tariffs of 24 percent on all steel and 7.7 percent on aluminum imports from all countries.

n Impose tariffs of 53 percent on steel imports from 12 countries, including Brazil, China and Russia, and tariffs of 23.6 percent on aluminum imports from China, Hong Kong, Russia, Venezuela and Vietnam. Under this option, the United States would also impose a quota limiting all other countries to the aluminum and steel they exported to the United States last year.

n Impose a quota on steel and aluminum imports from everywhere, limiting each country 63 percent of the steel and 86.7 percent of the aluminum they shipped to the U.S. last year.

On Wall Street, investors reacted by buying the stock of companies that make steel and aluminum. In the early afternoon, shares of United States Steel Corp. were up 10 percent, shares of AK Steel Holding Corp. were up more than 11 percent and shares of Century Aluminum Co. were up nearly 7 percent.

Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 gives the president the power to restrict imports and impose unlimited tariffs if a Commerce Department investigation finds they threaten national security.

Since the United States joined the World Trade Organization in 1995, it has only pursued two such investigations. Both times – in a 1999 case involving oil imports and a 2001 case involving iron ore and steel imports – the Commerce Department refused to recommend sanctions.

Critics fear that other countries will retaliate or use national security as a pretext to impose trade sanctions of their own.

They also say that imposing sanctions on imports will drive up prices and hurt automakers and other companies that use steel or aluminum. In a letter to Trump Monday, a coalition of steel-using companies urged the president “to avoid any decision which would do harm to so many downstream steel manufacturing companies and other steel consumers.” It said its members employ 1 million workers in America, compared to 80,000 employed in the steel industry.

China this week appealed to Trump to settle the steel and aluminum disputes through negotiation. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Wednesday that all governments should “spare no effort to avoid negative impacts” on the global economy.

]]> 0 and steam rise in a part of the Jiujiang steel and rolling mills in northern China's Hebei province in a December 2016 photo. The Commerce Department wants the U.S. to impose tariffs or quotas on imported aluminum and steel.Fri, 16 Feb 2018 21:04:33 +0000
Still-rocky markets ride 6-day win streak Sat, 17 Feb 2018 02:03:58 +0000 NEW YORK — Stocks closed out their strongest week in five years Friday and have now recovered more than half of the losses they suffered in a plunge at the beginning of the month.

Investors got back to buying stocks almost as quickly as they started dumping them. The gain Friday was the sixth in a row for the Standard & Poor’s 500 index. A combination of cheaper prices for stocks as well as solid company profits put investors back in a buying mood.

The S&P 500, which many index funds track, has risen almost 6 percent in its current streak. Investors haven’t hesitated to buy the same types of stocks that did well before the market’s recent slump, including technology companies and banks.

In a typical market downturn, investors might avoid stocks that have had huge run-ups out of fear they had gotten too expensive. Instead, investors are still betting on more strength in the economy and are buying companies that tend to do better in times of faster growth.

After an unusually long period of calm, stocks plunged at the start of February as investors worried about inflation and rising interest rates. The S&P 500 fell as much as 10 percent from its latest record high reached January 26. But investors weren’t scared off for long.

“Rates started to stabilize and you got some better economic data, and earnings in general have been pretty good,” said Sameer Samana, global equity and technical strategist for the Wells Fargo Investment Institute.

Samana said bond and credit markets showed that the fear wasn’t spreading. Companies were still able to borrow at relatively low rates, which showed lenders weren’t concerned the economy was weakening.

“A lot of people probably looked at stocks vs. credit and probably thought ‘if credit’s not feeling it, things must not be all that bad,”‘ he said.

The S&P 500 gained 1.02 points, or less than 0.1 percent, at 2,732.22. That includes a gain of 4.3 percent this week, its best since January 2013.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 19.01 points, or 0.1 percent, to 25,219.38. The Nasdaq composite lost 16.96 points, or 0.2 percent, to 7,239.47. The Russell 2000 index of smaller company stocks climbed 6.35 points, or 0.4 percent, to 1,543.55.

Homebuilders rose after the Commerce Department reported that construction of new homes jumped 9.7 percent in January. That was the highest level since October 2016, and permits, a sign of future construction, also climbed. NVR gained $131.23, or 4.3 percent, to $3,208.23 while D.R. Horton rose 46 cents, or 1 percent, to $45.57.

Among health care companies, Johnson & Johnson gained $2.14, or 1.6 percent, to $133.37 and AbbVie jumped $3.11, or 2.7 percent, to $118.01.

Friday’s gains didn’t come without some bumps. The Dow was up 232 points at about 12:30 p.m., shortly before Special Counsel Robert Mueller announced the indictment of 13 Russians and three Russian organizations in a plot to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Stocks gave up their gains after that and spent the afternoon meandering between small gains and losses.

The indictment says the Russians used social media propaganda, at times helping Trump and harming the prospects of Democrat Hillary Clinton. Facebook fell $2.60, or 1.4 percent, to $117.36 and Twitter fell 55 cents, or 1.6 percent, to $33.06.

Samana, of Wells Fargo, said the recovery from the recent 10 percent plunge may not be a smooth one either.

“We see another year of solid returns” for stocks, he said. “It’ll just come with these bouts where people worry about rates and inflation and the end of the cycle.”

Now that stocks have stopped plunging, investors are focusing on the strong results companies posted in the fourth quarter.

“Analysts continue to underestimate the pace of global growth,” Credit Suisse analyst Jonathan Golub wrote in a report. “As a result, more companies are beating/hitting expectations than in any quarter in 20 years.”

Since the market hit its recent low point on Feb. 8, the S&P 500 technology index is up 8.5 percent and its financial company index is up 6.7 percent. This week alone, Apple has jumped 10 percent and chipmaker Applied Materials is up 14.5 percent. Amazon, one of the best performing S&P 500 companies this year, rose 8 percent for the week.

Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.87 percent from 2.91 percent.

U.S. crude oil picked up 34 cents to $61.68 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, added 51 cents to $64.84 a barrel in London.

]]> 0 Fri, 16 Feb 2018 21:03:58 +0000
Montana company to build wood products mill in Maine Sat, 17 Feb 2018 00:51:38 +0000 BANGOR — A Montana company is using a grant from the state-funded Maine Technology Institute to create a composite wood products plant in Maine.

SmartLam LLC said Friday that the $22 million manufacturing plant would create 100 jobs. MTI is providing $3 million to help launch the mill. SmartLam hopes to settle on a site in a couple of months.

It’s the second announcement this week of a Maine plant that’ll produce cross-laminated timber. The composite wood is strong enough to replace steel and concrete in construction.

North Carolina-based LignaTerra Global LLC announced plans at Husson University on Tuesday to build a $30 million, 300,000-square-foot factory that would create 100 jobs in Millinocket.

Republican Gov. Paul LePage tweeted that the announcements are “great news for our forest products industry.”

]]> 0 Fri, 16 Feb 2018 19:51:38 +0000
Lawmakers give Maine lobster promoters key win Sat, 17 Feb 2018 00:24:44 +0000 A state lobster marketing group is likely to keep touting Maine’s most beloved seafood export in the wake of a key vote from a legislative committee.

The Marine Resources Committee voted in favor of renewing the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative for three years on Wednesday. The collaborative needs the full Legislature’s approval to continue existing beyond this year.

The collaborative promotes the Maine lobster brand in the media, in the restaurant business and among chefs, and it’s funded by fees paid by members of the state’s lobster industry, which is, by far, the largest in the country. Several members of the state lobster industry have urged the state to keep the collaborative running.

“You’re seeing a lot more sides of the industry that want in,” said Matt Jacobson, executive director of the collaborative. “We want them to stick around.”

Lobstermen and dealers spoke in favor of the collaborative at a Feb. 5 public hearing, but also called for increased transparency of its operations. The marine resources committee is instructing the collaborative to tighten up some of its business practices and be a better promoter of lobster conservation, said state Rep. Walt Kumiega, D-Deer Isle.

The marketing collaborative was created about five years ago in the wake of a lobster fishing season in which fishermen saw a low price at the docks for their catch. The value of lobsters has improved in recent years.

Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, told the Marine Resources Committee that she views the marketing efforts as “a necessary tool to make the good times better and the bad times hurt a little less.”

The proposal still needs to go before the full Legislature, but is much more likely to pass with the committee’s endorsement. A vote is expected in the next couple of weeks. The collaborative has an annual budget of $2.2 million.

]]> 0 Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative is funded by fees paid by members of the state's industry.Fri, 16 Feb 2018 19:33:31 +0000
Portland Pie signs lease to join Waterville’s Main Street revitalization Sat, 17 Feb 2018 00:03:55 +0000 WATERVILLE — The Portland Pie Co. is looking to get a slice of the food business in a college town that is remaking itself.

The restaurant focusing on specialty pizza, pasta, sandwiches and salads is expanding to Waterville this spring, with plans to move into the south storefront of the former Hains Building at 173 Main St.

Portland Pie, which has locations in Portland, Biddeford, Westbrook, Scarborough, Brunswick and Manchester, New Hampshire, will offer lunch and dinner for dining in or delivery, have a full bar and kitchen and seat about 100 people, said Patrick Mulligan, who, with Cole McElwain, will own and operate the eatery.

Colby College is investing millions of dollars in the downtown as part of revitalization efforts launched by the city and the college. Colby plans to build a boutique hotel this year on the southeast end of Main Street in the former Levine’s clothing store space.

Mulligan said Friday that the Waterville restaurant’s layout will mirror that of the one in Brunswick.

The restaurateurs plan to start retrofitting the inside of the 3,000-square-foot space Feb. 26 and hope to complete it for an opening in April or May. Work will include installing a floor, a drop-ceiling, partition walls, accent windows, an electrical network, plumbing and a new kitchen, Mulligan said.

Portland Pie has a 10-year lease with Colby, which owns the building, with two five-year renewable leases, according to Mulligan, a former partner in the Bag & Kettle restaurant at Sugarloaf.

Mulligan and McElwain had been looking for a long while for the right opportunity, and a friend suggested to Mulligan that, since they drive through Waterville all the time, they spend some time there.

“I did and really liked what was going on,” Mulligan said. “You could really sense the commitment Colby was making. There’s a huge sense of community.”

Colby bought and renovated the former Hains Building, which has Colby offices on the second floor and will house CGI Group, a technology firm, on upper floors.

In that building, Portland Pie will be right across Main Street from the $25 million mixed-use residential complex Colby is building that will house about 200 students and faculty and staff members involved in a civic-engagement, community-service curriculum. The building is expected to be ready for occupancy in August.

Brian Clark, Colby’s vice president for planning, said Colby officials are thrilled to welcome Portland Pie Co. to downtown Waterville.

“We are especially excited they will bring new life and activity to a storefront that has been dark for many years,” Clark said. “The promise of having more people living and working downtown is starting to pay off with the attraction of Maine-based Portland Pie, and we are having many additional fruitful conversations with other prospective retailers who see that same opportunity for success. And, while it’s still early, we’re seeing positive signs throughout Waterville, including the strength of the real estate market and the highest population since 1997.”

Mulligan said Portland Pie will employ about 50 people for full- and part-time positions including waiters and waitresses, bartenders, kitchen workers and delivery drivers.

A Waterville resident is being trained in Scarborough for the kitchen manager’s job, he said, adding that he plans to remove the “For Lease” sign in the window of the space and replace it with a Portland Pie logo and a link to an email address where people may apply for jobs.

Clark said the 50 jobs Portland Pie expects to create add to the hundreds of jobs already committed because of Colby’s investments.

“Portland Pie will be a strong community partner and provide a new family-friendly dining experience on Main Street that will be popular with the entire community – including my 3½-year-old son, Owen, who is excited to split a pepperoni pizza with me when they open later this spring,” he said.

Mulligan said the lease includes not only the southernmost space on the ground floor of 173 Main St., but also the rear part of the space on the northernmost storefront, where the kitchen will be located.

He said restaurant hours have not been set, but they probably will be 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. That could change according to demand, he said.

A news release from Special Pie, LLC, says Portland Pie was founded in 1997 in Portland, where it had a small shop.

“Looking to stand out in a crowded pizza landscape, the owners crafted what are now Portland Pie’s signature dough flavors: basil, wheat, garlic, beer and most recently, gluten-free, all made from the highest quality ingredients.”

Garvan Donegan, senior economic development specialist for the Central Maine Growth Council, said Portland Pie and Mulligan’s investment in Waterville illustrates the upswing in economic enthusiasm on Main Street and the effect downtown revitalization is having on the local economy.

“With Portland Pie located downtown, Main Street realizes a new flagship anchor tenant that will be a draw for people living, studying, working, investing and visiting the city,” Donegan said. “Additionally, this is very exciting because Portland Pie is a well-known and beloved brand identity throughout the state of Maine. For Waterville, food businesses and entrepreneurship in the area have been growing tremendously, offering students, consumers, wholesale and institutional purchasers new avenues for accessing a variety of diverse culinary options. We look forward to Portland Pie stimulating this upward trend.”

Paul Ureneck, director of commercial real estate for Elm City LLC, an affiliate of Colby College, said officials are in negotiations with another tenant for the northern storefront at 173 Main.

“I expect to have a letter of intent to lease that space next week,” he said. “It would be another food use, completely separate and something completely different than what exists anywhere else in town now. But it’s still under negotiation. We feel very encouraged about it.”

The Colby residential complex at 150 Main St. also will have retail on the ground floor, though a tenant, or possibly more than one, has not yet been identified. A glassed-in community forum meeting space will be in the northeast corner of the building to be used by the college as well as by the city and nonprofit groups. Ayers Saint Gross, of Baltimore, Maryland, designed the building, and the construction manager for the project is Landry/French Construction Co., of Scarborough.

Amy Calder can be contacted at 861-9247 or at:

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

]]> 0 Portland Pie Co. has signed a lease with Colby College to occupy ground floor space in the Hains Building, on the left, at the corner of Main and Appleton streets and across Main Street from Colby's new residential complex, the key piece in Waterville's downtown revitalization.Fri, 16 Feb 2018 21:00:20 +0000
Gibson says small guitar maker in Bangor copied trademarked designs Fri, 16 Feb 2018 23:11:32 +0000 BANGOR, Maine — The Gibson guitar company has demanded that a small Maine company stop selling two of its models, claiming that they infringe on trademarked designs.

Dallas Seger, owner of Bangor-based Seger Guitars, says he received a cease-and-desist letter late last year from Gibson Brands Inc.

Seger told the Bangor Daily News that he already has removed one model from his online store but contends that the other is a completely original design.

Seger says Gibson has also demanded a settlement to cover guitars he has already sold. He has been in business for nearly 20 years.

A firm that represents the Nashville, Tennessee-based Gibson in various trademark lawsuits did not respond to a request for comment

]]> 0 Fri, 16 Feb 2018 18:11:32 +0000
CMP’s $1 billion project to deliver renewable power to Massachusetts gets second chance Fri, 16 Feb 2018 22:52:01 +0000 A nearly $1 billion transmission proposal by Central Maine Power to bring hydropower from Quebec to markets in Massachusetts is still in the running after a competing proposal ran into trouble with New Hampshire regulators.

CMP’s project, called New England Clean Energy Connect, entails building a 145-mile transmission corridor through Maine to deliver power to Massachusetts, which is trying to increase its use of renewable power by 2020. CMP’s proposal had been a runner-up in the request for proposals from Massachusetts utilities and regulators. But the initial winner, a project from Eversource called the Northern Pass, failed to gain regulatory approval to build its transmission corridor through New Hampshire.

Eversource is appealing that decision and in the interim the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources has invited CMP to enter into concurrent conditional contract negotiations.

Eversource has until March 27 to conclude its negotiations for the power contract. If the negotiations are not successful, Massachusetts can proceed with CMP, “the next best project that satisfies the policy directives.”

“(CMP) never gave up, even when Northern Pass looked like a winner,” said Steven McGrath, who leads the Governor’s Energy Office in Augusta. “The governor and DEP Commissioner (Paul) Mercer met with representatives from Massachusetts yesterday and convinced them that Maine was behind CMP’s bid. It is a great win for the state.”

The 145-mile line would follow a corridor owned by CMP from Beattie Township, on the Canadian border north of Route 27 and Coburn Gore, through Farmington and Jay to Lewiston, where it would connect to the regional electric grid.

The cost of the transmission corridor would be borne by Massachusetts rate payers. But Maine would benefit from construction jobs to build the high-voltage lines, and possibly from lower regional wholesale electricity costs over the 20-year span of the power contract.

CMP said it intends to continue all aspects of permitting and planning for the project, and that it will immediately begin negotiating long-term contracts with the state’s electric distribution companies to prepare for a submission to the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities in April 2018.

“Our applications for state and federal permits are moving forward with the strong support of communities and stakeholders in Maine,” Doug Herling, president and chief executive officer of Central Maine Power, said in a statement announcing the negotiations.

Friday’s late-breaking news drew immediate criticism from a regional trade group representing New England power generators who expect the new contract will result in higher-than-market rates for electricity. Dan Dolan, president of New England Power Generators Association, said existing power plant operators have invested more than $13 billion in their plants without any guarantee of cost recovery or profit.

“Once again, Hydro Quebec wins, and consumers lose,” he said in a prepared statement. “Massachusetts is now all-in on Hydro Quebec, going from the fatally flawed Northern Pass to a Maine project that still lacks virtually all its key permits. Hydro Quebec is asking for Massachusetts consumers to guarantee them revenue through an above-market contract for electricity for the next two decades.”

Last summer, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed a law requiring his state to seek long-term contracts for offshore wind farms and land-based renewable energy. The law calls for 1,600 megawatts of wind energy and 1,200 megawatts from other sources, such as hydro, land-based wind and solar.

A megawatt of generating capacity provides enough energy to serve between 750 and 1,000 homes, CMP says.

Staff Writer Tux Turkel contributed to this report.

]]> 0, 16 Feb 2018 22:04:09 +0000
New restaurant and bar in Brunswick will sell vintage glassware, too Fri, 16 Feb 2018 15:02:23 +0000 BRUNSWICK — For the past year and a half, Nikaline Iacono has been sourcing vintage glassware from yard sales, auctions, and almost anywhere else she can find it. She then re-sells her finds – which range from 1930s cordial glasses to 1980s sailboat mugs – online.

Now she is using her collection in a new venture: opening a restaurant, bar and glassware gallery.

Vessel and Vine, at 4 Pleasant St. in Brunswick, is a wine and cocktail bar, locally sourced eatery, classroom space and glassware and barware retailer.

Iacono opened the beer and wine shop this week, while the restaurant and bar are scheduled to open by March 1.

Iacono has worked in Brunswick restaurants for the past six years, most recently managing the wine bar at Greek and Italian restaurant Enoteca Athena. In addition to bartending there, she also sourced glassware to be used at the establishment. Before that, she accumulated more wine knowledge working for a Maine wine distributor.

Nikaline Iacono stands near a section of the mural painted by her friend Yennika Ekstrand on the back wall of Vessel and Vine. Photo by Elizabeth Clemente

Iacono said opening her own restaurant has been her dream for a while, but she didn’t expect it to come to fruition so soon.

“Kind of a perfect storm of a couple of different things happened that caused me to really take stock of where I was and what I wanted to do with my life,” she said.

Last August, she began developing a business plan with Coastal Enterprises. In November, a friend who owns the Pleasant Street building allowed her to begin setting up in the space without a lease.

“I just kind of made that leap of faith that I was going to secure financing, and if I didn’t I would just be out my time and a couple thousand dollars,” she said. “And then financing came through at the end of December.”

In creating the eclectic interior of Vessel and Vine, Iacono put her thrift skills to work. In one corner, a brass mattress frame hangs from the ceiling. Iacono found the bed by the side of the road and dismantled it to create the piece.

Will Sullivan, who will run the retail business at Vessel and Vine, sweeps the floor in preparation for opening. Sullivan, Iacono and chef Matt DeFio will be the establishment’s only staff. Photo by Elizabeth Clemente

All the restaurant’s tables, purchased for a grand total of $120, came from a Chinese restaurant in Lewiston, and that’s also where she found the three chandeliers that hang over the bar.

A large wooden rose gracing the back of the room came from her father’s former restaurant in Provincetown, and the paneling on the walls came from her barn.

“This place has come together on a serious shoestring, but I think it looks really good,” Iacono said. “I look around and I’m like ‘yup, I know where everything came from in here.’ ”

Iacono has had some help from friends. Yennika Ekstrand, an artist, painted a large mural on the restaurant’s back wall depicting fish, bouquets of carrots, clams and other objects.

Though happy with the current look, Iacono wants the interior of Vessel and Vine to be ever-changing.

“Frankly the entire aesthetic of this place is going to be very fluid,” she said. “Literally, the couches will be for sale, (and) the chairs will be for sale, as if it’s a gallery essentially. I’ll have a price list on the wall.”

All of the glassware that the drinks will be served in will be for sale, too.

Iacono has been selling vintage glassware on her Etsy page for more than a year. Now she ll sell pieces at Vessel and Vine, including those that the drinks are served in. Photo by Elizabeth Clemente

Iacono will be the sole bartender, and Will Sullivan will run the retail end of the business.

Another of Iacono’s friends, Brunswick native Matt DeFio, will be the head chef of the restaurant. DeFio, who recently started a fresh pasta company, will eventually prepare his product at Vessel and Vine, Iacono said.

For now, the prototype menu features items like parsnip and apple soup with goat cheese and arugula, and fish dishes such as cured salmon on pumpernickel with red onion and kewpie, a Japanese mayonnaise.

Before the bar can open, however, Iacono must be approved for a license at the Feb. 20 Town Council meeting.

Iacona wants classes to be “a huge part of this place,” and says they’ll include sessions on how to make pasta and other dishes, led by DeFio, and wine appreciation and cocktail making, taught by Iacona.

“I want it to be a place where people can learn,” Iacona said, “whether it’s on the retail side, or coming in and feeling comfortable asking questions of Will, or of me, or of Matt, so that we’re all accessible and can kind of help people go outside their comfort zone without even realizing they’re doing it.”

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente.

Read this story in The Forecaster.

]]> 0, 16 Feb 2018 10:44:20 +0000
Asians help to fill sales gap as Europe eats less Maine lobster Fri, 16 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 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, a firm that tracks exports and international trade.

The main culprit? A Canadian trade deal that makes that country’s lobster cheaper for Europeans to buy.

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.


Tom Adams is one of the lucky ones. The 47-year-old lobster dealer founded Maine Coast, a wholesaler in York, in 2011. He had a few years to get his company up and running before the Asian lobster market took off. Maine Coast needed to build new markets to establish itself, he said. The timing of the Asia boom was just right.

In its first year, Maine Coast sold 1 million pounds of lobster, almost exclusively to domestic and European customers, Adams said. In 2012, the company doubled sales. It began to court some of the first Asian lobster buyers, whom Adams said were “kicking the tires” to see if this North American crustacean would appeal as a celebratory food for China’s growing middle class. That year, one out of every $5 earned by Maine Coast came from Asia.

In the five years since, Maine Coast hasn’t looked back.

In 2017, it shipped about 7 million pounds of live lobsters, with about 40 percent of it headed to Asia.

“The timing was just right for us,” Adams said. “As a young company, we had to take some risks. Not all of them panned out. We had to weed out who was who in these new markets. Not a lot of information was available. Who should we extend credit to? Even our credit insurer didn’t know a lot of these guys. Who could, and who would, take care of the lobster along the way, make sure it got to where it was going alive? We took a lot of risk, but for us, it paid off.”

Not counting exports to Canada, which is Maine’s trade partner and rival in a complex back-and-forth border exchange, U.S. and Maine exports of live lobster were up in 2017, said Jeff Bennett, a seafood trade specialist at the Maine International Trade Center in Portland. China led the way, with the U.S. exporting $128.7 million worth of live lobster there last year, Bennett said. That’s $44.3 million, or 53 percent, more than in 2016.

That is particularly impressive considering that America only cracked the $1 million mark for live lobster exports to China in 2010, Bennett said.

Overall, seafood was the state’s top export commodity in 2017 for the fifth straight year, driven largely by the sale of live lobsters.


Adams watches the European market closely. Canada’s Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA, is definitely weakening demand for Maine lobsters in Europe, but it is also giving Asian buyers the leverage to negotiate lower prices on their U.S. lobster, he said. After all, Asian buyers know Maine must sell its lobsters somewhere, and if Europe is buying from Canada, then Asia can exploit the excess U.S. supply to drive down prices.

But Adams notes that European demand for U.S. live lobster had begun to soften even before CETA implementation. Other factors, such as Sweden’s proposal to deem American lobsters an invasive species and ban the import of live North American lobsters, and some countries deciding to ban the practice of boiling lobsters alive, claiming it is inhumane, also could have weakened the European appetite for our lobsters, Adams said.

Just as CETA is shaking up Maine’s European lobster market, Adams said the Asian market is not immune from wild fluctuations, whether they be driven by trade deals, political uncertainty or currency exchanges. In Asia, lobster is a popular celebratory meal – for example, lobster dealers see a spike in demand leading up to Friday, the Lunar New Year – but lobster is not Asia’s only option. Buyers there could decide to replace lobster with King Crab from Russia, he said.

And if Asia stops celebrating, demand there could quickly dry up, prompting dealers like him to always be on the lookout for the next emerging lobster market.


Looking ahead, Adams warns that even a robust Asian market cannot absorb all the live Maine lobsters that were once sold to Europe – Asian customers prefer lobsters that are larger than the ones that Maine used to sell to Europe, and those lobsters once bound for Europe aren’t hardy enough to survive the long trip to Asia. Maine lobster dealers and scientists are trying to improve the shipping survival rate of Maine’s softer summer catch.

“The lobster we catch in Maine in the summer, with a little bit of firming up, they can ship to Europe, but getting them to mainland China, that’s a challenge,” Adams said.

On Thursday, Ready Seafood Co. of Portland was notified that it had received a $2.25 million grant from the Maine Technology Asset Fund to help build a facility to research and test ways to improve the hardiness of lobsters for shipping. The company already was collaborating with the University of Maine to see if it can speed up the shell-hardening process of recently molted lobsters. The grant will help offset the $6 million cost of the entire project.

Penelope Overton can be contacted at 791-6463 or at:

Twitter: PLOvertonPPH

]]> 0 live Maine lobster is packed for shipping at The Lobster Co. in Arundel. A proposed ban in Europe could cost the Maine fishery almost $11 million in annual revenue.Fri, 16 Feb 2018 11:28:00 +0000
McDonald’s dropping cheeseburgers, chocolate milk from its Happy Meal menu Fri, 16 Feb 2018 00:33:47 +0000 NEW YORK — McDonald’s is taking cheeseburgers and chocolate milk off its Happy Meal menu in an effort to cut down on the calories, sodium, saturated fat and sugar that kids consume at its restaurants.

Diners can still ask specifically for cheeseburgers or chocolate milk with the kid’s meal, but the fast-food company said not listing them will reduce how often they’re ordered. Since it removed soda from the Happy Meal menu four years ago, orders for it with Happy Meals have fallen 14 percent, the company said. Hamburgers and Chicken McNuggets will remain the main entrees on the Happy Meal menu.

The Happy Meal, launched nearly 40 years ago, has long been a target of health advocates and parents who link it to childhood obesity. McDonald’s has made many tweaks over the years, including cutting the size of its fries and adding fruit. Most recently, it swapped out its apple juice for one that has less sugar.

The latest Happy Meal changes, including new nutritional standards, will occur in the United States by June.

McDonald’s said Thursday that it wants all of its Happy Meal options to have 600 calories or fewer and have less than 650 milligrams of sodium. It also wants less than 10 percent of the meal’s calories to come from saturated fat.

There will be other tweaks: The six-piece chicken nugget Happy Meal will now come with a kids-sized fries instead of a small, lowering calories and sodium from the fries by half. And bottled water will be added as an option to the Happy Meal menu, but will cost extra.

]]> 0 Happy Meal featuring non-fat chocolate milk and a cheeseburger with fries, are arranged for a photo at a McDonald's restaurant in Brandon, Miss., Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. McDonald’s will soon banish cheeseburgers and chocolate milk from its Happy Meal menu. Diners can still ask specifically for cheeseburgers or chocolate milk with the kid's meal, but the fast-food company said that not listing them will reduce how often they're ordered. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)Thu, 15 Feb 2018 22:47:47 +0000
Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport turning corner on steep losses Thu, 15 Feb 2018 23:58:50 +0000 ROCKPORT — Pen Bay Medical Center has started on the road to financial recovery.

The hospital’s administrators discussed the improvement Tuesday.

The uptick was achieved by cutting expenses – largely administrative costs brought about through the creation of Coastal Healthcare Alliance from PBMC and Waldo County Healthcare – and by generating more revenues from winning back patients who had gone elsewhere when the region was experiencing an acute shortage of primary care doctors.

From 2014 through 2016, Pen Bay lost nearly $13 million, according to the Maine Health Data Organization. During that same period, Waldo County General Hospital in Belfast enjoyed a surplus of nearly $24 million.

Pen Bay experienced another $6.9 million in losses for fiscal year 2017, which ended Sept. 30. But that is an improvement compared with the $9.1 million loss in 2016. And in the first quarter of the current fiscal year, through Dec. 31, Pen Bay had a slight surplus.

Coastal Healthcare CEO Dr. Mark Fourre said the administration has had very good success in recruiting new doctors, particularly primary care physicians.

He said a waiting list for patients needing a primary care doctor had grown to 250 people, but now there is no waiting list.

During those years of long waiting lists, many potential patients simply went to other physician practices or hospitals. That resulted in lost revenues for Pen Bay. In addition, Pen Bay lost revenues for any tests or procedures needed by those people.

In addition to recruiting more physicians, the hospital and its associated practices have employed physician assistants, nurse practitioners and other medical staff so that patients do not have to go elsewhere.

Fourre said that on the cost-cutting side, efficiencies resulted from collaboration between Pen Bay and Waldo County General. A lot of that was from eliminating multiple administrative positions. He said Coastal Healthcare operates, for example, with one chief executive officer, one chief operating officer, and one chief financial officer rather than two of each, as had been the case when the two hospitals were part of separate organizations.

The savings from efficiencies totaled $4.1 million.

Fourre cautioned that one quarter of a Pen Bay surplus does not mean the financial challenge has ended. He said there are often fluctuations in the use of health care services.

Pen Bay is licensed to have 99 acute-care beds, but the average daily census has been in the mid-50s.

Fourre said the way care is delivered has changed significantly, so that patients spend less time in the hospital. He said this is to the benefit of patients because moving around and recovering at home has been shown to be more successful.

]]> 0 and medicine or computer antivirus protection and repair maintenance service concept: macro view of blue stethoscope on business office laptop notebook keyboard with selective focus effectThu, 15 Feb 2018 22:50:07 +0000
In the age of #MeToo, workplace romance gets even more complicated Thu, 15 Feb 2018 23:51:34 +0000 These days, office romances are full of paperwork.

Dating colleagues has always been laced with the forbidden, be it by company policy or social taboo. But as more women come forward with stories of sexual harassment in the workplace, often at the hands of men at higher pay grades, the conversation about the subject is shifting.

Companies have changed the way they approach the often inevitable workplace romance since the #MeToo movement caught fire last fall on social media.

Some have turned to so-called love contracts, which newly dating co-workers sign to assure their boss that everything is consensual. Employees laugh at them, but they’re an employer’s way of reducing risk should the relationship sour.

“It’s changing everyone’s perspectives,” said Andrew Challenger, vice president of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which released a survey on workplace romance this month. “(It used to be) laissez-faire, people can date who they want to date, but I think companies are realizing to create a safe environment for the employees, there needs to be some policing.”

It’s a delicate balance to strike, though, and banning relationships isn’t always the answer, Challenger said. When co-workers spend more waking hours at the office than at home, romances are bound to blossom. But some are also destined to fail.

Of the 150 human resource executives Challenger, Gray & Christmas surveyed in January, more than 60 percent said they’ve had to deal with a failed or inappropriate relationship at work. One-third ended in at least one person’s separation from the company.

Cafe Marie-Jeanne in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood is fortunate, co-owner Mike Simmons said. He and his wife, co-owner Valerie Szafranski, haven’t had to deal with any co-worker relationships that have gone wrong since opening the restaurant in January 2016. The cafe has “a very hard-line ‘no’ policy” regarding harassment of any type – among co-workers and from guests.

Simmons wants to believe that everyone respects each other all the time, but he said he knows there are moments that aren’t on his or Szafranski’s radar. They have tried to keep a conversation regarding the #MeToo movement going with their employees over the past several months. It helps that workers know where they stand, and they can learn about where the employees stand, Simmons said.

“We also feel like it’s a way to counter, just in our little corner of the city and of the business, this type of toxic behavior that’s starting to come to light,” he said.

The #MeToo revelations caused nearly 35 percent of respondents to the Challenger survey to review their sexual harassment policies.

Besides the increasing inquiries regarding love contracts – also called consensual romance in the workplace agreements – Sharon Sellers, president of South Carolina-based consulting firm SLS Consulting, said she has considered ways to alter her training to focus more on dignity and respect in the workplace. It’s important that everyone thinks that they can speak up about an employee being mistreated, Sellers said.

Banning relationships doesn’t work in building a healthy environment, said Jeana Anderson Cohen, founder and CEO of Chicago-based fitness blog aSweatLife. She dated a co-worker at a restaurant where she worked in college, and it didn’t end so well. “I left,” she said.

The restaurant forbade its workers to date, so of course they all dated anyway, just in secret, Anderson Cohen said.

“There was a breakdown in teamwork and communication, and that’s the worst scenario,” she said. “You have to be able to trust each other in any workplace.”

Last year, Anderson Cohen launched a technology company with her husband called SweatWorking. Its app connects people to trainers and workouts. With only five full-time employees, the company doesn’t have a set policy on dating co-workers, Anderson Cohen said, but the discussion stemming from the #MeToo movement has her brainstorming. If co-workers are in a relationship, disclosing it can help the employer take care of anything improper before it happens, such as a romance where power dynamics are at play, she said.

]]> 0 couple Valerie Szafranski and Mike Simmons, owners of Cafe Marie-Jeanne in Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood, haven't experienced any employee relationships that have gone wrong, but try to make awareness a part of their workplace policy.Fri, 16 Feb 2018 08:31:37 +0000
East Boothbay boatbuilder lands contract for 154-foot Maine ferry Thu, 15 Feb 2018 22:05:46 +0000 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.

“We are honored to have been selected to construct the new ferry service vessel for the Maine State Ferry Service,” said Katie Doughty Maddox, vice president of sales & marketing at Washburn & Doughty. “This contract will create jobs at our shipyard during its construction and we are proud to have our Maine workers building a vessel to serve Maine residents, businesses and visitors to our midcoast island communities.”

Washburn & Doughty was founded in East Boothbay in 1977 and specializes in the construction of steel and aluminum commercial vessels. In 1992 and 1993, Washburn & Doughty built three ferry vessels for the state ferry service that are still being used today.

The Maine State Ferry Service serves Vinalhaven, North Haven, Islesboro, Swan’s Island, Frenchboro and Matinicus islands.

Funding for the new vessel comes from state bonds, highway funds and federal funds.

]]> 0 BOOTHBAY, ME - OCTOBER 9: Tate Donovan pays tribute to the workers at the ship yard prior to the christening and launching of tug boat Tate McAllister at the Washburn & Doughty boat yard in East Boothbay. (Photo by John Patriquin/Staff Photographer)Fri, 16 Feb 2018 07:18:02 +0000
Maine Technology Institute awards $10.5 million in grants Thu, 15 Feb 2018 21:53:14 +0000 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 grants went to:

Verso Corp. in Jay, which will use a $4 million grant to upgrade and restart an idled paper machine at the Androscoggin Mill. The increased production is expected to result in 120 direct jobs. Total cost of the project is $17 million.

SmartLam, a Montana manufacturer of cross-laminated timber, is expanding to Maine. The company won a $3 million grant to apply toward a total project cost of $22.5 million. It expects to make a decision on a manufacturing site within two months.

Ready Seafood Co. of Portland received $2.25 million to help develop a facility to test methods to maximize the shipping and processing of lobsters. The total project is expected to cost $6 million and create 40 new jobs.

Sea Bags of Portland, which has been making totes and accessories from recycled sails, received a $1 million grant to help build capacity and accelerate growth in customized products. The total cost of the project is $4 million.

Arcast of Oxford, a metallurgical processing company, is expanding operations into powder production. It received a $187,500 grant for a total project cost of $500,000.

SaviLinx of Brunswick, which provides business process outsourcing services, received a $95,000 grant to help develop an information management system that will enable it to provide enhanced strategic information and analytics to its customers. The total cost of the project is $245,000.

]]> 0, 15 Feb 2018 22:54:11 +0000
Like A Boss: One-on-one with Gary Merrill, president, CEO of Hussey Seating Thu, 15 Feb 2018 20:25:46 +0000 FRIDAY, May 4 at 7:30 a.m.
Portland House of Music and Events

Like A Boss is a live Q&A business event where you can hear insightful, first-hand accounts of the realities of running a business. Our CEO and Publisher Lisa DeSisto interviews local CEOs and business leaders for a behind the scenes look at their career paths, the ups and downs of running their businesses and the trends shaping them.

About Hussey Seating Company
Based in North Berwick, Hussey Seating is a sixth generation, family-owned company founded in 1835 to manufacture plows, then fire escapes, then ski lifts, and since 1960, spectator seating. Hussey Seating Company is now a world leader in developing and manufacturing seating for the sports and entertainment, education, and worship markets. Hussey’s range of seating includes fixed polymer and upholstered chairs, telescopic platforms, telescopic gym seating (traditionally known as gym bleachers), and portable folding chairs. 

About Gary Merrill

Gary has worked for Hussey Seating for over 25 years and was elected President and CEO in June 2016. Prior to that role Gary served as Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer. Gary graduated from the University of Maine with a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting and received his MBA from Babson College. He earned his CPA while working for PricewaterhouseCoopers LLC in Portland, ME. In addition to his responsibilities at Hussey Seating, Gary serves on the Board of Directors for Tilson Technology and is Board Chair for the American Red Cross of Southern Maine.

Ticket includes breakfast and coffee from The Holy Donut and Coffee By Design. Stage set is provided by Red Thread. Thank you to Press Hotel for providing accommodation.

Doors open at 7:15 a.m. Program begins at 7:45 a.m and concludes at 9 a.m.

SIGN UP to get business news in your inbox 5 days each week.


bernstein-shur logo




]]> 0, 15 Feb 2018 19:57:21 +0000
Verso to restart paper machine in Jay, bringing back 120 jobs Thu, 15 Feb 2018 20:07:26 +0000 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 and is expected to create approximately 120 full-time jobs at the mill and additional jobs throughout the Maine forest products supply chain, according to the company.

Terry Bergeron, chairman of the Jay Board of Selectmen said by phone Thursday afternoon that the announcement is fantastic news for the town. He said Jay Town Manager Shiloh LaFreniere will issue a statement on the town’s reaction to the news.

“Naturally, it is fantastic news, but that’s all I really know about it,” Bergeron. “We’ll have a statement that will be coming out on this. It was fantastic news.”

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 2.0 challenge grant administered by the Maine Technology Institute. Funds from the grant will be become available as certain milestones in the project are reached.

“Verso identified this upgrade and restart of the No. 3 paper machine and associated equipment at the Androscoggin Mill as part of our continuing development of a holistic strategy that includes repositioning of certain assets, and we want to thank Governor LePage and the Maine Technology Institute for their support in helping to make it possible,” Verso Chief Executive Officer B. Christopher DiSantis said in a statement. “When this project is completed, the Androscoggin Mill will be more competitive in the global marketplace and better positioned for future success.”

Verso Corp. announced last July that it would shut down the No. 3 paper machine at its Androscoggin mill in Jay, resulting in the elimination of 120 jobs there — nearly a quarter of the workforce.

Verso’s struggles are part of an ever-growing string of closures and layoffs that have plagued Maine’s paper industry in recent years. Five mills have closed in the last few years — including Verso’s closure of its Bucksport mill in 2014, with more than 500 lost jobs; and the Madison Paper mill closure in May 2016, which put more than 200 people out of work. More than 2,300 Maine workers have lost their jobs since 2011 as the industry reels from declining global demand for paper.

The Androscoggin mill laid off 300 employees in 2015 as part of a plan to reduce production capacity. Verso then emerged from bankruptcy in the summer of 2016 and had about 560 employees at the time.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367


]]> 0 androscoggin millFri, 16 Feb 2018 07:08:25 +0000
Colorado senator to stop blocking some DOJ jobs over pot Thu, 15 Feb 2018 19:38:54 +0000 WASHINGTON (AP) – Colorado’s Republican U.S. senator says there’s been enough progress on negotiations over marijuana with the Trump administration that he will stop blocking nominees for some jobs in the Justice Department.

Cory Gardner used his power as a senator to freeze department nominations last month after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions revoked Obama-era protections for states that have broadly legalized marijuana.

Gardner said Sessions needed to re-establish protections for the industry. Gardner told The Associated Press on Thursday that recent talks make him confident the department won’t change the way it enforces federal laws in Colorado and other states that allow adults to use cannabis recreationally.

Gardner will release holds on 12 U.S. attorney nominees, the head of the national security division and U.S. marshals in every federal district.

]]> 0 Thu, 15 Feb 2018 14:38:54 +0000
Maine’s entrepreneur showcase is reinvented from the top down Thu, 15 Feb 2018 19:03:40 +0000 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 this 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.

One of the co-founders of the event, Jess Knox, resigned as president in January after admitting that he behaved inappropriately with two female associates. Venture Hall, a Portland-based business accelerator, also cut ties with Knox and ceased operations after a $475,000 entrepreneurship grant was canceled in the wake of Knox’s admission. In addition, an entrepreneurship initiative backed by the Maine Technology Institute said it would no longer work with Knox or his consulting firm.

In addition to the new name and leader, 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.

Startup Maine will now be held from the evening of Thursday, June 21 through Saturday, June 23. There will be day and evening events on Friday, June 22 and the Saturday event will run all day, with speakers, workshops and networking opportunities.

Shorey, a community development executive with Peoples United Bank, said the organization is transitioning from being led by a steering committee to a board of directors, with the goal to make sure there’s gender parity on the board. She said the change will take place over the new few weeks.

]]> 0 Hodder of Comprend Consulting talks with Benjamin Brown of The Maine Composites Alliance at a "mixpo" at Maine College of Art as a part of Maine Startup and Create Week last year.Thu, 15 Feb 2018 16:52:37 +0000
Pot-users want judge to declare marijuana safe under U.S. law Thu, 15 Feb 2018 16:47:59 +0000 NEW YORK – Army veteran Jose Belen says the horrors of the Iraq War left him with post-traumatic stress disorder, and the drug that helped him cope best with the symptoms was one his Veterans Affairs doctors could not legally prescribe: marijuana.

“Once I did use cannabis, immediately I felt the relief,” said Belen, who is now working with other medical marijuana users to mount a long-shot court challenge to federal laws criminalizing the drug.

The 35-year-old, married father of two is one of five plaintiffs in a lawsuit claiming that the government’s decision to classify marijuana as dangerous is irrational, unconstitutional and motivated by politics, not hard science.

A government lawyer argued Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein in New York that the case should be dismissed, citing precedents in which judges upheld the constitutionality of existing marijuana laws.

The government also is arguing that the plaintiffs have not petitioned the Drug Enforcement Agency to reclassify marijuana.

“Any person can submit a petition to the DEA,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Samuel Dolinger said.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers said the administrative process takes an average of nine years.

The suit originally was filed in July as a growing number of states broke with the federal government and declared marijuana to be legal. Thirty have now legalized it in some fashion, including six for recreational use.

The lawsuit challenges the listing of marijuana as a Schedule I drug, a category that includes heroin and LSD. The federal government says drugs under the classification have no accepted medical use and cannot legally be prescribed.

The lawsuit names the Department of Justice, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the DEA as defendants.

The other plaintiffs include:

– Former NFL player Marvin Washington, the co-founder of a company that sells hemp-based sports performance products;

– A nonprofit organization called the Cannabis Cultural Association that helps minorities benefit from the marijuana industry in states where it is legal;

– Twelve-year-old Alexis Bortell, who takes marijuana to control epilepsy, and 7-year-old Jagger Cotte, who uses marijuana to treat a severe neurological disorder called Leigh’s syndrome.

Hellerstein, who reserved judgment on the motion to dismiss the case, evinced sympathy for the plaintiffs’ claims that medical marijuana has helped them.

“How could anyone say that your clients’ lives have not been saved by marijuana?” Hellerstein asked Michael Hiller, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs.

But Hellerstein appeared to take the government’s argument that the plaintiffs should petition the DEA seriously.

“When agencies are set up to do the very thing that you want me to do, the right thing to do is defer to the agency,” he said.

Medical research on marijuana has been sharply constrained by federal law. The American Psychiatric Association says there’s not enough evidence to support using marijuana to treat PTSD. A federal science panel said research has found some evidence that a synthetic cousin of the drug might help relieve PTSD symptoms, but also some data suggesting it could make things worse.

Belen said he found it effective for taming PTSD symptoms while other medications pushed him closer to depression and possibly suicide.

He said it is unfair that federal law prohibits him from crossing state lines with the drug, even when traveling to states where it is legal.

“I went to Iraq to free the oppressed and I view this no different,” Belen said. “The oppression is only being done by our own government.”

The plaintiffs have asked the court for the broadest of remedies: a permanent injunction preventing the government from enforcing the Controlled Substances Act as it pertains to cannabis. It isn’t clear what the practical effect of such a ruling would be. Hiller said it would be up to Congress to pass legislation to reschedule the drug.

Marijuana got its Schedule I designation as part of the ranking or “scheduling” of drugs under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act.

According to the lawsuit, Republican President Richard Nixon ignored an expert panel’s recommendation that possession of cannabis for personal use be decriminalized because he wanted to use drug policy to target anti-war protesters and black people.

The lawsuit quotes Nixon domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman, who was quoted in a 2016 Harper’s Magazine story as having said: “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.”

But Hellerstein said he’s not persuaded by arguments about the Nixon administration. “You can’t win with that argument,” he said.

The plaintiffs say marijuana doesn’t meet the Schedule I requirements of having a high potential for abuse, no medical use in treatment and no possibility for safe testing.

The lawsuit notes that in 2014 the Justice Department and the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network issued guidance for how banks could provide services to marijuana businesses that were legal under state laws.

“On the one hand the federal government wants to put people in jail, while at the same time the federal government currently has a policy to encourage banks to go into business with cannabis companies,” Hiller said in an interview Tuesday. “They’re attempting to reserve the right to prosecute people for engaging in the very conduct that the federal government has encouraged.”

Or, used to encourage. Sessions, an opponent of legal marijuana, last month reversed an Obama administration policy of backing off of strict enforcement of federal law in states that have voted to legalize the drug.

Encouraging federal prosecutors to hit hard, he said that Congress had decided that “marijuana is a dangerous drug and that marijuana activity is a serious crime.”

]]> 0 Thu, 15 Feb 2018 11:47:59 +0000
Amazon passes Microsoft on list of world’s most valuable companies Thu, 15 Feb 2018 02:23:31 +0000 SEATTLE — In Amazon’s latest conquest, the company has toppled Microsoft to become the third most valuable company in the world.

The online retailer’s stock closed up $36.54 a share, or 2.6 percent, at $1,451.05 on Wednesday, giving the company a market capitalization of $702.5 billion, enough to top its Seattle-area neighbor for the first time.

Microsoft’s market value stood at $699.2 billion, after its shares rose $1.40, or 1.6 percent, to $90.81 Wednesday.

Combined, all other public companies based in Washington state have a market capitalization of only about $400 billion. Chicago-based Boeing has a market value of $205 billion.

Amazon trails only Apple, worth $849.2 billion, and Google parent Alphabet, at $746 billion, among publicly traded companies as of Wednesday’s close.

Amazon has nearly quadrupled in value over the last three years, a surge that made founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos the world’s richest man, displacing his Medina neighbor, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

The gains came as investors bet that the company would continue its track record of grabbing an ever larger share of commerce. Amazon’s revenue has grown by at least 19 percent each year for the last decade, a record unmatched among companies with sales of more than $1 billion.

It took Amazon 21 years to close the gap between an upstart online bookseller and one of the world’s dominant high-tech firms. shares surged on their first day of public trading in May 1997, valuing the company at $560 million, according to S&P Capital IQ.

Microsoft then was a $140 billion giant, dominant in the fast-growing personal computer market and in command of an ample war chest to fund forays into new technologies. The Redmond company’s market capitalization would crest at $614 billion, a record for any company at the time, at the height of the dot-com boom in December 1999.

The company’s value tumbled by nearly two thirds in the next year amid a broad rout in technology shares, and would remain stagnant for much of the ensuing decade as the Justice Department pursued an antitrust case against Microsoft and as upstarts like Google outflanked the firm on the internet.

Amazon, which made deep cuts to survive the bursting internet bubble, spent the same period laying the groundwork for its domination of online retail, expanding into new categories of goods and building a logistics network designed to speed delivery to consumers.

Microsoft has been on an upswing of late – buoyed by a cloud-computing business that has emerged as the main challenger to market-leading Amazon Web Services – and given investors confidence that the company can survive declining personal computer sales. Share’s are up about 180 percent since chief executive Satya Nadella took the helm in February 2014.

But Amazon’s horizons are broader than Microsoft’s, analysts say.

]]> 0 is scanned to be tracked as it moves through the new Amazon Fulfillment Center Friday, Feb. 9, 2018, in Sacramento, Calif. The center opened in October 2017. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)Wed, 14 Feb 2018 21:23:31 +0000
Tax law change puts Fannie Mae in a $3.7 billion hole Thu, 15 Feb 2018 02:11:13 +0000 WASHINGTON — Sweeping changes to U.S. tax law led to a $6.53 billion loss at Fannie Mae last quarter, putting the government-controlled mortgage company in the position of seeking cash assistance from taxpayers for the first time since it emerged from the housing crisis six years ago.

Fannie Mae said Wednesday that its net worth sank to a negative $3.7 billion after it had to “remeasure” its deferred tax assets to the tune of $9.9 billion as required by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, signed into law by President Trump just before the end of the year.

Because of the tax charge, Fannie Mae reported 2017 net income of $2.46 billion for 2017, down from $12.31 billion in 2016. But its pretax income was $18.45 billion, slightly better than the $18.33 billion in 2016.

Many U.S. companies had similarly large accounting charges because of the new Republican tax law, which took effect Jan. 1.

“Our 2017 results demonstrate that the fundamentals of our business are strong,” said Fannie Mae President and CEO Timothy Mayopoulos. “While the fourth quarter was affected by a one-time accounting charge, we expect to benefit from a lower tax rate going forward.”

Washington-based Fannie Mae said it expects its regulator to request $3.7 billion from Treasury to offset its current deficit.

The government rescued Fannie Mae and sibling Freddie Mac during the housing crisis in 2008 with a combined $187 billion taxpayer bailout. Fannie Mae hasn’t taken money from Treasury since 2012, and has made more than $130 billion in dividend payments since 2013, more than repaying its $116 billion bailout.

]]> 0 Wed, 14 Feb 2018 21:11:13 +0000
Free shipping comes to Sam’s Club, along with a change in membership plans Thu, 15 Feb 2018 02:02:13 +0000 NEW YORK — Sam’s Club is offering free shipping for premium members and simplifying its membership tiers.

Starting Wednesday, the Walmart-owned warehouse club is providing free shipping on online orders for Plus members on 95 percent of the items it sells. Most shipping costs previously were based on the item’s size and weight, the shipping method and the delivery address.

Free shipping and faster delivery have been key areas as retailers try to adapt to shoppers’ shift online. Online leader Amazon has driven strong loyalty with free shipping through its $99-a-year Prime membership. Amazon is also reportedly planning a new service to pick up packages from businesses and deliver them to consumers. Meanwhile, Target late last year bought grocery delivery startup Shipt to speed up same-day deliveries.

Sam’s Club is also converting its three membership plans into two. Sam’s Plus will still carry a $100 annual fee, while the Business and Savings plans will convert to Sam’s Club memberships with an annual fee of $45. The company is trying to better compete with rival Costco Wholesale Corp. by focusing on the more affluent customer. It has added more fresh produce and other higher-quality products.

“We are creating a new Sam’s Club for our members,” said CEO John Furner. He says the chain is targeting suburban families with children who have annual incomes between $75,000 and $125,000 – which closely tracks Costco’s core customers.

Last month, Sam’s Club started closing 63 U.S. clubs and said it would convert up to a dozen of them to e-commerce fulfillment centers so it can be faster with deliveries. The idea is to get the fulfillment centers closer to the customers’ homes.

Making Change at Walmart, a campaign backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, estimated at the time that the closures could affect about 10,000 jobs.

]]> 0's Club is putting an added focus on serving suburban families with children and annual incomes between $75,000 and $125,000, the same people targeted by rival Costco.Wed, 14 Feb 2018 21:02:13 +0000
Google Chrome to begin blocking many annoying advertising formats Thu, 15 Feb 2018 01:22:08 +0000 SAN FRANCISCO — On Thursday, Google will begin using its Chrome browser to eradicate ads that it deems annoying or otherwise detrimental to users. It just so happens that many of Google’s own most lucrative ads will sail through its new filters.

The move, which Google first floated back in June, is ostensibly aimed at making online advertising more tolerable by flagging sites that run annoying ads such as ones that auto-play video with sound. And it’s using a big hammer: Chrome will start blocking all ads – including Google’s own – on offending sites if they don’t reform themselves.

There’s some irony here, given that Google’s aim is partly to convince people to turn off their own ad-blocking software. These popular browser add-ons deprive publishers (and Google) of revenue by preventing ads from displaying.

Google vice president Rahul Roy-Chowdhury wrote in a blog post that the company aims to keep the web healthy by “filtering out disruptive ad experiences.”


But the company’s motives and methods are both under attack. Along with Facebook, Google dominates the online-advertising market; together they accounted for over 63 percent of the $83 billion spent on U.S. digital ads last year, according to eMarketer. Google is also virtually synonymous with online search, and Chrome is the most popular browser on the web, with a roughly 60 percent market share.

So to critics, Google’s move looks less like a neighborhood cleanup than an assertion of dominance.

Google’s effort focuses on 12 ad formats criticized by a group called the Coalition for Better Ads, whose members include Google, Facebook, News Corp. and the News Media Alliance, which represents 2,000 newspapers in the U.S. and Canada. Among those blackballed formats are pop-ups, large ads that hover above the page and ads that flash with bright background colors.

But those standards were intended to be voluntary, said Paul Boyle, senior vice president of public policy for the newspaper alliance that helped create them. Instead, he said, Google is turning the standards into de facto law.

Critics also note that the standards conspicuously exempt one of Google’s most significant forms of advertising – so-called pre-roll video ads, which run before videos on Google’s YouTube.

Scott Spencer, Google’s director of product management, said via email that the coalition is looking into video ad formats, including pre-roll ads. Any new standards will be incorporated “when the research is complete,” he said.

“Chrome filtering is not favoring our own business, our ads or our platforms, or anyone else’s,” he said.

Accusations of self-dealing have long haunted Google. Last June, European Union regulators hit it with a $3 billion fine for unfairly directing search results to its own shopping listings, from which it gets a direct cut of revenue. A similar Federal Trade Commission probe of Google ended in 2013 with a settlement and no fine.


Google will phase in the restrictions in coming months; disputes will be handled by the coalition, not Google. Users will see a notification when Chrome blocks ads, and can opt to view them if they want.

Website publishers have had months to prepare, yet many are still running afoul of the new standards. According to a recent search of Google’s Ad Experience Report, 1,408 sites had “warning” or “failing” status. Some were targeted to have their ads shut down Thursday.

Sites flagged included niche interest sites like and, as well as established newspapers such as The Hamilton Spectator in Canada and a number of porn sites.

Spectator owner TorStar said it has fixed the problem; other sites wouldn’t comment publicly. Atlanta-based Gray Television Inc. also had at least a dozen of its TV station websites flagged. Gray said it switched to compliant formats and that its sites were cleared as of Wednesday.

Google said that almost half of warned sites fixed ad problems after being notified.


Among these were about 50 websites run by Townsquare Media, the third-largest radio station owner in the U.S. The sites ran so-called “prestitial” ads that take over the screen after someone clicks on a link, said Jared Willig, Townsquare’s senior vice president of digital.

The company subsequently developed a new and less intrusive ad format that solved the problem, Willig said. While he agreed with the push toward fewer distractions, Google’s outsized influence gives him pause.

“They wield a lot of power, which is a little scary,” Willig said. “But in this case, they’re using that power to make the internet better.”

Others were less sanguine.

“Who’s to say what’s a good ad and what’s a bad ad?” asked Chris Pavlovski, the CEO of Rumble Inc., a Toronto-based video platform that considers itself a rival to YouTube. “For some reason, we have an arbitrator that owns a browser and dictates what we can put on our websites.”

Overall, Google wields too much influence over publishers, said Sean Blanchfield, the CEO of PageFair, a startup that helps publishers get around ad blockers.

“Traffic comes through Google Search, users come through Google Chrome, monetization is from Google ads,” Blanchfield said. “Publishers are beginning to feel like they’re playing in a gig economy operated by Google.”

]]> 0 the types of formats to be blackballed by Google Chrome are pop-ups, large ads that hover above the page and ads that flash with bright background colors.Wed, 14 Feb 2018 20:37:04 +0000
Need for data center tax breaks questioned Thu, 15 Feb 2018 01:19:41 +0000 RICHMOND, Va. — As Virginia has emerged as a top global market for data centers, tax breaks to attract some of the world’s richest companies to the state have exploded, new records show.

Enacted a decade ago, sales and use tax exemptions for the large warehouses full of computers that function as the brains of the internet accounted for more than $65 million in uncollected state revenue last fiscal year, by far the biggest type of tax break the state offers.

Amazon, a major player in the data center industry, owns five of the 25 data centers eligible for tax breaks. Other major tech and financial companies with data centers are also eligible, including Microsoft, Capital One, Bank of America and Visa. The incentives can also apply to tenants at certain data centers, which include major companies like Alibaba, Facebook and Apple.

Supporters say the incentives are a crucial reason for Virginia’s success in the market and the industry is a major boost to the state’s overall economy. Critics say the tax breaks are an unnecessary giveaway to a healthy industry that would still thrive in Virginia without them.

States are increasingly offering lucrative incentives to attract the data centers, which can cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build and equip, but employ relatively few workers. That means they produce little in the way of new income taxes but could provide a surge in property and sales taxes for both state and local governments, if they collect them.

Although Virginia forgoes sales and use tax revenues for certain large data centers, some local governments have reaped massive benefits. Loudoun County says data centers help bring in $150 million in local taxes each year.

The Virginia Economic Development Partnership tracks companies eligible for the tax breaks but said it doesn’t collect data on which companies actually take the credits and for how much. VDEP’s records from January show all but one of the 25 data centers eligible for the tax breaks are in Northern Virginia and the Richmond area, or within an easy drive.

Virginia has about 700 data processing, hosting and related establishments, but to be eligible for the state tax breaks on computers and related equipment, companies have to spend at least $150 million and meet certain hiring and salary thresholds.

Nearly 70 percent of the data centers eligible for state tax breaks are in Loudoun, Fairfax and Prince William counties, some of the wealthiest counties in the country. Northern Virginia, and Loudoun in particular, has become a top tier destination for data centers thanks to a strong digital infrastructure, relatively low energy costs, available land, proximity to federal agencies and an educated workforce.

The data center incentives’ dizzying growth in a few years from nothing to the state’s biggest business tax break – more than double the next largest segment in fiscal 2016 – is prompting some lawmakers to promise a closer look.

“It’s something we need to revisit,” said Chris Jones, a top Republican lawmaker and chairman of the state House Appropriations Committee.

The legislature’s watchdog agency is examining the data center breaks’ effectiveness as part of a broader look at economic development incentives.

Buddy Rizer, the head of the Loudoun County’s economic development office, said the state tax incentives have been crucial to the success of his county, the self-declared “home of the internet” where about 70 percent of all web traffic flows through each day.

Rizer said the state risks a “real danger” of seeing the centers move elsewhere without the tax breaks because more and more states are offering them more lucrative incentives.

“You will not be competitive without this to somewhat level the playing field,” he said.

A report commissioned by the Northern Virginia Technology Council, an influential trade group that represents data centers, said the centers were responsible for creating 43,000 direct and indirect jobs and $10.2 billion in “economic output” in 2016.

But Kasia Tarczynska, who analyzes the effectiveness of data center incentives at the nonprofit Good Jobs First, said tax incentives have little impact on where companies decide to locate. She said Virginia would still be a top destination without public subsidies.

“The idea for tax incentives is to help start something that would not happen if not for that tax incentive,” she said. “You don’t need to support a healthy industry.”

]]> 0 prepare a construction entrance to the Facebook data center that is being built in Sandston, Va., a state that provides incentives for such massive, high-tech operations.Wed, 14 Feb 2018 20:53:06 +0000
New blood test to diagnose brain injury gets FDA’s nod Thu, 15 Feb 2018 01:04:23 +0000 CHICAGO — The first blood test to help doctors diagnose traumatic brain injuries has won U.S. government approval.

The move means Banyan Biomarkers can commercialize its test, giving the company an early lead in the biotech industry’s race to find a way to diagnose concussions.

The test doesn’t detect concussions and the approval won’t immediately change how patients with suspected concussions or other brain trauma are treated. But Wednesday’s green light by the Food and Drug Administration “is a big deal because then it opens the door and accelerates technology,” said Michael McCrea, a brain injury expert at Medical College of Wisconsin.

The test detects two proteins present in brain cells that can leak into the bloodstream following a blow to the head. Banyan’s research shows the test can detect them up within 12 hours of injury. It’s designed to help doctors quickly determine which patients with suspected concussions may have brain bleeding or other brain injury.

Patients with a positive test would need a CT scan to confirm the results and determine if surgery or other treatment is needed. The test will first be used in emergency rooms, possibly as soon as later this year, but Banyan’s hope is that it will eventually be used on battlefields and football fields.

FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said the test fits with the agency’s goals for delivering new technologies to patients and reducing unnecessary radiation exposure.

The test “sets the stage for a more modernized standard of care for testing of suspected cases,” Gottlieb said in a statement.

Traumatic brain injuries affect an estimated 10 million people globally each year; at least 2 million of them are treated in U.S. emergency rooms. They often get CT scans to detect bleeding or other abnormalities. The scans expose patients to radiation, but in many patients with mild brain injuries including concussions, abnormalities don’t show up on these imaging tests.

With Department of Defense funding, Banyan’s research shows its Brain Trauma Indicator can accurately pick up brain trauma later found on CT scans. It also shows that absence of the two proteins in the test is a good indication that CT scans will be normal. That means patients with negative blood tests can avoid CT scans and unnecessary radiation exposure, said Dr. Jeffrey Bazarian, a University of Rochester emergency medicine professor involved in Banyan’s research.

Bazarian called the test “a huge step” toward devising a blood test that can detect brain injuries including concussions.

Dr. Walter Koroshetz, director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and other brain injury experts say the test isn’t sensitive enough to rule out concussions.

“This may be a beginning. It’s not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,” Koroshetz said.

That prize would be a test that could detect and guide treatment for concussions and traumatic brain injuries, similar to a blood test that hospitals commonly use to evaluate suspected heart attacks, Koroshetz said.

“That’s what we’d like to have for the brain,” he said.

San Diego-based Banyan has partnered with Abbott and French firm bioMerieux SA to market the test to hospitals using those companies’ blood analyzing machines.

]]> 0 development scientist Veronika Shevchenko experiments Tuesday with patient samples at Banyan Biomarkers' research facility in San Diego.Wed, 14 Feb 2018 20:07:00 +0000
Denver media company offers $11.9 million to win bidding for Boston Herald Thu, 15 Feb 2018 00:46:28 +0000 BOSTON — A Denver-based company has emerged as the winning bidder for a Boston newspaper that filed for bankruptcy in December.

Digital First Media’s $11.9 million bid beat two other bidders for the Boston Herald in a five-hour bankruptcy auction Tuesday.

The bid needs approval from a bankruptcy court judge, and a hearing is scheduled for Friday.

Digital First owns hundreds of publications, including the Lowell Sun and Sentinel & Enterprise of Fitchburg in Massachusetts.

Job cuts are expected. The Herald has around 240 employees, and previous bidders agreed to keep at least 175.

Herald publisher Patrick Purcell previously cited declining revenue, digital media and growing competition in the decision to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

]]> 0 Wed, 14 Feb 2018 19:58:40 +0000
Portland testing the waters for redevelopment of Maine State Pier Wed, 14 Feb 2018 22:05:59 +0000 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.

“We are testing the concept,” Needelman said. “This is the due diligence prior to moving forward with anything.”

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 has wrestled for more than a decade with how to redevelop the blue, 90,000-square-foot building, easily identified by the “Whaling Wall” mural on one of its exterior walls. The city-owned building has tenants, including a tugboat business, lobster processor Ready Seafood and equipment storage for cruise ships, but is partially vacant.

In 2007, dueling developers pitched $90 million plans to turn the property into an office, restaurant and hotel complex, but the proposals fell through amid political controversy and an economic downturn.

The new concept is intentionally smaller and aimed to complement existing uses on the pier, such as marine businesses, cruise ship passengers and Casco Bay Lines ferry traffic, Needelman said.

“The market-type use that is being proposed would occupy less than 20 percent of the ground-floor building. Over 80 percent would remain in active marine use,” Needelman said. “This is a far more modest and achievable set of recommendations we are testing, compared to previous redevelopment proposals.”

The city does not have a cost estimate for the project.

Needelman will present the city’s redevelopment plan in a series of meetings aimed at specific groups over the next month, including Casco Bay Lines, the seafood and food and beverage industries, and the Peaks Island Council.

The point is to find out if a public market-style redevelopment would be a welcome addition that can provide value to existing waterfront uses, Needelman said.

“What we are hoping for is that the market will expand opportunity for the food economy so that it is not unduly competing with private developments on the waterfront,” he said.

Some issues likely to be raised by island residents are parking and pedestrian traffic in the area, said Randy Schaeffer, chairman of the Peaks Island Council transportation committee.

The abutting Casco Bay Lines ferry terminal is the primary mainland contact point for island residents, who sometimes have to “wade through” crowds of people coming to Waterfront Concerts on the pier. Island residents also have seen the ocean terminal as a possible future area for islander parking, Schaeffer said.

“It is a positive thing for the city, but there are some day-to-day realities that will hopefully be taken into account as the planning process proceeds,” he said.

Charlie Poole, president of Proprietors of Union Wharf, said the city is trying to do the same thing as any other wharf owner – bring in enough revenue to maintain and repair its property.

“We have thousands of square feet that aren’t being used and we have to make them work,” Poole said. “If the buildings aren’t rented, it isn’t helping us.”

The city, and Needelman specifically, have made a serious effort to have an open and inclusive process and collect honest feedback, Poole said.

“I think the question is, what can go in there and not take away from other aspects of the waterfront. That will remain to be seen,” he said.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire

]]> 0 Portland Ocean Terminal building is to the left of the Maine State Pier and the Caso Bay Ferry terminal is at right.Wed, 14 Feb 2018 19:51:16 +0000
BIW laying off 60 electricians, but expects to rehire them Wed, 14 Feb 2018 21:38:52 +0000 Bath Iron Works is laying off 60 electricians and encouraging them to apply for jobs as shipfitters until demand for electrical work increases, the company said Wednesday.

BIW spokesman David Hench said the Bath shipbuilder often experiences fluctuations in the need for various trades because of the cyclical nature of its work.

“We have more than enough work for people to do, it’s just not in this (electrical) trade,” he said. “There’s this temporary lack of need for electricians and a surge in the need for shipfitters.”

According to the Facebook page of Local S6 of the Machinists Union, the layoff will occur Feb. 23. BIW currently has about 5,700 employees, down from 6,100 in March 2016. The company plans to hire about 500 workers this year, Hench said, partly to replace workers who are retiring.

The workers who take jobs as shipfitters will go back to their electrician jobs when demand returns, he said.

BIW is in the process of building five ships: the Lyndon B. Johnson (DDG 1002), the third in the Zumwalt class of destroyers, and Arleigh Burke class destroyers Thomas Hudner (DDG 116), Daniel Inouye (DDG 118), Carl M. Levin (DDG 120) and John Basilone (DDG 122).

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

Twitter: @jcraiganderson

]]> 0 Lesko, the chief executive at Bath Iron Works, said that the yard has to stay vigilant about controlling costs, but he believes BIW has a good chance to capture more defense contracts to build Arleigh-Burke destroyers like the Rafael Peralta, above, seen last year. The shipyard, the fourth-largest private employer in Maine, would have hired another 1,000 workers if it had won a bid to build a fleet of new Coast Guard cutters awarded to a Florida competitor in September 2016. (Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer)Wed, 14 Feb 2018 23:26:12 +0000
Damariscotta River Grill is for sale Wed, 14 Feb 2018 19:59:04 +0000 The Damariscotta River Grill, a popular midcoast restaurant in downtown Damariscotta, is for sale for $2.25 million.

Co-owners Rick Hirsch and Jean Kerrigan said they are putting the restaurant and the building it’s in on the market now because they would like to retire in the next two to three years, and they don’t want to have to search for the right buyer at the last minute.

The sale includes a four-story brick building with multiple retail spaces and river views, the restaurant business, a catering business associated with the restaurant, and a commercial kitchen that supports catering, take-out, and retail beer and wine sales.

“We think its going to be a long process to sell the place because it’s a unique situation,” said Hirsch, who is the restaurant’s chef. “We’re trying to come from a position of strength. And the town is doing fabulous. It’s a really exciting time, with a lot of growth.”

The restaurant, which has an eclectic, upscale menu heavy on seafood, will remain open while it is on the market. Hirsch said none of the staff has left because of the announcement of the sale.

Hirsch and Kerrigan, who manages the restaurant, opened Damariscotta River Grill in late 2003, and it became a popular dining spot for both locals and tourists. Hirsch was named Maine Chef of the Year by the Maine Restaurant Association in 2010. The restaurant has won 10 consecutive Wine Spectator Awards of Excellence, and in 2006 formed its own wine club, which holds monthly tastings and offers discounts for members.

The 8,100-square foot property is listed with Alyssa Bouthot of The Swan Agency Sotheby’s International Realty, who calls it “a turnkey opportunity for a new business owner or a chef looking to make the leap into restaurant ownership.”

Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:


]]> 0, 15 Feb 2018 14:48:12 +0000
LePage scuttled state’s settlement with Wiscasset in traffic dispute, attorney says Wed, 14 Feb 2018 17:52:52 +0000 Wiscasset officials have rejected a proposed settlement with the state over a controversial traffic project after a lawyer representing the town told them Gov. Paul LePage intervened to strip out a key concession.

The midcoast town of 3,700 has sued the Maine Department of Transportation over its latest effort to mitigate the notorious summertime traffic bottlenecks in its historic village center after the LePage administration allegedly reneged on key promises and asserted that it did not have to comply with local ordinances. In recent weeks, however, the department and town had been negotiating an agreement to settle the dispute.

But Tuesday night the town selectboard rejected the proposed settlement by a 3-2 vote, with several members expressing concern that it did not include any concessions from the state that would allow some on-street parking to remain on Main Street, a key concern of many local business owners. An earlier draft of the settlement had included eight parallel parking spaces on the street, but an attorney for the town said LePage had personally intervened to strip it out.

“The DOT was willing to go along with that, but they are overseen by the governor,” attorney Peter Murray told the selectboard. “Once the commissioner showed the proposed settlement to the governor … the governor said, ‘No, absolutely not. There won’t be any parking on the street.'”

Largely as a result, the board voted to reject the settlement, in which the department agreed to apply for local permission before demolishing the 1916 Haggett Garage to make way for a new off-street parking lot on a side street, but would proceed with the rest of their traffic project as planned.

“When we talked about having a consent agreement I felt that it would have some resolution on the parking and there was none,” selectman Bob Blagden told the Press Herald on Wednesday morning. “The survival of the businesses and the perception that the town is open for business is at stake.”

LePage’s spokeswoman, Julie Rabinowitz, declined to discuss the governor’s reported intervention, citing the ongoing litigation.

DOT spokesman Ted Talbot also declined to comment. “While we will not comment on the litigation, MaineDOT intends to construct the project based on the concept previously supported by the town, which included the elimination of parking on Main Street,” he said via email.

LePage appears to have taken a personal interest in the project, and has said he’s had enough of the townspeople’s complaints and would like to build a viaduct right over the area. “I have given MDOT full authority to fix this nightmare with or without working with Wiscasset,” LePage wrote a constituent in August. “After 65 years of trying to work with Wiscasset, the time has come to move on.”

In another message, LePage, who often commutes to his Boothbay home from Augusta via Wiscasset, indicated he was fed up with traffic delays.

“Between June and September it takes approximately (give or take a few minutes) 1 hour 20 minutes to go from Augusta to Boothbay. The rest of the year it takes 40 minutes,” he wrote a constituent. “If it were up to me – I would do what was done in Bath. I’d put a bridge from the post office to the middle of the bridge and bypass downtown. U.S. 1 is a state responsibility and not the town.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Murray said that after LePage blocked the Main Street parking concessions, the selectboard had sought a meeting with him to explain their concerns but that the governor declined.

Wiscasset’s village center – a largely intact complex of 18th- and 19th-century buildings that was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 – is the site of notorious summer traffic jams 2 to 3 miles long on Route 1 on the north and south approaches to the Sheepscot River bridge. The state has been trying to solve the problem for more than half a century.

The state’s latest plan – a $5 million state-funded project unveiled in the spring of 2016 that promises to improve traffic flow during the worst traffic jams by 12 percent to 14 percent – would make most of its gains by adding two traffic lights and “bump out” pedestrian crossing waiting areas in the village. The controversial part is the elimination of on-street parking on Main Street – currently 23 spaces – and parts of key side streets – measures that the state’s studies say account for just 2 percent to 4 percent of flow improvement.

Residents and the selectboard initially supported the plan nonetheless, but majorities of both now oppose it because they say the state has not upheld its end of the bargain and has broken key promises. In June 2017, residents revoked their support in a town referendum after the state reneged on commitments to use federal funding and thus abide by the associated historic preservation and environmental reviews and requirements that come with it, and to not take any properties by eminent domain.

The town’s suit, filed Nov. 28, was prompted by the state’s imminent plan to demolish the Haggett Garage, which it had purchased by invoking eminent domain in order to create off-street replacement parking.

Ralph H. Doering III, whose family owns several 19th-century commercial buildings on and near Main Street in the historic village center, in January offered to pay the cash-strapped town’s legal costs to continue its legal action against the department, and a group of citizens calling themselves Citizens for Sensible Solutions on Monday also pledged to raise funds.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the selectboard voted unanimously to put the question of whether to accept such donations before town residents. A special town meeting will be held this month for that purpose, though the date as not been set.

“It is a common legal tactic to attempt to impoverish an opponent in the legal arena and the state would be certainly doing that with most small towns,” said retired resident Bill Sutter, a 30-year veteran of the DOT who opposes the project and attended Tuesday’s meeting. “I’d like to see the town approve accepting donations.”

The state Business and Consumer court in Portland has a hearing scheduled on the case at the end of March.

]]> 0 backs up on Route 1 in Wiscasset on a Monday in July 2017. The state has been trying to solve the notorious traffic problem for more than half a century.Thu, 15 Feb 2018 00:03:12 +0000
Cuddledown closes Yarmouth call center with 26 workers, blames labor shortage Wed, 14 Feb 2018 17:12:54 +0000 YARMOUTH — 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.

Cuddledown, which began in Yarmouth in 1973 as a family-owned business selling down comforters directly to friends, has expanded its product line to high-end bedding, sleepwear and home decor.

Potpourri Group, a catalog retailer based in North Billerica, Massachusetts, bought Cuddledown in 2013.

Stefanie Swalgen, vice president of human resources for Potpourri, said the call center was the company’s smallest, with 26 employees.

“The difficult decision was made … mainly due to labor shortages in the area, to service our needs from our other locations,” Swalgen said Tuesday.

Potpourri has transferred some of the employees affected by the closing to other jobs within the company and has offered assistance to others with “career transitions,” she said.

Maine’s unemployment rate in December 2017 was 3 percent, down from 3.3 percent in November and 3.8 percent a year ago. The jobless rate in Greater Portland was even lower, 1.8 percent, according to the Maine Department of Labor.

Scott LaFlamme, Yarmouth’s director of economic development, said he heard about the closing Monday and plans to meet with representatives from Cuddledown next week.

He could not confirm the number of employees affected.

“What it seems like is a corporate reorganization,” LaFlamme said. “It sounds like they are going to do everything they can to have (call center) employees relocated.”

He said he was surprised by the closing, but remains “supportive of their continued manufacturing” in town.

Representatives from the Maine Department of Labor said Monday that they were unaware the call center had been closed, and could not respond to questions about how many employees were affected or whether their Southern Maine Rapid Response team would assist displaced employees in their job searches.

Swalgen emphasized that Cuddledown’s other operations in Maine remain in business.

“We value our Maine employees and their skills, and intend to continue operating the Cuddledown brand out of our Yarmouth, Maine, location,” Swalgen said. “We have all of Cuddledown’s manufacturing in our Yarmouth location and will continue producing our quality bedding products from this facility. We will continue selling our high-quality Cuddledown products out of our existing Freeport (store).”

Read this story in the Forecaster.

Jocelyn Van Saun can be contacted at 781-3661, ext. 183, or

Twitter @JocelynVanSaun

]]> 0 of Cuddledown products will continue in its facility at 14 Yarmouth Junction. The company's product line includes high-end bedding, sleepwear and home decor.Thu, 15 Feb 2018 11:22:50 +0000
Lawsuit calls change in L.L. Bean’s return policy ‘deceptive, unfair’ Wed, 14 Feb 2018 13:57:31 +0000 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 late last week announced it was changing its unlimited return policy, 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.

Calls to Bondi’s lawyer seeking comment were not returned Wednesday.

His suit said that the company has used the policy as “a core component of L.L. Bean’s marketing.” Bondi’s complaint includes copies of a couple of Bean catalog covers with the “Satisfaction Guaranteed” return policy prominently featured.

Bondi’s suit notes that customers who bought products before this week’s announcement did so under the belief that they could be returned at any point if the customer wasn’t satisfied.

“The warranty was a basis of the bargain with the sale of L.L. Bean products,” the suit alleges. “Because of L.L. Bean’s unilateral refusal to honor its warranty, Plaintiff and the other class members were harmed, and have been deprived of the benefit of the bargain.”

The suit said Bondi and others who join the potential class-action suit are seeking unspecified damages or an order that Bean honor the warranty and corrective advertising on the return policy.

Bean has said the new restrictions on returns will apply only to items purchased after Feb. 9, when the new policy was announced.

“L.L. Bean products bought prior to Feb. 9, 2018, will not subject to the new one-year restriction,” company spokeswoman Carolyn Beem said in an email. “Proof of purchase will continue to be required. That is what we have consistently told customers since the new policy was announced last Friday.”

Beem did not reply to an email seeking further comment on the lawsuit.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

]]> 0 Higgins helps a customer returning boots at the customer service area at L.L. Bean in Freeport in 2016. L.L. Bean will no longer accept returns on any product it has ever sold regardless of the item's age or condition.Wed, 14 Feb 2018 23:40:32 +0000
Inflation rose 2.1 percent in January, faster than expected Wed, 14 Feb 2018 13:42:18 +0000 The Consumer Price Index, which measures how quickly prices are going up in the U.S. economy, rose at a faster than anticipated 2.1 percent in January compared to a year ago, triggering fears of another rocky run on Wall Street.

The monthly Labor Department report on the price of everything from gas to groceries was closely watched Wednesday, with Wall Street investors suddenly very concerned about inflation.

The stock market sell-off earlier this month that caused the Dow to fall over 1,000 points in a single day began after a Labor Department report showed wages grew at a better-than-expected pace in January.

Now another key gauge of inflation — CPI — is showing a similar upward trend.

Inflation around 2 percent is still very low, but Wall Street traders fear that this could be the beginning of a quick run up in wages and prices.

In a worst-case scenario, consumers and businesses might start pulling back on spending as they see prices rise rapidly in the coming months (or years). On top of that, the Federal Reserve typically responds to higher inflation by hiking interest rates, ending the easy money days that have fueled a 9-year stock market boom.

“Stock market valuations are high. People are on edge and looking for an excuse to sell,” said Chris Zaccarelli, chief investment officer of Independent Advisor Alliance. “The fact that interest rates could move up so quickly is a legitimate reason for the market to get spooked.”

In recent years, investors put their money in riskier stocks since they were earning so little in interest at the bank or from bonds. But if inflation returns in force and the Fed hikes interest rates, it could cause Wall Street to redo the playbook. As bond yields rise, investors are likely to jump out of stocks and into bonds.

As the Fed lifts rates, companies and individuals also tend to borrow less, another potential damper on the economy.

]]> 0, ME - NOVEMBER 27: Travis Phillips of Biddeford loads groceries into a cart during his shift at Market Basket in Biddeford. (Photo by Jill Brady/Staff Photographer)Wed, 14 Feb 2018 08:45:47 +0000
South Portland councilors offer mixed messages on 42-unit affordable housing proposal Wed, 14 Feb 2018 03:17:48 +0000 SOUTH PORTLAND — City councilors expressed mixed feelings Tuesday evening over a proposal to construct a 42-unit apartment building on the site of the former St. John the Evangelist Church on Main Street.

The South Portland Housing Authority pitched the four-story building, including ground-level retail space, as a way to provide much-needed affordable housing and reduce its 140-household waiting list for subsidized apartments.

Councilors said they were torn between the benefits offered by the Route 1 proposal and the problems it might bring to the surrounding Thornton Heights neighborhood, including increased traffic and parking.

Several councilors suggested the project would be more palatable if it were scaled down, closer to the 22 apartments allowed under current zoning, though authority officials said a smaller project wouldn’t be financially feasible.

“We definitely need affordable housing,” said Councilor Claude Morgan. “I cannot support this scale.”

Councilor Susan Henderson said, “I do support the project. I think we have to tame the traffic.”

Councilor Adrian Dowling called it “a good project for this street and this area.”

A majority of the council asked that the Planning Board review the authority’s concept proposal for 611 Main St. and provide recommendations to address anticipated problems.

The authority met with the council to gauge potential support before developing a formal proposal, seeking a zoning change and applying for funding through the Maine State Housing Authority. It held three previous neighborhood meetings in an effort to gain input and support from Thornton Heights residents.

Again at Tuesday’s council workshop, neighbors were divided.

“This development doesn’t fit our neighborhood,” said Martha Martenson of Thirlmere Avenue, one of several people who raised concerns about traffic, parking and the loss of neighborhood character.

“We need affordable housing and we need it in all the neighborhoods, including the one we’re in,” said Meg Johnson of Pennsylvania Avenue.

The authority, which isn’t part of city government, has a contract to buy the two-acre property at 611 Main St., which is listed with NAI The Dunham Group for $1.2 million. It includes the church building, a school building, a Colonial-style house and a large paved parking lot.

Located near a highway connector to Interstate 295 and the Maine Turnpike, the site is zoned for residential and community uses. A Dunkin’ Donuts developer bought the property from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland for $731,025 in 2013 and tried unsuccessfully to win neighborhood and city approval to build a coffee shop.

To address neighbors’ concerns, the project’s 85-space parking lot would provide 16 more spaces than required under current zoning and the lot would be screened by attractive fencing, said Brooks More, the authority’s development director.

The building would include one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments targeting households making $28,750 to $49,260, More said. Thirty-three units would be rented at subsidized rates of $770 to $1,281, depending on family size and income, and nine units would be rented at market rates.

The authority also plans to sell three house lots on the back half of the property, More said. Ground-level storefronts would house a local market, coffee shop or sidewalk cafe.

More noted that the project would be significantly smaller than the 64-unit West End Apartments the council recently approved for Avesta Housing on a 1-acre lot at 586 Westbrook St.

Last spring, the authority pitched two other apartment proposals that fell apart when faced with strong opposition from neighbors and councilors. Those proposals – in the Knightville and Thornton Heights neighborhoods – would have added more than 100 apartments to the city’s tight rental market.

Neither the 48-unit proposal on Ocean Street nor the 28-unit proposal for Sunset Avenue made it out of the planning stage. Neighbors raised concerns about the size of both projects and their impacts on traffic, parking, pedestrian safety and overall quality of life.

The church property has been on the market for more than four years, since the church closed in September 2013 and the parish merged with Holy Cross Church on Cottage Road.

Several councilors remarked that if the same housing project were proposed to replace a nearby motel with troublesome clientele, they would support it whole-heartedly.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

Twitter: KelleyBouchard

]]> 0, 14 Feb 2018 10:18:12 +0000
Signs of returning inflation have investors concerned Wed, 14 Feb 2018 02:03:43 +0000 WASHINGTON — After nearly a decade of being all but invisible, inflation – or the fear of it – is back.

Tentative signs have emerged that prices could accelerate in coming months. Pay raises may be picking up a bit. Commodities such as oil and aluminum have grown more expensive. Cellphone plans are likely to appear costlier.

The specter of high inflation has spooked many investors, who worry it would force up interest rates, making it costlier for consumers and businesses to borrow and weighing down corporate profits and ultimately the economy. Historically, fear of high inflation has led the Federal Reserve to step up its short-term interest rate increases.

It’s a big reason investors have dumped stocks and bonds in the past two weeks.

Yet for all the market turmoil, inflation for now remains quite low: Prices, excluding the volatile food and energy categories, have risen just 1.7 percent in the past year. That’s below the Fed’s target of 2 percent annual inflation.

Most economists expect inflation to edge up and end the year a few tenths of a percentage point above the Fed’s target. But most foresee only minimal effect on the economy.

“I don’t think that’s a huge tragedy,” said Mark Vitner, an economist at Wells Fargo Securities.

Inflation, though, is hard to forecast. One widely followed gauge is the government’s monthly report on consumer price inflation. The January CPI report will come out Wednesday.

Here are some ways to track the direction of inflation in the coming months:


Roughly a year ago, major wireless carriers like Verizon and AT&T began offering unlimited wireless data plans. This enabled their customers to watch more video, stream more music and trade more photos. It also lowered inflation.

That’s because government statisticians don’t simply review price changes when they calculate inflation. They also try to measure what consumers actually receive for what they pay. Because unlimited data plans are a better deal, they in effect lowered the overall cost of wireless phone services. Many economists cited this as a reason inflation slowed last year even as the unemployment rate fell.

Still, the cellphone plans were a one-time change. In March, their impact will pass from the government’s year-over-year inflation calculations. Most analysts expect this change to boost that month’s inflation estimate.


There are tantalizing early signs that many employers, grappling with low unemployment and a shortage of workers, are finally raising pay to attract and keep more workers. Average hourly pay rose 2.9 percent in January from a year earlier, the sharpest year-over-year increase in eight years. A separate quarterly measure from the Labor Department showed that wages and salaries in the final three months of last year grew at the fastest pace in almost three years.

In theory, higher pay can lead to inflation: Companies raise prices to offset their higher wage bill.

But it doesn’t always work that way. Pay climbed at a 4 percent annual clip in the late 1990s, for example, and yet core inflation barely rose. It edged up to about 2.6 percent from 2.3 percent.

Companies can choose to eat the extra cost and report lower profits. They could also use the proceeds from last year’s tax cut to pay higher wages even while keeping prices in check.


Another factor that may keep wages low and limit inflation is that plenty of workers are still available overseas. Companies could shift work abroad if pay gets too high.

And there may be more people in the United States available to fill jobs than the low 4.1 percent unemployment rate would suggest. The proportion of Americans who have jobs still hasn’t returned to its pre-recession peak.


Whether consumers expect inflation to accelerate or stay the same can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once consumers’ inflation expectations pick up, they typically demand higher pay, which can lead companies to raise prices to cover the costs.

That makes expectations of inflation an important gauge to watch. And yet such expectations have changed little this year, which could keep inflation in check.

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, consumers think inflation will be about 2.7 percent a year from now. Last April, consumers expected inflation to be 2.8 percent in a year.


As millennials flooded cities and postponed home purchases, rents soared from Seattle to New York. Yet builders also constructed thousands of new high-rises. And there are signs that rents are leveling off. More young people are also starting to buy homes, which lowers demand for rental apartments.

This could help lower inflation over time. In December, rents rose 3.7 percent from a year earlier. While that’s faster than paychecks are rising – squeezing many renters – it is still below the recent peak of 4 percent, reached in December 2016. That was the highest in nearly a decade.

]]> 0 Tacconelli aerates sheets of dollar bills on Nov. 15, 2017. Most economists expect inflation to edge up and end the year a few tenths of a percentage point above the Federal Reserve's target.Tue, 13 Feb 2018 21:43:16 +0000
Fast-food is for lovers: Popular chains offer Valentine’s Day deals Wed, 14 Feb 2018 02:03:18 +0000 NEW YORK — Is that love in the air or french fries? White Castle, KFC and other fast-food restaurants are trying to lure sweethearts for Valentine’s Day.

It’s an attempt to capture a bit of the $3.7 billion that the National Retail Federation expects Americans to spend on a night out for the holiday.

Restaurant analyst John Gordon at Pacific Management Consulting Group says it appeals to people who don’t want to splurge on a pricier restaurant. And some customers enjoy it ironically.

White Castle, which has been offering Valentine’s Day reservations for nearly 30 years, expects to surpass the 28,000 people it served last year. Diners at the chain known for its sliders get tableside service and can sip on its limited chocolate and strawberry smoothie. KFC is handing out scratch-and-sniff Valentine’s Day cards that give off a fried chicken aroma to diners who buy its $10 Chicken Share meals or a bucket full of Popcorn Nuggets.

Panera Bread wants couples to get engaged at its cafes; those who do can win food for their wedding from the soup and bread chain.

And Wingstop sold out of its $25 Valentine’s Day kit, which came with a gift card and a heart-shaped box to fill with chicken wings. The company says 1,000 of the kits were gone in 72 hours.

]]> 0 Valentine's Day, KFC is handing out scratch-and-sniff cards to diners who buy its $10 Chicken Share meals.Tue, 13 Feb 2018 21:12:52 +0000
LePage says he has delivered what he promised to Maine, but some see it differently Wed, 14 Feb 2018 02:00:44 +0000 AUGUSTA — In his final year as governor, Republican Paul LePage has reflected often on what he has and has not done.

This week, he told the Associated Press, “Of the things I’ve campaigned on, I would say I’m the only governor that’s ever done what he said he’s going to do.”

Not surprisingly, some would disagree, including at times the governor himself. But even some of his foes acknowledge there is some truth to the claim.

Democrat Diane Russell, a former state representative who hopes to succeed LePage, said the governor “has achieved much of what he campaigned on – and that’s the problem.”

Few would argue that LePage has not tried to cut taxes, restore fiscal stability, reduce regulation and generally pare the size and scope of state government. He has done better in some areas than others.

As recently as December, LePage said he “tried so hard” on some key issues – energy, taxes and regulation – but fell short of what he wanted to do.

Sen. Eric Brakey, an Auburn Republican who is running for the U.S. Senate, said LePage “has provided for Maine what is sadly so often lacking in elected official across the country: straight talk and principled leadership.”

“Even his detractors concede that he is man of his word,” Brakey said. “He stands in rare company, and I am proud to call him a friend.”

But others say LePage’s words are just part of the picture.

“Like most politicians, Gov. LePage tends to pick and choose facts carefully. No one knows what many of our past governors have promised, nor what they have succeeded in delivering, so no one can fact check the governor on that,” said L. Sandy Maisel, a government professor at Colby College in Waterville.

Besides, Maisel said, no governor can “do on a whim all that he would like.”

That said, “no one should be surprised by some of the directions he has taken. He promised a socially conservative, pro-business, anti-those-with-needs-that-the-state-is-serving administration, and he has delivered that,” Maisel said.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Adam Cote said the governor has not delivered on all of his promises.

“The fundamental promise Gov. LePage made repeatedly to Maine people was, ‘I am a job creator who knows how to grow Maine’s economy.’ ” Cote said. “All personality points aside, the fundamental fact, seven-plus years later, is he has not gotten the job done.

“Maine lags New England and the country when it comes to job, income and economic growth. And rural Maine has been hit the hardest.”

Sen. Mark Dion, a Portland Democrat running for governor, said LePage’s claims that he is the only governor to accomplish what he promised does not stand up to scrutiny.

“As governor, Paul LePage has not kept his word, and has often done the opposite of his own stated goals,” Dion said.

Dion cited LePage issuing bonds that he once challenged, and not delivering on a repeated pledge to oversee “the most-transparent” administration in Maine’s history.

“He routinely denies public information to legislative committees, and refuses to let his commissioners meet with lawmakers to discuss their budget requests,” Dion said. “The people’s representatives don’t have access to the basic information needed to do their jobs.”

Betsy Sweet, another Democrat running for LePage’s job, said that “for the things that the governor believes he has accomplished, he has done so by tearing at the very fabric of democracy,” and eroding the faith people have in democracy.

“He has insisted that it be his way or the highway, and has done so by name-calling, overturning the will of the voters, refusing to allow his commissioners to participate in the democratic process and berating the Legislature,” Sweet said.

Garrett Murch, communications and political director for the Maine Republican Party said LePage has done what he said he’d do.

“Many people don’t like our governor and take cheap shots at him, but that doesn’t change the plain fact he didn’t just talk the talk, he walked the walk,” Murch said. “Whether it was reforming welfare to spend limited resources on those in need, defending the Second Amendment, reducing Mainers’ tax burdens or eliminating harmful government regulations, Gov. LePage fought hard for the policy platform he ran on and, amazingly, he achieved much of it, even as some of it was obstructed by Democrats.”

“In modern Maine history, which governors have delivered more on their campaign promises?”

Promises kept or not, LePage has not done his job, many Democrats say.

Sweet said that LePage will not talk “about the things he didn’t campaign on,” such as leaving Maine with “increased child poverty and hunger, a stalled economy with the lowest growth rate in New England and more people uninsured than before.”

Russell agreed, saying: “While he’s been busy pushing Mainers into poverty, I’ve been building a cannabis economy that’s created hundreds of new jobs, and working to change the election system to put power back into the hands of the people.

“But, yeah, congratulations to LePage on his legacy of bankrupting the economy.”

]]> 0, 13 Feb 2018 23:15:40 +0000
Amazon gains momentum in medical supply business Wed, 14 Feb 2018 01:07:02 +0000 Amazon has been growing its medical supply business – selling gloves, syringes and other health-care sundries to dentists, doctors and hospitals – in an early sign of its efforts to enter the health care industry.

Unlike Amazon’s secretive plans to shake up the prescription drug industry, or its initiative to develop technology tools to rein in health costs for its own employees, Amazon hasn’t hid this effort. In an earnings call in October, an executive mentioned hospitals first on a laundry list of institutions that it was targeting with its Amazon Business offering, along with schools, labs and government agencies.

On Tuesday, the stocks for companies that distribute medical supplies tumbled after the Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon has been holding meetings with hospital executives to learn more about the needs of the industry.

Brian Tanquilut, an equity analyst at the investment firm Jefferies, said Amazon’s play to sell commodity medical supplies, such as medical gowns and masks, has been going on for some time. It is seen as a good entry point to health care because it doesn’t involve complex regulatory approvals; many states don’t require a license at all. Amazon has been particularly aggressive, he said, in courting dentists, setting up booths at dental conferences.

“They see health care as a very big market; it’s one of the growth markets in the economy that they do not have a toehold in. They look at areas where it’s relatively easy to get into without high-level government level scrutiny, and this is kind of the low-hanging fruit, in health care entry,” Tanquilut said.

An Amazon spokeswoman did not answer questions about how much of its business marketplace sales include medical products, but there are 1 million users of Amazon Business across many industries and 85,000 sellers.

Phyllis McCready, chief procurement officer at Northwell Health, a large New York-based health system with 23 hospitals and more than 650 outpatient facilities, said Amazon has reached out to hospitals like hers, which isn’t unusual when companies enter a new market.

McCready oversees an 850,000 square-foot medical supply distribution center for a health system that purchases $650 million in medical and surgical supplies each year. She said Northwell contracts directly with manufacturers and, to a lesser extent, distributors.

The big advantage of directly negotiating with manufacturers is the full visibility McCready gets into where a product was made and where it has been – essential information for tools involved in patient care.

“The chain of custody – the pedigree of where it starts, where it ends up. Quality is number one. To have quality products, we have to make sure they’re coming from the right places,” McCready said.

That issue may be far less important in Amazon’s consumer business, where people may be satisfied with products based largely on their prices, and may not question where a product was made or how it arrived.

Tanquilut said that some medical supply distributors, particularly those that don’t have a second line of business distributing drugs, have been under pressure from increased competition. Owens & Minor, Cardinal Health, McKesson and Medline Industries are other competitors in the space.

For physician practices, Amazon might be able to provide faster turnaround when there is an immediate need for supplies, Tanquilut said. He said his research suggests the tech giant was processing medical supplies at an Amazon facility in Indiana where consumer goods are sent out the same day they are ordered.

]]> 0 new Amazon Fulfillment Center is seen in Sacramento, Calif. Amazon Business has been targeting hospitals with its offering of gloves, masks, and other health-related supplies.Tue, 13 Feb 2018 20:39:43 +0000
Paul Mitchell, lifelong Waterville resident and older brother of Sen. George Mitchell, dies at 92 Wed, 14 Feb 2018 00:50:58 +0000 WATERVILLE — Paul J. Mitchell, longtime Waterville resident, business owner, city alderman and planning board member, and oldest brother of former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell died Sunday. He was 92.

Friends and city officials Tuesday praised Mitchell for his community service over many years.

“One of the great pleasures I’ve had since becoming mayor was the chance to know Paul,” said Mayor Nick Isgro. “In both his professional life as well as his many years given to public service, Paul defined community leadership and what it means to give back. As a testimony to his life, his children continue that legacy here today. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Mitchell family at this time of great loss.”

Mitchell was named Citizen of the Year by the city of Waterville in 2017.

Mitchell owned and was president of GHM Insurance Agency on Main Street with his son, Bill, for many years. As executive director of the Waterville Urban Renewal Authority from 1966 to 1978, Mitchell headed up an effort in the city that saw buildings torn down to make way for The Concourse and the razing of houses along the river at Head of Falls.

Bill Mitchell sent out an email from GHM to friends Tuesday morning, notifying them of his father’s death.

“It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that I tell you that my father, Paul Mitchell, passed away peacefully on Sunday. My father was a great man who was strongly committed to his family, his business and his community. I will miss him deeply as I know many of you will, too. I want to thank all of you who have supported my father throughout his life. It is very much appreciated.”

Bill Mitchell said later Tuesday in a phone interview that his father had not been feeling well lately and died in his sleep at 2:45 p.m. Sunday at Lakewood Continuing Care Center in Waterville. His son described him as a very happy man who lived life to the fullest.

“I consider myself very fortunate to have had such a great father who was a mentor to me in so many ways,” Bill Mitchell said.

Bill Mitchell said he has received a steady flow of phone calls, emails and text messages from people all over the country since Sunday saying how well-loved his father was. One message said, “I treasured your dad’s friendship for over 64 years.”

Waterville City Manager Michael Roy said Tuesday that Paul Mitchell personified what it means to have community spirit.

“From his early days working with the Urban Renewal Authority to his time on the Planning Board 45 years later, Paul did what he could to make Waterville a great city,” Roy said. “He loved Waterville and will be greatly missed.”

Paul Mitchell grew up in Waterville and graduated in 1944 from Waterville High School where he played football, basketball and baseball and was a member of the famous 1944 basketball team that went undefeated and won the New England Schoolboy Basketball Championship.

He served in the U.S. Navy, was assigned to Bates College and the University of Iowa as a cadet in the Navy’s V-12 flight training program, and later completed his education at University of Maine where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1949, according to his obituary. He earned a master’s from Columbia University in 1950.

In addition to his son Bill, he is survived by his wife, Yvette, to whom he was married 68 years, and children, Paul J. Mitchell Jr., Linda Mitchell Price and Jeffrey D. Mitchell. In addition to his brother, George Mitchell, he also is survived by his brother John “Swisher” Mitchell and sister, Barbara Atkins, both of Waterville. His brother, Robert, died previously.

Waterville City Planner Ann Beverage, who worked with Paul Mitchell during his more than 20 years on the Planning Board, said Tuesday that “he was a sweetheart.”

“He was always a joy to work with and always the voice of reason,” Beverage said. “When the board was not in session, he liked to talk about his family and how proud he was of them.”

She said she enjoyed sitting with Mitchell at Waterville Rotary Club meetings, which he attended regularly until about the time he resigned from the Planning Board in 2013.

“He was a Rotarian for many, many years,” she said.

He also served on the Waterville Sewerage District.

Ken Walsh, chief executive officer of the Alfond Youth Center, which comprises the Waterville Area Boys & Girls Club and YMCA, said Paul Mitchell was a longtime board member and supporter.

Last summer, Paul Mitchell attended a celebration for the opening of Purnell Wrigley Field in Waterville, where the third base side dugout was named after Mitchell, a baseball fanatic, according to Walsh.

“He lived a great life,” he said. “He was a community leader who cared about his family. He really wanted to see Waterville succeed. Obviously, his background was economic development and he played many different roles. He was a part of the fabric of the community in many different ways.”

Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at Saint Joseph Maronite Catholic Church on Front Street. Visiting hours are 4-7 p.m. Thursday at the church.

Amy Calder can be contacted at 861-9247 or at:

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

]]> 0 Mitchell greets people after being introduced during the dedication of Purnell Wrigley Field in Waterville on April 29, 2017. The third base side dugout is named after him.Tue, 13 Feb 2018 21:16:14 +0000
Apple evasive on size of dividend increase expected in April Wed, 14 Feb 2018 00:26:02 +0000 CUPERTINO, Calif. — Apple’s next big thing will likely be a large dividend increase financed by a tax cut on its overseas profits, but the famously secretive company isn’t giving any clues about how big it might be.

CEO Tim Cook had an opportunity to address the issue Tuesday at Apple’s annual meeting, when a shareholder asked if the iPhone maker might double its current quarterly dividend of 63 cents per share.

Not surprisingly, Cook dodged the question, rising from his seat because he said it suddenly felt “a little hot.” He all but guaranteed that Apple’s board will raise the dividend in April, as it has done each year since the company reinstated the shareholder payments in 2012. But didn’t giving any other specifics.

Apple’s annual dividend increases have ranged from 8 percent to 15 percent since the payment was reinstated at a split-adjusted 38 cents per share nearly six years ago.

Cook dismissed the possibility of a one-time payment known as a special dividend, saying he didn’t think that form of distribution “really helps the company or shareholders.”

Before fielding eight shareholder questions during the 75-minute meeting, Cook also disclosed that Apple’s music streaming service now has 36 million subscribers as it nears the third anniversary of its debut. Spotify, the music streaming pioneer that Apple is trying to upstage, has more than 70 million subscribers.

Apple is hoping to gain more ground on Spotify with an internet-connected speaker called the HomePod. The device is being touted as a high-fidelity speaker that can also serve as a digital disc jockey that learns listeners’ tastes so it can automatically play songs that they will like from Apple’s vast music-streaming library.

Investors have been anticipating a substantial increase in Apple’s dividend since the company announced plans to take advantage of a temporary tax break championed by President Trump to bring an estimated $245 billion in overseas cash back to the U.S. That represents most of the $285 billion in cash that Apple held at the end of last year.

The hopes for a large dividend increase and a coinciding commitment to buy back large amounts of Apple stock has helped buoy the company’s shares. That despite a disappointing revenue forecast for the current quarter ending in March that stoked concerns about waning demand for the company’s marquee product, the iPhone X.

None of the shareholders at the meeting pressed Cook about how the iPhone X is faring or about Apple’s handling of software updates that secretly slowed down older iPhones, triggering customer complaints and government inquiries inside and outside the U.S.

The sweeping tax reforms passed by Congress in late December included a provision lowering the rate on companies’ overseas cash to 15.5 percent, below the 21 percent paid on profits made in the U.S. Before those changes, corporate profits held outside the U.S. were taxed at a 35 percent rate when brought back into the country.

]]> 0 - In this April 30, 2015, file photo, Apple CEO Tim Cook responds to a question during a news conference at IBM Watson headquarters, in New York. CEOs of major companies are taking stands about the results of the November 2016 U.S. election, a departure from the traditional model of not mixing politics with business that the major brands have long espoused. Cook is telling his employees to "keep moving forward." (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)Tue, 13 Feb 2018 20:43:55 +0000
Investors look to bring new technology, jobs to closed mill Tue, 13 Feb 2018 23:46:04 +0000 MILLINOCKET — A group from North Carolina says it will bring more than 100 jobs to Maine by developing part of a shuttered mill 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. Independent Sen. Angus King and Republican Sen. Susan Collins say the move will bring new technology to Maine’s longstanding, but struggling timber sector.

]]> 0 Wed, 14 Feb 2018 00:17:07 +0000
New Fed chair Jerome Powell vows to stay alert to economic risks Tue, 13 Feb 2018 23:42:37 +0000 WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Tuesday that the global economy is recovering strongly for the first time in a decade, but the central bank needs to remain alert to any emerging risks to financial stability.

In brief remarks during a ceremonial swearing-in, Powell said the central bank is in the process of “gradually” raising interest rates and trimming its massive holdings of Treasury bonds.

He said the Fed is seeking to normalize its policies in a way that will extend the recovery and bolster its goals of achieving stable inflation and maximum employment.

“We will remain alert to any developing risks to financial stability,” Powell said in his only reference to the wild swings in the past two weeks in financial markets.

Powell made the comments during a ceremonial swearing-in event witnessed by Fed staffers and members of his family gathered in the giant atrium of its headquarters building in Washington.

Powell took the oath of office the first time on Feb. 5 when he succeeded Janet Yellen as Fed chairman. The Fed released a brief pre-recorded video message at that time in which Powell pledged to remain “vigilant” to any emerging economic risks.

But the video message and Tuesday’s comments made no specific reference to the recent wild market gyrations. Analysts have said the increased volatility could reflect rising fears in markets that inflation will soon become a bigger threat, prompting the Fed to accelerate the pace of its rate hikes.

Powell is certain to face questions on how the Fed plans to deal with the market turmoil when he delivers the central bank’s semi-annual monetary report to Congress on Feb. 28.

In his comments Tuesday, Powell said the central bank had made “great progress” in moving closer to its goals of maximum employment and stable prices, as well as creating a financial system that is “incomparably stronger and safer, with much higher capital and liquidity, better risk management and other improvements” since the 2008 financial crisis.

“Much credit for these results should go to Chairman (Ben) Bernanke and Chair Yellen. I am grateful for their leadership and for their example and advice as colleagues,” Powell said, saluting his two predecessors.

Powell was tapped by President Donald Trump to succeed Yellen, who has said she was disappointed that Trump did not offer her a second term.

In his remarks, Powell said that the Fed has been a leader over the past 25 years in improving transparency to give the public a better understanding of the decisions it has made in managing the economy.

“We will continue to pursue ways to improve transparency both in monetary policy and in regulation,” Powell said.

]]> 0 Senate Banking Committee has scheduled Federal Reserve board member Jerome Powell's confirmation hearing as next chair of the Federal Reserve for Tuesday.Tue, 13 Feb 2018 20:52:33 +0000
Owners of hybrids, all-electric vehicles fume over proposal to assess annual fee Tue, 13 Feb 2018 23:25:14 +0000 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.

“This bill purports to ensure equity. It is in the title,” said Dan Townsend of Whitefield. “That claim is laughable. It selectively penalizes a group of socially conscious Maine consumers for their choice of vehicle. It should be roundly rejected.”

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.

The bill is supposed to be a starting point for discussion, said Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt. There are more electric and hybrid vehicles on the road every year, a trend that will continue as car companies introduce more all-electric models, including heavy trucks, he said.

“The state needs to be able to collect revenue from these gas-independent vehicles,” Bernhardt said. “This is not meant to be a punishment.”


However, vehicle owners and environmentalists argued that the proposed fees were grossly out-of-scale and urged lawmakers to find new ways to fund highway maintenance.

Roughly 20 people spoke against the bill. Several noted that hybrid cars use gasoline at least part of the time, so owners already pay into the highway fund through the gas tax.

The average Mainer pays about $82 in gas tax annually, said Andrea Maker, a lobbyist for the Alliance of Auto Manufacturers, a national trade group.

“The most the state should reasonably charge is $80 a year,” she said.

There are about 19,000 hybrid cars and 410 electric vehicles in Maine, or about 3 percent of all passenger vehicles registered in the state, according to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. If a fee was imposed on all those vehicles, it could bring in about $2.9 million a year.

The state’s highway fund is underfunded by about $160 million a year, and the MDOT has borrowed hundreds of millions through state bonds in recent years to make up most of the shortfall.

Arnie Hoffman of Biddeford echoed other drivers when he said he bought his hybrid to reduce vehicle emissions and reduce his reliance on fossil fuels. Adding a heavy tax on the vehicle would create a disincentive for more people to buy fuel-saving cars, he said.

“Why not pass a bill that assesses an additional tax based on miles driven by each vehicle, rather than slapping a regressive tax on energy-conserving vehicles?” he asked.


Many speakers called for similar changes to the way the state collects revenue for its highways, arguing that fees based on weight and annual mileage were more equitable and effective.

The state’s 30 cents-per-gallon gas tax hasn’t changed since 2011, and is not indexed to the inflation rate. The 18-cent federal gas tax hasn’t increased since 1993.

“I recognize Maine is facing a deficit in transportation funding,” said Emily Green, a staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation. “Saddling owners of electric and hybrid vehicles with disproportionate fees that exceed what they would otherwise be paying is unfair and doesn’t get to the root of the problem – stagnant gas taxes while all cars are getting more efficient.”

The LePage administration is adamant that it will not consider increasing the gas tax, Bernhardt said.

Only the Associated General Contractors of Maine and the Maine Better Transportation Association joined Bernhardt and Rep. Wayne Parry, R-Arundel, the bill’s sponsor, to testify in favor of the bill. Both groups hedged their endorsement by asking that it be included as part of a comprehensive highway funding package that included road use fees on fuel-efficient vehicles, a seasonally adjusted gas tax and other solutions.

Another bill, from Rep. Andrew McLean, D-Gorham, would increase the state gas tax by 7 cents per gallon, impose fees on electric and hybrid vehicles, raise registration fees and reallocate sales tax to the highway fund.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

]]> 0 Maine DOT is proposing a $250 annual fee on all-electric cars, like this Nissan Leaf owned by the city of South Portland, and on gas-electric hybrids. A letter writer wonders if the fossil fuel industry is behind the idea.Wed, 14 Feb 2018 13:33:20 +0000