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Retail Sector Emerges Modestly Triumphant In Flat Maine Economy

Portland Maine

by Kristen Cloud/staff writer

Though the Maine economy remains flat, as it has for the last several years, there is a bright spot, albeit dimmer than most would like, and it’s in retail.

According to Charles S. Colgan, professor of public policy and management for the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, “from the trough quarter to the end of (2012’s third quarter), Maine has exceeded U.S. in employment growth…in retail.”

The state’s unemployment rate, at 7.2 percent, is lower than the national average of 7.7 percent—thanks in part to the retail sector. The housing markets also point to more growth in 2013, and Colgan forecasts the upcoming year to “be at least consistently positive, with a strong recovery in 2014.” However, as Colgan reports in the fall 2012 Maine Economic Outlook for the New England Economic Partnership (NEEP), Maine is suffering because the state is not well positioned in the industries that are recovering employment in the U.S.

“(The state) has lagged in every other sector (besides retail), and particularly troubling are the performance of the manu­facturing and professional and business services sectors,” Colgan says in the report. “Manufacturing employment has grown by 1.9 percent in the U.S. relative to the trough, but in Maine after some quarters of modest growth, has dropped even below the worst quarter of the recession period by an ­additional 3.3 percent.”

Colgan also mentions the recent closure of the Hostess ­bakery in Biddeford that resulted from the Irving, Texas-based company’s bankruptcy and liquidation. The damage: at least 500 direct job losses and “perhaps 600-700 total,” according to Colgan.

“While the forecast is for manufacturing to add jobs in manufacturing once the recovery gets seriously under way, which is actually a very unusual event for Maine where manufacturing now employs less than half the people it did 40 years ago, the manufacturing sector is very unlikely to return to pre-recession employment levels,” Colgan says.

The bottom line, according to Colgan: …the Pine Tree State is not the most vulnerable of the states “but is still vulnerable disproportionate to its size.”

 Market Basket to open first Maine store in 2013

The Market Basket grocery chain, owned by DSM Inc., plans to open its first Maine store later this year.

The Portland Press Herald reports that the Tewksbury, Mass.-based operator, with 69 stores in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, will enter the Maine market as part of an $11 million redevelopment of the former Lowe’s site at the Shops at Biddeford Crossing in Biddeford. The chain’s closest location to Maine currently is in Portsmouth, N.H. The new store is ­expected to open in summer or early fall, based on published reports.

In Biddeford, Market Basket will face competition

from ­existing grocery ­retailers Hannaford Supermarkets and Shaw’s Supermarkets Inc., as well as Walmart and Target, the Press Herald reports. Market Basket is the latest chain grocery to enter Maine, following the arrival of Trader Joe’s in 2010.

DSM, the newspaper says, plans to tear down the former garden center portion of the Lowe’s building, then renovate and expand the existing building to include a 107,000-s.f. grocery store, as well as additional retail space and parking.

The $11 million project is being financed through RMD Inc., the retail development arm of DSM. In the past three years, RMD has completed projects totaling $100 million without funding from a lending institution, the paper reports.

Lowe’s shut its Biddeford and Ellsworth locations in 2011 as part of an effort to close 20 underperforming stores in 15 markets.

For more information about Market Basket, visit ­www.mydemoulas.net.

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