Lewiston-Auburn's Top 10 business stories of 2017

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Around western Maine and the Twin Cities, business has been good over the past year.

From new investments to a new chamber president and a new use for an old landmark, we take a look at the Top 10 local business stories of 2017:

Lewiston welcomes food trucks

Reversing a longtime policy, Lewiston city councilors approved a new food truck ordinance in mid-August, joining Portland and other communties in welcoming them to town.

No new trucks took out licenses with the city last fall to park and serve, but that may change in 2018, according to Misty Parker, the city’s economic development specialist who worked on the proposal.

“We were only able to get out on the streets a couple times because the ordinance change was so late in the season,” said Randy Smith, owner of Pinky D’s all-poutine food truck out of Lisbon Falls. “We do plan on being on the street more in the upcoming year. I know there is chatter about others starting trucks in the upcoming year.”

Dishwasher does good

David Gervais has spent almost 40 years at Bates College working in the kitchens. He has also spent the last nine years on a fundraising tear for the Dempsey Center to support cancer patients and their families.

Gervais has raised more than $107,000 — $19,085 in the last challenge — through nearly year-round hustle and a regular, sizable donation from Butler Bros. in Lewiston.

The Dempsey Challenge continues to pull in huge numbers: 1,039 volunteers, 3,531 participants from 37 states and nine countries and $1.2 million raised at the October 2017 challenge, according to end-of-event figures.

L.L.Bean doubles in size

L.L.Bean moved to new quarters on Lexington Street this year, doubling the size of its factory space in Lewiston and investing $1 million in a new molding machine for boot bottoms. (Lewiston has two of the machines to make the bottoms of the company’s iconic boots; a factory in Brunswick has the other.)

The Lewiston location currently employs 100 people working in three shifts, making footwear and home goods and assembling bikes and skis.

“Since its opening, everything has run swimmingly and we are more than pleased with our new location,” said spokesman Mac McKeever. “As we continue on our record-setting pace for Bean boot production, the facility is in full swing, busy making boots for the holiday and winter season.”

Auburn says yes to ‘food sovereignty,’ and so does Maine

More than 20 cities and towns around Maine, Auburn being the largest among them, have passed ordinances allowing farmers and processors sell directly to customers in certain face-to-face sales, letting customers get to know their farmers and letting farmers skip the hassle and expense of inspections.

On Nov. 1, Gov. Paul LePage tweaked Maine law to affirm those ordinances without running afoul of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which wanted to make sure Maine still required meat and poultry inspections.

Energizing Lewiston?

It’s an intriguing “what if” — Central Maine Power Co. announced earlier this year that a clean-energy bid it submitted to the commonwealth of Massachusetts to channel power down from Hydro-Québec would trigger a $250 million investment in a power-converter station in Lewiston.

More than 40 bids have been submitted and Massachusetts is set to start picking winners in January. If awarded, the project would still face local approvals — and a little more light would be shed on the tax impact to the city.

Top Gun L-A and 120,000 reasons to celebrate

Top Gun L-A, part of an 8-year-old, statewide entrepreneurial effort that only this year came to the Twin Cities, graduated its first class of up-and-coming business people last spring.

At the final statewide pitch-off, Grojo Inc., a new company out of Turner that is developing indoor-growing technology, walked away with a $120,000 prize from Microsoft BizSpark. The next class begins in January.

Scott Benson at the Lewiston Auburn Economic Growth Council said online applications head straight to the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development so he is not sure how many local businesses have applied to be part of the second session.

“I can tell you that I have had some good discussions with companies in the health care/wellness, agricultural and business services sectors, and I anticipate they will be applying,” Bensen said.

New leadership

The Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce started the year with a new president, Beckie Conrad, after the abrupt departure of the former president. It seemed to signal a more politically active chamber, with the board even taking a position on the question of whether to merge the cities.

Also new: Calling members “investors,” a nod to them investing in the chamber and its work.

Conrad said that witnessing downtown revitalization, manufacturing’s continued growth and and young professionals excited to live here reaffirmed her decision to take on the role, which has brought her back to the local business scene after being away 12 years.

“It was the right thing to do: To come back, get back in the trenches and be part of it,” she said.

Ready … Set … Speculate

As the state decides what retail recreational marijuana establishments will look like – and when that market will open for business – people were busy snapping up real estate in the first half of 2017 for growing operations, including the former Cascades Auburn Fiber and the former Town & Country Foods in Greene.

The market did not just cool. It came to a “screeching halt” the second half of the year, according to Justin Lamontagne, a partner/broker at NAI The Dunham Group in Portland.

“Demand and interest remains high, but no one can consummate a deal with all the unknowns,” Lamontagne said. “We are all anxious for some formal direction on recreational rules and regulations.”

Affordable housing for the win

The year saw the opening of the Pierce Place complex in Lewiston, with 29 new affordable-housing units and the groundbreaking of the new 62 Spring St. development in Auburn, set to open with 41 mixed-income units in 2018.

It also saw the 63-unit, mixed-income Hartley Block project in downtown Lewiston take shape.

“We did not yet break ground, but it looks like it’s certain in January,” said Amy Cullen, development officer at The Szanton Co. “We expect a 14-month construction schedule, so opening in March 2019.”

New life for a landmark

Traci and Tony Austin took a building that could have been lost to time and turned it into a new eatery – and that takes “Moxie.”

They bought the Kennebec Fruit Co. building, also known as the Moxie store, in Lisbon from Frank Anicetti last winter, and brought it back to life this year with Frank’s Restaurant & Pub.

The inside is filled with nods to local history, including pictures of the late Anicetti. There is still, of course, Moxie on the menu, including classic Moxie floats.

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Jennifer Black of Sabattus uses a trimming machine while manufacturing a pair of Bean Boots at the L.L.Bean facility in Lewiston, shortly after its grand opening. The facility is up to 100 employees working three shifts. (Sun Journal file photo)

More food trucks may join Pinky D’s on Lewiston’s streets next year after the city passed an ordinance in mid-August welcoming food trucks. (Sun Journal file photo)

Traci Austin and her husband, Tony, bought the former Kennebec Fruit Co. building in Lisbon in early 2017 and renovated it into Frank’s Restaurant & Pub. It is named after the late Frank Anicetti, “Mr. Moxie.” (Sun Journal file photo)

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