This week, the Buzz is good.

Don’t Panic Consulting is kicking off 2017 with a move from a fourth-floor office at the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council’s Lisbon Street headquarters to inking a lease for half of LAEGC’s second floor.

Kevin Fletcher at Malone Commercial Brokers helped broker the deal on 2,956 square feet at 415 Lisbon St.

According to owner and CEO Justin Donnaruma, Don’t Panic isn’t stopping there.

“We’re looking to expand that to the full space, but that’s still tentative,” Donnaruma said Tuesday. “We’re actually having a conversation about that this week. By the end of January, early February, we’re looking at (hiring) three or four more people.”

Last summer, the young company had seven employees. Now at nine employees, Don’t Panic offers a variety of services. He said technology and marketing consulting have seen the biggest growth in recent months.

“We’ve been having to move much faster on things than we were originally anticipating; we weren’t planning on leaving the fourth floor for another six months or so,” Donnaruma said. “There’s four companies looking at using our services in Florida. There’s three in Maine. There’s another two or three that are tentative. We’ve got a couple of big contracts that we’re looking at trying to land on the federal level. It’s kind of like everything kind of blew up. Totally head-swimming. We’ll ride the wave as it comes and go from there.”

Housing coming to town

Continuing the good news: More than three years after its conception, the 41-unit, $7.7 million housing project planned for 62 Spring St. in Auburn looks like it will break ground in late spring.

“That would put us on target for completion in the early part of 2018,” said developer Ethan Boxer-Macomber from Anew Local Community Development in Portland.

The project received vital MaineHousing tax credits at the end of 2016.

The units, which will sit above a 2,400-square-foot retail space, will feature mostly 1- and 2-bedroom apartments. Nine will rent for full market rate; 32 will have some subsidies.

“It’s not Section 8 housing; it’s more of what we commonly call workforce housing,” Boxer-Macomber said. “This project is pretty unique and exciting in a special way in that part of the last century was pretty unkind to American cities and left us with kind of a legacy of barren parking lots and shabby buildings, so Auburn Housing and I are really excited to move this project forward. We hope to be infusing some new energy into downtown Auburn. That, to me, is one of the most exciting things about what’s happening.” 

He expects a waiting list to start later this year.

Lewiston’s on the vend

After an out-of-state company approached the owners of Casco Bay Vending, Pine State Vending and Canteen of Maine about selling their three vending machine businesses last summer, all three said no.

They weren’t looking to sell. Then, the three owners got talking.

On Tuesday, Lewiston-based Casco Bay Vending announced it bought Pine State and Canteen in a move Casco Bay President Ted Morton described in a news release as driven by a desire to keep the business in Maine.

Pine State Vending and Canteen of Maine were both third-generation, family-owned companies. Casco Bay Vending was founded by Morton in 2008. Employees kept their jobs in the sale, growing Casco Bay’s ranks to 120-plus workers, according to the release.

Leadership news

Going full circle back to LAEGC — that group has a new interim leader. 

Its board announced Tuesday that Stephanie A. Lewis of Auburn, vice president and chief financial officer for the past year, will become interim president, succeeding John Holden who left in November. Lewis has been at LAEGC for 17 years.

“We may be two cities on the map, but we are one economy and we should be working together to grow it,” she said in a news release. “Cooperation and collaboration is the case we’re going to make to our partners in the public and private sectors. We’re going to confirm that LAEGC is the right vehicle for this collaboration with its distinctive focus on marketing Lewiston-Auburn outside of the region for business attraction and within the region to encourage business expansion.”

LAEGC has been under financial pressure since the city of Auburn cut off funding this past summer. Board President Beckie Conrad said in an interview that the search for a permanent new president will be put off until the group’s budget is more certain.

“We’re going to spend the next two to three months really thinking through the whole organization,” Conrad said.

That includes assessing the mission and the future.

One bright spot: Several private businesses stepped up to offer LAEGC funding in December. She declined to name them or to reveal the amount they’ve donated.

“We’ve had some real wins in the past couple of months in terms of being pretty central to some business development happening in the community,” Conrad said. “I think people realize the value. We know everybody has to make sure people understand what they do and how well they do it.”


Water cooler trivia

On New Year’s Eve into New Year’s Day, from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., the Maine Turnpike Authority offered to pay for motorists’ coffee at all five service plazas to help keep them alert on the roads.

The plazas, which are operated by HMSHost, served about 30 complimentary cups in total, according to a turnpike spokeswoman.

Quick hits about business comings, goings and happenings. Have a Buzzable tip? Contact staff writer Kathryn Skelton at 689-2844 or [email protected]


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