I'm glad exposure to world markets is being woven into the curriculum for engineering students at the University of Maine, as Jack Healy, executive director of the Maine Pulp and Paper Foundation tells us in his Newsworthy interview on page 3. Prompted by a growing demand for Maine-based wood products, industries in China, India, Europe and elsewhere are lining up to better integrate our products into their supply chains and markets.
And we better be ready for them. A recent report from Wood Resources International says the United States finally caught up with Canada in supplying wood pellets to Europe in the fourth quarter of 2011. That market, which has grown 300% from 2008, was dominated by British Columbia, but in the second half of 2011 U.S. exports equaled Canada's for a combined 2 million tons.
The sad part is that the pellet suppliers were primarily six mills in the U.S. South.
Hopefully a heightened emphasis on understanding global markets and the opportunities they represent will help us get out of that "end of the line" mentality that wrongly restricts our approach to economic development. That expanded attitude is fully embraced by the folks at Sappi, where the Westbrook mill is churning out a certain kind of paper that becomes textured clothing, athletic gear and vinyl car wraps for customers around the world. Intrigued? Check out Senior Writer Randy Billings' report from UMaine's Paper Days on the cover.
Randy also explores the latest iteration of the east-west highway that got $300,000 from lawmakers for a feasibility study. His cover story, "Connect the dots," lays out why this proposal is different from its predecessors. Here's a hint: private financing. The story is part of this issue's focus on transportation and trade. We also get an update from Staff Writer Matt Dodge on developments within Maine seaports, in "Port progress," starting on page 16, and look at export trends on page 19.
Contributing Writer Douglas Rooks offers us an interesting look at wind power developments in Maine and how federal tax credits and natural gas prices are whipping them around. It's hard to know what lies ahead given the uncertainty around state mandates, federal incentives and the investment markets. Check out "High winds," starting on the cover.
And, if you ever wonder how we come up with some of our story ideas, check out the Mainebiz blog, launched by Online Editor Mindy Woerter. It takes you behind the scenes here at Mainebiz and gives you a glimpse of the editorial staff in our natural surroundings. (You'll probably notice a recurring theme of food.) You can find it at mainebizloft.blogspot.com.
And finally, join us May 1 at the Portland Club as we honor our 2012 Mainebiz Business Leaders of the Year. CashStar's David Stone, Putney Inc.'s Jean Hoffman and Opportunity Alliance's Mike Tarpinian will take the dais as we laud them for their bold leadership and vision. Maine is so much the richer for their contributions. Details are at mainebiz.biz/BLOY.