The mayor also announced the creation of the Portland Economic Development Plan Implementation Group:
Mark McAuliffe opened Apothecary By Design in the InterMed building in November of 2008, right at the start of the recession. On the surface, it didn't seem like a good time to open a pharmacy-drug-compounding-lab-café hybrid business. But McAuliffe says the business at 84 Marginal Way is booming, with his staff growing from 12 to 35 full-time equivalents.
"We're going to be expanding and leasing additional space in Bayside," says McAuliffe.
So he welcomed a recent visit from Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, who has set out on a business-visitation program designed to identify opportunities to strengthen and grow local businesses. The mayor will visit two businesses a month, according to a press release.
The business-visitation program is part of the city's recently adopted Economic Development Vision and Plan, which outlines grant and loan programs offered by the city.
"Hearing directly from local businesses is key, as this feedback helps the city and community leaders better understand the needs and concerns of the business community," Brennan said in a written statement.
The program increases areas eligible for facade improvement funding for businesses located on Congress Street from Washington Avenue to Weymouth Street. It also allows for Portland Economic Development Plan Implementation grants of up to $75,000 to help local nonprofits and public entities, as well as a revolving loan program.
The city says several PEDPI grants have already been awarded, including four to Creative Portland: $10,000 for the 2 Degrees Portland referral and networking program; $20,000 for Branding Portland; $16,500 for website design; and $1,500 for creative economic metrics. The Portland Regional Chamber was awarded $10,000 to build a slideshow of successful Portland entrepreneurs and $40,000 was allocated to the Portland Performing Arts Center.
The revolving loan program offers up to $250,000 to businesses to facilitate growth and job creation. The city says more than $1.38 million in active loans have been made to 23 businesses.
The plan also calls for a Business Assistance Program for Job Creation, which awards grants of up to $20,000 to new or expanding businesses that spur job creation for low- to middle-income families (with more than 51% of workers earning less than 80% median household income) -- whether it's through building renovations, leasehold improvements or the purchase of machinery or equipment.
McAuliffe says his meeting with Brennan focused on the availability of grants and loans that could help with the Apothecary expansion. A letter of intent has been signed for a new compounding and administrative facility at 141 Preble St., which McAuliffe says could create at least four to six jobs.
He says his company's growth is fueled by its specialty and compound drug operation. In the company's lab, drugs are made to treat patients with HIV and Hepatitis C, as well as transplant patients and women undergoing in-vitro fertilization, among others. Those drugs can range in price from $70 a bottle to $2,100.
"It's the fastest-growing segment of the pharmaceutical industry," he says.
Brennan's first stop on the Business Visitation Program was InterMed, but CEO Dan McCormack says there isn't much the city can do in the short term to overcome its biggest obstacle to growth.
"One barrier to growth has more to do with our ability to recruit primary care physicians," McCormack says. "We need to find new ways to recruit primary care physicians."
McCormack says branding efforts highlighting Portland's quality of life as a progressive, art-filled community could indirectly help the company's recruiting efforts. And the mayor could also help advocate at the state level for programs or initiatives, whether it's medical school loan forgiveness or new residency programs.
Other than that, McCormack says he had nothing but good news for the mayor. Since consolidating five offices into the InterMed building in 2008, the company has grown its patient base with new inquiries coming every day. Last year, more than 2,000 new patients joined InterMed, he says. The group has also established a call center comprised of people with clinical backgrounds who have access to schedules and electronic patient records to provide better customer service, he says.
Both McCormack and McAuliffe previously served on the Portland Community Chamber Board of Directors, which drafted a white paper called, "Looking Out For Portland." That paper called for institution of a popularly elected mayor (check), an economic development plan (check), and the streamlining of site review and permitting processes (almost checked).
City Hall spokeswoman Nicole Clegg says the city has contracted the services of Jared Clark of Government Consulting Group and Charles Colgan from the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School Public Service for $15,000 to tackle the city's permitting process.
Needless to say, McCormack and McAuliffe are pleased with the city's effort.
"I think it's great [Brennan] has embraced the plan," says McAuliffe. "It's great to see it all come together."