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May 16, 2017

Cold storage windfall: USM researchers put long-term gains up to $900M

Courtesy / Maine Port Authority
Courtesy / Maine Port Authority
An artist's rendering shows what the proposed cold storage facility would look like from Commercial Street on Portland's western waterfront.

Maine could see a potential long-term economic windfall of $500 million to $900 million if Portland gets a waterfront cold storage warehouse, according to researchers at the University of Southern Maine.

The estimated gains are contained in a 32-page, independent study submitted to Portland's planning board for Thursday night's workshop, where proponents and opponents will square off about the proposed facility following a site visit to the International Marine Terminal.

"Cold Storage: Economic Impact Study for Portland Maine" was prepared for the New England Ocean Cluster by MBA students supervised by Robert Heiser, associate marketing professor.

The study hones in on the food sector, saying there is a direct and significant correlation between food-related GDP and the amount of cold storage in a state.

"For every 1,000 cubic feet of cold storage in a state, the capacity to grow GDP related to food in that state increases by $303,000," it says.

But the authors also note that it would be impossible to say that just building a facility here would cause a spike in food-related GDP for Maine, emphasizing that the power lies with businesses themselves to make that happen.

"It is up to Maine businesses to take advantage of the infrastructure, and increase their food and food processing production," they write. "Cold storage simply gives Maine business owners the capacity and opportunity to grow."

The debate is heating up two and a half years after Atlanta-based Americold Logistics LLC won the bid to design and build a waterfront warehouse, with a pledge to invest up to $30 million. Americold, the world's largest cold storage company, operates a 65-year-old facility on Read Street in Portland.

But the planned new warehouse can only move forward if Portland's City Council agrees to a zoning change to raise the height limit for buildings in the western waterfront from 45 feet to 70 feet.

The seven-member planning board will listen to arguments for and against the zoning change before giving its recommendation to the City Council.

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