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January 8, 2018

Four Maine-based executives weigh in on key sectors of state's economy

Photo / Courtesy Zachau Construction
Photo / Courtesy Zachau Construction
Jeff Zachau: Zachau Construction, Freeport
Photo / Courtesy L.L.Bean
Donna Lamberth: L.L.Bean, Freeport
Photo / Tim Greenway
Peter Handy: Bristol Seafood, Portland
Photo / Courtesy Katahdin Federal Credit Union
Tina Jamo: Katahdin Federal Credit Union

With the new year upon us, Mainebiz interviewed four executives to get a short-term outlook for their Maine-based businesses and industries: construction, banking, seafood and manufacturing. Most expect to start 2018 on a busy note while holding steady on employee numbers.

Construction: 'Cautiously optimistic'

After working on major expansions for Maine Beer Co. ($5 million) in Freeport and Tyler Technologies ($20 million) in Portland, Freeport-based Zachau Construction has plenty on its plate for 2018. That includes building a new home for the Children's Museum & Theater of Maine at Thompson's Point in Portland and rehabilitating occupied low-income housing in Westbrook and Portland.

Jeff Zachau, the company's president, says while it's too early to talk about other endeavors, he's "cautiously optimistic" for 2018.

"We have a lot of potential work, but a lot of it's slow to get off the ground for various reasons compared to 2017, when we started the year with a lot of work already going," he says.

He says that Zachau will hold off on hiring in the near term but expects to add talent once the new projects get going. "We're fortunate in that we employ a lot of good people," he notes.

Of the sector as a whole, he says: "We've all been through the ups and downs of the construction market and I fully expect at some point it will turn again after a strong 2017."

Retail: 'It's time for us to invest'

Donna Lamberth, head of manufacturing at L.L.Bean, predicts a "great year" for the Freeport-based maker and seller of clothing and outdoor gear, which added a second production facility in Lewiston in 2017.

"We've put a lot of energy over the last couple of years into building our capacity and building out a new factory," she says. "Now it's time for us to invest even more in training and support."

Out of about 600 total L.L.Bean manufacturing jobs, about 100 are in Lewiston and the rest are in Brunswick. Both factories are involved in the production of L.L.Bean's signature Bean Boot, and Lamberth says that having a second factory is helping trim the order backlog: "We are not saying we haven't had a few back orders, but we're not seeing back orders in the tens of thousands of units like in the past."

She notes a strong customer response to new styles, particularly lined products like Bean Boots made with shearing, an unrefined type of wool. She says the company will increase production in that line this year, as well as more Gore-Tex and other waterproof products.

As L.L.Bean proceeds with plans to trim its nationwide workforce by 10% through early-retirement offers, Lamberth says the emphasis in manufacturing will be on training rather than hiring.

"We've been very successful in bringing on an excellent workforce," she says. "The focus is really now on training that workforce and making sure they can support the more complex styles we're looking to deliver on."

Seafood: 'On the cusp' of expansion

Peter Handy, president and CEO of Bristol Seafood, says his company will look to build on the success of its Fair Trade Certified scallops, introduced in March 2017 as the first U.S. seafood product with that distinction.

"It's in the top 10 fastest-growing seafood items in North America in retail, so we're really happy," Handy says. He attributes the success to a combination of factors, including Bristol's work with retailers to tell the story of the sustainable fishery, "where everyone involved with putting it together was treated fairly."

In 2018, "we're looking at doing other Fair Trade products, but where we're focused more broadly is where else can we give consumers branded seafood products that hit on quality, transparency and story," he says. "We're seeing it work, and now we want to find new and other ways to do it."

The company also sells line-caught Alaskan cod, mussels from the Gulf of Maine sourced from as far as Lubec, and haddock that's line-caught in Norway and flash-frozen at sea within four hours. "Maine's got a terrific food brand, and Maine seafood is outstanding," he says.

He adds that Bristol Seafood, which is based at the Portland Fish Pier and employs around 60 people, is "on the cusp" of an expansion, the extent of which is still being determined. "We're looking at figuring out ways that we can do more in Portland," he says.

Financial services: 'Renewed enthusiasm and investment'

"It's an exciting time to be in the Katahdin region," says Tina Jamo, president and CEO of Katahdin Federal Credit Union in Millinocket. It has more than 7,500 members and assets of $74 million.

In particular, she is encouraged by "a renewed enthusiasm and investment" in the region that she sees keeping its strong momentum in 2018. "We're hoping to have some smaller businesses open up and bring more employment," she says.

She also highlights the correlation between the credit union's success and that of its members, saying, "When our members are doing well, we do well. And when our economy improves, our whole membership benefits."

Jamo expects the credit union's membership numbers to keep going up but sees the workforce "holding steady for right now" at around 30 employees.

"Our goal is to continue to grow our membership and to continue to serve our members in the best way possible," she says. "We've been concentrating on electronic services due to the fact that we are located in a rural area. The plan is to continue to offer products and services to our members who don't necessarily live here."

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