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Updated: January 4, 2024

Inside the notebook: Mainebiz editorial staffers pick their favorite stories of 2023

Two women farmers File photo / Jim Neuger Habiba Salat and Maryan Mohamed are Somali Bantu farmers at Liberation Farms in Wales, a rural community about 10 miles northeast of Lewiston.

Every Friday in the Mainebiz Weekly Report, editorial staff members highlight something of interest from other news outlets we've read or listened to. As we kick off a new year of our own business coverage, here are some of the stories we liked covering the most in 2023, and what made an impression on each writer.

Good things come in packages 

A year-round expansion for a Downeast company: Whitney Corp. moves beyond wreaths

This was a terrific opportunity to visit the tiny Washington County town of Whitneyville — population around 200 and home to Downeast Packaging Solutions — where I was able to talk with the company’s founder and CEO, David Whitney. Assembly, packaging and distribution might lack glamour. But Whitney had a big idea, stemming from his seasonal business, Whitney Wreath Co. With a pool of long-time employees talented in logistical skills, he created Downeast Packaging Solutions to provide year-round employment.

Whitney discovered his entrepreneurial bent at age 8: His cousin was making money collecting “tips” from trees and selling them to a nearby wreath maker. He started Whitney Wreath in college and grew from there. But there was a nagging question — how to utilize the facilities, management, labor and skills of Whitney Wreath outside of the six weeks of the busy wreath season. Downeast Packaging Solutions was born, attracting a growing clientele. “We like to say we’re a really good dance partner and we’re looking for more dance partners,” he said.

— Laurie Schreiber, senior writer 

Earth mothers 

Forces of nature: Growing crop of women in agriculture makes waves in Maine 

For a feature story about women in agriculture, I sat down with two Somali women at Liberation Farms in rural Wales, hosted by Muhidin Libah, executive director of the Somali Bantu Community Association, who also acted as our translator. Despite the language barrier, smiles and facial expressions spoke volumes. We should all feel humbled by women like Habiba Salat and Maryan Mohamed, who have come to Maine from a war-torn country and find fulfillment in growing food for their families and communities.

One of my favorite observations from Salat: "If I take a paycheck, that's limited to me. But when I produce, that's affecting other people's lives and my family, too."

— Renee Cordes, senior writer 

A sweet assignment 

Friday Food Insider: It's time for a Portland-area donut showdown

I am a foodie at heart, so writing stories for the Friday Food Insider has been a fun way to learn all about the Maine food scene. One of my favorite stories was about the Mainebiz donut showdown. Our staff members participated in a blind taste test of donuts from five Portland-area vendors. Each judge ranked the samplings in order of preference, No. 1 for his or her favorite down to the least-fave, ranked No. 5. The energy in the room was exciting, and hearing everyone discuss what their favorite donut was and why made for a lively morning. We hope to have another showdown in 2024 and are open to product-category suggestions.

— Alexis Wells, staff writer

'Biddaissance' momentum 

Boutique boomlet in Biddeford? A second high-end hotel may open in trending Maine city

The rebirth of downtown Biddeford — the "Biddaissance," as it's called — reached a high point with the opening of the Lincoln Hotel in September 2022. The luxury lodging was a first for the city. Part of the redeveloped Lincoln Mill complex, the boutique hotel has drawn national media attention and now commands premium room rates. So I was fascinated to learn that a potential competitor is in the works. A Massachusetts developer is looking to convert Biddeford's former Odd Fellows Hall, a few blocks from the Lincoln, into an equally high-end hotel, with a lobby restaurant, a rooftop bar and what the developer calls “chic elegance.”

Plans are tentative and have been little publicized, but Mainebiz offered a preview and a look at the challenges the project faces. I also enjoyed learning about the International Order of Odd Fellows, if only because they have a great name.

— William Hall, managing editor/digital operations

Changes in residential real estate

Residential real estate has been a hot area of coverage for Mainebiz in the past three years. The so-called COVID refugees shook up the housing market, driving up prices and making a tight housing market even more squeezed. My favorite stories from 2023 looked at this trend and how it has shaped the housing market. 
Here are a few:

Peter Van Allen, editor 

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