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Updated: April 29, 2024 30th Anniversary

While Maine is still known for lobster and potatoes, three new industries are rising

In 1994, Maine was known for its fishing, farming and logging industries.

The hearty fisherman got up at 4 a.m., braving the elements. The paper mill workers headed out to the labor-intensive mills and the loggers and log truck driver powered timber companies.

However, times have changed.

In the 1900s, there were around 35 paper mills, but by 1999, only 17 mills remained. In 2002, Great Northern Paper Co. shut down newsprint production at Millinocket, quietly ending an era in Maine’s industrial history.

The Maine paper mill industry has slowed down in recent years. Mills have closed all over the state including the Great Northern Paper Co., Jay Paper Mill, Lincoln Paper & Tissue, Old Town Fuel & Fiber, Verso and UPM Madison.

Although the paper industry is far from declining in Maine, it is transitioning to an era where science, technology, innovation, and investment are more important than ever. With the fast-approaching future and technology taking over the industry, there will be fewer jobs for Mainers in this field.

Maine potatoes, mainly grown in Aroostook County, were part of Maine’s identity in the 1940s. As of 2021 and 2022, Aroostook County, which produces 90% of Maine’s potatoes, had a revenue of $258 million.

Lobstering is a way of life for many Mainers and a $500 million contributor to the Maine economy. It’s also created an iconic industry. When people think of Maine, lobster is the topic of discussion, whether it be a lobster dinner, lobster roll or the industry.

Today, Maine is the largest lobster-producing state in the nation. Each year, the fishery employs more than 5,600 independent lobstermen and harvests more than 100 million pounds of lobster.

While Maine is still known for these industries, the state has welcomed other industries, including casinos, cannabis and breweries.

Casino windfall

While casinos weren’t at the top of people’s minds in 1994, they sure were in the early 2000s.

Maine now has two casinos, in Bangor and Oxford. The casinos provide key tax revenue to support educational initiatives.

Maine’s first casino was Bangor’s Hollywood Casino Hotel & Raceway, which opened in 2005. The hotel is located near Bangor’s attractions, including Stephen King’s house, Waterfront Concerts and the Paul Bunyan statue.

Last year, Hollywood Casino had slot revenue of $53.27 million. Of that, 39% was taxed, providing key revenue for Maine Maritime Academy, Health Maine, the University of Maine scholarship fund and other uses.

The casino had a table revenue of $7.65 million, with 16% returning to the state and distributed to the Veterans Assistance Grant Fund, the city of Bangor and other uses.

Oxford Casino, located at 777 Casino Way in Oxford, is the state’s second casino and was approved by voters in 2010, with the facility officially taking its first bets on June 5, 2012.

Oxford Casino was originally developed and opened by Maine-based Black Bear Entertainment, but was sold less than a year after opening to Churchill Downs LLC out of Kentucky.

Last year, the casino had a slot revenue of $90.5 million, with 46% going back to the state and being distributed to organizations and funds such as Maine Community College System, Dairy Improvement Fund, University of Maine System and other uses. The casino also had $16.5 million net revenue from table games, with 16% returning to the state.

Legal cannabis sales

On Nov. 8, 2016, Maine voters approved Question 1 and joined eight other states in legalizing the recreational use, retail sale and taxation of cannabis, also known as adult-use cannabis.

Maine has 219 licensed recreational marijuana dispensaries, with 139 actively operating. As of early 2024, 59 out of the 66 licensed medical marijuana dispensaries are operational. In 2023, recreational cannabis sales totaled a little over $200 million.

Craft brewing boom

On July 11, 1986, David L. Geary opened D.L. Geary Brewing Co. in Portland. This was the first new brewery to open east of the Mississippi since the federal prohibition on alcohol production ended. Ten breweries were opened from 1990 to 1994, including Allagash and Gritty McDuff’s.

Shipyard Brewing was founded in 1994 on India Street, opening in a derelict factory. Fred Forsley, founder and CEO of Portland-based Shipyard Brewing Co., was featured in the 1994 first edition of Mainebiz.

As of 2022, Maine had 165 active, licensed breweries, up from 10 in 1994, according to the Maine Brewers’ Guild.

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Erica Harriman
May 6, 2024

Sad when we have to brag about increased alcohol, drugs, and gambling.

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