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January 22, 2018
From the Editor

Can commercial development keep the Maine economy rolling?

You could argue that when it comes to forecasting the economy, Maine's default setting is "cautious optimism."

I can't argue with that.

Yet there are reasons to be optimistic — and many spill over from Maine's healthy real estate industry.

Anecdotally, there's evidence that real estate has become a major driver in the economy:

  • Jobs: In Maine, 600 more jobs in construction through November than a year earlier (Associated General Contractors of Maine)
  • Demand for space: Greater Portland's industrial space has vacancy rate of 1.25% (NAI The Dunham Group)
  • Corporate headquarters: Two companies, WEX Inc. and Tilson Technology, moving to newly built headquarters on Portland's East End, each bringing 400 or more jobs to that neighborhood
  • Heads in beds: New hotel development will add at least 500 rooms to Portland in coming months and years
  • Mom and Pop: B&Bs and small inns sold in great numbers last year, showing not only that they're intriguing investments but that there's a new wave of young people with the energy and finances to step up to the challenge.

Reports prepared for MEREDA's annual forecast conference, as well as the Mainebiz Real Estate Insider, show some buildings and parcels selling at a premium.

Now, certainly there are areas of concern — and perhaps this is where the "cautious optimism" comes into play.

Real estate is often the last industry to recover and the first to falter when the stock market struggles or when interest rates are raised. If financing dries up real estate development — even some projects seemingly underway — will quickly dry up as well.

For now, though, we might be able to err more on the side of "optimism" than "caution."

Within this issue, Senior Writer Renee Cordes' reporting on the proliferation of dollar stores indicates that, even if they're opening at a startling rate — an estimated five a day nationwide — dollar stores are an indication much of the population continues to struggle and will continue to seek out discounts.

Laurie Schreiber writes about the lengths contractors are going to find workers. Maureen Milliken looks at a former mill, a riverfront parcel in Augusta that is ripe for redevelopment, though there are no takers to date.

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