Edition for Monday, July 27, 2020
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your COVID-19 Impact Newsletter!
As a valued member of
the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, we plan to stay in touch with you
several times each week through emails like this one and on Facebook and Twitter, until the pandemic passes. We
intend to provide you with the latest state and federal information, as well
as highlighting the creativity and innovation that is occuring here in Maine
during this unpredictable and rapidly changing time. To assist you in
navigating the uncertainties ahead, we have created a diverse and
comprehensive collection of web-based resources to help you take care of yourself and your family, your employees, your business, and your community.
Do you have a question? ASK THE EXPERTS.
We are here to
help in any way we can!
We Must Close the
Connectivity Gap to Educate all Students During Pandemic
to the Bangor Daily News was
submitted by Pender Makin, Maine's commissioner of education, and Ben Gilman,
president and CEO of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce Education
The current pandemic has
revealed that broadband is the modern-day necessity. But for far too many
families, lack of reliable internet is a daily reality that has turned into a
learning crisis in the face of COVID-19 and distance learning.
Meanwhile, the events of 2020
seem expressly designed to illustrate, in glaring detail, the racism inherent
in our public policies. Existing educational inequities - experienced far
more by low-income, Black, Hispanic and Latinx and Indigenous Americans - are
being exacerbated by connectivity gaps across the country and here in Maine.
We can solve this through a commitment from policymakers and communities to
find and address areas with poor quality or expensive internet. The time has
come to ensure that every household has high-quality internet access.
With school districts and
higher education institutions across our state closed because of the COVID-19
pandemic, the families of more than 182,500 Maine K-12 and 80,000
postsecondary students did their best to adjust to online learning. However,
far too many families, students and teachers were held back by a lack of the
critical home technology they now need to teach and learn.
As it looks increasingly
likely that schools will not be back to normal in the fall, the piece-meal
solutions that our school districts used to reach more students virtually
will not be enough. We need real investment to close the connectivity gap
The Department of Education
estimates that 24,000 K-12 students in Maine do not have at-home
connectivity. This connectivity gap disproportionately affects students in
rural areas, where 60 percent of Mainers live. In Maine, more than 17,660
miles of roadways or 50 percent of the state does not have internet fast
enough for school or work. The state of Maine Broadband Action Plan estimates
that it will cost $1.6 billion to address the broadband needs of the state.
As districts implement online
learning, students without internet access miss critical instruction time,
collaboration with peers, enrichment resources and opportunities to utilize
educational tools. Further, these student's families cannot use the internet
to access telehealth services. As the U.S. economy starts to recover, lack of
internet access will make it more difficult for the 62,000 unemployed Mainers
to find and interview for jobs.
To be clear, educators in
Maine are trying. The Department of Education has launched #ConnectKidsNow!,
an initiative to address the digital divide in Maine. The department is
working with districts and the Maine Principals Association to determine the
connectivity needs in districts.
The department is also working
with leaders from Adult Education, University of Maine System and Maine
Community College System to identify the broadband needs of postsecondary
students. This will mean they need support providing thousands of students
with laptops and hotspots. Unfortunately, it has become clear that one
hotspot on a limited data plan isn't enough for reliable internet, especially
in a household of more than two people.
Maine education leaders are
not in this alone. The Bangor Savings Bank Foundation is supporting the
#ConnectKidsNow! Initiative with a $50,000 grant. The grant will be used for
covering the cost of connectivity at home for 500 students, provide hotspot
enabled devices for 500 students and purchasing 500 devices for students.
It is clear that, in 2020,
having broadband internet at home is not optional - it is a requirement for
learning and life. This moment has revealed that reliable internet access at
home is about as important as power and running water. In a time when the call
for social justice is finally reaching those in positions of power and
prominently featured in the news, connectivity is another important factor
that will prevent future marginalization of low-income, Black, Hispanic and
Latinx and Indigenous communities.
This is why we must commit to
ensuring that each and every student in Maine is connected. Closing the
connectivity gap is possible if we collect data to understand the need, make
good use of available resources and make investments in both wired and wireless
We know we need to be invested
in this issue for the long haul. The connectivity gap will not be closed
overnight. While the COVID-19 pandemic has shined a light on the challenge,
it was there before. A real solution will require persistence even after the
pandemic is behind us. Let's ensure that the legacy of the COVID-19 outbreak
includes connectivity for all students in Maine.
Senator Collins Calls for
Increasing Support for Clean Energy Sector in Next COVID-19 Package
Before the pandemic hit, clean energy job growth had
outpaced the economy by 70 percent over the past five years
U.S. Senator Susan Collins joined
a group of six of her colleagues in sending a letter to Senate Majority
Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), urging the consideration of policies that will
jobs and innovation across the clean energy economy in the next COVID-19
relief package, including for renewables, nuclear, carbon capture, energy
efficiency, advanced transportation, and energy storage. The letter
was also signed by Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Lisa
Murkowski (R-AK), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Martha McSally (R-AZ), and Richard
"Clean energy companies and workers play an integral role in U.S. energy independence and diversification," wrote the Senators. "Unfortunately, the clean energy sector has seen massive job losses - an estimated 500,000 jobs lost since the start of the COVID-19 crisis."
The Senators continued, "As we
focus on getting the country back to work, we must include an industry that
had already been putting Americans to work faster, and in more places, than
the overall economy before the COVID pandemic hit. Clean energy job growth
had outpaced the economy by 70 percent over the past five years. Further,
this growth is truly nationwide, encompassing every state."
Senate Passes Bipartisan
King Legislation to Cut Red Tape For "American-Made" Products
Last week, the U.S. Senate
unanimously passed legislation led by U.S. Senators Angus King and Mike Lee to
establish a uniform
federal standard for products labeled "Made in the U.S.A." or "Made in
America." Under current conditions,
businesses that make their products in the United States face a patchwork of
different state laws - making compliance costs burdensome in order to ensure
products can be sold across the country with the designation. The Reinforcing
American-Made Products Act replaces this needlessly complicated approach with
a uniform standard for Made in America products - easing the compliance costs
for product labeling and incentivizing American manufacturing.
Rep. Golden Votes to Pass
NO BAN Act Through the U.S. House
Legislation would overturn administration's "Muslim ban,"
prevent future administrations from denying entry to the country based on
The NO BAN Act preserves the administration's right to restrict travel to protect the country against communicable disease
On July 24, Congressman Jared
Golden joined members of Congress from both parties to pass the National
Origin-Based Antidiscrimination for Nonimmigrants Act (NO BAN Act) through
the U.S. House of Representatives. The legislation, cosponsored by Golden,
discrimination based on religion in American immigration policy, while
protecting presidents' authority to restrict travel to prevent the spread of
disease. Specifically, the NO BAN Act would require that any ban on travel
from a particular country be temporary, based on credible evidence, subject
to the oversight of Congress, and imposed only in response to specific
actions a country has taken to threaten the United States.
Maine and NH Delegations
Urge Navy Secretary to Resume Safe and Full-Scale Operations at Portsmouth
Today, the entire Maine and
New Hampshire Congressional Delegations sent a letter to U.S. Navy Secretary
Kenneth Braithwaite, inquiring what steps and protocols are in place to
safeguard the health
and safety of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (PNSY) workforce as it
returns to full strength.
"We recognize the important work of our shipyard employees in maintaining the readiness of our fast attack submarine fleet, and we appreciate the communication we have received from shipyard leadership," the delegations wrote. "However, we urge the Navy to continue to strike the right balance between maximizing the productivity of the workforce while minimizing the risk associated with the COVID-19 health emergency, especially for those at highest risk."
"As you may know, PNSY developed a four-phased approach in order to return the workforce to full strength. The first phase began on June 1, 2020, and was set to align with guidance put forth by the State of Maine," the lawmakers continued. "We understand that employees with higher risk of severe illness began returning to the shipyard on June 29th. As the transition to full strength begins, we would appreciate a response to the following questions so that we may better understand the processes in place to ensure the safety of the workforce."
The Maine and New Hampshire
delegations included a series of questions that address metrics being used by
the Navy, social distance practices that will remain in effect, updates on
positive COVID cases and other areas of concern to ensure the well-being of
Use the Maine State Chamber's Blog and Daily
Impact to Tell Your Story!
Numerous Maine companies are stepping up or
pivoting nimbly, as Maine people resourcefully address the challenges of this
pandemic. Share your perspective and experience with us and with the rest of
the business community. How are you facing and overcoming the challenges
posed by this pandemic? What are you and your employees doing in this
dramatically different economy? Tell us about the innovations your company or
employees are making or ways you have adapted your company to meet your
blog entry should be 300 to 500 words. Join
us in creating a written history of the business community's resilience and
innovation during this extraordinary time. Please submit your entries to firstname.lastname@example.org. For
more information or questions, please contact Mark Ellis by emailing email@example.com or
by calling (207) 623-4568, ext. 109.
Whatever Works: Reinventing the Office for a Post-COVID World
articles in today's Mainebiz
explored the variety of considerations and creative solutions regarding returning
to work in the current pandemic environment.
in Phase 2 of its return plan, MEMIC's Portland anchor remains well shy of
the 40% staff level it determined can safely be inside at this time. Looking a lot different than before the
pandemic, MEMIC's headquarters now have hand-sanitizer dispensers on every
floor, new name badge and face-covering requirements and no more coffee
machines for common use. Meeting rooms are also closed and everything is done
Maine companies large and small think about reconstituting existing premises,
finding new ones or planning to stay virtual forever after COVID-19, the
implications for office real estate in Portland and beyond are huge. The
health crisis is also fueling innovation in unexpected places, like the
Holiday Inn by the Bay pitching its rooms as quiet places to work away
the work-from-home trend is not new, it has gained momentum during the
pandemic - and there's a definite economic incentive for employers in case of
a protracted downturn. In the United States, 60% of employed people were
working at home during the crisis, up from 25% a couple of years ago,
according to a Gallup poll conducted in April. In a separate survey by
McKinsey, eight out of 10 respondents said they enjoy working from home, with
41% saying they are more productive than before and 28% finding they are as
large Maine-based employers with a presence in other states are holding off
on a return to the office for the time being. Tilson, a network deployment
and IT professional services firm with 543 employees, including 183 in Maine.
As much as Tilson CEO Joshua Broder misses being with the team in the office,
he says he doesn't anticipate a return this year, and only if two criteria
us to reoccupy our offices it has to be safe enough that we don't need to
implement engineered controls and PPE in the office - we don't have an
appetite to take any safety risk in the office, and schools have to be
operating largely in person so child care is not a problem for our
employees," he says. He doesn't anticipate the first set of criteria being
met this year.
at global payments provider WEX Inc., most employees are expected to continue
to work from home until 2021 though the firm remains committed to a planned
$50 million operations center in Scarborough. A spokesman says that while
it's premature to talk about changes in the company's office design or real
estate footprint, its plans for Scarborough have not changed.
estate brokers also expect the market to be in flux for some time. Justin
Lamontagne, a partner and broker with NAI The Dunham Group, says that's
already having an effect though it's too early to pin down current office
vacancy rates in Portland.
"This pandemic is an opportunity for businesses to take a hard look at their real estate needs and commitment to office interaction" he says. "Depending on the industry or specific employee role, many office professionals will never come back to physical bricks and mortar. But many other businesses are realizing the loss of connectivity and collaboration far outweigh the cost of office space."
East Millinocket Announces
Purchase of Mill Site
Late last week, the Town of
East Millinocket announced it has successfully negotiated and purchased
the former Great Northern Paper Company mill site from Katahdin KI 50,
LLC (a subsidiary of North American Recovery Management NARM) for $1,450,000. This purchase was funded through $1,450,000
The Board of Selectmen, in an
attempt to provide industrial redevelopment of the former GNP paper mill
site, agreed to negotiate a purchase and sale of most of the former mill
property from Katahdin KI 50, LLC, who are the current owners of the now
defunct Great Northern Paper Company site in East Millinocket (also known as
GNP East). The Town has worked with
the East Millinocket Industrials, Inc. Board of Directors to develop a
strategy to acquire, redevelop and market this industrial property. Currently, there is about 215 acres of
industrial zoned land along the West Branch of the Penobscot River which has
about 222,200 square feet of reusable space within a collection of several
Katahdin KI 50 and Metro
Industrial Demolition & Environmental Contractors will commence
demolition of the steam plant/biomass facility which should be completed
within 18 months of the town's purchase of the site. The Town will develop
the property as an industrial complex with multiple industrial users. The Town will seek funding from a number of
identified grants, foundation monies and low interest loans to assist in mill
site improvements, building modifications and repairs, and final
demolition/remediation. Plans include efforts to market and manage the usable
remaining buildings and land.
UMaine, UMass Amherst Researchers
Bioengineering Novel Membrane to Capture COVID-19 Airborne Droplets
Detection and analysis of
airborne coronavirus droplets using a bioengineered
membrane is the focus of exploratory research at the University of Maine
and University of Massachusetts Amherst, funded by the National Science
Foundation (NSF). Their inspiration comes from nature - the pitcher plant,
with its liquid membrane that traps insects. The project, led by UMaine
biomedical engineer Caitlin Howell and UMass Amherst chemical engineer
Jessica Schiffman, received a more than $225,000 NSF EAGER award -
early-concept grants for exploratory research. Collaborating on the project
is UMaine virologist Melissa Maginnis.
The spread of COVID-19 via
aerosolized droplets by talking, coughing and sneezing is a major concern
during the coronavirus pandemic. The interdisciplinary research team at
UMaine and UMass Amherst hopes to develop novel technology to facilitate the
efficient collection of viruses from bioaerosols. Their model for the
membrane technology is the carnivorous Nepenthes pitcher plant, which has a
slippery rim and inner walls that cause insects to fall and become trapped
within its digestive fluid. The team will engineer a composite material with
a liquid layer on the surface of a membrane to capture pathogenic particles
The goal is to develop a
membrane that can be used as an insert in any air filtration system to
capture virus-containing droplets and make them easier to collect from the
insert for analysis. The technology would be inexpensive and widely
deployable in high-risk locations, such as hospitals, schools, elder-care
facilities and travel hubs.
Cybersecurity For The Remote Workforce
Wednesday, July 29 from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. | Register
Prepare the proper
cybersecurity for your company's remote workforce and learn how employers and
employees can help mitigate risks. Today's business environment has more
people than ever working remotely with connected devices accessing company
resources via unsecured Wi-Fi networks. It is critical to understand how
these devices and networks are interacting with your company data and how
employers and employees can work together to mitigate these risks.
is FREE and made possible by sponsorships from Thomas College, Tyler
Technologies, and WGTech. The webinar's panelists are Frank Appunn, Ph.D.,
Professor of Information Technology at Thomas College; Rob Herman, IT Manager
and Virtual CIO at WGTech; and, Rick Simonds, General Manager and VP of the
Cybersecurity Group at Tyler Technologies.
Thank you for
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