One of the pleasures of representing the great State of Maine is traveling all over the state to visit family farms, small businesses, manufacturers, and entrepreneurs who are carving out a niche for their products, goods, and services. There is a well-deserved “mystique” about Maine products that connotes high quality, terrific service, and creativity.
Last week, I was so pleased to announce that Pineland Farms Potato Company Inc. in Mars Hill will begin supplying 28 of Sam’s Club Northeast stores in approximately 30 days.
In April, I had the chance to tour the very impressive operations at Pineland Farms Potato Company. Its popular ready-to-cook fresh potato products are already available in grocery stores throughout northern New England and are used by major restaurant chains including Applebee’s and Pizzeria UNO. The company recently had expanded its operations, hiring more employees and investing in new equipment, and it was clear to me that with a great workforce, high quality Maine potatoes, and strong leadership from Rodney McCrum, this company has unlimited potential.
Then in late July, I had the opportunity to meet with Rosalind Brewer, the President and CEO of Sam’s Club, a division of Walmart, when she was visiting her home state Senator who invited me to talk with her. I asked her whether Sam’s Club would be interested in contracting with local suppliers for fresh food for their stores in Maine and nearby states. She expressed interest as I described some of the Maine food companies and farms I had visited and seemed particularly interested in the ready-to-eat potato products of Pineland Farms. Ms. Brewer gave me her card as well as information about her liaison who would follow up.
Excited about the potential opportunity, I suggested to Pineland Farms President Rodney McCrum that he explore doing business with Sam’s Club and put him in touch with the right contacts.
Pineland Farms truly made the most of the opportunity. Due to both the leadership of Rodney and the excellent products produced by the men and women at Pineland Farms, Sam’s Club and Pineland Farms reached a contract that will put Pineland Farms products on the shelves of 28 Sam’s Clubs across the Northeast.
This contract will not only help support good jobs in Maine, but also will allow families across the northeast to enjoy Maine potato products.
This is just one example of the ingenuity and success of Maine people. Maine products turn up in the most surprising places. You can see the world’s best rock 'n' roll drummers using drumsticks that were produced in Maine; fashion catalogues with models wearing shoes and boots that were hand sewn in the state; and college and professional hockey players carrying their gear in bags that were manufactured in Maine. When you go to New York City, you will see that the number-one bottled beverage in the Big Apple is not a soft drink; it is Poland Spring water. In slugging their way to the 2015 World Series Championship, four members of the Kansas City Royals used wooden bats made in Shirley, Maine.
I never cease to be amazed by the creativity of Mainers and the incredible work that is happening here in a quiet way. In the past year alone, I have met with many Maine business leaders, entrepreneurs, and employees, as well as academic and civic leaders, who are having success in providing opportunity and strengthening our communities.
One is Steel-Pro, an employee-owned business in Rockland that provides highly-technical steel fabrication services, including the development of bio-pharmaceutical equipment and vacuum chambers for companies like GE Healthcare. Newport Industrial Fabrication showed me how their small shop is providing complex steel work for projects all over the country for everything ranging from massive load-bearing structures for bridges to elegant glass facades in modern buildings.
Another is the Buck Family Farm in Mapleton that has begun providing malted barley for our state’s growing craft beer industry. There are more than 1400 people working in jobs related to the craft beer industry in Maine. From Allagash to Shipyard to Baxter to Gritty’s and many more, the 60 breweries we have in Maine have earned a national reputation for providing truly exceptional beers.
On a broader level, Maine's entire food products industry continues to excel. Maine lobsters, blueberries, potatoes, broccoli, cheeses, oysters, mustards, smoked salmon, and many more products -- even sea urchins -- continue to be in high demand. On a recent trip overseas, I brought Amy Bouchard’s Wicked Whoopies from Gardiner to the soldiers and sailors from our state. Believe me, they were a big hit.
The increasing interest in knowing where your food comes from and the demand for local products has actually produced an increase in the number of farmers that we have in this state – reversing a decades-long trend away from agriculture. And the success of our natural food products has dovetailed nicely with the success of our restaurants.
Portland has become a dining destination, adding another facet to a statewide hospitality and tourism industry that is known worldwide. The cruise ships in our ports this fall and the snowmobile trailers on the highway in the winter are two of the ways we are extending the months that we typically think of as tourist season.
Our Maine craftsmen continue to produce quality wood products that are highly prized. The most famous example of this work can be found in Auburn, at the Thomas Moser facility I visited last fall. And this magnificent work is now on display in Washington, at a beautiful retail store in the heart of Georgetown where Senator Angus King and I attended the opening this spring. On the wall of my Senate office on loan from Tom Moser is a true work of art: a large hand-crafted American flag that he made from three kinds of wood. It never ceases to amaze and inspire my visitors – and me.
People really do love the quality of Maine products. Last spring, I was at Maine Wood Concepts in New Vineyard. They make handcrafted wood products, most notably wooden pepper mills. The high-end retailer Williams-Sonoma used to import pepper mills from China, until they discovered the far superior products made by Maine Wood Concepts. They have now dropped their Chinese suppliers and prominently feature these pepper mills produced by Maine craftsmen in their catalog.
Innovative small businesses like these continue to impress me with their ability to find a niche. Erda is a small manufacturing company that makes artisan handbags in Dexter. Sue Nordman bought the company two years ago and hired primarily women over age 60 who used to work in the shoe business. This small company’s handbags can be found throughout the United States in fine galleries and boutiques.
Another business that is quintessentially Maine is Beth Shissler’s Sea Bags in Portland. It recycles old sails into beautiful, waterproof tote bags. In the past 16 years, it has grown from two employees to more than 50. Residents and visitors alike love its quality products that celebrate our maritime history in such a unique way.
American manufacturing is supposed to be a thing of the past, but it appears that nobody told the nearly 1,000 Maine employees I visited at New Balance last year. Their running shoes are a favorite and soon, I hope, will be available to our military recruits.
Our State is also home to a Procter & Gamble manufacturing plant that employs nearly 450 Mainers. Think of all the products that Procter & Gamble makes. For three years in a row the company’s top performing facility in all of North America has been its plant in Auburn.
And I know that Corning is very proud of its manufacturing and research facility in Kennebunk that celebrated its 50th anniversary when I visited this summer.
Our defense industry in Maine continues to provide our military with what it needs to keep us safe. The highly technical jet engine parts produced at Pratt & Whitney in North Berwick and the remarkable work that is done on our nuclear submarines at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard are popular with our military because of the quality of Maine work. Pratt & Whitney executives have repeatedly told me that the North Berwick plant is a real gem because of its talented workforce. The PNSY is hiring an additional 200 workers to keep up with its workload, providing great jobs to residents throughout York County.
Recently, I attended a ceremony at Bath Iron Works, where we christened the USS Raphael Peralta, an Arleigh Burke destroyer. And soon the most advanced Navy destroyer in the world – the DDG-1000 built in Bath by our highly skilled Maine workers – will be part of our nation’s fleet.
From new entrepreneurs to established iconic businesses like L.L. Bean, Geiger Bros., Unum, Idexx and WEX - there are more great Maine stories than I could ever begin to list. With all the challenges that we face, good things are happening every day in Maine. We should celebrate the successes that can be found in every corner of our State.