Over 280 industry professionals gathered on May 12th to discuss the commercial real estate implications of Maine’s booming food and beverage economy. Maine has become a culinary destination, known for not just lobster, but beer, coffee, organic produce, sea and freshwater products. An exploding foodie culture means a growing need for production facilities, enhanced supply chains, specialty storage and many other real property infrastructure assets, old and new.
Betsy Biemann who directs the Maine Food Cluster Project at Harvard University gave a top-level overview of these trends, stating the number of breweries in Maine has doubled since 2012; there is a growing demand for local, organic food seen by the increasing number of independent grocers and food co-ops; the aquaculture industry remains strong up and down the coastline; and farmers are extending the growing season using old and new technologies and production methods. This insight was echoed by John Piotti, President and CEO of Maine Farmland Trust. He also added that Maine’s farming economy is a “renaissance in progress” with the need for new infrastructure – greenhouses, cheese rooms, poultry processing, multi-purpose facilities.
Jen Faigel of CommonWealth Kitchen shared her experience developing Boston’s only nonprofit food business incubator. With her real estate background, Faigel was able to guide the project from concept to execution and the shared-space building is now home to over 45 businesses. The conference also featured a panel of industry experts, including Chris Hallweaver, General Manager, Northern Girl; Dan Kleban, Founder, Maine Beer Company; Sam Hayward, Chef and Partner, Fore Street; Mary Allen Lindermann, Owner, Coffee By Design; and Erik Hayward, Vice President, The Libra Foundation.
The organization also announced its 2014 Notable Project Award winners, and unveiled its 2015 Spring MEREDA Index, which measures the pulse of Maine’s real estate industry. Driven by significant improvements in the commercial sector, particularly a few large office property sales in Portland, the composite index is up to 110—the highest level ever. This is 25% above early 2014. Most of the dramatic growth occurred in early-2015, and the trend is reflective of that growth being annualized.
A full copy of the Index can be found at mereda.org/about.php.