U.S. Cities - City-Data Homepage  
City-Data Forum
City-Data.com Homepage

Portland: Economy


Major Industries and Commercial Activity

The Portland MSA is the strongest economic region in the state. Maine companies have a higher survival rate than the national average, as well as above-average rates of sales growth. The Portland area's concentration of population (the Portland MSA includes 25 percent of the state's population) and accessibility to other markets in New England have made the city a focal point for development. A study released by American City Business Journals in January 2005 found that the Portland metropolitan area has the strongest small-business sector (defined as companies with 100 or fewer employees) of any large metropolitan area in the United States. Portland's ratio of 3,301 such companies per 100,000 residents substantially exceeds that of all other major markets. About one third of all Portland businesses are service related, while 20 percent are retail, 10 percent government, and less than 10 percent manufacturing; the remaining few are miscellaneous businesses.

Portland is a leading wholesale distribution point for northern New England as well as an important retail center, catering mostly to pedestrian shoppers. These industries, as well as tourism, received a boost after outdoor outfitter L. L. Bean opened in nearby Freeport in 1917; since 1951, the phenomenally popular store has been open 24 hours a day. L. L. Bean's headquarters are located down the street from this flagship store, which has grown to 160,000 square feet and draws nearly three million visitors annually. Many businesses have opened stores in the area in recent decades, from independent boutiques in the Old Port and Arts District areas to the shops at South Portland's Maine Mall—the largest indoor mall in the state—to more than 125 outlet stores anchored by L. L. Bean.

Services, especially health services, play a very important part in the Portland area's economy; the Maine Medical Center, the largest hospital in the state, is one of the city's largest employers. In recent years, the city has seen growth in its service industries without significant erosion in other sectors of the economy.

The finance industry has a long tradition in Portland, and the third-largest banking and financial services company in New England—Bank North Group—is headquartered there. UnumProvident, a holding company headquartered in Tennessee, has a significant presence in Portland; its subsidiary Unum Life Insurance Company of America is based in Portland.

Portland's port is the largest in New England in terms of tonnage. Portland is one of the chief trading ports on the Atlantic coast and plays a major role in Maine's paper and pulp trade. The state's annual lobster catch is the largest in the country; Portland is a major center for this activity, having benefited from efforts begun by environmentalists in the 1960s to clean up rivers and harbors.

Items and goods produced: food and paper products, leather goods, metals and machinery, lumber and wood

Incentive Programs—New and Existing Companies

Local programs

Portland's Economic Development Center (EDC) serves as the city's one-stop shop for starting, expanding, or relocating a business. EDC serves as an information clearinghouse and offers assistance with permits and regulations; financial incentives; site selection; marketing and public relations; and business technical assistance and development. The Resource Hub is a one-stop business assistance center for entrepreneurs and small businesses. The Downtown Portland Corporation (DPC), an arm of the city's Economic Development Department, seeks to combine the resources and initiative of the public and private sectors to promote downtown growth.

State programs

The Finance Authority of Maine (FAME,) assists economic development by providing capital for businesses through a wide variety of programs. FAME offers direct loans; credit enhancement through risk reduction and rate reduction programs; equity capital assistance for early-stage businesses; and cooperative programs with local agencies. Maine's Office of Business Development provides comprehensive financial, management, production, marketing, and other technical assistance to Maine businesses.

Job training programs

The Career Center at Portland, part of the state of Maine government, assists businesses seeking employees and individuals seeking jobs. Networking and workshops are part of the center's programming. Through the Career Center, the Maine Apprenticeship Program (MAP) offers on-the-job training in a variety of occupations. Maine's community colleges partake in the Maine Career Advantage program that combines academics with internships.

Development Projects

Transportation to and within Portland has been enhanced in recent years with Amtrak's new Downeaster line, running between Boston and Portland, and the new Portland Explorer Express Bus Service, which runs between major downtown locations, the Maine Mall, the airport, and the bus-rail station.

Portland's Planning and Development Department reported in 2004, "We are excited to see renewed interest in the rehabilitation of buildings on Congress Street for both residential and office development." The Congress Street area lining a ridge above Old Port has gradually seen renewed life since the mid-1990s, when the Maine College of Art moved into the vacant Proteous department store building there; the area is now referred to as the Arts District. In 1999, the federal Environmental Protection Agency awarded a $500,000 grant to the city to help clean up the Bayside area, a once-bustling industrial area the city aims to revitalize. City officials created a number of short- and long-term strategies to kick-start development in Bayside, including acquiring land, making Portland's regulatory process more business-friendly, and building new housing. Completed developments in Bayside as of 2004 include new housing, two new office buildings, two new retail outlets, and a new natural food store, located in a formerly vacant warehouse.

In September 2004 Portland's city council voted to amend the city's historic preservation ordinance to grant additional decision-making authority to the Historic Preservation Committee, now renamed the Historic Preservation Board; following the amendment, the board now makes the final decision as to whether major projects meet preservation ordinance standards.

Economic Development Information: Downtown Portland Corporation, 389 Congress St., Portland, ME 04101; telephone (207)874-8683. Economic Development Department, City of Portland, 389 Congress St., Portland, ME 04101. Finance Authority of Maine (FAME), 5 Community Drive, PO Box 949, Augusta, ME 04332; telephone (207)623-3263

Commercial Shipping

The deepwater Port of Portland is the largest in New England based on volume of tonnage handled, with more than 21 million tons of cargo landing annually. Pulpwood, fish, and other food products are among the items routinely shipped through the port. Among all U.S. transatlantic ports, it is the closest to Europe. The port has a dredged deepwater channel and provides excellent berthing for all sizes of vessels. The city has two major marine terminals: Portland International Marine Terminal and Merrill's Marine Terminal.

Portland International Jetport, one of the largest such facilities in the Northeast, is served by Airborne Express and Federal Express. Air cargo totals at the airport in 2004 were 33,622,563 pounds. Freight rail service is provided by Springfield Terminal Railway and the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad Company. More than 30 interstate truck carriers have local terminals and main or branch offices there.

Labor Force and Employment Outlook

Portland's labor force is young and well educated; 83 percent of registered job seekers hold secondary or post secondary degrees. The city is said to support more lawyers per capita than anywhere else in the country except Washington, D.C. Portland is the employment center for Cumberland County, with 42.1 percent of all jobs located within the city. Analysts predict that in-migration of people from large urban areas will continue. An unemployment rate tending to be below the national average reflects the city's sturdy economy. Employment projections to 2012 call for faster than average growth in Portland.

The following is a summary of data regarding the Portland metropolitan area labor force, 2004 annual averages.

Size of nonagricultural labor force: 193,900

Number of workers employed in . . .

construction and mining: 10,600

manufacturing: 15,800

trade, transportation and utilities: 42,000

information: 4,700

financial activities: 15,900

professional and business services: 21,600

educational and health services: 32,900

leisure and hospitality: 19,500

other services: 6,000

government: 25,000

Average hourly earnings of production workers employed in manufacturing: $13.88

Unemployment rate: 4.0% (February 2005)

Portland: Economy

Largest employers (Greater Portland area) Number of employees
L.L. Bean, Inc. 5,400-5,600
Maine Medical Center 4,600-4,800
UnumProvident 3,400-3,600
Delahaize 2,300-2,500
Bank North Group 1,900-2,100
Verizon 1,600-1,800

Cost of Living

Many people have been attracted to Portland because of its relative affordability; however, overall costs, including home costs, have risen. State and local spending has tended to increase at a rate below the national average.

The following is a summary of data regarding several key cost of living factors for the Portland area.

2004 ACCRA Cost of Living Index: Not reported

2004 ACCRA Average House Price: Not reported

State income tax rate: a graduated income tax rate from 2.0% to 8.5% of federal adjusted gross income minus all modifications, exemptions, and deductions.

State sales tax rate: 5.0%

Local income tax rate: None

Local sales tax rate: None

Property tax rate: $26.53 per $1,000 of actual value (2005)

Economic Information: Portland Regional Chamber, 60 Pearl Street, Portland, ME 04101; telephone (207)772-2811


Discuss this city on our active forum.