11 people to watch in ’11

Posted Dec. 31, 2010, at 9:42 p.m.

While all eyes will be on Paul LePage, Maine’s incoming governor and the first Republican to serve as the state’s chief executive in 16 years, there are many other Mainers — some household names, some who work behind the scenes — that we also expect to make headlines in 2011.

LePage and his new GOP-controlled Legislature undoubtedly will make changes in the way Maine government operates, and Mainers will watch and wait to see what endeavors outgoing Gov. John Baldacci of Bangor will pursue in his first year removed from the Blaine House. U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins will maintain high profiles in the nation’s capital, where the two played critical roles in crafting bipartisan legislation in 2010.

But beyond the halls of government, the new year also will bring changes in how Mainers do business, generate energy, educate their children and use technology to connect to the rest of the world.

Maine’s health care landscape could change as the state’s first medical marijuana dispensaries come online in 2011, and debate continues on the issue of patient restraints in psychiatric hospitals. Gambling will take center stage again as a new casino takes its first steps in 2011 while the state’s only existing slots facility looks to expand its offerings.

Here are 11 of the newsmakers you’ll be reading about in our pages in 2011.

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1. Linda Bean, lobster dealer and heir to L.L. Bean fortune.

As recently as 2007, Linda Bean’s knowledge of lobster was limited pretty much to her favorite recipes for cooking up the iconic Maine crustacean. Less than four years later, Bean is the queen of a rapidly growing lobster empire that could reshape the entire industry. Bean, the granddaughter and heiress of L.L. Bean, now owns four wharves, midcoast Maine’s only lobster processing plant (with another in the works), plus lobster pounds and a shipping facility. She also sells her “Perfect Maine Lobster Roll” at nine restaurants and cafes — including two in Florida and the Virgin Islands — with more planned. Most recently, she landed a deal with Wal-Mart to sell frozen, cooked lobster claws in 750 stores and is exploring other ways to make lobster an accessible, affordable meal nationwide. Like her grandfather’s before her, Bean’s marketing strategy is all about Maine. “We are all Maine, from trap to table,” she said.

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2. Tarren Bragdon, CEO, Maine Heritage Policy Center.

Whether or not you agree with his politics, the Maine Heritage Policy Center’s Tarren Bragdon was clearly an influential voice in the debates over welfare reform, government spending and education reform during the 2010 gubernatorial campaign. Since then, Gov.-elect LePage tapped the 35-year-old to help fill the next ad-ministration’s top posts and to craft a two-year budget. But don’t expect Bragdon to occupy a Cabinet seat. “I think I can have the most meaningful impact precisely where I am,” he said. Still, Mainers should expect Bragdon and the other staffers at the right-leaning policy center to help shape economic policy under LePage. And he insisted the think tank will continue to play the part of government watchdog. For instance, there are plans to expand maineopengov.org — a clearinghouse on state spending and employee salaries. “We are not going to abdicate our role to the LePage administration,” he said. “We think that government accountability is good regardless of who is in power.”

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3. Susan Corbett, CEO, Axiom Technologies.

Officially, Susan Corbett is the CEO of Axiom Technologies. But to many in rural Washington County she’s known as the “Internet Goddess.” Corbett’s foray into the Internet business was born of frustration as she struggled to find affordable broadband access for her business. Five years after taking over Axiom, Corbett, 56, is not only supplying high-speed Internet access to thousands of residents and businesses across Washington County, she also is trying to turn the region into a model for bringing broadband to rural areas. One federally funded pilot project will introduce mobile broadband to the back of an ambulance, allowing patients to receive treatment from doctors while en route to a hospital, which in Washington County could be an hour’s drive away. “If we can make it work here, we can make it work anywhere,” Corbett said about mobile broadband. “It doesn’t get much tougher than Washington County.”

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4. Habib Dagher, UM composites center director and offshore wind power researcher.

Wind power in Maine could move from the mountains to the sea as efforts to develop a deep-water wind farm in the Gulf of Maine progress in 2011. So far, the Deep C Wind Consortium, for which Dagher serves as chief investigator, has received more than $25 million in public funding. Much of it has gone toward construction of a $17.4 million offshore wind laboratory projected to be completed by June 2011. If efforts to build and operate an offshore wind farm are successful, they could result in as much as $20 billion being invested in Maine and create as many as 15,000 wind energy-related jobs in the coming decades. Additionally, the wood compos-ite technology for bridges developed at Dagher’s UM laboratory is being considered for use in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

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5. Rebecca DeKeuster, CEO of Northeast Patients Group.

When Mainers approved the expansion of Maine’s medical marijuana law to include the opening of state-sanctioned dispensaries for the drug, several companies applied to run one or more of the new growing and distribution locations. The state awarded DeKeuster’s company, which is affiliated with a major California distributor, four of the eight locations, including those in the Bangor, Augusta and Portland areas. DeKeuster and her group will play a large part in how the expansion of Maine’s medical marijuana law will be implemented in 2011, with state regulators watching closely, town officials weighing moratoriums on distribution centers, and marijuana advocates pursuing further expansions.

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6. Peter Martin, governmental relations adviser for Black Bear Entertainment.

In many ways, Martin’s work had just begun when voters approved a resort casino in Oxford County last November. “We’re going into this legislative session with a very simple agenda,” he said recently. “We are certainly going to defend the will and intent of the Oxford legislation and what the people have endorsed.” Voters may approve a referendum, but lawmakers can change the way the ballot measure is implemented. Martin, 56, will be the man Black Bear Entertainment sends to monitor — and likely influence — what lawmakers do with the voters’ mandate. He also could have an impact on whether Hollywood Slots in Bangor gets the right to add table games, such as blackjack and poker. Construction of the Oxford casino and resort, which when complete is expected to directly employ up to 1,700 people, will begin in stages starting this spring or summer.

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7. David Proffitt, president and CEO of The Acadia Hospital.

Proffitt’s performance and qualifications came under fire in 2010 after employees complained of a sharp increase in patient attacks as a result of his “no restraints” policy at the private psychiatric hospital in Bangor. Proffitt, the former head of Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta, defended the policy, which includes stricter standards against the use of mechanical and physical restraints, even when patients become violent. Board members have acknowledged an erosion of morale at Acadia, where employees have said the policy was implemented with inadequate training and left them at risk for injury. Results of a federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigation into the staff injuries are expected to be released in early 2011.

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8. Roxanne Quimby, conservationist and philanthropist.

Mention Quimby’s name in the Katahdin region and the talk still will turn to the prospect of a vast national park and restrictions on hunting and motorized vehicles on her more than 100,000 acres in Maine. But the co-founder of Burt’s Bees seems to have softened her stance on development and allowing access for hunting, snowmobiling and even ATVs. Quimby also made an unusual move in late 2010 by proposing a subdivision on Big Greenwood Pond in Willimantic, angering local residents and camp owners who thought she had placed the land into permanent conservation. The plan will be aired before town officials in early 2011. This year, Quimby also continues her philanthropic efforts in Portland, where her artist-in-residence program offers aspiring culinary artists, designers and visual artists a chance to practice their crafts.

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9. Kevin Raye, Senate president.

It may seem difficult to imagine now but last June’s seven-person GOP primary was actually the short list of possible Blaine House contenders. Sen. Kevin Raye, R-Perry, opted to stay out of the gubernatorial race and instead focus on the family business, Raye’s Mustard, and a Republican push to win back the state Senate. To-day, Senate President Raye, Gov.-elect Paul LePage and House Speaker Bob Nutting hold the three power seats in Maine’s first Republican-controlled government in 30-plus years. Among Raye’s priorities: regulatory reform, reducing the size of state government and addressing “overly hostile” policies toward rural Maine. Raye acknowledged, however, that Maine’s emboldened GOP must learn from what happened to Democrats in Congress who won big in 2008 and then lost even bigger two years later. “We are going to thread the needle of making the changes that Maine people want but not over-reaching to the point where people are turned off,” Raye said.

10. Kenneth Smith, Millinocket school superintendent.

Millinocket, Maine, is a long way geographically and culturally from Shanghai, China. But beginning next fall, several dozen teenagers from Shanghai, Beijing and other Chinese cities may be strolling the hallways of Millinocket’s Stearns High School. Superintendent Kenneth Smith has spent months talking with Chinese offi-cials about recruiting students to help boost Stearns’ sagging enrollment. Students would pay up to $27,000 a year for tuition, room and board and in exchange would gain exposure to American culture — albeit the culture of rural, snowy Maine. But more importantly to Chinese parents, the teenage transplants could gain a potential fast-track into U.S. colleges or universities. Smith faces plenty of hurdles: changing visa limitations, overcoming local skepticism and convincing Chinese parents to send their children to a place and school they’ve never heard of, to name a few. “It’s going to happen,” Smith said, undeterred. “It’s really a matter of how many students can we and should we start out with.”

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11. Peter Vigue, chairman and CEO, Cianbro Corp.

Is there a year that Cianbro’s Peter Vigue doesn’t play a major role in the state? From past plans to build an east-west highway to the modular facility in Brewer, Vigue always seems to be thinking multiple steps ahead for his company, his workers and the state. In 2010, Vigue’s influence could be seen in the Bangor arena pro-posal, support of offshore wind power and other areas. Late in the year, Vigue announced the acquisition of Illinois-based Starcon, a deal that added 1,500 workers to Cianbro’s 2,500-person work force and gave the Maine firm a market presence in 25 additional states. In 2011, watch for Vigue and Cianbro to leverage that acquisition, bringing in more work from the oil and chemical sectors for its Maine operations — meaning more jobs for workers here.

BDN writers Meg Haskell, Jeff Tuttle and Matt Wickenheiser contributed to this report.

Photo credits: Tarren Bragdon, AP/Pat Wellenbach; Susan Crorbett, Portland Press Herald; Rebecca DeKeuste, Portland Press Herald; Peter Martin, Portland Press Herald;Kevin Raye, AP/ Pat Wellenbach; all others Bangor Daily News file photos.

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