PORTLAND, Maine — With Maine International Trade Day in full swing on Friday, Martin Grimnes, founder of Brunswick-based Harbor Technologies, was at Portland’s International Marine Terminal participating in real international trade.
Sitting on the ground at the terminal, ready to be loaded onto ships, were three large white panels. They’re each about 20 feet long, curved and appear like they could be part of some modern art installation or components of some yet-to-be-built skateboard park.
The panels are made of composites and destined for a bridge being built in Mandal, Norway.
“They’re lighter [than steel or concrete] and they’ll take an enormous amount of abuse,” Grimnes said Friday while standing among the curvaceous components at the marine terminal. “And they’ll never rot and they’ll never rust.”
Harbor Technologies, a composite manufacturer, produces composite pilings for the marine industry and bridge beams for transportation departments in several states, including Maine’s. Its beams were used in the construction of Knickerbocker Bridge in Boothbay, for example. The company employs 40 people and has between $6 million and $7 million in annual revenue, Grimnes said.
The company has shipped composite pilings for bridge construction to Australia. However, this will be the first time exporting to Europe, Grimnes said.
Rather than structural, load-bearing bridge beams as the company has manufactured in the past, however, these components will be used for architectural purposes.
The Norwegian bridge is designed to signify the form of migrating salmon, said Grimnes, who was born in Norway and has lived in Maine for more than 30 years.
The Norwegian contractor building the bridge realized the curved components needed to accommodate the flowing design of the bridge could not be created with steel or concrete. The company had used Harbor Technologies in a few prior bids, which were ultimately unsuccessful, so was familiar with what Grimnes’ company was able to do with composites. The company called Grimnes and the project was secured last fall. The contract is worth $500,000 to Harbor Technologies, Grimnes said.
On Saturday, Grimnes was back at the marine terminal overseeing the loading of components into special containers that will be shipped to Norway by Eimskip, the Icelandic shipping company that in February named Portland its North American headquarters. The ship left on Saturday.
Eimskip’s arrival in Maine was a welcome development for Grimnes’ project. The prior plan had been to truck the bridge components, which would have required several tractor-trailers, to Philadelphia.
“The convenience of us not having to truck it to Philadelphia obviously has monetary value,” Grimnes said, but couldn’t offer more specifics.
“I don’t think people realize how big a deal this is,” Grimnes said, referring to the ability for Maine companies to have direct shipping service to Europe for the first time in more than 30 years.
This service will “absolutely” make Harbor Technologies more competitive in future bids for work in Europe.
Eimskip’s service could be a boon for Maine businesses if they know the service is available, said Annette Bossler, owner of Main(e) International Consulting LLC and the recipient on Friday of the 2013 President’s Award from the Maine International Trade Center, an organization with which she works closely.
“This is a huge opportunity for Maine, but Maine companies have to use it,” Bossler said. “It needs to be on people’s radars.”
Eimskip has been up and running out of Portland for about a month, and so far has been focusing on the import side of the business, said Larus Isfeld, the company’s senior manager in North America.
Besides Harbor Technologies, the company doesn’t have many Maine clients yet using the export service, Isfeld said. But that’s not a bad sign. Generally, it takes two to three years for such a service to reach its stride, Isfeld said.
“It’s too early to tell,” Isfeld said, referring to if the export-side of the business will be successful. “It all depends on businesses in Portland and Maine and whether they use us.”