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Business and Economy

Iceland, US Officials Unveil Ocean Business Incubator at Portland Event

Tom Porter

PORTLAND, Maine — It may be St Patrick's Day, but it was Iceland that people were talking about on the Portland waterfront this morning.

Iceland's ambassador to the US, Geir Hardee, was joined by his American counterpart, plus dozens of business, local and state officials, for an event at the historic U.S. Custom House to promote North Atlantic trade.

"The reason we are all here is the wonderful cooperation that has been established .. between Iceland and the state of Maine and people of Portland in particular," he says.

Hardee and others were also there to unveil the conceptual design for what's being called the New England Ocean Cluster House.

Modeled on a project in Reykjavik, U.S. Ambassador to Iceland Robert Barber says the Cluster House aims to be an "innovation incubator" for dozens of marine-related businesses.

"This could not be a more perfect place to be established a cluster in the United States than here in Portland," he says.

Investors are negotiating now with Portland officials to take over a city-owned building on the Maine State Pier.

One of them is Patrick Arnold, president and founder of Soli DG, a Portland-based maritime services company.

He says it's an ambitious goal, but he's hoping construction of the new Cluster House can begin this coming August.

Arnold says 18 local businesses have already expressed interest in taking part and the aim is to pave the way for the next generation of ocean and marine businesses.

"And usher in an opportunity for collaboration, and opportunity for entrepreneurs to really get connected, have no barriers to entry when they're coming with creative ideas and new opportunities to develop things differently," he says.

If all goes to plan, the Portland business cluster would be located in the now-vacant, 30,000-square-foot second floor of a building locally famous for the mural of whales on its outside wall.

Mayor Michael Brennan says the city is working with the investors to determine a lease agreement for the facility, which also needs a host of infrastructure improvements.