Feb. 3, 1997: The Portland and South Portland city councils vote to approve the name “Casco Bay Bridge” for the new $130 million span crossing the Fore River between the two cities.

Earlier, a committee of representatives from the cities and the town of Cape Elizabeth recommended the name after evaluating 137 naming proposals.

The aging Portland-South Portland span that it would replace is known as the Million Dollar Bridge because it cost about $1 million to build in 1916.

Feb. 3, 1999: Delaware-based MBNA, billed as the world’s largest credit-card issuing corporation, announces a plan to expand its operations in Maine by opening telemarketing centers in Farmington, Fort Kent, Presque Isle and Rockland and providing 2,300 jobs there.

Gov. Angus King calls the move “the single-biggest business expansion in the history of the state of Maine.”

When the plan is complete, MBNA is expected to have 5,000 workers in Maine, making it the state’s fourth-largest employer.

When the company arrived in Maine in 1993, it hired about two dozen people for jobs in Camden. By 1999, it employs about 3,000 in Belfast, Brunswick, Camden, Orono, Portland and Presque Isle.

Shannon Violette at work in the customer satisfaction area at the MBNA facility in Belfast in 1999. Staff photo by David MacDonald

Company CEO Charles Cawley (1940-2015) was not unfamiliar with the state, having spent childhood summers with his grandfather in Lincolnville and having worked as a teenager in his grandfather’s garment factories in Belfast and Camden. Cawley later built an opulent summer home outside Camden.

Later he decides to move there year-round and to take most of the corporation to Maine with him. The company builds lots of infrastructure and donates generously to local institutions.

By 2005, its Maine workforce has shrunk to about 3,500 people. Then Bank of America buys MBNA. It keeps the Belfast operation going, but the other Maine offices close. Other companies have noticed MBNA’s discovery of the financial and tax advantages of setting up shop in Maine, however, and they begin to do the same, thereby replacing many of the lost MBNA jobs.

Joseph Owen is a retired copy desk chief of the Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. He can be contacted at: [email protected]


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