Life and Work

Sat, 10/17/2020 - 11:15am

I received a question from a friend about my work ant time management.  She asked if I was taking on too much, and namely what would be my plan to work in the legislature if elected in November?  So I thought it would be good to write about how my business is organized and how I manage work-life balance.

Recall that Maine’s is a part-time legislature.  Like perhaps every other Maine legislator I would continue my career of affordable housing and economic development.  Maine’s legislature is in session about half of each year, and during those periods I am told they are in session 2-4 days per week.  It’s much harder for those coming from the farther reaches of the state.  For me, it would be just a one-hour drive to Augusta.  As a legislator that means my responsibility is to be there every day the Legislature is in session, more specifically the House.  In addition, there will be time needed to review the budget, to read legislation, and to meet with constituents and other stakeholders.

In terms of my business, I was previously president of a company, Mullins Management/JRM Inc. and manager of Mullins Partners, which we collectively refer to as ‘Mullins Company’.  We develop, manage, and asset manage mixed income housing projects and town center developments.  I enjoy the business because the end result is so gratifying - historic buildings preserved, and hundreds of families provided with workforce and affordable housing.  What could be better?

Well, developing affordable housing is a long game.  It typically takes us five years to assemble the resources to build just one building if certain subsidies are included.  And in states like Massachusetts, permitting and approvals are so difficult is can take years to get those as well.  For Massachusetts Mills, a historic preservation and affordable housing project, we have completed the rehab of fine out of eight buildings over the course of 30 years.  We have built 352 mixed income apartments at that mill yard and 781 at another site, because we continue to expand at each location. 

We are also about to break ground at my passion project, called Old English Square in Holbrook MA.  We survived a recession but have held on to the vision, which is unique.  A triple-mixed use project, with residential, commercial, and agricultural uses combined.  Spread across 78 acres, we have small senior houses, apartments over retail, and 200 condominiums for purchase, as well as a model farm for young people from the city to come learn the basics of farming and farm management.  The farm program at OES is intended to be a feeder program for those interested in taking over farms in the northern New England states.

In 2007 I led an effort in 2007 to restructure our company.  The historic model for real estate development was the apprentice model.  Typically a young developer would work for an established one for 5-10 years until they develop the reputation and experience to go out on their own.  Working for another developer, these young developers were paid well, and might get 5-10% of a project as an incentive. 

I had spent much time studying entrepreneurship in the Boston area, and I thought there might be an alternative model based on the startup industry.  So our model would be that we would not have staff.  We would joint venture on management, and find young entrepreneurs eager to start up and offer them a much bigger share in the venture.  Our new model is that we don’t pay any salaries and instead offer 49% of the development fees and 25-50% of the ownership. We fund all predevelopment costs, and do not charge interest.  Everything is split pro-rata.  We and the developer share the personal guarantees required.  Our first such joint venture was Mass Mills 3, shown above and completed in 2017.  Over a year ago we made our second joint venture for a 50 unit senior affordable building at Old English Square, and also found an equity partner to start on our first mixed use building there, slated to start construction in early 2021.

I have since stepped back from Mullins Company.  in 2019 I transitioned to spending just one day a week there, so as to spend more time in Maine.  And in 2020 I gave up the presidency and took on a director role.  We meet once a month and rely on professional managers, and our joint venture partners to continue those projects.

For my work in Maine, I can now dedicate most of my time to these efforts.  I bought 100 Mt. Battie Street in 2014 and in 2015 established it as a small business incubator.  I completed the restoration of Tennyson Quarry in 2016 and 2017.  In 2018 I bought 188 Maverick street and renovated and converted it into affordable housing for my friend Linda Athearn.  In 2020 I bought the Antiques Marketplace/Maine Museum of Industry and have opened our first interim use there, a local arts and music event called The Stage.  Workspace Rockland, a makerspace, will open after the first of the year.  In the meantime, you may have see I am taking on the deconstruction of Hedges Hall.  This three month project will be to disassemble this grande dame event center and place it into storage to save it from the scrap heap.

Looking ahead, I plan to do a historic preservation rehab of the Antiques marketplace.  There are preliminary architectural approvals to be done, and I would like to be under construction there late next year if possible.  That leaves an opening in my schedule for 2022, and I have something in mind for that.  Just yesterday I submitted a proposal to the Town of Camden to redevelop the Apollo Tannery site.  Assuming a town meeting vote in June 2021, and six months for permitting, that project, if I were selected, might start construction as early as 2022.

Sounds like a lot?  I don’t think so, because of how I like to work. I much prefer to be fully engaged, or not.  I’m definitely not a 9-5 person, to which the other volunteers from this year’s Mid Coast Pop Up Mask Factory can attest.  That project, which involved many dinners of chicken nuggets and work until 11pm or midnight, is one I described as one of the most fun times in my life.  It was an amazing project, with amazing people, and continuous learning.  I kept up that pace from March until June, at which point we dialed it back a bit after the factory floor shut down, and once election season went into full swing in August, I was spending just 2 days a week running it.  And since August, campaigning has been a wonderful challenge.  I have had maybe a dozen events, knocked on hundreds of doors, and met many hundreds of people.  I love going door to door, even though I was intimidated by it at first.  It’s been one of the best surprises for me about politics.

So how do I do all of this?   It helps that I don’t do some other things that a big time-consumers.  I don’t watch professional sports (I haven’t watched a game since I went to graduate school at the University of Chicago from 2012-2014.  I don’t watch the nightly news and I don’t play golf (full disclosure: I did a tournament with the Pen Bay Chamber this year after a six-year hiatus from the sport).  But moreover, for me these community projects I am doing in Maine aren’t work to me.  It’s my work and my life and my hobby.  These things are so interesting to me, with the ability to help people, improve the environment, and develop the community.  

In terms of my personal life, I have BIG news to share.  My lovely fiancee Mariana and I are about to have our first child, a boy.  We are due on October 30.  In addition to this year’s challenge of running the mask factory, and prepping a 2020 campaign for the Maine House, I have been working to try to get her into the US from Brazil, where she graduated from Medical School in January.  We applied for a visa in January, but never received a formal determination and then the US Consulate closed.  It, and the borders remained closed for months.  Finally, in August they reopened the borders and I was able to go down that month.  But we are still on a waiting for an emergency appointment which has been pushed back now twice.  They eventually pushed it back to after our due date, meaning there is no way to have our baby at home in Maine.  So we will make the best of it and most likely I will be flying back and forth as I was in 2019 and 2020 until the coronavirus hits.

Will the be a problem for a potential house seat?  I don’t think so.  I somehow found the time this year to write my first bill.  Not just a narrative, I wrote a bill itself, with replacements and substitutions within the Maine Revised Statutes.  I did it as a way of learning, because I am very much a learning-by-doing proponent and a lifelong learner in any event.  If a house seat for District 93 doesn’t come my way, I’m sure I can find something else to do :)