BRUNSWICK, Maine — In most places, economic development comes with the usual challenges, such as finding a skilled workforce and businesses that compliment one another’s missions.
At the former Brunswick Naval Air Station — now Brunswick Landing: Maine’s Center for Innovation — many of those challenges don’t exist, creating a formula that has earned a prestigious award from the Maine Development Foundation.
With the Navy’s transfer of the 3,200-acre former base to civilian control comes an opportunity to start from scratch. Even though the process of transferring land and buildings to the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority (MRRA) is still ongoing, there is already a focus on composites and engineering that brings together new Southern Maine Community College and University of Maine programs with businesses that hope to employ highly trained graduates.
The authority, which has already placed 10 businesses at Brunswick Landing, is the 2011 recipient of the Maine Development Foundation’s non-profit Champion of Economic Development award, which will be awarded Friday during the foundation’s annual meeting at Point Lookout in Northport.
Laurie Lachance, president and CEO of the foundation, said the MRRA’s unique approach made the organization an easy choice for the award.
“They’ve taken what could have been this huge problem, a massive piece of property, and they’ve made it into both a center of innovation and education,” said Lachance. “Those two together hold enormous progress. They’ve brought together an array of assets that will support each other on that property.”
Among the new business start-ups at Brunswick Landing are Kestrel Aircraft Co., which intends to build a new composites-based aircraft; Maine Tool and Machine; MoInlycke Health Care; New England Tent and Awning and Resilient Communications. Also new to the facility is a new Southern Maine Community College Campus, which is offering degrees in health care, heavy machinery and is on the cusp of creating the state’s first pre-engineering program called the Maine Advanced Technology & Engineering Center. Altogether, those businesses are poised to create up to 700 new jobs and some $150 million in new private investments.
“One reason they’re receiving this award is because of the scale of impact they’re having on the region,” said Lachance. “We can capitalize on this fully, and not just to benefit the region, but to the benefit of the entire state.”
A major driver in the MRRA’s success was securing early transfer of some of the Navy property, which allowed businesses to move in earlier than in virtually every other base-closure process, according to Lachance and MRRA Deputy Director Jeffrey Jordan. Jordan added that a range of expertise on the MRRA board and among its staff has also been a potent asset.
“Each person brings a special skill set and the ability to ask probing questions and come up with new ideas in their respective fields,” said Jordan. A core value in the MRRA’s process has been to focus on new business start-ups as opposed to attracting businesses that already exist elsewhere in Maine. To that end, according to Jordan, at least two businesses who wanted to come to Brunswick Landing have been turned away.
Jordan said he expects that many of the former air station properties will be transferred to the MRRA at the end of this month. The remaining properties still in Navy hands need to go through an environmental clearance process before they can be transferred.
“With a world-class airport, over 2 million square feet of commercial and industrial space, and acres of natural open space, Brunswick Landing is poised to become the single most important economic development asset in Maine,” said Steve Levesque, the MRRA’s executive director, who won the 2011 Base Redevelopment Leadership Award from the Association of Defense Communities earlier this year. “We are honored that the MDF chose the MRRA for this award.”