BRUNSWICK — The former naval air station in Brunswick is enjoying a job boom.
On March 11, Brunswick-based SaviLinx announced that it would be adding 200 jobs to its Brunswick Landing call center.
The announcement came less than a month after Boston-based online retailer Wayfair said it would be opening a 500-employee sales center on the former Navy base.
“Too many jobs is a good problem,” said U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, at a SaviLinx press conference.
King called Brunswick “a big small town with very long streets,” and recalled how SaviLinx founder Heather Blease’s father served on the town Zoning Board when King was a young attorney in Brunswick.
He lauded Blease’s success, saying, “This is a company started by someone who grew up right here in the neighborhood.” He added that the message he brings to Washington is, it takes entrepreneurs like Blease “to create something where it didn’t exist before.”
King flew in from the capital after a state dinner in honor of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau the night before. After dining on Alaskan halibut with world leaders, he left the SaviLinx press conference with a brown-bag lunch catered by Portland Pie Co. and New Beet Market.
New Beet is another new Brunswick Landing business: a cafe and coffee shop, which recently opened on Burbank Avenue.
“This facility is really on a roll,” King said.
Several local officials also attended the SaviLinx event.
Councilor Kathy Wilson recalled that when Brunswick Naval Air Station closed in 2011, her dog grooming business “dropped 50 percent overnight.”
She said she did not expect to see such a recovery, let alone “be young enough to be involved in it.”
“I’m in deep admiration of everything I keep seeing,” she said.
Blease started SaviLinx in 2013 with a team of 15 employees. Today, it has 100 employees at Brunswick Landing and 200 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, working as contact centers for state and federal government programs, as well as commercial clients.
Blease said the 200-employee expansion is the result of a new federal contract. SaviLinx already has contracts with the federal student financial aid program and military insurance benefits, she said.
Blease said base pay plus a health stipend would amount to $16.50 an hour salaries for the new employees. Hiring will begin in May and June, she said, and most employees are expected to be from the local area.
SaviLinx also has an incentive to hire in and around Brunswick: the company is in the process of applying for federal “HUBZone” status.
The program gives companies in “historically underutilized business zones,” such as former military bases, preferential treatment for federal contracts.
To meet criteria, 35 percent of a company’s employees must reside in the boundaries of the HUBZone; a provision to expand HUBZone residency boundaries to other towns, authored by King, was recently passed by Congress.
Outside the press conference and out on the sales floor, Owen Fish, of Bath, led the 15-person team in his “super queue,” a small group that handles more than one of the call center’s individual clients.
Fish, originally from London, moved to Maine 16 years ago. He said he came to SaviLinx in 2013 and was part of the original team of employees.
He used to work at ING in Lewiston before he fell into “one of the situations we often find ourselves in here in Maine,” he said. “A company goes away and we find ourselves without jobs.”
After six months of unemployment, he picked up a flier for SaviLinx at a job seminar. He was hired soon after.
Fish said he’s happy about the announcement he’ll have 200 new co-workers.
“It’s been on the horizon forever,” he said. “It’s been that dream.”
There are now 850 private jobs at Brunswick Landing, according to the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, the body charged with overseeing the base’s transition to civilian use.
“With the (Wayfair and SaviLinx) additions, it generally bring us up over 1,500,” MRRA Executive Director Steve Levesque said Monday. “And other companies on the property are growing.”
When the base was fully operational, there were about 700 civilian jobs, he noted. BNAS provided about 4,200 military jobs.
SaviLinx employees in Brunswick provide point-of-contact services for state and federal government programs, and commercial clients. The company is adding 200 jobs.
U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, pets Linx, the office cat at SaviLinx, a contact center based at Brunswick Landing. The company on March 11 announced it would be hiring 200 new employees.