BRUNSWICK — Job growth is taking off at Brunswick Landing – at record speed.
In just over five years since the former U.S. Navy air base closed, the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority has helped create 1,200 new jobs at Brunswick Landing – a total twice MRRA’s original expectations for job growth, according to June 2016 data provided at an open house Aug. 24.
Initial job projections created by The Matrix Consulting Group forecast the campus would have about 325 new jobs by the fifth anniversary of the base closure in April, and 450 jobs by August 2016. The projections were drawn up in 2006 and updated in 2010 to reflect historical and estimated real estate absorption rates in the region.
But MRRA Executive Director Steve Levesque explained in an interview Monday that jobs have increased exponentially because existing companies grew as new jobs continued to arrive.
Charted on a graph, the effect looks like a drawing of a jet taking off from a runway, showing two lines steadily in sync before one rises sharply and exponentially above the other.
The effect has been dramatic in recent months since Brunswick Landing welcomed call centers for big employers such as SaviLinx and Wayfair, which Levesque said were big factors in rocketing private-sector growth beyond 1,000 jobs. He said Wayfair is still growing and expects to eventually employ 500 people.
These examples are but two of the 92 companies that call Brunswick Landing home, 25 of which are new to Maine.
The rate of growth puts MRRA not only ahead of its own growth projections, but ahead of the usual amount of time it takes for a military base to redevelop and make up for the loss of economic impact caused by the base closure, Levesque said.
While it is hard to draw exact comparisons between Brunswick Landing and other former military bases, each of which belong to distinct communities and have unique redevelopment priorities, Levesque estimated the process of closing and redeveloping a base like Brunswick’s should take about 20 years.
But based on the way things are looking now, “we think we’re going to be in the 12-to-15(-year) range,” Levesque said.
Job creation is one part of achieving that goal; the other is “a little more esoteric,” Levesque said: “You know you’ve been a success when economic redevelopment surpasses” the economic benefit of the former Brunswick Naval Air Station.
Using Brunswick Landing’s total payroll as the marker for the redevolpment’s success, it would have to exceed $140,000 annually to eclipse the annual payroll of BNAS. MRRA has only just began to chart this comparison, but Levesque said the current payroll is around $70-80 million dollars.
Estimates like that go far in combating what Levesque described as “significant public trepidation” over the loss of jobs created by the base’s closure. When the base closure was announced in 2005, the base was Maine’s second-largest employer, with about 4,500 military personnel and 700 administrative, support staff and pubic works jobs.
But the success of Brunswick Landing will never be just a number.
While his job is to “fill buildings,” Levesque said he wants to make sure private-sector growth on the base is in accord with the Master Reuse Plan, which was drawn up with input from the community in 2007.
“We’ve said no to some people,” Levesque said, “if we don’t think they’re a good fit. We’ve done that on several occasions.”
This direction complements a sense of community that is growing organically, he said. As developers arrive on the landing, they bring a vision with them.
Levesque cited Tom Wright, who formed “a social service campus” around the development of nonprofits such as Seeds of Independence and the low-profit market New Beet.
“We wanted to be something special,” Levesque said, adding he hopes Brunswick Landing will continue to be more than just “another crappy business park.”
An antique U.S. Navy P-3 Orion submarine hunter on display at Brunswick Landing, a nod to the history behind the thriving business campus.
Steve Levesque, left, executive director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, speaks with Don Knicely of Thornton Oaks at an Aug. 24 open house at Brunswick Landing and Brunswick Executive Airport.