Brunswick officials: Kestrel won't be missed

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BRUNSWICK — After failing to deliver the jobs it promised, Kestrel Aircraft has been evicted from Brunswick Landing for failing to pay rent for at least a year.

“We’d have loved for Kestrel to have been a long-term success, but it doesn’t look like it will happen in Maine,” Steve Levesque, executive director of the Midcoast Redevelopment Authority, said Monday.

He declined to say how much the company owes because a lawsuit is pending to recover those payments, although he said the company’s annual rent payments totaled about $85,000. He said Kestrel employed about dozen people in Brunswick at the time of the Oct. 5 eviction.

The company previously struggled to pay rent, but Levesque said MRRA had “given them some forbearance” until they caught up.

When they didn’t catch up the last time, Levesque said, “we weren’t willing to give them more time.”

Kestrel officials did not respond to a call seeking comment.

Levesque was unsure Monday about whether anyone in Brunswick is still employed by the company. Those employees, he said, had most recently been designing parts for the Eclipse Jet, a plane made by Kestrel’s parent company, One Aviation, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

At one time, loss of a company like Kestrel, which initially boasted it would create hundreds of jobs, might have disturbed local officials.

But in the years since it arrived at Brunswick Landing in 2011, the aircraft manufacturing company, which only employed about 45 people at its peak, has failed to meet its publicly announced growth projections.

“That doesn’t surprise me,” longtime Town Councilor David Watson said Monday when he learned of the eviction. “I wasn’t totally enthralled by them anyway.”

The reaction is a far cry from Brunswick’s original high hopes for the start-up.

When CEO Alan Klapmeier announced in 2010 the company would locate in Brunswick, he did so as the town was girding itself for the closure of the Brunswick Naval Air Station and the resulting economic loss from departing military jobs and families.

Kestrel moved into Hangar 6 in 2011, just as redevelopment was getting underway, and under the halo of a promise to bring 300 or more jobs to the fledgling business park.

Officials, including Gov. Paul LePage and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, attended a ceremony in February 2011 to welcome the company when it signed a 20-year lease, according to Levesque.

But in 2012 the company decided to move its production of planes to Wisconsin after it was offered more than $100 million in tax credits and free land to do it – a move Watson called the company’s use of Brunswick as “a bargaining chip” to get a better deal elsewhere.

“The larger issue is that businesses shop around, and so they force state and local governments to compete against each other,” Councilor Ben Tucker said at the time.

But with Brunswick Landing now home to more than 100 businesses with more than 1,300 employees, according to MRRA’s website, Watson said activity at the campus no longer inspires the same degree of attention.

He said his calm response to the company’s departure is a reflection of the town’s changed confidence in the Landing after job growth expectations doubled  in the first five years.

“I think we’re going to see more growth,” he said, suggesting the “phenomenal scope” of growth won’t rely on the success or failure of a single company.

Levesque said MRRA is now looking for another aviation company to move into Hangar 6, a space designed for aviation companies that also houses Tempus Jets, a company that repairs large jet aircraft.

To that end, on Oct.9 Levesque traveled to Las Vegas to attend the National Business Aviation Association trade show. He said MRRA attends the convention every year to help woo more aircraft companies to Brunswick Landing.

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 100, or [email protected]. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

A Kestrel airplane sits in Hangar 6 at Brunswick Naval Air Station in February 2010 during a ceremony to transfer the airport from the U.S. Navy to the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority.  The company was evicted last week after failing to pay rent for at least a year.

Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or [email protected]