Brunswick prepares for influx of jobs promised by Wayfair

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BRUNSWICK — The announcement that online home furnishings retailer Wayfair will open a sales center with the potential for 500 jobs was greeted with cautious optimism by town officials weighing the company’s impact on the job market and town services.

Wayfair on Feb. 18 announced it will open the center at Brunswick Landing. The Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, which is in charge of transforming the former U.S. Navy base to civilian use, said Wayfair has signed a lease on the former Navy Exchange building on Burbank Avenue.

“You’re looking at a huge infusion of jobs,” Brunswick Business Development Director Linda Smith said Monday.

According to Smith, if Wayfair reaches its goal 500 employees it would be the fourth-largest private employer in Brunswick. A report compiled by her office in 2015 lists Mid Coast Health Services as the largest employer, with about 1,600 employees, followed by Bath Iron Works at 1,300, and Bowdoin College at just over 900.

Smith said in her experience working for the state office of Economic and Community Development, “you could count the number of projects like this that would come in on one hand, for every five years, for the whole state … and this is Brunswick.”

“This is significant,” MRRA Executive Director Steve Levesque said Wednesday.

Levesque said that after the base closed in 2011, MRRA projected it would recover about 450 jobs by this time.

But now, “we’re about double (that), right now, even before Wayfair,” he said.

Levesque attributed the turnaround to “the private sector grasp(ing) the opportunities that were here.”

He said he first heard of the Wayfair opportunity from Maine & Co., a nonprofit, private organization that focuses on bringing businesses to the state.

“They called us on a Friday night, saying, ‘We have a client that we’re showing around the state … and we’re wondering if we can show them the Navy Exchange building in the morning,'” Levesque said.

The Brunswick center will have 40,000 square feet of leased space in the building, which is in the process of being sold to Topsham-based Priority Real Estate Group.

Wayfair, based in Boston, competes with companies like Bed, Bath & Beyond, Amazon, and Target. It went public in 2014, and in that year delivered 5.2 million orders to reach $1.3 billion in net revenue, according to its most recent annual report.

Federal Securities and Exchange Commission filings show Wayfair’s workforce increased from the equivalent of more than 2,300 full-time employees in December 2014, to more than 3,200 by the end of September 2015.

In an interview Monday, Liz Graham, Wayfair’s senior vice president of customer service and sales, said the expansion to Brunswick is driven by “new growth for the business.”

Outside a core “nucleus” of current employees that will help get the operation off the ground, the Brunswick center will consist of “a lot of new hires,” she said.

Graham said most of the jobs at Brunswick Landing would be in sales, but a few would be in management, human resources, and information technology.

She said she could not provide a time line for how quickly Wayfair would hire all 500 employees, other than the company plans to begin operating in June.

She also would not provide an estimated salary range. When pressed, Graham said salaries would be “competitive for the market,” and part of the reason Wayfair decided to come to Brunswick is that it’s “a place where we could be an employer of choice.”

“(We look) at markets where the talent pool is deep – (Brunswick has) a strong college presence – to create an environment of talent, where people are interested in the jobs and type of culture Wayfair has,” she said.

Brunswick’s unemployment rate as of December 2015 was 2.9 percent, according to the state Department of Labor, lower than Maine’s rate of 3.9 percent.

Wayfair also announced it would open a 450-employee customer service center at a former L.L. Bean call center in Bangor.

If hiring does bring new people and families to the Brunswick area, the schools will need to be ready for the influx, Superintendent Paul Perzanoski said in an interview Tuesday.

“Once the company gets going with hiring practices, we try to get in contact” and get data on potential children and families, he said.

Perzanoski said Brunswick High School and Junior High School have enough staff and space capacity to accommodate more students.

“But at the elementary level, (more students) could mean larger class sizes and/or having to hire additional staff,” he said.

Even if there is an extra effort to accommodate new students, Perzanoski said having more students in the Brunswick school system is desirable.

“It will help with our state subsidy and also with possible programming down the road,” he said.

Perzanoski noted that as a result of the 2011 loss of families to base closure, and the loss of Durham students to regional consolidation, Brunswick’s schools lost a significant amount of state and federal funding.

The prospect of a large employer coming to town, he said, makes him “cautiously optimistic.”

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or wwuthmann@theforecaster.net. Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

Crews work to renovate the former Navy Exchange at Brunswick Landing into a Wayfair sales center by June.

Boston-based online retailer Wayfair has leased 40,000 square feet of space for a sales center at the former Navy Exchange building at Brunswick Landing.

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Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.