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Brunswick base agency seeks tax-free zone, says it won't compete with Auburn

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Brunswick base agency seeks tax-free zone, says it won't compete with Auburn

TOPSHAM — The agency overseeing the redevelopment of Brunswick Naval Air Station is seeking a trade zone that would shelter imported products from federal tariffs.

The Foreign Trade Zone was pitched by Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority officials as a business-attraction tool that would give companies competing in the global marketplace an incentive to establish manufacturing or warehousing centers at the base.

Companies in the zone would be allowed to store, repair, assemble and test imported goods without paying federal trade tariffs, unless those goods are sold or distributed in the U.S.

The zones are primarily utilized by petroleum companies for refining foreign oil, or by auto companies importing parts and metals. Automakers are particularly dependent on FTZs because they allow companies to use imported materials to manufacture vehicles without incurring taxes on each component.

Steve Levesque, executive director of the MRRA, said Tuesday that a zone at the redeveloped Brunswick Landing could be used by energy, aviation and composites companies – businesses currently targeted in the master reuse plan for the base.

In addition to aircraft manufacturing, repair and overhaul, the plan also envisions a renewable energy park, where companies could potentially manufacture wind turbines or blades.

Levesque said during the MRRA's board meeting in Topsham that two Canadian aircraft manufacturing companies had expressed interest in the redeveloped base.

MRRA's board of directors on Tuesday unanimously approved the application for the designation of 393 acres at the facility, but not before raising questions about liability and competition.

The latter could become an issue with the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council, depending on what kind of companies the MRRA hopes to attract.

The growth council last September received approval for a 760-acre FTZ, which is divided between Auburn airport and a smaller parcel on Rodman Road, near a heavily used rail line.

According to George Dycio, the growth council economic development specialist, the Auburn designation primarily targets warehousing companies. So far, Dycio said, no companies have taken advantage of the zone.

Because the Brunswick trade zone would be within a 60-mile radius of the Auburn FTZ, the L-A growth council could appeal MRRA's application.

Dycio confirmed Wednesday that MRRA representatives had asked for the council's support and assured the group it would not pursue the same kind of companies. However, Dycio said, the council hasn't decided if it will protest the application. 

"At this point, we haven't talked with (MRRA) about it," Dycio said. "If they're looking to keep the (FTZ) on the base proper, it might not be a problem for us. But if they're looking to use it elsewhere in Cumberland County, it could become competition."

"We just need to figure out what their intentions are," Dycio said.

Levesque told MRRA board members Tuesday that he saw the Brunswick zone as complementary to, not competition for, the Auburn zone.

"We don't see ourselves going after the same kind of companies," he said.

If approved, the Brunswick zone would include 393 acres and buildings on the east side of the base. Companies inside that area wouldn't be required to participate in the FTZ.

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or smistler@theforecaster.net