Defense spending snubs Brunswick jobs benefit

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BRUNSWICK — The 2014 Department of Defense budget passed by the U.S. Senate last week failed to include a provision that officials believe would have spurred job creation at Brunswick Landing.

Spokesmen for U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine, confirmed on Tuesday that the HUBZone Expansion Act of 2013 was not included in the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act.

The legislation, co-sponsored by Collins and King, would have allowed more small businesses within federally administered Historically Underutilized Business Zones to be eligible for government contracts, by expanding the boundaries of HUBZones to include entire towns where the zones exist.

The HUBZone program, administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration, makes it more likely for businesses to receive government contracts if 35 percent of their employees live within the zone.

Brunswick Landing exists in a HUBZone because of its status as a base closed under DOD’s Base Realignment and Closure Program.

But under the existing residency requirement, the HUBZone benefits only accrue to local businesses if enough of their employees live at Brunswick Landing. The change proposed by Collins and King would have expanded the HUBZone boundary to include all of Brunswick.

SaviLinx, a call center that opened at Brunswick Landing earlier this year, was banking on the legislation to create more jobs and continue growth on the base, because it mostly relies on government contracts for business.

In a December 2012 letter to Collins, SaviLinx Chief Executive Officer Heather Blease said failure to pass the bill could deter future growth at Brunswick Landing. 

“It means if this bill doesn’t pass, then down the road if we need to open another facility, it could be in another state,” Blease said in the letter. “It could take away from what we have in Brunswick. Our preference is to have our largest facility in Brunswick and make that our home.”

Blease did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

Introduced as a standalone bill by Collins and King earlier this year, the bill was later proposed as an amendment to the defense budget.

But political maneuvering by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., in late November prevented the amendment and several others from ever succeeding, according to a report by the Associated Press.

King said in a statement Tuesday that he was “disappointed” by the failure to include the amendment, but will continue to work on getting it passed.

“I will continue to look for opportunities to advance the measure, both in and out of the Armed Services Committee,” King said, “because I believe our bill can be of tremendous economic benefit to recently closed military bases, like the former Brunswick Naval Air Station, and their surrounding regions.”

Kevin Kelley, a spokesman for Collins, echoed King’s remarks.

“Sen. Collins will continue to work closely with Sen. King to find a way to advance this legislation,” he said, “which would help communities around former bases, like Brunswick, attract new businesses and create jobs.”

Steve Levesque, executive director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, developer of Brunswick Landing, said he was discouraged, but believes Collins and King will continue to work on the bill.

“Until (it passes), the HUBZone is ineffective,” he said. “(The program is) completely ineffective and it’s going to impact our companies.” 

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.